Proposed tougher outlaw bikie laws for Tasmania met with pushback from members of the public
Bikies, their partners and friends, along with lawyers and people who say they have been shown kindness from those wearing colours have written to oppose the toughening of Tasmanian laws, but police say fear of outlaw gangs is behind the lack of public support for law changes.
More than 100 submissions commented on the Tasmanian Government's eight proposals for reforms to the Police Offences Act 1935, which aim to target the so-called outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCG) that police said were increasingly looking to Tasmania because mainland jurisdictions had enacted similar legislation.
While some submissions were anonymous, others were from individuals who identified as club members, or people who said they had been on the receiving end of good deeds from bikies, who would be unfairly "tarred with the same brush" as criminals, should the legislation come into force.
Several clubs added their submissions, joining that of the Bandidos, which lodged a detailed response to the eight proposals, as revealed by the ABC.
Andrew Murphy wrote on behalf of the Devil's Henchmen, a gang said by Tasmania Police to have an established foothold in the state.
He pointed to scandals across different organisations, including sexual abuse under churches, financial wrongdoings by banks and police corruption, saying they were institutions allowed to continue, regardless of the behaviour of a few.
"Why are member of motorcycle clubs expected to live to and maintain higher standards than any of the groups named above?" Mr Murphy wrote.
'Chase criminal and drugs dealers, not us'
Josh Faulds said he too was a "proud member" of the Devil's Henchmen, with "no convictions and no such criminal history".
"We are like-minded motorcycle enthusiasts, we are NOT criminals, drug dealers, extortionists, thieves, murderers, etc. We are working-class people, all workers who pay our taxes."
"How is this fair? What's next? The suburbs we are allowed to live in, the jobs we are allowed to have?
"Chase the criminals and drug dealers … not a group of people that put a particular item of clothing on when we ride our bikes."
The "wife of 35 years to a member of The Devil's Henchmen" said while "elements of clubs may be criminal", her partner has "never engaged in violence or the supply of drugs" and he "definitely does not identify as, or wear, a 1% patch".
"Every member of the Devil's Henchmen that I know shares the community outrage at the scourge that ice is proving to be and believe that the full resources of the law be used to tackle the issue," she wrote.
The God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club and Tasmanian Motorcycle Council also wrote in staunch opposition to the proposals, along with Civil Liberties Australia, the Law Society of Tasmania, the North West Community Legal Centre and Australian Lawyers Alliance, all who pointed to what they said were contraventions of liberties under Australian and international laws.
'Just blokes on bikes'
Several submissions from individuals featured stories of encountering riders wearing colours and finding them to be well meaning and helpful.
- Modernise the existing consorting law in the Police Offences Act 1935 to render it consistent with the legislation in other jurisdictions that is conviction based. This replacement offence will prohibit a person aged 18 years or more, who has been convicted of a serious offence, from habitually consorting with another nominated person, aged 18 years or more, who has also been convicted of a serious offence.
- Change the consorting law so that a prohibition on association only applies after that person has been supplied with a written consorting warning notice issued by an Officer of Police (ie the rank of Inspector or higher).
- Allow for review mechanisms when a person is given a consorting warning notice, so that a person issued a notice can seek review from an Officer of a higher rank, and if still aggrieved, may then apply to a Magistrate for a notice to be revoked.
- Create a number of defences to consorting for associating with family members, in the course of other identified lawful activities.
- A statutory time limit of five years will apply to the length that a consorting warning notice is valid.
- Prohibited item legislation similar to Queensland be introduced via amendments to the Police Offences Act 1935. Under such a model, it would be an offence for a person to wear, carry or openly display in a public place (or in/on a vehicle in a public place) clothing, jewellery or other insignia that show the patches, insignia or logo of an 'identified organisation'.
- That the Minister for the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management has the authority to prescribe by regulations which groups are identified, if they are satisfied that the wearing of the prohibited insignia relating to that organisation may cause members of the public to feel threatened, fearful or intimidated; or may otherwise have an undue adverse effect on the health or safety of members of the public, or the amenity of the community, including by increasing the likelihood of public disorder or acts of violence.
- In determining whether or not to prescribe an organisation, the Minister must have regard to whether any person has, while a member of, or a participant in an organisation, engaged in serious criminal activity or been convicted of an offence involving public acts of violence, or damage.
Kaili, 23, said she had "met quite a few people that are in a motorcycle club and wear colours and they are the most respectful human beings I have ever come across".
"When I was heavily pregnant with my daughter I had quite a bad fall while walking through a public street," she wrote in her submission.
"I was lying on the concrete sidewalk and could barely balance myself to stand up. People of the public kept crossing the road to avoid me so they could get on with their day.
"It was a man with motorcycle club colours on that pulled over, got off his bike and helped me up. Does that sound like a man that is going to cause chaos on society?"
One person wrote "I am 76 and have lived across the road from a member of a 1% motorcycle club for the last 36 years" and had "never felt more safe or secure".
"There has never been any trouble or break-ins, my street is so quiet," G F Evans wrote in a handwritten letter.
"They are just a group of people who get together and do what they enjoy doing, that is riding their motorcycles and last I knew that was not criminal or intimidating."
David Imlach wrote he was not "in any way associated with any club" and "do not take drugs or have a criminal record", yet feels "threatened by the draconian laws proposed".
He repeated the quote, mistakenly attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which also featured prominently in the Queensland and New South Wales debates on similar legislation.
"When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes our duty."
Christine, who said her partner was a "proud 20-year member of the Rebels", argued there is "good and bad in every club, including the police".
"Banning their colours in public will not help the ice epidemic as bikies are against ice — you sell or use, you're out."
"Australia is becoming a Nazi regime, don't let this happen."
Fear of OMCGs 'stopping public support'
But Tasmania Police said people's fear of gang members kept them from making public their support for the legislation, admitting they had received "only a handful" of submissions in favour.
"We know that people are afraid of outlaw motorcycle gangs — their violence, their drug dealing and their threats — and this is undoubtedly a key reason as to why only a handful of supportive submissions were received," Acting Assistant Commissioner Tony Cerritelli said in a statement.
"Those in the debt of outlaw motorcycle gangs through drug use and those who have experienced first-hand their violence and intimidation would be quite understandably too fearful to make a submission."
He said despite the "fact that the proposed legislation to ban colours would only apply to identified outlaw motorcycle gangs", most opposed the legislation on the "false understanding it will apply to regular recreational motorcycle groups", adding "genuine recreational, lawful clubs will not be affected".
"Tasmania is at risk of being the safe haven in Australia for outlaw motorcycle gangs," Acting Assistant Commissioner Cerritelli said.
"Other states have implemented laws to make it difficult for these criminal organisations to conduct their business and if we don't act we will see more and more setting up here."
Examples from the mainland of the legislation being used improperly would not occur under the proposed Tasmanian legislation, which had "strong mechanisms in place to prevent it being used in these kinds of circumstances, or against family members," Acting Assistant Commissioner Cerritelli said.
The Tasmanian Police Association said the Government had its full support for the amendment and the "failure" to have legislation in place was "tantamount to sending an invitation to all OMCGs throughout the country that they are welcome here and Tasmania is open for their business".
Duncan McNab, a former policeman, private investigator and true crime author who has written about OMCGs, strongly supported the legislation.
"For them to argue that they're not bad guys is crap," he said.
"The claims of OMCGs on the issue that they're not really criminal enterprises is generally bullshit.
"Sure, some of them aren't, but the hardcore elements are criminals."
The proposed legislation to amend the laws are expected to be drafted and tabled in State Parliament in June.