The ACT Government will have blood on its hands if it does not bring in anti-consorting laws and criminal control measures to stamp out the bikie gang wars in Canberra, according to shadow attorney-general Jeremy Hanson.
The Canberra Liberals are ramping up pressure on the ACT Government to revisit Mr Hanson’s proposed measures to control bikie gangs in the Territory in the wake of more suburban shootings, street confrontations and the recent court airing of shocking footage showing a vicious brawl involving the Comanchero Outlaw Motorcycle Club.
Last year, the Labor Party and the Greens voted down Mr Hanson’s Bill, which was drafted in consultation with the Human Rights Commissioner to allay concerns that other groups could be targeted. The Government cited human rights concerns, their ineffectiveness interstate and responded with their own laws including a new offence for drive-by shootings, wider crime scene powers, firearm bans and strengthened ability to seize criminal assets.
Since then, there have been more shootings in Ngunnawal and Calwell where innocent bystanders were lucky not to have been injured or killed, warring bikies have been involved in a daylight fracas in the Tuggeranong Town Centre, and the first of six Comancheros appeared before the courts over the brawl last year at a Fyshwick strip club has been jailed.
CCTV footage from the Capital Men’s Club showed dozens of men brawling as staff looked on helplessly. One man can be seen being kicked and punched while lying unconscious on the floor while others are set upon.
Paea Talakai (pictured), the tall shirtless figure in the footage, was jailed for nine months, with five of those months to be served full time. He will be eligible for release from the Alexander Maconochie Centre in December.
About 100 members of the Comancheros from across the country had been in the capital last August for the gang’s 2017 memorial run.
Mr Hanson said the run would not have been allowed and the gathering would not even have taken place under anti-consorting laws, something Chief Police Officer Justine Saunders has also said.
“Police would be able to prevent the members of those gangs from congregating and mixing with each other. So it really then stops those groups from operating as organised criminal gangs,” he said.
Ms Saunders has gone public in support of anti-consorting laws but last week seemed resigned to the fact that the Government was not for changing on the matter.
“The Government has made it very clear to me that pursuing anti-consorting is not on the agenda for the Government for the moment,” she told ABC, while insisting that police had the tools to deal with the OMCG threat, including focusing on the seizure of criminal assets.
But Mr Hanson said without adding anti-consorting laws to that suite of tools, police could not be proactive and would be responding to, rather than preventing, criminal activity.
“They can respond to the threat but in a limited way, because their hands are tied behind their backs,” he said.
Mr Hanson said the predictions of what would happen if the ACT did not follow NSW and Victoria in introducing measures to control bikie gangs had come true with four gangs now operating in the ACT, and open warfare on the city’s streets.
The ACT now is home to the Rebels, a divided Comancheros chapter, the Nomads and the latest being the Finks, a situation Ms Saunders has admitted keeps her awake at night.
The concern, she said, was the sheer randomness of the violence, that it could break out ‘anywhere and any time’.
Mr Hanson said the situation was very alarming.
“We have an open war between bikie gangs in the ACT , and it is a matter of time before an innocent bystander is very seriously injured or killed,” he said.
“In one of the recent shootings the bullet missed a neighbour by about a metre. It’s only by luck that someone hasn’t been killed. Without anti-consorting laws, this war will continue and if a war continues it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”
While no law was perfect, Mr Hanson said anti-consorting laws would disrupt and prevent criminal activity by making it illegal for them to mix or associate together, or for example have a clubhouse, as well as preventing members from working in certain trades which were known to be bikie dominated such as tattooing and security businesses, where there is access to firearms and where they can get involved in standover activities.
Mr Hanson said his Bill was human rights-compliant and specifically targeted the outlaw gangs. He had no wish to see these laws being used against people other than organised crime groups and the laws could be subject to review by the Assembly and the Human Rights Commission.
“Why is it that the Labor Party refuses to do that? What is it within the Labor party and who is it within the Labor Party that doesn’t want that to occur?” he said.
“I cannot understand because the community safety is at risk. There is no doubt about that. We’ve got open warfare occurring now and it is gutless and irresponsible for the Labor Party not to bring these laws in. It is disgraceful and when someone is killed, the blood will be on their hands and they will have to look the victim’s family in the eye and explain why they didn’t bring in laws that could have prevented their loved one from being killed or seriously hurt.”
Both the Government and the Greens told The RiotACT that anti-consorting laws had proven ineffective in other states and had impacted on other groups besides bikie gangs, although Mr Hanson said the Government was muddying the waters and comparing apples with oranges.
“The NSW Ombudsman issued a separate report on anti-consorting laws highlighting that in NSW, these laws are used against other minority groups in the community, such as Indigenous groups and homeless people. This is not an outcome the Government is willing to risk,” a Government spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the Government had delivered practical, effective tools to police and would continue to work to keep Canberra safe in ways that also respect its human rights framework.
It had also boosted Taskforce Nemesis, including funding in the most recent ACT Budget to strengthen surveillance and deterrence capacities, including the addition of another forensic accountant.
“To date, Taskforce Nemesis has charged 264 people, laid a total of 748 charges and executed 201 search warrants,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, another five alleged Comanchero bikies are expected to appear before the court next month over the strip club brawl.
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