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An obsession with bikie gangs has distracted police forces from the “real criminal threat” in organised crime: transnational criminal entrepreneurs and dangerous overseas freelancers.
The warning is contained in a submission to Queensland’s secretive commission of inquiry into organised crime — led by top criminal barrister Michael Byrne QC.
In the submission — obtained by The Australian and prepared by Bond University criminology professor and ex-policeman Terry Goldsworthy — he reveals that while outlaw motorcycle gangs do traffic some drugs, in particular steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, they were not the “kingpins” or Australia’s “peak criminal threat”.
His submission says that mantle should be reserved for “transnational organised crime groups” that operated largely online, often in at least three countries at once, and with little concern for “group branding or loyalty”.
“With so much focus on domestic gangs as the peak criminal threat, perhaps we have taken our eye off the ball of the real criminal threat outside Australia’s borders,” Dr Goldsworthy and co-author Laura McGillivray told the inquiry.
“Traditional crime groups and traditional definitions of organised crime may no longer be the best way of understanding and framing our response to organised crime … today’s organised crime occurs through loose and undefined networks made up of criminal entrepreneurs and freelancers with little concern for group branding or loyalty.
“Their business model is increasingly digital, concealed by legitimate activity and global in reach.”
In March, Australian crime authorities revealed that almost 500kg of liquid methylamphetamine and cocaine had been seized in Sydney and Bogota, Colombia, with some concealed in bottles of flavoured water and fresh flowers. Six people were arrested, with authorities describing the offenders as part of an international crime syndicate.
And despite crackdowns on bikies across Australia, particularly by the former Liberal National Party government in Queensland, Dr Goldsworthy said crime statistics showed bikies were “insignificant” in terms of organised crime. He said Queensland Police statistics showed bikie activity was responsible for just 0.6 per cent of all reported crime.
In the past six years, no bikie has been successfully prosecuted in Queensland for money-laundering, one of the key planks of organised crime activity.
The Australian Crime Commission estimates that “serious and organised crime” costs Australia $15 billion a year.
A spokeswoman for the Byrne inquiry told The Australian the probe had held six days of closed-door hearings, with testimony from nine witnesses.
The commission has received 61 submissions and issued 132 notices compelling “relevant individuals” to provide information. The state’s police service, corruption watchdog, prosecutors, solicitors and barristers have made submissions.
Mr Byrne has been ordered to report to the Palaszczuk government by the end of October. A taskforce led by former Supreme Court judge Alan Wilson is reviewing the state’s anti-bikie legislation and will report before the end of the year.