Brumby must heed the lessons
From: Herald Sun
October 16, 2010 12:00AM
OUTLAW motorcycle 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.
They scare people. They are also highly visible targets for politicians wanting to be "tough on crime".
In South 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.
"We are not just dealing with meatheads on motorbikes, we are dealing with basically the foot soldiers of organised crime," Rann said at the time.
Three 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 bulldoze any.
In a 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.
The 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.
The laws 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 the bulldozers.
For the 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.
However, for the police, the legislation had the desired effect. They have access when required, not hampered by barbed wire or man-traps.
The bikies 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.
The 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.
The man complied after a failed court challenge, thereby avoiding a showdown and the possibility of a photo-friendly demolition.
This is 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.
Victorians 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 was shut.
Williams - missing since 2005 and presumed murdered -homed in on the secret fears of wider society about bikies.
"We will go to small suburban houses and blend in if we are pushed from here," he said.
"We would be foolish not to have somewhere lined up to go to if they keep trying to run us out of here.
"At the 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 are."
Welcome to your suburban nightmare.
Brad Crouch is state political editor of Adelaide's Sunday Mail