A patched Rebels member who was among riders protesting bikie laws at Parliament House in Canberra in December 2014. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang members are patching out of the bikie fraternity at a rate never seen before, police say, with claims Australia's biggest bikie club is in disarray.
The membership shake-up has been triggered by a combination of a leadership vacuum, tough anti-bikie laws and strict police enforcement.
In the Macarthur region alone, an area south of Sydney home to the group's national clubhouse, police believe up to 20 members have either handed in their club colours, or are about to do so.
Alex Vella, president of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang, who has been barred from re-entering Australia since June 2014 when he went to Malta. Photo: Janie Barrett JEM
Police expect the number of chapters in the area, a Rebels stronghold, will reduce with some chapters to completely dismantle.
While police say they have noticed Rebels patching out of chapters across the state, it has been particularly prominent in the Macarthur region.
An example of the club's internal conflicts spilt onto the street last month with the shooting of Rebels member Darren Wallace in the middle of a quiet suburban town.
Rebels bikie member Darren Wallace, 32, who was gunned down in Picton on December 9. Photo: Darren Wallace Facebook Page
Mr Wallace, a widely respected patched member, was shot once in the chest by outgoing Rebel Tevita Daunibau outside a Picton petrol station.
Mr Daunibau walked to a nearby creek and turned the gun on himself.
It is understood Mr Wallace, a father of two, had agreed to meet Mr Daunibau to potentially outline the circumstances under which the shooter could leave the club.
Rebels serjeant-at-arms Simon Rasic who died in 2014.
Bikies who "patch out" of their club often have to meet a number of conditions, including paying a fine and handing in their colours.
One senior Rebels member said some of those who had left only did so because police demanded they choose between their jobs – including at tattoo parlours – or their bikie colours.
"Half the people that are leaving are doing so just to keep their jobs," he said.
Outlaw bikies gang members in NSW are highly unlikely to gain a permit to operate as a tattoo artist thanks to licensing restrictions introduced in 2012.
NSW Gangs Squad detective Superintendent Deb Wallace said police were seeing more internal conflicts within the Rebels, sometimes brewing within or between chapters.
Internal feuding is also coming from members not meeting the rules for leaving the bikie gang.
"We are investigating a number of serious assaults, including kidnappings, across the state for exactly those reasons," Superintendent Wallace said.
"We do often see conflicts and when we hear someone wants to patch out, we are mindful and we step up our vigilance in relation to that."
However, it will be some time before police know what impact recent patch outs have had on overall membership numbers.
Police have used consorting laws, federal agencies – including the tax office and immigration department – to aid the crackdown on rebel gangs, particularly the Rebels.
The Rebels and its 2000-strong membership have been hit hard in NSW, the club's birth state, as more than 50 per cent of its members are there.
The action has not come without criticism. The bikie community was furious last month after claiming Strike Force Raptor officers turned up to Mr Wallace's funeral in Camden and checked people's licences, including those of his parents, on entry.
Superintendent Wallace said the concept of "brotherhood" in gangs was "diminishing".
"Its now about, with the young ones coming through, it is about entrepreneurship," she said.
"It's about money, it's about power and influence."
Police believe the instability within the club ranks has been created by the absence of the gang's president of more than four decades, Alex Vella.
The Australian government cancelled Mr Vella's visa on character grounds while he was in Malta in June 2014.
The leadership vacuum was exacerbated by the death of the Rebels national serjeant-at-arms, Simon Rasic, days later.
The NSW Gangs Squad has taken advantage of the leadership void to focus on the club, with 281 Rebels members or associates arrested since Mr Vella had his visa cancelled.
More than 780 charges have been laid as a result of the arrests, including for kidnapping and serious assault offences allegedly linked to members trying to leave the club.
The club's leadership is still empty with no other member
having been elected to fill either the president or serjeant-at-arms role.