HOW come we have the capacity to eavesdrop on the private conversations of the President of Indonesia and his wife, but not on Queensland bikies? Or so it would appear.
Queensland and other Australian police have been tracking bikies forever. If, after all this time, and with all of the arrest powers, intelligence and surveillance available, they cannot find enough evidence to charge bikies with offences they want to charge them for, then maybe the bikies don’t do those crimes?
Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party government wants to crack down on crime committed by bikies by breaking up bikie gangs.
To do so, in October the government passed the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013, and two others.
The theory seems to be that jailing bikies for a long time for the crimes they commit will stop the crimes for which bikies cannot be caught.
Further, it has been reported that Police Minister Jack Dempsey asked Queensland Corrective Services to investigate changing the colour of the prison uniform, possibly to fluoro pink.
“We will start with members and associates of criminal gangs and will look at rolling it out to other inmates over time,” Dempsey reportedly said. The popular media loves that sort of circus.
The origin of the Queensland legislation was a brawl outside a Broadbeach cafe, where former LNP leader and local member John-Paul Langbroek was dining. After the fracas, he is said to have telephoned Newman demanding he do something about bikies on the Gold Coast.
Campbell designed the mother of all scare campaigns. Scare campaigns are normally a diversion. Newman does not need a diversion; he has serious work in paying down Labor debt, including preparing government assets for sale and convincing a sceptical public of the benefit. There is plenty of bread; the government does not need to produce circuses.
People who are defined as “vicious lawless associates” by the VLAD Act will automatically have to serve 15 years in prison in addition to their standard sentence. If they are an office bearer of the association, they will automatically be required to serve 25 years in custody in addition to their standard sentence. The additional sentence must be imposed even if the person is not sentenced to a period of imprisonment for the original offence.
Twenty-six motorcycle clubs were declared as criminal organisations and 41 places, clubhouses, were described as prescribed places. Most of the clubs are well known: Bandidos, Black Uhlans, Coffin Cheaters and Comancheros. Others are less so, but no doubt just as charming: the Fourth Reich, Gladiators, Mobshitters and the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Many do not operate in Queensland.
Reportedly, the government has spent $800,000 on an advertising campaign declaring that it has “drawn the line” on “criminal bikie gangs”.
Two concerns with the legislation were expressed at the time: that the mandatory detention powers in the act are not limited to alleged criminal bikie gangs, and the loss of discretion in sentencing. A third is the bleeding obvious. Outlawing associations of ugly misfits whose intention as associations are not criminal as such (unlike terrorist associations) is a serious misapplication of the law.
The Labor government abolished the Legislative Council in Queensland in 1922. If governments are to play this game, it may be time to constrain them by bringing it back.
Terry Goldsworthy of Bond University worked as a detective in charge of the criminal investigation branch at Burleigh Heads from 1994 to 2010. His examination of police data for the Gold Coast region showed that outlaw motorcycle gangs committed about 0.9 per cent of crimes, and just 0.4 per cent of crimes when only members, not associates, were included.
In its annual intelligence assessment of organised crime released earlier this year, the Australian Crime Commission noted: “Some organised crime groups in Australia, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs, have a longstanding association with a culture of violence.”
Quite so, but Queensland Police data showed the three most common offences committed by the outlaw motorcycle gangs were breach of bail, unlicensed or disqualified driving, and low-level possession of dangerous drugs.
Few of the presenters at the International Serious and Organised Crime Conference held in Brisbane in July mentioned bikie gangs as other than bit players among an array of other more serious players.
As Arthur Veno, author of The Brotherhoods: Inside the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (2009), wrote: “To become an outlaw motorcyclist can require years of scrutiny by fellow club members, impeccable credentials as a biker and, in certain circumstances, even a requirement to commit an illegal act.” Police have been watching, and no doubt listening to, bikies for years, but if you don’t do the crime you shouldn’t do the time.
Meanwhile, cabinet should dress in pink until they are rehabilitated.