Following the passage of the Serious and Organised Legislation Amendment Act in 2016 Queensland now has the new offence of habitually consorting with a recognised offender[1].This offence outlaws anyone from having intentional contact with two or more ‘recognised offenders’, with certain (narrow) statutory exceptions.


The explanatory notes for the new laws suggest that they are more constitutionally robust, fairer, efficient and effective than those which had been preferred by the Newman Government. Time will tell.


By May 2017 the Courier Mail were reporting[2] that over 100 warnings had been issued without any charges being laid.


Under the old version of this law, proceedings against the 7 alleged members of the Rebels Motorcycle Club took almost four years to be conclude in the Magistrates Court. At the time of last report, only two of the original ‘Yandina 7’ were prosecuted. The cost to the taxpayer for prosecuting 7 men ‘having a beer’ would have been monumental. Several defendants were legally aided and a deputy director appeared for the Crown.


While apparently aimed at any ‘organised’ crime there is little doubt that the legislation was drafted with outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) in mind. Despite this, this author has seen three recent examples of how the Queensland Police Service have broadened their application of these controversial laws.


In the first instance, a female partner of my client (who admittedly had ties to OMGs) was issued a consorting warning listing her partner as someone she could not consort with. The warning was issued despite statutory defences found in section 77C which include, amongst others, that any consorting with a spouse or someone whom you share parental responsibility with should be disregarded.


In the second instance a young man’s father called me sounding irate. His son had been served an official consorting warning seeking to prevent him from seeing his best friend since childhood. The friend had one previous conviction which had been resolved summarily. Despite this, the friend was defined as a ‘recognised offender’. He had been convicted of a drug offence which carried a maximum penalty which exceeded 5 years[3]. There was no suggestion he was a member of an OMG.


The third instance shows how the legislation is being contorted to apply to just about any group of people the Police have their eye on. I acted for a young client who, with several others, was charged with a violent home invasion. My client was released on Supreme Court bail before the charges against him were discontinued. Following his discharge my client was given a consorting warning prohibiting contact with some of his former co-accused (who I presume met the definition of reportable offender). Importantly, the co-accused had been in custody together for some time (another statutory defence under s77C) and any evidence which suggested a gang affiliation was not pursued by the Crown at committal. In reality, the Police wanted to impose upon my client a quasi-bail condition preventing him contacting his co-accused. All of this when he was no longer before the Courts.


Each instance here reveals a lack of understanding of the application and intention of the consorting laws. Further, it crystallises the dangers outlined in the High Court challenges to this type of legislation namely that such laws are, in practice, being used to simply stop association, rather than to prevent organised crime.


More pointedly, it suggests that the QPS are giving very little thought to s5BAC of the PPRA which stipulates that before giving an official warning they should consider whether it is appropriate to give the warning having regard to the object of disrupting and preventing criminal activity by deterring recognised offenders from establishing, maintaining or expanding a criminal network.


One hopes that the Public Interest Monitor, who is responsible for gathering statistical information about the use and effectiveness of these warnings[4], is taking careful note. To suggest that no charges have been preferred on account of the effectiveness of the warnings is simplistic. Unless the law is applied as intended, its benefits will never come to fruition.




[1] Section 77B Criminal Code


[3] As most offences under the Drugs Misuse Act do.

[4] Section 742(4)(e) Police Powers and Responsibilities Act (2000)