Revelations that bikie-related violence in Canberra extends well beyond the high-profile shootings, home invasions and assaults that have erupted in its suburbs show the true scale of the capital’s struggle with a growing scourge.
Episodes that have left one person knee-capped and the front doors of homes pocked with bullet holes in 2017 were enough cause for alarm, but documents seen by Fairfax Media show the city’s bikie crime drew police into 30 investigations between November 2016 and May last year.
They show ACT Policing’s response to the problem at a time the territory lacked some of the legislation designed to make business hard for outlaw motorcycle clubs in other states, and at the beginning of a political row over the best way to handle their growing presence in Canberra.
Open gang warfare and public violence has escalated later in the capital than interstate, although the number of bikies in Canberra has remained steady and much of the violence related to a turf war that flared up with an internal schism inside one of the city’s main clubs.
ACT Policing’s assistant commissioner Justine Saunders gave a warning early last year, saying Canberra had grown attractive to bikies because it did not have the same anti-gang laws as the rest of the eastern seaboard, including controversial anti-consorting measures.
Her contribution to public debate about Canberra’s bikie question showed there are two distinct sides to the problem.
After a year of political back-and-forth over the best way to deal with bikie violence in Canberra, it’s useful to look at its growth as both a legislative problem and a law enforcement one.
While the ACT’s police appear to be cracking down on bikie activity, it’s far from clear that any state or territory has adopted the right legislative settings to reverse the rise in inter-club violence and make it hard for gangs to operate.
Anti-consorting laws pushed aggressively by the ACT Liberals this year may sound an essential part of the legislative mix at face value. However, evidence from interstate shows they haven’t been as useful as hoped.
In a debate without an obvious answer, the territory government has ignored the Liberals and opted for laws designed to make it easier for police to investigate violent incidents and charge club members for drive-by shootings.
A shift in thinking is needed nationally on the legislative side of the bikie problem, and the challenge for politicians across the country in 2018 is to produce evidence-based, considered ideas for laws that will actually curb bikie activity without unjustifiably intruding on human rights.
The ACT should not only be part of this. In the same way it has led the country with new legislation in the past, it has the chance to do so now.
Debate about anti-bikie laws needs to escape the repetitive stoush over anti-consorting measures that consumed so much of the Legislative Assembly’s energy in 2017.