The Victorian Andrews Government is in the process of passing new extensive anti-association laws through the state parliament. First announced by Police Minister Lisa Neville back in July the laws passed the Legislative Assembly last week.
The aim of such laws is to prevent convicted violent criminals expanding their networks using young “clean skins” ie those with no criminal records. The issuing of an anti-association notice prohibits associations in person, over the phone and online with those breaching a notice potentially facing three years jail.
The new laws differ from existing Victorian anti-association laws in that notices can be issued to people as young as 14, police no longer have to consider whether issuing a notice will prevent a serious crime being committed, there is no requirement for police to consider if an association is for non-criminal purposes and laws will operate retrospectively.
These new laws are seen as part of the Victorian Government’s response to Victoria’s African youth gang crime wave which they have consistently unable to combat since its surge at the beginning of the year. Lisa Neville acknowledged the new laws give police “extraordinary powers” as 2,500 more officers from the rank of sergeant onward can hand out anti-association notices to anyone.
The new laws have alarmed civil libertarian groups such as the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Law Institute of Victoria and the Human Rights Law Centre. The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service also expressed concern that such laws could unfairly target the aboriginal community.
What concerns people most about such broad police powers is the potential for abuse including future governments using such laws to their advantage to target political opponents or hinder the activities of various groups and organizations they don’t like. To ally such concerns Victoria’s anti-corruption commission will be given oversight over the new laws.
If these new laws are to combat the state’s African crime problem then it looks to be a mild solution. In the previous two riots that have occurred in Melbourne involving African youths police made no arrests which means no legal processes have even begun to give the alleged perpetrators criminal records for which police could then issue anti-association notices to.
The new laws still have to pass the state’s Upper House where the government does not have a majority. What final form they take and how they are implemented will be closely watched.