North Coast police issue 336 anti-bikie consorting warnings
POLICE on the North Coast have issued anti-consorting warnings 336 times but laid no charges since the controversial bikie laws were introduced in 2012.
A NSW Greens freedom of information request has revealed 8556 warnings were issued to 2412 people statewide between April 2012 and September 2015, but only 54 were charged.
Of those, five received prison sentences.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, an outspoken critic of the laws, said they were being overused to target people with no links to gang activities.
"It means people on the North Coast are going to be subjected to restrictions on their civil liberties - who they meet with, email and talk to - because of a purported crime fear that arose in outer Western Sydney," he said.
"These figures show this is becoming a normal everyday policing practice all around the state.
"It was originally passed by parliament because police said they needed to deal with outlaw motorcycle gangs.
"Now it is being used across the board."
"Consorting makes it a crime - not to harm somebody or steal their property - but to meet with someone the police don't want you to meet with."
The NSW Police document revealed the Richmond Local Area Command as the North Coast's most prolific user of the powers, with 234 warnings issued.
Tweed-Byron LAC came next with 86 warnings, followed by Coffs-Clarence LAC on 16.
No charges have been laid on the North Coast.
Police can issue consorting warnings to anyone, regardless of whether they have committed a crime, prohibiting them from interacting with a person who has been convicted at any time of an indictable offence.
Breaches can range from a physical meeting to text messages and carry a maximum three-year jail sentence.
"That person's offence could have happened 30 years ago and they could have had a blameless record since," Mr Shoebridge said.
A High Court challenge against the laws failed in 2014, with the court finding a right to freedom of association did not exist.
Mr Shoebridge said the Greens sought to tighten the legislation in parliament.
The party also asked for figures on how many of the warnings were issued to Aboriginal people, but Mr Shoebridge said police denied keeping count.
"If they are not collecting data on Aboriginality, that in itself is offensive, because a 2013 Ombudsman review found (the laws) had been overwhelmingly used against Aboriginal people," he said.
"The police are now telling us they don't have data as to Aboriginality. I find that hard to believe.
"We will be seeking an internal review or taking them to court if necessary."
More laws have since been added to the police force's arsenal.
This year's introduction of "crime prevention orders" allowing police to restrict people's movements, employment options and subject them to curfews has been widely criticised by human rights groups.
Law Society of NSW president Gary Ulman this month said the law "could erode longstanding rights including the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, the right to property, and the right to be protected against double punishment".
But police maintain the powers are necessary to keep the community safe.
"The consorting laws have proven to be an important tool in assisting us tackle crime and keeping the community safe," State Crime Command Gangs Squad Commander Deborah Wallace said.
"They are aimed at convicted criminals and those who associate with them.
"It's important to note that anyone who is charged with consorting has already been formally warned by police on at least two occasions." -ARM NEWSDESK
Warnings issued on the North Coast:
- Richmond LAC: 234
- Tweed-Byron LAC: 86
- Coffs-Clarence: 16
- TOTAL: 336