But this week's announcement is
the latest of a series of identical statements made by this
government and its Labor predecessor, and after many years of
trying, little has been achieved in the so-called war on bikies.
What is going wrong? And what more needs to be done?
Queensland, along with other
states, followed. But the South Australian and NSW laws were struck
down by the High Court because of concerns over the process by which
gangs were to be banned and infringements of basic human rights,
including the freedom of association and the rights of the accused.
Some of these concerns have since been addressed and Criminal
Organisations Acts or similarly termed laws are now in place in most
parts of Australia. Yet the biker gang violence continues.
Bleijie's new proposals include the introduction
of anti-organised crime laws based on the US's RICO Act. RICO - the
Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act - came into force
in 1970 in an effort to combat organised crime. In short, this Act
places tough penalties on criminal enterprises that engage in
multiple, serious offences over a period of time. But RICO laws are
unusually complex and often difficult to grasp for prosecutors and
juries alike, which is why many prosecutions under the Act have been
These laws do not fit well into Australia's
criminal justice system and there is no evidence they can be
successfully applied to prevent and suppress biker gang-related
crime. Perhaps most importantly, there is no
evidence this law can be successfully applied to prevent and
suppress biker gang related crime. While RICO was used in the
1990s to arrest many members of New York's notorious Mafia families,
attempts to use RICO against the Hells Angels and other biker gangs
have largely failed.
Members show their patch, or colours,
of the bikie gang Mongols MC (Motorcycle Club).
This idea has merit insofar
as few persons within and outside the gangs are willing to work with
police and report criminal activity for fear of threats and
retaliation. But a comprehensive witness protection program may be a
better, more sophisticated, and more sustainable alternative.
While many countries around the world are
struggling to find the ultimate weapon in their war on organised
crime, some models have emerged that are better and fairer than
those in operation and proposed in Queensland.
One such model can be found in Australia's federal
criminal law, where offences exist to punish those who direct a
criminal organisation and who commit offences on their behalf. These
provisions, introduced in late 2009, are based on identical
provisions in the Canadian Criminal Code and comply with the
international framework established by the United Nations Convention
against Transnational Organised Crime. These offences also have the
advantage that they apply across Australia and can be used in
extradition, mutual legal assistance and other forms of co-operation
with other countries. This means suspects cannot evade a prosecution
in Australia simply by travelling overseas.
What is missing from the many new tough measures
to combat biker gangs is a basic understanding of the causes,
characteristics and consequences of the biker gang scene on the Gold
Coast, across Queensland and around Australia. A distinction between
the criminal elements in these clubs, and those who join for sheer
joy of large motorbikes, is also lacking.
There is nothing criminal about being a member of
a motorcycle club. It is another thing to sell drugs, engage in
violent acts, or commit other crimes for a biker gang. The proposed
measures do not recognise that difference.
Despite the hype around this topic, the
organisation of biker gangs, their members and their activities -
both legal and illegal - remain poorly understood.
Bikie gang members show their
confidence before anti-association laws were
overturned in South Australia.
What is needed in light of recent events is a
thorough investigation and analytical research at a national level
of what is behind the phenomenon of bikie gangs, and their frequent
attacks and brawls.
And what is needed are solutions that are based on
an understanding of the patterns and level of the biker gang scene
and laws and measures proven to make an impact.
are the only way to make a
difference to this problem
Dr Andreas Schloenhardt is a Professor of
Criminal Law at The University of Queensland and Visiting Professor
at the University of Vienna, Austria.