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Taskforce feeding: Call it what you want, it doesn’t work.

Facts and Opinion: Richard Major

Having lived in Brisbane, Australia, since 1987 until my recent deportation back to New Zealand, I am beginning to witness some disturbing law and order parallels.

From the “police state years”, ruled by long serving premier, NZ born Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to the infamous Fitzgerald enquiry into police corruption, I have seen a lot. Some good, some bad.

More recently a new chapter in experimental crime reform began with a change in Queensland’s state Government.

Ex lord Mayor Campbell Newman was the popular face an underperforming opposition desperately needed, especially considering the next state election was just around the corner. The usual suspects where on the political menu. Jobs, Education, cost of living, the environment, Government spending and one major sticking point, the war against organised crime and the illicit drug trade.

Recent open-air gang violence, mainly on the Gold Coast, led to public outcry and a Coalition Government’s headline act for their new campaign strategy. Tear down the current Government for being “soft on crime”.

Ring any bells?

So, in 2013, Mr Newman and his team proposed the “Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment” act. More commonly known as the VLAD laws. They say timing is everything and so it was, Campbell became Queensland’s new Premier. Soon after, the act came to fruition.

With the new improved VLAD laws in place, next came part 2 of this new solution to disband gangs and destroy the illicit drug trade. “Taskforce Maxima”. A police force “A-Team” targeting organised crime began its rigorous campaign. Hard line new laws gave them more power than ever before, including the introduction of advanced “on suspicion” covert surveillance.

Taskforce Maxima, armed with state-of-the-art equipment “just like in America” started arresting anyone and everyone associated with gangs. No matter how far down the line you where, or if you didn’t even know a gang was involved in your dodgy purchase, you were in their sights. This was no “receiving stolen goods” or drug dealing upgrade, this was a dedicated, get them off the streets, disrupt and disband strategy. Groups of 3 or more gang members meeting or gathering was against the law. Have a beer with a gang member after helping him move house, you’re an associate. Patches in public, another whammy. Traditional small time dealing became Trafficking with a top sentence of 25 years in prison.

Ring any more bells?

In the end, it was a dismal failure aside from one major achievement. Queensland Prisons are now on average 50% over quota. So, a prison such as Woodford, built to house 900-1000 now has an average of between 1,400 and 1,500 inmates. Regular strikes by corrections officers are common as their numbers simply do not cater for this increased prison population.

So, like the floor space in a single cell, Campbell Newman disappeared, along with his short-lived parties state leadership. In 2016 the VLAD laws where scrapped. But the damage was done, and the courts are still sifting through the nightmare of never-ending cases that smart Lawyers are tearing to pieces.

The Return on Investment (ROI) also made sad reading. The money spent and waste of Government resources in both the Police Force and Court Systems just did not pay off. Also, overflowing prisons and stretching corrections to breaking point are not exercises in smart economics.

Now, if you rely on data and statistics being supplied by the Police on “Task Force Maxima’s” success rates, you may as well rely on a Coal Mining corporation’s internal Environmental Impact Study. Or a large Company doing their own Tax audit.

Just like in business, strategies must change to succeed. Replication of the “Taskforce” model is like opening a typewriter retail store on Queen street with no online shopping options. Imagine going to a bank seeking finance on that business model?

There are solutions, there are answers. Unfortunately, most Government’s and oppositions lack of vision or fear of vote loss dictates a sad old rhetoric. They are chained to a system that keeps them bound to their political party’s kennel of agenda’s and age-old beliefs.

And the voters must bear the brunt of some blame. Constantly giving in and falling for scare campaigns based on protecting the innocent and keeping the baddies off the streets.

Now, again, the public are being taskforce fed another hand me down political band aid that simply put, has not and will not stop the bleeding.


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