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‘Anti-bikie’ laws to drive criminals underground

January 12, 2010

‘Anti-bikie’ laws to drive criminals underground

One of Australia’s biggest crime-fighting bodies has cast doubt over the long-term success of a so-called “anti-bikie” legislation being introduced in WA and across Australia, claiming it will only drive serious and organised crime groups deeper underground to avoid detection.

The Australian Crime Commission also said it would not take long for such groups to circumvent the proposed anti-association legislation – which would make it illegal for members of declared groups to associate with each other – and carry on with their activities.

In its submission to the parliamentary joint committee inquiry into the legislative arrangements to outlaw serious and organised crime groups, the ACC said the impact of these new laws would suffer over time due to the “flexibility and adaptability” of organised crime to change their practices when confronted with legal obstacles.

“There is also a risk that legislation based on identification of specific groups may result in a displacement effect that makes members of these groups more difficult for law enforcement to monitor or target,” the ACC said.

It went on to say that legislation on its own might not be able to “effectively deal” with the ongoing threat posed by serious and organised crime.

ACC chief executive John Lawler told the organisation welcomed all measures that made it tougher for motorcycle clubs to conduct unlawful activities.

But he reiterated the ACC’s concerns that more needed to be done to reel in suspected illegal money-making practices.

“The ACC has observed the resilient and flexible nature of serious and organised crime including outlaw motorcycle gangs, and their ability to adapt to and challenge legislation and law enforcement strategies,” he said.

“Given this resilience and flexibility, a process of constant enhancement to strategies employed to counter serious and organised crime will be required.”

In its submission, the ACC discussed several UK legislative arrangements that could be adopted in Australia, including Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPO) and Financial Reporting Orders (FRO).

The SCPO is a tool to prevent, restrict or disrupt serious criminal activity by prohibiting, restricting or imposing requirements on individuals, partnerships or unincorporated associations for a maximum of five years. The order could relate to financial, property or business dealings or holdings or working arrangements, among others for an individual.

Also, if a person has been convicted for people trafficking, money laundering or some form of drug offence, they could be slapped with an FRO for up to 15 years.

Under an FRO, a person could be required to report on their finances at specific intervals and in great detail, depending on their level of offending.

“The ACC views measures implemented in the UK … as offering some of the more relevant options for consideration in the Australian context,” the submission said.

“SCPOs would appear to offer powerful tools for the medium- to long-term management of enduring and resilient offenders, notably in relation to constraining the capacity of such criminals to engage in legitimate commercial activities that might conceal illicit activities.

“FROs would directly address the profit motive that lies at the heart of much serious and organised crime activity.”

However, the ACC predicted legislative changes in Australia would have a “short-term impact” on criminal groups that were “flexible, entrepreneurial and resistant to law enforcement intervention”.

And although membership for outlaw motorcycle gangs remained “more structured, more enduring and more easily attributable for the moment”, new legislation could make things difficult for law enforcement agencies to keep track of in the future.

“Legislation based upon the identification of specific groups may prove effective in disruption of the activities of groups such as OMCGs where they retain strong self-identification,” the submission said.

“The character of OMCGs has, however, changed over the last few years to embrace more flexible forms of membership, association or cooperation.

“It is a trend likely to continue, and one which may be accelerated if proscriptive action is applied to OMCGs or similar high-visibility groups.”

The submission noted that prior to the introduction of anti-association legislation in South Australia, there were indications some groups had already relocated to other jurisdictions – highlighting concerns the new legislation could lead to the displacement of criminal activities to new locations, new targets or other crime types.

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