However, supporters of the laws say any watering down of the legislation gives the violent gangs the green light to resume operations.
On Monday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the state’s Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment act, or VLAD laws — introduced by her predecessor Campbell Newman — would be scrapped following a report from the Taskforce on Organised Crime Legislation.
The laws, the most stringent in Australia, came into place in 2013 after a massive bikie brawl in Broadbeach, on the Gold Coast, a hotspot of Queensland’s outlaw motorcycle gangs.
The VLAD laws primarily prevented three or more members from criminal motorbike gangs, such as the Finks, Rebels and Bandidos, from meeting up.
Bikie clubhouses were also closed down and gang members stopped from wearing their club colours into licensed premises.
Police said the laws allowed them to make headway in operations targeting the gangs and the lack of clubhouses and colours had made the bikies far less visible.
But critics said elements of the legislation were far too broad and, ultimately, they had little effect in curbing the gangs’ criminal activities.
MAYHEM ON STREETS
Last August, a case against five alleged bikies, who were arrested while buying ice cream on the Gold Coast, collapsed with the men’s lawyer remarking, “The biggest controversy was whether it should be a choc-top or a vanilla ice cream”.
That hasn’t stopped the laws backers from furiously trying to keep them in place.
Last week, a Gold Coast police officer, who was one of the key players in attempting to break up the gangs, said any watering down of the legislation would lead to a bikie turf war as different groups sought to dominate.
Superintendent Jim Keogh said it was important to remember the way things were before the VLAD laws.
“It was mayhem on the streets and the tough laws were what had to happen.”
“Surfers Paradise was always the Finks’ turf but they’re going to face a fight for it if the bikies return to the Coast,” he told the Courier Mail.
“Many Finks patched over to the Mongols before the VLAD laws and they are going to want Surfers Paradise.
“The Hells Angels have made the internal decision to expand, with their sights set on the same patch.”
WAITING AT TWEED HEADS
Jarrod Bleijie, who was the architect of the laws when he was attorney-general in the Newman Government, said “The minute that deterrence is gone — i.e. the repeal of the legislation — the criminal gang members are waiting at Tweed Heads to come back over the border into Queensland, where they can again start their illegal operations.”
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate even went so far as to say any changes to bikies laws should be with the aim of making them “even tougher”.
But responding to the review’s recommendations Ms Palaszczuk said, “The VLAD laws only got two convictions, I repeat, only two convictions.”
Ms Palaszczuk said new laws would be introduced later this year. But although the offence of gang members meeting would be scrapped, they would be replaced by new legislation that would be “tough, workable and enforceable”.
“There will be no let-up from police or prosecutors, we will be giving them more resources. I want more convictions, not less.”
Bond University’s Terry Goldsworthy, a former detective inspector, is an expert in bikies. Dr Goldsworthy scoffed at the idea that bikies were revving their engines on the NSW side of the border ready to head back into the sunshine state.
“They’re not waiting to reclaim the Coast,” he told news.com.au.
“People think there are no bikies in Queensland. The bikies are here but they have been forced underground and don’t wear their colours in public.”
Dr Goldsworthy said the lack of convictions suggested the laws were a reaction to a “moral panic” about bikies, were more about a war of attrition against the gangs and as such an “abuse of process”.
“The Queensland Police Service has all the resources and capabilities to deal with criminal elements of the bikies and I think the effect of VLAD laws has been vastly overstated,” he said.
“If the laws were removed would the police be able to do what they’ve been doing for the last two years? The answer, of course, being yes.”
The review found that recruitment by criminal gangs had continued since the 2013 laws, albeit with a reduced public profile. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people charged under the laws were not gang members.
Dr Goldsworthy said police already had much of the legal clout they needed to beat criminal activities but they had to “maintain focus and maintain adequate resourcing levels” within those parts of the force targeting bikies.
One change, which the Queensland Government looks likely to make, is to adopt a NSW-style consorting law which would see groups of gang members broken up — but only if they had criminal convictions.
“The way it’s done is much more targeted and much more successful than up here and one of the problems [in Queensland] is they’re just not winning in court,” said Dr Goldsworthy.
Acting Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the laws were working but he criticised the taskforce’s terms of reference, which ordered it to advise the government how best to repeal or substantially amend the legislation, meant the review wasn’t credible.
“The review is a stitch up based on a false premise.”
A group of motorcycle gang members and their lawyers said they expected the new laws would be challenged in court because elements would still remain in place.
“They’re chasing us for high handlebars and noisy pipes, making out like we’re some sort of smart criminal organisation,” Rebels Brisbane chapter president Mick Kosenko said.
“They should be tackling real crime and get rid of these laws.”
- with AAP.