Victorian Police are seeking legal advice on criminalising chapters of motorcycle clubs targeted under Queensland law. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Bikie gangs are unlikely to ever be shut down in Australia, one of the country's leading organised crime researchers says.
Victoria Police said on Monday that it was getting legal advice on whether it could criminalise Victorian chapters of motorcycle clubs targeted under Queensland's laws. But Queensland University of Technology senior criminology lecturer Mark Lauchs questions whether this will work, because the laws are yet to be tested and likely to be challenged in the High Court.
Most states have tried to restrict gang activities using anti-association laws. Dr Lauchs, who has studied organised crime for 10 years, said Queensland had been the most successful to date, with its anti-association law surviving a High Court challenge, unlike its NSW and South Australia counterparts.
But he said it carried a high burden of proof which was unlikely to stop bikie gangs from committing crimes, citing Queensland Police's pending application to outlaw the motorcycle gang the Finks. ''They have not been able to show even on the balance of probabilities, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Finks were a criminal organisation,'' he said.
Last week, the Queensland government went further, rushing through changes to the law that name 26 different gangs including the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Finks and Mongols as ''criminal organisations'', restricting meetings, movements and raising minimum sentences for their crimes.
The Australian Motorcycle Council, which represents 160,000 motorcyclists in Queensland, has raised funds to challenge this in the High Court.
Dr Lauchs said the law did not try to stop organised crime or street violence: ''It's designed to make the bikies leave Queensland … [which] will work, but only as long as all the other states don't match our legislation.''
Victoria Police, which has failed to use powers available to it under similar laws since March, has also blamed their high burden of proof.
He said the difficulty in stopping gangs from operating by criminalising them was that police and lawyers had to prove that every gang member, including higher-level members, was involved in organised crime.
‘‘You need to show that people knew about criminal activity and were actively involved in it. But if I’m the guy in charge, I’m not the one who’s going down the street to break somebody’s leg. You need to show that I knew about it and ordered someone to do it,’’ Dr Lauchs said. ‘‘I can pick groups of people out of a motorcycle gang who I can suspect make a reasonable case of being in an ongoing operation but I’m not going to get the president and secretary of a club.’’
Last week, the Queensland government went one step further, rushing through changes to the law that name 26 different gangs including the Bandidos, Finks and Mongols as ‘‘criminal organisations’’, restricting members meetings and movements and increasing minimum sentences for their crimes.
Dr Lauchs said that the laws were not aimed at stopping organised crime or street violence.
‘‘They’re designed to make the bikies leave Queensland,’’ he said. ‘‘It may be that that’s their policy – ‘Let’s get everyone out of Queensland and scare them away’ - and that will work, but only as long as all the other states don’t match our legislation.’’
However this did not solve the underlying problem of getting rid of the ‘‘marketplace of illegal activity’’, he said.
Victoria Police Deputy Commisisoner Graham Ashton told ABC News on Monday that police were seeking legal advice to try to register a ‘‘corresponding declaration’’ to criminalise Victorian chapters of the gangs targeted in Queensland.
Dr Lauchs was unsure whether this would work; the Queensland law had not yet been tested in the courts to warrant a ‘‘corresponding declaration’’.
One of the world’s only examples of a state law successfully dismantling a major organised criminal gang was in New York, when the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act pursued the mafia over about seven years in the 1980s. But the Act did not criminalise gangs.
‘‘In America they’ve actually done the hard work of trying to show that you were associated with the organised criminal activity,’’ Dr Lauchs said, adding that the American law had perhaps not been replicated in Australia ‘‘because it’s so labour intensive and expensive’’.
National laws tackling bikie gangs, as suggested by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, would only work if police were armed with a similar level of resources over a long period of time, Dr Lauchs said.
Attorney-General Robert Clark's spokesman said the Victorian anti-association law was designed to avoid the ''constitutional problems encountered by South Australia and NSW''.
''The Victorian government agreed with other states and territories to ensure anti-criminal bikie gang legislation includes provisions to allow the enforcement of interstate declarations and orders, so that bikies cannot escape such declarations and orders by moving interstate,'' he said.
The spokesman said the government would examine recent changes to Queensland's laws ''to see if there are further measures that could be adopted in Victoria''.
He would not comment on Victoria Police's use of the anti-bikie
laws, saying this was a matter for the police.