Last time I saw Sally Kuether we shot the breeze and talked about Cate Blanchett’s performance in Notes on a Scandal – just the sort of stuff you natter about with your librarian at your local suburban library while she’s scanning the books, magazines and DVDs that you’re stocking up on for a tediously, long school holiday sentence.
She was wearing her usual crisp white shirt and tailored pants, her hair was pulled back in a nicely coiffed bun and she had that ever-ready smile and wit that I looked forward to when I visited the library.
Sally Kuether oozed niceness. I only knew her by her first name because of a badge and she only knew me as a name on a library card. We were professionally associated. A librarian and a borrower.
The next time I saw Sally was on Twitter – her photograph and a caption saying ‘Facing prison’. I reeled back and pointed to the screen on my laptop. My ten year-old daughter was beside me and squealed (as ten year-old girls do)…Oh my God, the librarian! Who did she kill? I wondered the exact same thing while clicking on the link and choking on my gluten-free toast.What I read was possibly even more troubling.
If Sally Kuether had killed someone, it might have made more sense that she was facing a mandatory prison sentence with the possibility of serving it in solitary confinement.
But Sally’s crime, it seemed, was having two beers at a pub with her new boyfriend while wearing a vest with a patch sporting the words Life and Death. She was charged under the new Queensland Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013.
Sally’s boyfriend is….dadadadaaaaa…a bikie.
Sally has been seeing Phillip ‘Crow’ Palmer, 57, for about nine months and joined him and a mate, Ronald Germain, for a beer at the Dayboro pub in December. She is now looking down the barrel of a hard-core prison sentence, locked away from her three children for a minimum of six months.
The charge is for: knowingly participating in a criminal gang in public and for remaining in a licensed premises while wearing a prohibited item.
My mind began to boggle. Had I been in the pub and sat down to say hello to my friendly librarian, I might have been facing the same fate. I sure as hell don’t know the difference between a bikie club’s patch and an Ed Hardy logo.
I tried to explain the librarian’s predicament to my daughter…
I had trouble getting her to understand. She didn’t think it sounded right that someone could be arrested for simply hanging out with someone else. We warn our children not to drink and drive, deal drugs, hit or assault anybody, steal or kill or they’ll end up in jail. Laws are designed to protect society and those posing a threat will be removed for the greater good. We trust our legal system and legislators to make sensible laws that serve us, not endanger us, laws that ensure our liberty is protected while limiting behaviour that deprives us of it.
These fresh new ‘bikie laws’ in Queensland stretch the definition of a criminal act to a new and dangerous level. In what feels like creeping fascism, the state government, led by Campbell Newman, has implemented new ‘association laws’ in an attempt to control social behaviour. The laws were rushed through without being subject to parliamentary committee process and in the absence of public consultation or scrutiny.
Newman and his team have embraced a feverish rhetoric to stoke the flames of paranoia when it comes to bikie gangs. He wants us to be afraid, very afraid of bikies.
When three or more of them are gathered….now, that there is a crime in itself. It matters not whether they are eating pizza, buying ice-cream with their kids or having a quiet beer in a pub. Three Victorian men, known bikies, were holidaying on the Gold Coast when they were arrested for associating at an ice-cream parlour. They spent three weeks in solitary confinement before being released on bail last week.
Joshua Carew spent Christmas, away from his kids, also in solitary confinement, for delivering a pizza to his brother-in-law and friends who had Rebel connections. The families of bikies are terrified and confused by the laws, worried that their children could also be considered ‘associates.’
Human rights commsioner Tim Wilson says that the Queensland anti-bikie laws are ‘inconsistent with an individual’s right to freely associate’ and argues that they are a demonstration of the worst possible consequence of what happens when individuals are labelled and treated as groups under the law.
There are some obvious and disturbing overtones.
Gary Crooke QC took a shot at Campbell’s Deep North laws and described them in the UK’s The Independent as being reminiscent of Soviet Russia and Hitler’s Germany. It does seem that Newman is shaking his iron fist by enforcing a repressive law-and-order regime which seeks to unravel hard-fought-for human rights freedoms.
There is an eerie sense of déjà vu in the not-so-sunny state these days. Bjelke-Petersen anyone?
These laws also invite comparison to those that were introduced in Victoria when Ned Kelly was around; laws that reversed the onus of proof and made it an offence to even know a bushranger. Rather than wiping out the outlaws, some historians argue that the draconian laws played a part in increasing public support for the gangs of the time. Campbell really should have read his history books.
If bikies commit crimes, they should feel the full weight of the law, just like any other law breaker. But Sally Kuether was a law-abiding citizen. She has no criminal record, received a Lord Mayor’s award for her volunteer efforts ‘over and above the call of duty’ in the wake of the 2011 Brisbane floods.
She is a mother and my favourite librarian.
If Sally Kuether is a criminal, needing to be locked away to protect society, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Solidarity, sister, and I promise I’ll fix up those library fines one of these days in case Campbell Newman makes that a crime as well.
MORE ARTICLES BY NIKKI McWATTERS
*Nikki McWatters has had a varied career, from film and television acting to teaching to legal counselling. She lives in Queensland with her husband and children. One Way or Another: The Story of a Girl Who Loved Rock Stars is her first book. It was shortlisted for the Emerging Author Award in the former Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and is published by Black Inc. You can follow Nikki on Twitter: @nikkimcwatters or visit Nikki’s blog. To find out more about Nikki’s book, One Way or Another: The Story of a Girl Who Loved Rock Stars, go here.