United Motorcycle Council

A campaign to address controversial new laws

Client brief

In early 2009, governments around Australia proposed to introduce "anti-bikie" laws. Under these laws, new police powers would allow them to submit secret evidence to the court to secure a criminal declaration against any group. This evidence could not be seen, tested or refuted by the defence.

Once declared a criminal group, it would be illegal for members of declared organisations to associate with each other, hold down jobs in a range of industries, or own their own businesses. Members who did not comply could be jailed for between two and five years. 

Given the rules of evidence did not apply to these laws, they represented a serious, potential degradation in civil rights for anyone to whom they were applied.

At the same time as the laws were introduced, governments around Australia began running campaigns to highlight the "growing crime threat" of motorcycle clubs, even running ads attesting to the criminality of bikers.

The United Motorcycle Councils engaged Cole Lawson to run a PR campaign to oppose the proposed laws. The councils sought to create public awareness and debate about the laws, draw attention to unfair aspects, refute incorrect information, and ensure that governments and police were held to account for their words and actions.

Our work

Cole Lawson worked with the UMCs in each state. Our campaign activities included: 
  • conducting primary and secondary research to develop persuasive arguments, key messages and stakeholder lists
  • organising and hosting meetings for the UMC, politicians and opinion leaders
  • launching the UMCs to the media and establishing media relationships and access
  • organising national media coverage that told the bikers’ side of the story
  • creating and promoting YouTube content
  • writing speeches, video scripts and letters.

It is important to note that our strategy was never to produce “spin” to change public attitudes of motorcycle club members.

The campaign strategy involved communicating truthful, factual and persuasive information to the right people and opening lines of communication between the UMCs and their stakeholders.

Outcomes

The implementation of our campaign resulted in significant and sustained media coverage in a spectrum of tier one media. We successfully secured a speaking spot for our clients at the prestigious National Press Club. 

Our campaign engaged the vocal support of prominent academics, civil libertarians, and law groups. The UMCs spoke at universities, launched a YouTube video, blogged on The Punch, and won the support of key opinion writers.

The outcome of the campaign was unprecedented opinion leader debate on the “anti-bikie” issue, and:

  • in Queensland, the Government decided to water down the most controversial aspects of its legislation and add provisions to protect civil liberties
  • in Western Australia, the government has still not introduced its legislation
  • in South Australia, the toughest part of the law was overturned in the High Court of Australia
  • in New South Wales in 2011, the High Court of Australia ruled the NSW laws invalid

This campaign achieved unprecedented coverage for our clients and won the Public Relations Institute of Australia's 2010 Public Affairs Award for Excellence. The campaign was also Highly Commended by the PRIA nationally.

* Note: Cole Lawson is handling media enquiries for the UMCQ following the high court challenge against the Newman Government's anti-bikie laws. Cole Lawson is not running a campaign on this occasion, and the activities described above relate to the 2009 campaign. Media enquiries for the UMCQ or its legal team should be directed to 07 3221 2220.