ENOUGH is enough. Balancing personal freedoms, human rights and community safety is always a challenge. However, when it comes to bikie gangs there should be little tolerance.
Jeremy Hanson and the Liberals have it right. Labor are still sitting on their hands. Increasing police powers must always be done reluctantly – but the time has come.
There is another side. While Australia retains prohibitionist laws on drugs, criminal gangs will thrive. Both are needed: increased police powers and tackling the scourge of the prohibition of illicit drugs. Decriminalising all drugs and focusing on treatment has worked in Portugal – we could learn from them and deal with this major cause of crime. In the meantime, we must tackle the symptoms.
The ACT community cannot afford to become a mecca for bikie gangs. Laws that have been adopted in other states make ACT police operations much more challenging. Setting up in Canberra simply gives bikie gangs much more freedom to operate. We need systems in place to prevent organised criminal activity, even though it means interfering more than we would normally like with personal protections and freedoms.
Tolerance and respect for human rights are a hallmark of the way the ACT operates. Of this we should all be proud. However, experience in other states has certainly demonstrated that a complacent attitude will result in out-of-control violence and is likely to escalate to gang warfare. There are already at least four bikie gangs setting up in Canberra and the signs of conflict between them are becoming apparent.
In 2009 there were a series of bikie-gang-related shootings and other violent incidents in NSW. The then premier, Nathan Rees, introduced legislation to “drive bikies out” of his state. Apart from shopping-centre shootings, the most notable incident was in the Sydney airport in broad daylight. In this incident Hell’s Angel member Tony Zervas was clubbed and then stabbed to death with scissors by a rival Comanchero during a melee involving at least 10 men.
There is little doubt that crime will continue. NSW laws did not stop the shooting death of the notorious and wealthy national leader of the Comancheros, Mahmoud (Mick) Hawi, in 2018. Hawi was the bikie leader found guilty of the murder of Zervas, but later had the conviction set aside on appeal. Laws are never perfect.
The Canberra Liberals have been calling for matching legislation in order to avoid having Canberra become the alternative home of bikie gangs because of “softer laws”. Rather than having police responding after crimes are committed, other jurisdictions have anti-bikie-gang laws designed to prevent and to disrupt organised criminal activity.
Legislation modelled on NSW was introduced by shadow attorney general Jeremy Hanson for the Liberals in 2017. It was voted down by Labor and the Greens. The bikie situation gets worse. ACT chief police officer Justine Saunders recently stated another bikie gang has moved to Canberra. She has been very public in raising her concerns about home invasions, shootings and even fire-bombing associated with bikie-related criminal conduct.
Police are taking action. In March the criminal investigation Taskforce Nemesis participated in a national day of action targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs. They executed several search warrants and seized firearms, ammunition, illicit drugs and large sums of cash. On that day Justine Saunders set the appropriate balance in a statement she released: “Whilst I fully support the principles of the Human Rights Act that we operate under here in the ACT, I will continue to pursue legislative reform that is proportionate to the threat that serious and organised crime presents to our community.”
Over recent months Jeremy Hanson has been calling for legislative action. Finally, when responding to the Budget in the Legislative Assembly he announced that he will be introducing “anti-consorting” legislation into the Assembly later this year. There are reasons why there is resistance to such legislation. However, on balance, it is appropriate for the Assembly to take action to protect the ACT from a growing burden of organised crime parading as bikie gangs.