Anti-Consorting Laws Coming to Canberra

Most Australian states and territories have passed laws which make it a crime to associate with anyone who has a criminal record.

Now, the ACT looks set to follow NSW, Queensland, Northern Territory, Victoria and South Australia in passing its version of ‘anti-consorting’ laws.

The ACT government released its model for the proposed laws in a discussion paper last week, paving the way for the introduction of legislation after public consultation closes on July 7.

The Model

The ACT proposes to ban communications with anyone that police claim is a member of a criminal group, whether or not that person has been convicted of a criminal offence.

After a person is warned by police about consorting with such a person, they may be charged and face a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for continuing to associate with the supposed member.

If the alleged member has a criminal conviction, police will not be subject to any judicial oversight at all – the person will be considered a member of a criminal group simply because police say so.

If the alleged member has no criminal convictions at all, police will need to go through a magistrate before that person can be declared a member of a criminal group. In that event, police will be able to keep their reasons secret, only producing their ‘information’ to the magistrate, and not giving the person who has a clean record the opportunity to look at that material and defend themselves.

Legal protections

The ACT government claims a range of safeguards would prevent police from abusing their new powers.

These, it says, would include the fact that children are exempted from “consorting bans”, and “coincidental contact” would not amount to consorting.

There would also be a defence of “reasonable” consorting, which would include contact with family members, or in the course of employment, training, education, legal advice or the provision of a health service.

Questionable Basis

The need for anti-consorting laws in the ACT is questionable at best. The government’s own discussion paper says the ACT has a total of just 45 residents who are believed to be members of ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’. The paper produced little evidence that these people are creating a significant problem, let alone necessitating the introduction of such draconian and intrusive legislation.

Indeed, many believe the proposed laws are simply a way to give police more power and control over members of the community they don’t like – even those who have no criminal record at all.

And despite independent reports consistently finding that anti-association laws are a ‘crushing’ intrusion on basic human rights – including freedom of association, freedom of expression and the presumption of innocence – and that they fail to achieve their stated objectives, it seems Australia is intent on using moral panic to justify laws which give law enforcement agencies unchecked powers over members of the community, without judicial oversight.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.


  1. David Brooks

    The answer is to change the holders of all parliamentary seats who have voted this type of legislation into being. Did anyone ask for a division? If not then all are compliant!

  2. David Brooks

    Why don’t our politicians simply ban everything and make laws stating what things they will allow us to do? Can we walk down the street without a license? Can I ask that stranger for directions in a strange town? Can I put my helmet on with my left hand instead of the right one? Do we have to wear signs outing ourselves for being members of this or that party, or group or club or union? Is accidently brushing against another person and apolagising designated as “consorting?”

    The list goes on – it would be far simpler to ban everything and make a few exception. And, of course, we could have one or two of those loveable people called policemen on every corner just to ensure we had the right identity on us when we visited the bakers, after a security check naturally!

  3. Nick Chugg

    Australia appears to be going trough a very similar legislative experience to pre-WW2 Germany!

  4. Faye Charlston

    Commonwealth constitution of Australia.
    Chapter v – 117
    A subject of the Queen resident in any State, shall not be subject in any other State to any disability or discrimination which would not be equally applicable to him if he were a subject of the Queen resident in such other State.

  5. Aus citizen

    In NSW we have had ICAC investigations revealing systemic corruption by members of both the Labor and Liberal parties. I wait for their addition to the criminal group list. I guess because motorbikes aren’t involved the rules don’t apply…

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