The bikie gang threat in the ACT is exaggerated, according to a new report released yesterday by Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay which found only 1 per cent of crime in the Territory was committed by gang members.
The independent review of the effectiveness of ACT Policing crime scene powers and powers to target, disrupt, investigate and prosecute criminal gang members in the Legislative Assembly, written by Professor Terry Goldsworthy from Bond University, also found that anti-association and consorting laws, trumpeted by the Canberra Liberals as an answer to bikie gang violence in the ACT, were ineffective.
He says there is little evidence they reduce overall offending, and that such laws were not necessarily focused on serious or organised crime.
“The resources used to police such laws would be better invested in targeting actual criminal activities rather than in generalised claims of disruption through stopping associations between individuals in which there is no requirement for a criminal purpose to be attached,” Professor Goldworthy said.
He warned against implementing a consorting-type offence similar to the New South Wales model, which the Opposition has been calling on the government to adopt.
On the perceived threat posed by bikie gangs, Professor Goldsworthy said perceptions do not always correspond to reality.
He found that the 1 per cent figure held true for offences related to drug and organised crime, and that 19 years of policing data has shown no murder charges against current Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMCG) members in the ACT.
“Many of the crimes committed by current OMCG members are minor and not of a serious or organised crime nature,” he said. ”Not all OMCG members possess criminal histories, and research informs us that many OMCG criminal activities are not undertaken within, or on behalf of, the gang.”
The report noted that the number of OMCG members in the ACT has not increased in the last five years, according to the available data.
Professor Goldsworthy said the steps taken by the government to combat serious and organised crime were effective and proportionate.
While he dismisses anti-consorting laws, Professor Goldsworthy backs the use of non-association and place restriction orders (NAPROs) due to their ability to target individuals who are proven to have engaged in serious or organised crime activity.
Calling them a formidable tool, he said NAPROs allow for a more targeted response, with a focus on specific serious crime, rather than a generalised approach, as is the case with current Australian consorting laws.
Mr Ramsay said the report endorsed the government’s approach, including its confiscation of assets bill which he introduced to the Assembly when tabling the Goldsworthy report.
He said the report identified the bill, which targets unexplained wealth, as a key area of reform as an additional measure to enhance law enforcement powers in the ACT.
Professor Goldsworthy makes a number of recommendations including that an independent review be conducted to establish why there are so many failed prosecutions against OMCG members, a situation he said was concerning.
He also called for much greater maximum penalties for offences involving participation in criminal groups, or that a new sentencing regime be created for offences that are typically committed for, and on behalf of, criminal gangs.
Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson said the Canberra Liberals remained committed to anti-consorting laws that had been backed by police and other experts on the front line of law enforcement.
“The fact is that since the ACT Government failed to introduce anti-consorting laws a decade ago, we have seen a four-fold increase in bikie gangs and, as a result, a bikie war unfold in our suburbs,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the states like SA that have introduced anti-consorting laws have recently seen the last bikie club house in their state close.
“We will listen to police, put the safety of our community first, and put a stop to the shootings, fire bombings and violence that has grown under ACT Labor.”