The state Labor government has secured Liberal party support for a bill that from next week could see motorcycle gang “participants” jailed for up to three years for gathering in public.
It did so by agreeing to declare only 10 active gangs in the state as criminal organisations, after an earlier list of 27 gangs copied from 2009 New South Wales laws implicated an innocent social motorcycle club.
Legal experts say the laws, which will permanently apply even to those who quit gangs, go further than their blueprint in Queensland, where bikies have been encouraged to “dissociate”.
The Queensland Labor government is considering repealing its anti-association laws, which are under review and are yet to result in a single conviction.
The president of the Law Society of South Australia, Rocky Perrotta, said calls by the Liberal opposition for the courts, instead of the government, to rule if gangs were criminal organisations had all but evaporated after a stabbing and a prison bashing involving bikies in recent days.
SA’s attorney general, John Rau, said the 10 gangs to be declared – which include the Hells Angels, the Rebels and Bandidos – were a “clear and present danger” to the community.
The laws are likely to pass parliament this week and take effect by Thursday next week, despite the misgivings of a handful of Liberal MPs.
Any gang “participants” who publicly meet in
groups of more than two face a mandatory six months to three
years in jail.
Perrotta said they would allow a repeat of the Queensland case of Sally Kuether, a librarian with no criminal record who was charged for going to a pub with her bikie boyfriend and his clubmate. The case was later dropped.
The high court has struck down SA’s previous criminal organisation laws targeting bikies.
However, a Queensland university of technology criminologist, Mark Lauchs, said a challenge of Queensland laws by Hells Angel Stefan Kuczborski in 2014 showed the high court was unlikely to strike down anti-association laws.
This “wouldn’t fly in America” due to its bill of rights but the Australian high court seemed to indicate there was a guarantee only of “freedom of political association, not freedom of criminal association”, Lauchs said.
Lauchs said it was impossible to tell whether the anti-association laws in Queensland had been instrumental in enabling police to combat organised crime in bikie gangs.
“The best I can determine, the thing that’s working is better police powers and resources because that’s how they catch this massive rate of arrests and charges,” he said.
“It’s coming from the fact they finally got cooperation from the feds and proper resources and dedicated staff. That’s really what’s making it all work.
“In practice, all the [anti-association laws] have led to is stopping physical association. There are lots of ways to associate. Is anyone checking their Facebook pages, tapping their phones?
“One question is, what’s a good policy – is it to stop organised crime or is it to remove the fear of organised crime from the public? If it’s the second one, the anti-association process was absolutely necessary because that’s what the people of the Gold Coast really loved, these guys are gone, they don’t see them any more.
“The problem with the anti-association law is it’s unfair to the guys that aren’t doing anything wrong. But at the same time, they’re kicking their own goals by not getting the guys out of the club. There’s a lot of ways they could take action to solve their own problem where they go back to the 80s and everyone just left them alone. They didn’t even appear in the press.”