Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in Australia

‘Bikie gangs are like any other organisation or club. There are criminals in all walks of life’ Almost 40 motorcycle clubs are linked to criminal activities. These are referred to as outlaw motorcycle gangs. ‘Outlaw’ is not a legal definition; it rather refers to their views, seeing themselves as outside the law. Outlaw motorcycle gangs refer to themselves as ‘1 percenters’, as 99 percent of motorcyclists operate within law society’s conventions, they see themselves as the 1% that don’t. the criminal activities of outlaw motorcycle gangs distinguish them from recreational motorcycle riding clubs.

Outlaw motorcycle gangs are not typical of majority of the organised crime entities and the members don’t pose more or less of an organised crime threat than any other groups and individuals. They maintain websites, identify themselves through patches and tattoos, written constitutions and by laws, trademark club names and logos and hold publicity campaigns. They are characterised by a hierarchy, divided into different regions, each with an autonomy (also referred to as a chapter). Each chapter is headed by a president who has absolute rule and oversees the principles of brotherhood, loyalty and enforced code of silence.

The criminal activity ranges from social nuisance in residential communities to involvement in the most significant criminal syndicates operating in Australia today, being both very organised and sophisticated. There has always been a criminal element within outlaw motorcycle gangs but in the majority of the cases outlaw motorcycle gang chapters do not engage in organised crime as a group. Individual members may leverage off outlaw motorcycle gangs to aid in criminal activity.

This may include;  Enlisting support of fellow members Recover debts Dissuade potential competitors This is to enhance their status in criminal circles. Individuals may also use the existence of chapters of different states, territories and sometimes other countries the exploit criminal opportunities. Outlaw motorcycle gang chapters do pose a serious risk to public safety because they are liable to react violently to attempts by rival outlaw motorcycle gangs to poach their members or encroach on their ‘territory’. Outlaw motorcycle gangs are featured prominently in political and public discussions referring to organised crime.

Outlaw motorcycle gangs are more publicly visible and identifiable than many other groups involved in organised crime. They play a prominent role in the domestic production of amphetamine-type stimulants, illicit drug markets, vehicle rebirthing and firearm trafficking. They have demonstrated the capacity of strategic planning demonstrated by fraud, money laundering, extortion, and prostitution, property crime, bribing and corrupting officials. They are also involved in debt collection, blackmail, intimidation and violence.

The Comancheros are one of Australia’s well known outlaw motorcycle gangs. It was formed in 1966 by Scotsman William George ‘Jock’ Ross. As he was a former soldier, he wanted the club to operate like a military unit; a disciple brotherhood. Its motto is ‘Always Comanchero, Comanchero Always’. Its motif is an eagle on a red and black circle. ‘Jock’ dubbed himself ‘supreme commander’ and wrote a set of 10 rules for members to follow, which included not being allowed to have an affair with another member’s wife or partner.

The club expanded from Sydney into Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Europe. Almost a decade after its inception, the Comanchero motorcycle club kept to itself, shielding the public for the boozy, violent behaviour within. After months of in fighting, Ross’s follower Anthony ‘Snodgrass’ Spencer was defected from the Comanchero motorcycle gang and started the first Australian chapter of the Bandidos. He viewed this defection as treason, and on Father’s Day 1984, the 2 bikie gangs squared off at the Viking Tavern in Milperra, as families visiting a motorcycle swap meet fled in terror.

This was the event of the Milperra Massacre. Four Comanchero members, 2 Bandidos members and the innocent 14 year old Leanne Walters died in the 10 minute battle. Twenty more people were injured. The landmark trial lasting 14 months occurred for those who participated in the massacre, with 9 men being found guilty of all counts of murder and affray and 21 others being found guilty of manslaughter and affray. During these trials it was said- As patriotism can lead to jingoism, and mateship can lead to cronyism, so bikie club loyalty can lead to bikie club war” Judge Adrian Roden In New South Wales, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Gangs) Act 2006. These 2006 provisions make it an offence to participate in a criminal group, defined as three or more people who have objectives to obtain material benefits from serious indictable offences or commit serious violence. Anthony Zervas was killed in terminal 3 at Sydney Airport on the 22 March 2009 in a brawl between the Hells Angels and Comancheros.

The offending member was a part of the Comanchero and the deceased is a brother of Peter Zervas, a Hells Angels member. At the time of the riot, 12 Comancheros and 8 Hells Angels were present. A great number of these bikie gang members were charged with varying offences, ranging from murder and manslaughter to affray. Key legislation used for these cases included the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) and Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW).

Following this incident on the 2 April 2009, NSW Premier Rees introduced the Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Bill 2009. It commenced on assent on 3 April 2009. This act provides the power to declare outlaw motorcycle gangs as criminal organisations. Under the act, the Commissioner of Police may seek a declaration that a bikie gang is declared a criminal organisation under section 6. The decision is made by a judge in court under section 9 (1).

The descriptions of people eligible is under section 9 (2) subsection (b) and (c) and states that only current or former members are eligible, not persons who associate, or have associated with the members of the organisation. The judge is not required to provide reasons for his/her decision and rules of evidence that don’t apply to the hearing of application for declaration the section 13. The Applicable standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities under section 32 and a declaration can be made in the absence of any affected members under section 9 (3).

May 13 2009 saw further passing of legislation in New South Wales dealing with outlaw motorcycle gangs, the Criminal Organisations Legislation Amendment Act 2009. This new legislation made it an offence of recruiting persons to be a member of declared organisations, carrying a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment under section 26 (A). In the second reading speech, the Parliamentary Secretary noted that “Police have evidence that a number of youth gangs are being used by some criminal organisations to ‘feed’ their gang with members.

We also know that some of the most violent disputes between clubs are where members of one gang offer inducements for members of other gangs to ‘patch’ over and join their organisation. The offence will help stamp out these practices by deterring recruitment activity, the poaching of members and the associated violence” [Sharpe 2009: 15143] The Amendments also give power to the police to share confidential criminal intelligence concerning associates of declared criminal organisation members with high risk industry regulators.

Further amendments were made in November 2009 to clarify the control orders which may be issued against persons whom are, or purport to be, former members of a particular declared organisation but have an ongoing involvement with organisations and activities under section 19 (1) (a) (iii). This created a new association offence which controlled members who associate with other controlled members on 3+ occasions within a 3 month period under section 28 (IA). It also included as an offence that failing to disclose identity in accordance with the new powers under section 35 (A).

The new amendment also granted additional police powers to request the identity of a person reasonably suspected of being someone whom control order must be served and require them to remain at one place for 2 hours in order to effect service under section 16 (6) (i) and/or for the purpose of enforcing the associating offence under section 26 (7A). There is nothing wrong or criminal about belonging to a motorcycle club, and 99% of motorcycle clubs operate within the law.

Many people join motorcycle clubs to share a common interest in motorcycles or for recreational riding or competition, and members of clubs some from all walks of life. As for the remaining 1% of motorcycle gangs who operate outside of the law and participate in activities such as extortion, money laundering and illicit drug marketing, legislation is constantly being made and adjusted to accommodate for these bikie gangs. Incidents such as the Milperra Massacre and the Anthony Zervas killing have drawn political attention and therefore making laws to stop these incidents from occurring.