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Anti-bikie laws to stop gangs treating Tasmania as 'a safe haven' violate human rights, lawyer claims

By Edith Bevin
Photo

Police watch Bandidos members gathered in Burnie last November.

ABC News: Henry Zwartz
Tasmania is cracking down on outlaw bikie gangs with measures aiming to stop them using the state as a safe haven, which a top cop admits it has become.

Under changes proposed to the Police Offences Act, the wearing of club colours in public will be banned and it will be illegal for gang members to associate with each other, or known criminals.

In an unusual step, the proposed tough new laws will be open for public consultation.

Tasmania Police has been talking tough for months, saying the gangs are not welcome.

But it has been falling on deaf ears with several gangs opening new chapters across the state and others like The Bandidos setting up shop in Tasmania for the first time.

In a show of their strength, two of Australia's major bikie gangs the Rebels and the Bandidos picked Tasmania for their national runs and annual gatherings within weeks of each other last year.

Queensland and New South Wales already have laws that stop the wearing of club colours in public and gang members associating with each other.

Those laws have been credited with curtailing the activities of gangs, driving members overseas or interstate where the laws are not as tough.

Assistant Commissioner Glenn Frame said it was the reason Tasmania had seen an influx of bikies.

Time to fight back: police

Police estimate there are now 259 gang members in Tasmania but he said the time had come for Tasmania Police to fight back.

"Certainly other states have introduced significant legislation around the wearing of colours and of consorting with motorcycle gang members," he said.

"We can be seen as a safe haven if we don't introduce similar legislation."

"We've seen the introduction of a couple of extra clubs, we've seen an expansion of a number of them to different areas of the state and what we're seeing is a real concern for us that they're growing in Tasmania and that's not good for people in Tasmania.

"We've seen the Bandidos, we're concerned about other gangs moving to Tasmania and we've had the Rebels here and they continue to increase.

"A number of these people have been convicted of serious criminal offences including drug trafficking and Tasmanian society deserves protection from these type of people."

The non-consorting orders will apply in both public places and behind closed doors, but there will be exemptions for family members.

But unlike other states, the ban on club colours will only apply to clubs specifically designated by the Minister.

The Assistant Commissioner said the "displacement" of outlaw gangs from other states into Tasmania was a "grave concern".

'Violation of human rights'

The measures have labelled "absolutely unnecessary and very, very concerning" by the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Tasmanian president Fabiano Cangelosi believes they are a violation of human rights.

"That kind of thing is absolutely uncalled for, it is a fundamental violation of people's rights and it shouldn't be tolerated here," he said.

"The fact that bad ideas have been put into effect elsewhere doesn't mean we should have the same experience in Tasmania.

"The experience of other states is that where the power is given to the police the police tend to abuse that power.

"So we have stories of for instance in Queensland members of motorcycle clubs being charged with associating with each other in the foyer of court buildings."

He does not believe the crackdown is justified.

"The evidence doesn't seem to be that motorcycle clubs are using their organisational hierarchy in Tasmania to facilitate the commission of crime, there doesn't appear to be any evidence of that," he said.

"So far nothing has been demonstrated in any way that shows that motorcycle clubs are setting up in Tasmania because it is easier to commit crime here.

"It isn't a matter of whether members of motorcycle clubs are doing the wrong thing, it's a matter of freedom.

"Why should people lie down and have their rights taken away from them? People should be treated the same whether they are members of a motorcycle club as whether they are not members of a motorcycle club."

Tasmanian police have had some success in using existing licensing laws to target individual clubhouses, such as the Rebels Tasmanian headquarters in North Hobart.

The exterior of that clubhouse is no longer plastered with the club's colours and logos although the confederate flag still flies within the compound and the fortifications have stayed.

Bikies have argued that there is no evidence that they are running any criminal operations in Tasmania and that the handful of drug arrests police have made over the past five years involving those linked to the club would be percentage wise the same as other clubs such as football clubs.

But police argue those arrests are not random individuals but rather the tip of iceberg of an organised distribution and supply network run by outlaw motorcycle clubs.

Public submissions close on May 11.