Dear Past Me / Future Me,
If I told you that everything will be okay, will you believe me?
Probably not. But remember today.
There are many ways to fight.
There are many ways to express rage.
Today you made an absolute spectacle of yourself – more than usual. Today you wore a balaclava and a tutu in a solitary confinement cell in 30 degree weather and knitted a scarf. And everything was pink.
Who do you think you are?
In 2010, you moved here from Canada. You chose to call Queensland home. Living here is a privilege, and with that comes the responsibility to “Advance Australia fair”. A good resident is not passive, obedient, but takes individual responsibility to hold Australia to a standard. Politicians must be held to account. Winning an election is not a blank cheque, it is a contract to act in the best interests of the people and the resources of the state/country.
Today, Bikies rode in from outlying areas to join the Freedom Day Rally in the city. According to reports, one of the bikers, a Vietnam vet, had a fall on the motorway. The riders all stopped in support of a brother and an Australian hero until the ambulance arrived and took him safely to the hospital. These acts of solidarity and community are what makes Queensland strong. To me this is what Queensland is about. In order to survive the state’s legacy of burdensome bureaucracy and political corruption, Queenslanders have learned to reach out and take personal responsibility for supporting family in crisis instead of relying on official agencies and challenges. For some, family is blood, for others it is in the form of bonds created over a lifetime. A motorcycle group, dance troupe, sports team, or social club allow individuals to access resources and emotional supports. When the floods devastated Queensland and insurance companies waffled, it was up to peers to provide beds, beers, washing machines, and mops and buckets.
I first came to Queensland to intern with a theatre company, immediately falling in with a group of similarly-minded people which certainly aided the transition from my hometown. When the internship ended, we parted ways. Many travelled to other states and other countries. Whilst completing a distance study course and awaiting the commencement of my Master’s program, I enrolled in dance classes to help me as I was again very alone and isolated.
We are programmed for relationships, it is inherent to our survival. Gangs, clubs, and teams can provide support and safe outlets. Under the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill 2013 (VLAD), the Premier is trying to divide and isolate Queenslanders. The Liberal Party claims that these laws target “Bikies”, yet Members of Biker gangs are not mentioned in the document. Rather, “lawless associations” are mentioned, which can be a corporation, unincorporated association, club or league or “any other group of 3 or more persons by whatever name called, whether associated formally or informally and whether the group is legal or illegal ” (section 1.3). For an organisation to be declared lawless is markedly easy with little opportunity for appeal.
Described as “the most extreme legislation in Australia’s history”, I have referred to VLAD as the ultimate prostitute of bills because “she can be anything you want her to be, baby”. Lawyers are limited in their abilities to advise groups – including workplaces, book clubs, and sporting associations – as to the potential impact of the bill because it is so general. Its impact and application relies solely on the intent of the “Johns” those who wield it, and how they use it to support their aims and political ambitions.
Piggy-backing the passing of these laws on the shock of a weekend of violence on the Gold Coast in order to rush it through Parliament smacks of political opportunism. Indeed, it is suspicious that the document was ready to be hastened through approval so quickly. Newman: how many monkeys and how many typewriters were required to write VLAD?
“take off your colours, get a real job, act like decent, law-abiding human beings, and become proper citizens in the state of Queensland and you won’t have to go to jail.” – Newman, October 17, 2013
We already know that a person who has ever been associated with a gang, even if they renounce their membership, is still considered a criminal associate under VLAD. We have already seen family members and friends of biker gang members being deemed guilty by association, locked in solitary merely for socialising with or for assisting a gang member. We know that possessing motorcycles, rings, patches, tattoos, and vests make one vulnerable to police interrogation, fines, and other legal action. We know that Tradies are now being subjected to extensive background checks, and that operating a motorcycle invites police attention and a shockingly level of enquiry into one’s personal and professional life.
These laws have been used to target property with no association with illegal activity and owners of businesses such as tattoo parlours have seen their licensing change and insurance costs skyrocket. In a state where rockabilly culture is so popular, it seems ridiculous to claim a correlation between tattooed flesh and criminal activity. Bleijie has indicated that security companies, gyms, and second-hand car dealerships are next under the microscope. Not only will this hamper businesses with no criminal associations, but it will have significant impacts on the state’s economy as bureaucracy and red tape increase. Furthermore, with mandatory 25+ year sentences on the line, you can expect an increase in antagonism between Bikies and Police.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me. – Martin NIiemoller
We jokingly refer to Brisbane as a small country town where everybody is one degree of separation from everybody else. My Lover seems to know just about everyone in Brisbane, and it is rare for us to be in public without running into individuals and groups from a wide variety of backgrounds. As a Health Professional and temporary resident, I have undergone extensive police checks, my record is spotless and I can work with children. the elderly, and other vulnerable individuals. However, I have worked in services helping drug addicts, the mentally ill, and people with criminal histories. Building a relationship based on a positive regard for the individual was essential to my being able to fulfil my job. If I were to meet one of those former clients whilst on my own time and stopped to talk to them, would I be deemed to be associating with that individual and would that influence my spotless criminal record?
Perhaps Newman and Bleijie would be so kind as to issue survival guides as how we are to establish if the person with whom we are about to associate is, has, will ever be, or has breathed the same oxygen as a person who is, has, or will ever be associated with a Bike Gang. The irony is Bleijie once attacked the Labour government for attempting to pass The Criminal Organisation Bill for restricting freedom to associate.
Pre-existing laws already dealt with criminal activity and associations, and VLAD have been demonstrably ineffective in meeting their stated aims. So my question is, what blind spot are these laws actually intended to remediate? Under these current laws, there is no guilty until proven innocent. Individuals are in solitary confinement for months until they can stand trial. Not only is solitary confinement detrimental to a person’s health, but it is economically unsustainable, particularly if there is to be such an influx in detainees under these new laws.
In addition, the backlog will hit the judicial system, which will not only impact those charged and confined under VLAD, but those involved in other legal proceedings. The only answer to defining a greater number of Queenslanders as potential criminals is MORE, more Police, more prisons, more Lawyers, more Judges, more Clerks, more court rooms, more money. After months of cutting jobs and services, Newman now plans to spend $500,000 of taxpayer’s money to re-brand the VLAD to make them palatable to the public.
In the end, it is all individual. My ideals are formed by my experiences and my influences. I owe much to my family, but how I express these ideals are certainly different to how they express them! Only by taking personal responsibility will revolution and reform occur. I cannot form someone’s ethics, I cannot force a person to act from their heart. All I can do is live according to my integrity and my conscience – and find others that do the same so we can support and revive each other. Instead of asking why others AREN’T doing something, why not ask yourself what you CAN do? You will find your tribe, you may lose your tribe, but do not wait for your tribe before you act. Your tribe with find you, they will know you by the walk you walk, not the talk you talk.
Perhaps this year, you chose to spend Australia Day drinking, soaking in the pool, listening to Hottest 100, and associating with whomever you chose. This is your right. There will be many other opportunities to demonstrate against VLAD. Perhaps you do not think VLAD will ever apply to you and you don’t give a toss about some criminal bikies and their families. And that is your right too.
What I hope most for you is that maybe, next time you think “someone should ____”, you realise that you are that person to meet that need. Above all, I hope you have your loved ones around to support you and that you live a life you love.