Police Offences Amendment (Prohibited Insignia) Bill 2018 (No. 21)
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, this is a difficult bill and by no means clear-cut, but you cannot legislate for every circumstance. I have appreciated all the emails and briefings from many different people, both within our community and outside, the Motorcycle Riders Association, the Law Society of Tasmania, Tasmania Police and others. I also appreciated the six briefings from the Commissioner of Police and appreciate how seriously he takes the bill.
The main issue I and many others have is with regard to evidence for an outlaw motorcycle group to be included as an identified organisation. I note amendments are coming. I am concerned there is no clear appeal process. We all know many people in motorcycle groups who are hardworking people who are not involved in criminal activities. While there are five identified clubs at the moment, it may not necessarily be they will be included when it comes to identifying insignia based on the evidence required.
The bill only refers to wearing of insignia or patches in public. The only thing they cannot do is wear the colours, whether it be vest, jewellery or jacket, in a public place. They can meet and do everything else; they just cannot wear these items in a public place. It would then be a summary offence of 20 penalty units.
Ms Rattray - And confiscation.
Ms ARMITAGE - I hope if the bill does get up, it is important there would be some amnesty, at least some warning, for people on first offences so people can appreciate what the law is.
Another concern is that if this bill is not passed, it will make Tasmania look open for business for outlaw motorcycle groups currently not in Tasmania or under-represented here. Will they then have a higher presence and cause more issues? We are told this bill is for the safety of police and some members of clubs will not stop for police, because they believe they are above the law.
I feel for the police who would be faced with a number of riders wearing jackets and having to confiscate them. What will officers do if they come across a group of riders and have to confront them? This could be a difficult situation for police as riders do not want to give up their jackets.
Mr Dean - They said during the briefing they would photograph them and come back the next day and pick them up.
Ms ARMITAGE - They did, but it is still an awful situation. The other question I asked in briefings was whether there would be discretion for riders attending a funeral or similar, where they want to display their unity with a deceased member or brother, as they call them. Things like that are important when there might be a large group of them who want to ride.
Today when we were at lunch with a group someone mentioned that they had been to a funeral at, I think, the Door of Hope. There was a large group of people who wore their jackets because they wanted to show unity with someone who had passed. For issues like that we should remember that sometimes it is important to turn a blind eye and allow these things.
Ms Rattray - Use the discretion allowed in the legislation.
Ms ARMITAGE - You hope that people would use the discretion at that upsetting time for people.
The police tell us there has been an increase in outlaw motorcycle groups coming to Tasmania and that they have identified 250 to 260 members currently within Tasmania. Police commented that they were not coming for the lifestyle or the weather.
We were told in briefings by police that many of these clubs are expanding across all countries and they look at the areas where there is least resistance.
Is it scaremongering on the part of the Government and the police that these less-than-legal clubs could increase their membership in Tasmania if we do not pass this bill? Obviously, many of these clubs are not friends with each other.
I will quote part of an email I received, a different one to that which the member for Windermere read out -
My husband is a proud member of the Outlaws motorcycle club and I am equally proud to support him, as are our four children and extended family.
I will just read parts of each paragraph -
Fast-forward twenty years, he is now a general manager with an Australia-wide company …
He works 60-70 a week, so unwinding with a few beers or scotches with fellow members after riding his bike at the weekend is his kind of stress relief.
I must add that I usually join him at club get-togethers and I have always felt safer in the clubhouse rather than out on the town, as do most of the wives and partners.
I have never been shown anything but respect whilst in the clubhouse.
As in any club, association, group or profession, there is that minority of bad eggs.
Most of the clubs targeted in the proposed legislation have been in Tasmania for over 30 years, one of them for 48 years, and it has never been necessary in all these years to introduce such harsh laws such as those proposed.
I believe the mainland clubs trying to establish themselves here should be stopped because they are not wanted here by anyone, the clubs that have been in Tassie for years included.
Less police resources would be used concentrating on shutting down these bad reputation mainland clubs and blocking their establishment here than trying to uphold the proposed laws, with every motorcyclist unidentifiable without their club colours on the road.
It is interesting that member of a club identified that we really do not want some mainland clubs in Tasmania.
I accept that colours are very important to these clubs and their members, and that they are about identity. I accept this bill does not restrict the wearing of club colours at clubhouses or private residences, nor does it restrict tattoos, painting of logos on bikes and the like. It was interesting to get a couple of emails from people concerned that tattoo businesses were going to close down if this legislation went through. I think that, if anything, they may actually pick up business because people may get tattoos rather than wearing patches.
Many of these people feel the club is like family and its members are like brothers. For that reason, I feel it is essential that any group listed as an identified organisation must have actual evidence against them that is proven and perhaps it should be an indictable offence. It is important that everyone is not tarred with the same brush.
We were also told that not allowing the identified clubs to wear their colours in public might offer less appeal to some people becoming members and it is really a cultural disruption. We were told what some of the patches mean - and I am not going to go into it - but the reasons of some clubs for obtaining them were not very nice. That does not mean -
Ms Forrest - Because some of them relate to illegal activities.
Ms ARMITAGE - That does not mean this is always the case. We were also told that a patch used on another motorcycle club was RFFF - 'Ride forever, forever free' - which to me sounds like a rather innocent patch for people who simply love to ride.
In discussion with others in the community, it was also mentioned that currently, if they are wearing their patch, you know who they are if they are doing something wrong. With no colours, it provides anonymity. I must admit I have had several meetings with people in the community who are riders with different clubs and they said that at least when people come up, if they do something wrong, they actually know who they are and who to go to. That certainly is a consideration.
I will read a couple of the emails from some of my constituents. I am not going to identify anyone, just read a few parts from each of them. This one says -
… I am writing to you in regard to these proposed new bike laws which I am totally against.
I have been with my husband for 12 years, we both work; my husband is a manager and I am in the disability sector ... We have no criminal record, we don't drugs, we pay our taxes and are good, honest people ...
My husband also happens to be a member of an outlaw motorcycle club ... These proposed laws are totally against our civil liberties and our way of life ... I totally understand there are bad eggs in clubs, but there are bad eggs in EVERY walk of life ... I find it very discriminatory to single out 1 group of people, to be able to tell us who we can see and what we wear ...
Another one -
There is unique relationships that exist within motorcycle clubs. A bond of brotherhood that cannot be found anywhere else. We, as bikers, know how special this bond is, and it devastates us to see our own government tearing it apart with such apparent disregard. Bikers may not fit into the mould of mainstream society, our manner, rough looks and mode of transport are often frowned upon but that doesn't make us all criminals ... it just makes us different.
There are elements of criminal behaviour within all sectors of society.
Another email -
I am a 25-year-old woman and I have lived in Tasmania my whole life. I have worked within the community since I was 14 years old … I will first make it clear that I do not stand to lose or gain anything if these new laws are implemented within Tasmania. What I do believe is that these new laws that are being proposed are a major form of discrimination. I have grown up to be told that we must not discriminate against others just because of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious background, beliefs or any other reason.
Another email -
I write to you to express my concern over the proposed laws concerning the wearing of club insignia and clothing in public. It is my opinion that there is a flaw in the argument put forward as the need for these laws. The need for these laws is said to halt possible intimidation, etc. in said public places. Police already hold powers to keep social peace, behaviour and interaction at acceptable and expected levels. Also why are bike club members being targeted? There are numerous clubs, sports, not for profit, community etc that display their club paraphernalia.
A final one, which I thought was a bit touching because I could imagine it happening in some households -
My son my wife and I were watching the news a while back when something came on about the proposed laws, we didn't really think anything of it, had a brief discussion about it and what we can do going forward and left it there. It wasn't until a few nights later when our son went to bed and couldn't sleep because he was scared his dad might go to jail for riding his bike with his vest on ... And from my son, 'why is my Dad a bad guy?' He loves his Dad, as far as he's concerned his Dad is the best guy in the world, his Dad is his hero, and he's hearing that the police think his Dad is a bad guy? How is that fair?
As the member for Windermere said, we all have friends who are members of motorcycle groups. To us, they are good people we are happy to call friends and we trust them.
I support the intent of this bill. I will certainly support it into Committee. I understand why the Government has put it forward. I hope the amendments going through will certainly ease my concerns about who is put into that basket, but I can also see from the police perspective that there are groups that want to come down to Tasmania. The Government needs to take this on board for the future - when bills are put out there, it needs to be clear on what the bill is about.
I appreciate this bill is to do with association, but, like the little boy who thinks dad is going to jail for wearing his vest, many people are concerned about it, and it is not clear what -
Mr Dean - The media got this wrong in a lot of places.
Ms ARMITAGE - It probably did. But the Government was not as clear as it could have been. I wondered whether the Government could have provided us with something we could send back to people, so we all sang from the same hymn book, stating what the bill was about. I did not receive it. I did receive something -
Mrs Hiscutt - I said it would be there on Monday. I think it was Monday, was it not?
Ms ARMITAGE - I have not received anything I could send out. With respect, we received something.
Mrs Hiscutt - You are talking about a prepared letter.
Ms ARMITAGE - I am talking about something identifying what the bill was about, so that when confused people sent comments in we can send back our own comments, but also explain what the bill was. The only thing we received was a statement. I sent an email to you and your office asking whether this was confidential or whether I could send it out. I do not recall receiving an answer to that.
Mrs Hiscutt - I think you did, and we can locate it if you like.
Ms ARMITAGE - Well, I do not recall it; that is fine. The Government in the future needs to make clear what the legislation is. Not what future legislation is, but what the legislation we have now is, so that people are not concerned about something that might not be there.
Mrs Hiscutt - I apologise if I had it wrong. I thought you were looking for dot points that you could extrapolate and send to different members. I did not realise you were looking for a prepared letter. I thought a letter coming from the Government to members might not be appropriate.
Ms ARMITAGE - I was just asking for something about the bill.
Mrs Hiscutt - Those dot points were too much?
Ms ARMITAGE - From memory, I do not recall receiving something saying I could use the letter signed by Darren Hine.
Mrs Hiscutt - We are looking at that now and will get that for you.
Mr Finch - Would the second reading speech from downstairs have sufficed?
Mrs Hiscutt - There are fact sheets too, honourable member.
Ms ARMITAGE - I was looking for something that was short and concise. The Government probably did not explain the bill well enough in the community. Just about every email I received was about consorting. Even though I know it is coming up in the future, I think this bill should have been more clearly elucidated in the media so the community understood. The issue I have - do you want to say something, member for Windermere?
Mr Dean - To be fair to the media, the editorials in all three papers got it right. They were strongly supportive of this legislation. That was pretty clear.
Ms ARMITAGE - It needed to be clear to people that it was not to do with consorting. It is purely to do with the wearing of colours. Members of motorcycle clubs can wear them privately. They can wear them in their clubhouses. No-one has been through the process yet. Five have been named, but they have not been through the process. They are still allowed to wear colours at this stage because they have not been through that process. My concern is the mainland groups - I will not say gangs - coming down if the legislation does not get up. They might see that Tasmania is open for business and perhaps it is the place to come because it is open slather. I will support it into Committee.