gangs are bad news - violent people
whose history shows their links to
crime such as murder, illegal
firearms, illicit drugs,
prostitution, extortion, assault,
arson, theft, vehicle rebirthing,
fraud and corruption.
people. They are also highly visible
targets for politicians wanting to be
"tough on crime".
Australia, then Opposition leader Mike
Rann pledged to bulldoze bikie
fortresses as part of a macho
law-and-order campaign by Labor in the
lead-up to the 2002 election.
not just dealing with meatheads on
motorbikes, we are dealing with
basically the foot soldiers of organised
crime," Rann said at the time.
election victories later, not a single
fortress has been demolished under
Rann's leadership. At least eight major
complexes still stand in Adelaide,
housing gangs such as the Hells Angels,
Descendants, Finks, Gypsy Jokers and
Rebels. And there are no plans to
political humiliation last month, a
state government plan to demolish a
community sports centre in an
underprivileged suburb was contrasted
with the sprawling Hells Angels
clubhouse across the road, still
standing after all these years.
lessons for Victoria as Premier John
Brumby embarks on a war on bikie
fortresses is to be wary of symbolism.
In SA, the
"meatheads on motorbikes" hired
expensive lawyers and a slick public
relations company to challenge the laws
and find loopholes.
did have an effect - bikies eventually
removed overt fortifications such as
razor wire, while maintaining their high
perimeter fences and security cameras.
But when police come a-knocking, the
bikies meekly open their doors and allow
access. This averts any need to call in
politicians, it is an embarrassing lack
of a symbolic photo opportunity. Instead
of a "tough on crime" premier proudly
standing next to a bulldozer in the
debris of a bikie clubhouse, the
pictures that regularly appear in SA
newspapers are of clubhouses still
standing, more than eight years after
the demolition promise.
for the police, the legislation had the
desired effect. They have access when
required, not hampered by barbed wire or
have also toned down their wild
clubhouse parties - they don't want to
attract undue attention. They would
rather get on with their activities
without the public spotlight.
legislation also allowed police to force
a Hells Angels bikie to remove
fortifications from his home such as
extensive razor wire, including in the
roof cavity, steel doors and metal
grates over doors and windows.
complied after a failed court challenge,
thereby avoiding a showdown and the
possibility of a photo-friendly
where the Victorian legislation is
likely to work for the public good - at
the police operational level, more than
the symbolic political level. If it
succeeds in giving police unimpeded
access to suspect premises, it will be a
genuine gain for law and order.
should also consider what will happen if
clubhouses are demolished, because it
won't mean the end of the bikies
themselves. At least with clubhouses,
the police know where bikies congregate.
On a rare
tour inside a bikie fortress in an
Adelaide industrial suburb in 2003 - the
first time a journalist had been allowed
inside - Gypsy Jokers' somewhat
frightening president Steve Williams
told me what would happen if the club
missing since 2005 and presumed murdered
-homed in on the secret fears of wider
society about bikies.
go to small suburban houses and blend in
if we are pushed from here," he said.
be foolish not to have somewhere lined
up to go to if they keep trying to run
us out of here.
moment we are centralised in this
industrial area where the police know
where we are and we are not causing
anyone any harm. If they won't let us
alone here we will go elsewhere and we
won't be letting people know where we
your suburban nightmare.
Crouch is state political editor of
Adelaide's Sunday Mail