"We're coming for the bikies. These people are not [members of] a social club. They are criminals," says Police Minister Paul Papalia. Bikies in Australia refer to the members of motorcycle gangs.
The government has introduced into parliament the Criminal Law (Unlawful Consorting and Prohibited Insignia) Bill 2021. A press release says that the legislation pledges to "disrupt and restrict the capacity of those involved in serious and organized crime to plan, support or encourage the carrying out of criminal activity."
It will ban bikers from associating with one another in public and from showing off their club patches – whether in the form of patched vests, flags or tattoos. The anti-insignia laws also apply to social media pages.
"These new laws combined with other measures will give our police the powers they need to not only disrupt the illegal activities of these gangs, but work to eliminate bikie networks in WA altogether," says Papalia. "It's time to get out of the gang or get out of Western Australia."
He also notes that the state government's resourcing of the WA Police Force has led to the seizure of record amounts of cash, drugs and illegal weapons in Western Australia.
"These laws represent the toughest and most comprehensive reforms to fight organized crime of all Australian states and territories. Forty-six organizations, including outlaw motorcycle gangs from right across Australia have been captured and explicitly named in the legislation as part of the new prohibited insignia offense," says WA Attorney General John Quigley.
"These organizations and their patches are designed to show affiliation with criminality and intimidate others, including law-abiding citizens in our community. This will cease once these laws are in place."
The legislation could be in place by Christmas.
"With this suite of reforms, we're unapologetically turning Western Australia into the most unappealing jurisdictions for offenders and criminal organizations to operate or expand their criminal activities," Quigley adds.
Watch the news about the Criminal Law Bill 2021 below.
Those caught in violation of the new "prohibited insignia offense" will face a 12-month jail term and fines of up to AU$12,000 ($8,897). Acting Police Commissioner Col Blanch explains that even markings as conspicuous as face tattoos would need to be concealed in order for offenders to avoid criminal charges. (Related: These videos prove Australia is a Tyrannical police state.)
"That will be illegal," Blanch tells WA radio station 6PR, in reference to a well-known and heavily tattooed member of the Australian Hell's Angels who has club-affiliated initials and insignias inked on his nose and face.
"He must cover up anything that references the club. Whether it's on his face, or whether it's on his publicly displayed arms, or whether it's on anything: his motorcycle or flag or vest."
Blanch suggests using band-aids or makeup to conceal face tattoos, or have them removed. "Or alternatively, people can have the option not to live in Western Australia if this law passes," he says. "We don't want people in our community having fights in public, shooting guns in public. It's not the place, it's not the state, it's time to leave."
Forcing bikies to leave, experts say, is part of the plan.
Mark Lauchs, an associate professor at Queensland University of Technology and an expert in outlaw motorcycle gangs, says that the new legislation is "designed to get the worst bikies to move elsewhere."
Lauchs is also skeptical as to how effective the new laws would be at disrupting and restricting serious and organized crime.
"It is very difficult to prove that preventing consorting reduces crime," he says. "Even though texting counts as consorting, there are many apps that allow discussion without surveillance. While it is a 'tool in their [police's] belt' it's more of a threat than an effective weapon."
The new anti-consorting and prohibited insignia laws have been compared to the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act that was introduced in Queensland in 2013.
The VLAD laws stipulate that members or associates of criminal organizations who were convicted of a serious crime would have to serve an extra 15 to 25 years on top of any prison sentence, unless they gave information to law enforcement.
That bill was broadly criticized upon rollout, with Amnesty International suggesting that it "breached international fair trial standards." The mandatory sentences were scrapped three years later for being excessively harsh.
According to Lauchs, the newly announced laws are even more worrying from a human rights perspective.
"The VLAD laws in Queensland were tough but explicitly applied to bikies. These laws, under the guise of applying to all organized crime, can apply to everyone in the state," he says.
"They would apply to any organization that has members convicted of serious offenses. It would apply to any person and their associates. There are serious human rights aspects to this legislation that I'm amazed it didn't gather the same protests as were organized against VLAD. I would argue these laws are far worse and need an effective watchdog to ensure they aren't abused."
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