Tough legislation which could land bikers in jail for associating with one another sailed through an Australian state parliament today, following a series of bloody clashes between warring gangs.
Public anxiety over the long-simmering problem of biker gang violence escalated recently after a member of the Hells Angels was killed in a brawl at Sydney’s airport last month in front of terrified travellers.
Those fears were compounded when the victim’s brother was seriously wounded last week in what police suspect was a retaliatory shooting.
The new laws will enable police to ask the state Supreme Court to declare a motorcycle gang a criminal organisation. If the petition is approved, it becomes a crime for members of that gang to associate with one another. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to five years.
Members of outlawed gangs could also have their assets seized and will be banned from working in “high risk” jobs in the security, firearms and alcohol industries.
“These are tough and well-constructed laws,” New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees told parliament. “They aim to give no second chances to those declared members of an illegal gang.”
The legislation was passed in the lower house of Parliament by a near-unanimous vote within hours of its introduction. It was being debated in the upper house, where it was expected to pass later today.
Similar laws already exist in South Australia, and this week, Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said her government would consider pushing through comparable legislation.
Critics say the laws are a knee-jerk reaction to the violence and are unnecessary.
“The legislation simply will lead to people going underground,” said Joe Catanzariti, president of the Law Society of New South Wales, adding that existing laws were sufficient to prosecute gang members who commit crimes.
The New South Wales opposition voted in favour of the legislation, assuring its passage into law.
“I would have no problem if you put all the outlaw motorcycle gang members in two rooms and allowed them to shoot themselves to death,” opposition leader Barry O’Farrell told Parliament. “But in the current climate of New South Wales, you have drive-by shootings, you have bashings, you have bombings, you have murders, that at any stage could affect an innocent bystander. That is why we need to give police these powers.”