Senior Queensland police have accused bikie gangs of mounting a high-stakes propaganda war to try to persuade the public that laws designed to crush their criminal activities should be scrapped.
The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act is under review by the State Labor government, which is facing increased political pressure not to water down the contentious laws.
Commander of Queensland’s anti-bikie taskforce Maxima, acting Detective Superintendent Brendan Smith, told The New Daily that bikie gangs were actively trying to open new clubhouses, recruit members and jostle for lucrative drug markets, especially on the Gold Coast.
The bikies were “certainly becoming more visible” with sightings of them brazenly wearing their club colours which, under the VLAD laws, is illegal attire in a licensed premises.
“The bikies are playing a propaganda war,” Supt Smith said. “They are trying to say that they are basically men’s clubs and they do work for charity, when I think we all know the truth.
“They are actively trying to persuade public opinion because they know governments act on public opinion.
“I mean the public aren’t stupid … one toy run a year doesn’t make up for 364 days of suspected drug trafficking.”
Following an election commitment, the Palaszczuk government set up a panel headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to review the VLAD laws, particularly the banning of three or more members of a criminal gang meeting together.
The review is expected to be completed by the end of the year and Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has already made it clear her government wants the anti-association provisions scrapped as well as laws imposing mandatory sentences.
However, police maintain the VLAD laws – introduced by the previous LNP Government – have played a major role in curbing the unlawful activities of the bikie gangs and driven many out of the state, especially on the Gold Coast.
Over the past two years, more than 2000 people have been arrested, almost a third of the state’s bikies have quit their gangs and handed in their colours while 46 clubhouses have been shut down.
The pressure on the government not to change the VLAD legislation increased even further last week when 18 bikies charged over the Gold Coast brawl that prompted the introduction of controversial laws walked free from court. Most were fined, while the ring leaders received suspended jail sentences.
Police Commissioner Ian Stewart told the ABC the VLAD laws were a significant weapon in the fight against bikies.
“We’ve had amazing success over the last few years; those laws have certainly had an impact,” he said.
Commissioner Stewart’s view is strongly supported by Australia’s Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, as well as Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“I think the introduction of VLAD-type laws in Queensland, and elsewhere in Australia, has demonstrated that they have had a positive impact for enforcement on the co-ordination and organisation of outlaw motorcycle gangs,” Commissioner Quaedvlieg told the Courier Mail.
Mr Abbott urged state and territory counterparts to be vigilant in the fight against bikie gangs which were “at the very heart of crime in this country”.
However, Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk has strongly defended the review, describing talk that the VLAD laws would be scrapped as “conjecture”.
Her government had zero tolerance for bikies and, if needed, would provide police with more resources to combat the gangs.