Rebels with a clause


300x200_0001_Biker_ArticleBy Adeline Teoh

National efforts to reduce the public impact of outlaw motorcycle gangs have stepped up with new laws that target this specific type of organised crime. What can we expect from the coordinated efforts between the Commonwealth and the States?

Two men walk into a bar. This is not the start of a joke, but the beginning of an incident that led to a public national crackdown on outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) in late September 2013. More than a dozen members of the Bandidos, an OMCG, followed the two men into the Aura Tapas and Loungebar. The ensuing brawl outside the Gold Coast restaurant saw several terrified diners flee the scene and some 60 men involved in total. About half have since been arrested.

The incident did two things; it allowed Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, and his Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, to pass tougher laws designed to prevent members of OMCGs from associating with one another, and it gave oxygen to a national effort developed to counter the borderless nature of organised crime.

The new Queensland legislation includes:

• Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill 2013

• Tattoo Parlours Bill 2013

• Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Bill 2013.

Among other things, it allows the Queensland Government to regulate tattoo parlours, prevent gatherings of more than three gang members, arrest any members who wear club insignias, and conduct closer surveillance and financial scrutiny of businesses that may be owned or frequented by gangs.

Teething problems

Although the public seems to support the laws in principle, there has already been a backlash from the legal community and civil libertarians after some prominent gaffes, the first of which was the speed at which the laws were passed without public consultation and the usual parliamentary committee process. This led to a mistake stating that a gang member who commits grievous bodily harm or assaults a police officer ‘must be imprisoned for one year’ instead of instilling a minimum mandatory sentence of one year.

Other detractors believe the laws are too vague. In addition to OMCGs, the laws could potentially cover activist groups, trade unions or other organisations the Government begins to dislike, according to the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. Queensland Convenor,

Benedict Coyne, was concerned that the laws undermine human rights principles on arbitrary detention, equality before the law, and the freedoms of association and expression, the Brisbane Times reported.

The law against insignias became a farce when police questioned a man wearing a t-shirt with a fictional gang symbol from TV show Sons of Anarchy. There is also concern that without insignias, gang members could be harder to identify.

Business disruption is also a point of contention. Bleijie says, in addition to tattoo parlours, he will also look at second-hand car dealerships, gyms and security firms, as he believes these sectors contain businesses owned and/or operated by gangs for the purposes of money laundering and other illegal activities such as distributing drugs. Because of his high profile stance, the Attorney-General has already become the target of an OMCG threat. READ MORE