By Dave Cooke, Manager, Motorcycle Alliance.
Many of us refer to Phillip island as “The Holy Isle”. Or even just “The Island”. It is a much revered place for motorcyclists, and is the only real race track that is more important to motorcyclists than it is to car racing fans. It is one of the great race tracks of the world, loved by local and international racing stars. It is ours, and over the years we have seen countless chapters of heroic stories played out before our eyes by amazing men on dazzling motorcycles. We forgive it its lack of decent dunnies, and the variable weather, and write it off as part of the pilgrimage that many take every year, sometimes multiple times a year.
We gather with our friends in our thousands to ride from all parts of Australia for events like MotoGP, WSBK, The Island Classic and the Australian Superbike Championships.
And for years we’ve put up with the voracious fervour that besets the Victorian Police when these events roll around. VicPol is famous around the country for its over the top policing regime, with unmarked fixed cameras on every second street and officers hiding in the bush, ready to spring out and destroy the licenses of people travelling 10kmh over the limit, or committing such heinous crimes against society as having a modified rear fender. But under the guidance of Commissioner Ken Lay, VicPol has now taken things to a new level. They have ditched their traditional blue uniforms for a much more threatening shade of “Paramilitary Black”, and then the HWP boys even get issued with camouflage, so they can secrete themselves in the bush like Rambo, awaiting a kill.
My last trip to Phillip Island was for a World Superbike event, and as our group crossed the bridge from San Remo to The Island we were detained by the roadside (along with almost every other bike that crossed the bridge) for a good 15 minutes. Nobody had broken the law. Nobody was drinking, speeding, doing drugs, or stealing Zimmer Frames from old ladies. But you wouldn’t know it, the way we were spoken to by the Police. And they were Motorcycle Police too. You’d think there’d be some sort of empathy from them for their fellow motorcyclists, but no, we were treated like criminals. Defect notices were issued for things that were not even illegal, causing major headaches for riders, and some for things that may technically have been illegal modifications, but that were so insignificant that the NSW police had been ignoring them for years.
What was the point? To send a message. “Don’t misbehave in Victoria”. But there’s another message that comes with it. “We don’t want your type here”.
Guess which message sticks?
From the feedback we’ve had following last weekend’s MotoGP, things were even worse. We knew the Police anti-motorcycle activities had been growing, but it has now reached new heights. The police harassment of motorcyclists has, over the years, expanded from The Island and the major roads to it, to all over Victoria, targeting the popular roads used by motorcyclists on their regular trips from interstate to The Island. We are being told of police pulling up motorcyclists at random, including whole groups of riders, to inspect bikes, take down the details of riders, even when no offences have been committed. Breath and/or drug tests are then given in order to justify the “random” stop. Some riders have been held on the roadside for half an hour, with no offences committed and no infringements issued. Is that how you treat a normal law-abiding citizen? How many car drivers was that done to last weekend? We’re guessing very few.
Meanwhile, a succession of Victorian Premiers has happily turned up at motorcycle events at The Island, to bask in the glory of helping to bring another event to Victoria. Well guess what? Your luck will run out. The promoters have been lucky that MotoGP and WSBK have had competitive Australian riders to bolster attendance figures in the last two decades. But now that Casey & Troy have hung up the gloves, crowd numbers have taken a hit. MotoGP crowds have been down by over a third since Stoner pulled up stumps. So what are the Victorian government doing to help get numbers to the event? They’re fining and summarily detaining those who wish to travel to Victoria and spend thousands of dollars not just on accommodation and food and drink at The Island, but in the dozens of regional towns that are used as overnight stops on the way. These towns benefit massively from the injection of cash that comes from a few hundred riders stopped in each of their communities for a night or two before and after the event. Mansfield, Bright, Mt Beauty, Lakes Entrance, Orbost, Sale, Bairnsdale, and the bushfire ravaged towns such as Marysville, just to name a few, all benefit greatly from our regular pilgrimages to The Island and the money that riders spend on fuel, food, accommodation, etc.
Why is it that the NSW Police can police big events such as the Bathurst Car Races, and keep everyone safe, without making themselves the most hated Police Force in the country, while VicPol see all of these events as an opportunity to demonstrate their discriminatory PR policies, and turn themselves into a Gestapo-like group of bullies, who spread themselves across the State with the simple aim of showing motorcyclists how much they detest us?
We are in the middle or organising a special tour for our members to the next WSBK event at The Island in February, and are busily planning a route that will keep us (hopefully) away from the Vicpol Welcoming Committee Of Hatred. So we will see how things play out.
If the Victorian Government doesn’t want the MotoGP, and the WSBK, then hand them to NSW, where the Police have learned how to effectively police a large public event without making a laughing stock of themselves. Yes, VicPol, you are a laughing stock. Your determination to marginalise good people who have only good intentions is vile. We have a world class facility at Sydney Motorsport Park, and while it isn’t quite “The Holy Isle”, at least NSW knows how to put on a show without treating law abiding citizens like criminals.
This isn’t a campaign to get these events back to NSW. We just want the Victorian Police to act according to their code of conduct, and treat law abiding citizens with respect, not like criminals. That attitude starts with the Premier of the State. If the Premier does’t care that his Police Force treat people like criminals and ignore their own Code Of Conduct (google it), then there is no hope for the good people of Victoria. Because if you continue to make life difficult, uncomfortable, and downright confronting for those tourists who come to these events, eventually they will stop coming, and the events will cease to exist.
Your call Victoria. Make it a smart one. And make it fast, before you ruin it for everyone.