Criminal bikies who went to ground and even fled interstate to avoid a massive police crackdown are preparing to restore their gang networks in Queensland on the prospect that contentious laws used against them will be wound back.
Senior police and community leaders fear the bikies are simply “waiting across the border” for the state Labor government to complete a review of the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act.
A key measure under the legislation – regarded as the toughest of its kind in Australia – prohibits three or more members of a criminal gang meeting together.
However, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has made it clear her government wants those anti-association provisions scrapped as well as laws imposing mandatory sentences.
Police say the VLAD laws have played a significant role in curbing the unlawful activities of the bikie gangs and driven many out of the state, especially on the Gold Coast.
Prominent Gold Coast MP Ray Stevens said any weakening of the laws would see criminal bikie gangs trying to re-establish footholds.
“They will be back if there is any watering down of those VLAD laws,” he told The New Daily.
“The laws have been successful and they don’t impinge on normal people’s activities whatsoever. They impinge wholly and solely on the criminal bikie gangs that we need to keep out of the state.”
Figures show that since the VLAD laws were introduced by the previous LNP government in October 2013, more than 2000 people have been arrested, including about 400 bikie gang members on the Gold Coast. Almost a third of Queensland’s bikies have also quit their gangs and handed in their colours while more than 45 clubhouses have been effectively shut down.
‘Keep VLAD’: police
Senior police have already backed the effectiveness of the VLAD laws. Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers warned in January that any attempt to wind back the laws would plunge Queensland back into chaos and lawlessness.
“These laws are good, they work and finally criminals are avoiding Queensland at all costs and the Gold Coast is once again a family-friendly Mecca, thanks to our lobbying for this legislation and the great work of police,” he said in the Courier Mail.
The man in charge of the police anti-bikie taskforce on the Gold Coast, Superintendent Jim Keogh, also strongly endorsed the laws.
“This legislation has been obviously the right legislation and it’s withstood the test of time and it’s proven to have cleaned up the streets,” he said.
“Why change something that’s working? As it stands currently, should you remove the legislation, you would see the return of the organised criminal motorcycle gangs. It would be foolhardy to think that they’ve totally walked away from a multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise.”
Concern about the outcome of the VLAD laws review has been heightened by the recent collapse of a trial involving bikies charged over a frightening public brawl at Broadbeach in September 2013 which triggered the introduction of the controversial legislation. Eleven bikies walked out of Southport Magistrates Court last month after having rioting charges dismissed, dropped or downgraded.
Mr Stevens, the LNP member for Mermaid Beach, confirmed he was aware of police concerns that bikie gangs were preparing to return to the Gold Coast if the VLAD laws were diluted.
He said the tough anti-bikie campaign by police had cut crime rates and given a significant boost to the local economy. The tourism industry had benefitted because previous bikie hotspots, such as Broadbeach, had been turned into bikie-free and family-friendly areas.
“All the traders are 100 per cent supportive of keeping the laws to keep the bikies out,” he said.
Michael Hart, LNP MP for Burleigh, said he had been reliably informed that bikie gang members were “waiting across the border” for the outcome of the VLAD laws review.
He told The New Daily that if the laws were rolled back, there were real fears that bikies would return to the Gold Coast to try to regain lost territory which, in turn, posed the additional risk of a turf war between rival gangs.
“I think the government is taking a massive risk of even moving towards watering the laws down at all,” Mr Hart said.
Shopkeepers on edge
A Gold Coast shopkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous, said the police crackdown and anti-association laws had stopped bikie gang members from gathering menacingly in tourist areas.
Before that, gang members “were everywhere” and people would “simply avoid the place”.
“But since the legislation was introduced, it’s certainly taken away that fear element,” the shopkeeper said.
A spokesperson for Attorney-General D’Ath told The New Daily that the existing VLAD laws would continue to be enforced by police while the review was completed. The review membership was being finalised and a report was expected to be handed to the government by the end of the year.
“The review is not about weakening the VLAD laws – it’s about ensuring they better target criminal organisations and organised crime.”
The spokesperson said the government would also be establishing a $6 million commission of inquiry into organised crime which would run in tandem with the review.
The inquiry, expected to take six months, would examine the extent of organised crime in Queensland and recommend measures to counter it.