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Hardline anti-bikie laws tearing young Indigenous cousins apart

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Indigenous legal experts are calling for an overhaul of anti-consorting laws across the nation which have disproportionately targeted young First Nations people for committing minor offences while hanging out with family.

Serious concerns have been raised about the patchwork of anti-consorting laws which critics claim are victimising Indigenous people, often in out of home care, who find a sense of family in hanging out with cousins.

Gamilaroi man Daniel Daylight, who has been working with Aboriginal youth in courts for 13 years in Redfern and Mt Druitt, said cousins were being told they could not hang out.

"If they commit something as a group, then they use consorting law, there is that or another non-association law and a few other laws that control young people," he said.

"What police fail to understand is the family nature of a group of young fellas that have come together.

"Sometimes they come together and they might do a few bad things, but it's been them that's given them that sense of family, and often later make the connections that they are indeed family.

Mr Daylight said authorities needed a better understanding of kinship and police needed to stay in community postings longer to improve relationships and build trust.

The laws are enforced to varying degrees in every state and territory except the ACT, with NSW revising their version in 2012 to better target bikies and organised crime.

But reviews by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission and NSW Ombudsman have since found Indigenous youth are being disproportionately targeted as a result of the laws in NSW.

A NSW Government spokesperson said the LECC was undertaking a statutory review of the consorting laws and would consider recommendations when the report is finished, expected to be at the end of the year.

The review comes after the LECC in October 2021 released a discussion paper which showed 25 percent of children caught under the law and 40 percent of people overall were Indigenous.

The paper stated general duty police, not specialist organised crime squads, were the primary users of the law against children and were found to be more likely to apply consorting law to Indigenous people.

Those findings echoed the NSW Ombudsman, which in 2016 found general duties officers were using the laws to respond to relatively minor offending and had a high error rate in applying the law to minors.

In 2022-2023 the NSW Government committed $20 million toward justice initiatives, including expanding Koori Court.

Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) chief executive and Palawa woman Karly Warner said the laws needed to be repealed entirely.

"They are incompatible with fundamental human rights including the rights to freedom of association and assembly," she said.

But at a minimum, the existing legislation must be amended to better reflect its original purpose of curtailing serious and organised crime.

"Consorting laws should not be used by police to address minor offending, and they should not be used by general duty officers in everyday policing at all."

Ms Warner said the laws were criminalising social interactions and added to a justice system stacked against Indigenous people.

"Parliament reintroduced consorting laws because of anxiety around outlaw motorcycle gangs, but the legislation is unacceptably broad," she said.

The current law doesn't require police to establish that there is any unlawful purpose or criminal activity going on before charging people with consorting.

"Instead, legislators have suggested that police use their discretion â€" yet we know wherever discretion is involved, Aboriginal people are targeted."

Variations of consorting law exist in all Australian states and the Northern Territory, except the Australian Capital Territory.

The ACT Human Rights Commissioner and ACT Law Society share the opinion the law unfairly affects marginalised and vulnerable people.

Have an experience to share? Email [email protected]

Story by Jess Whaler

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