ACT News

Police back move towards tougher ACT anti-bike laws

Canberra's police chief has welcomed anti-consorting laws proposed for the ACT that would give officers greater powers to clamp down on escalating bikie gang activity. 

But plans for tougher legislation drew criticism from civil libertarians and law groups, who cautioned against an outdated, knee-jerk reaction that could erode human rights and punish vulnerable citizens.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell on Monday announced the government would consider reforms that would ban contact between criminals convicted of similar offences.

It follows a wave of targeted shootings, with at least one potentially linked to outlaw motorcycle gang activity, and rising tensions between Rebels bikies and a newly established Comanchero chapter in Canberra.

The ACT has so far avoided controversial anti-bikie laws pursued in NSW and Queensland. 

Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers said police had eyed the effectiveness of anti-bikie legislation in other jurisdictions to consider what could be "reasonably applied" in the territory. 

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Police would continue to disrupt crime related to bikie gangs through Taskforce Nemesis, but he said legislation that allowed them to act more decisively would be "the other string in our bow".

He said anti-consorting laws would send a message the ACT was not a safe haven for outlaw motorcycle groups. 

"Certainly the way the government is looking at laws around consorting is a very balanced and very meaningful approach to either stop a problem associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs, or prevent problems associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs.

"It gives us the power to do certain things that we weren't able to do before and focus our attention where it's needed – on the problem."

Mr Corbell was confident any law would strike a balance between public safety and individual rights.

But Tim Vines, from the ACT Council of Civil Liberties, slammed the proposed reforms as a throwback to the Victorian era and said modern legislation should not be modelled on "Dickensian laws". 

"We're talking about a system that had a very strong moral element, that criminals are criminals because they are bad people, not because they have done bad things," he said.

Mr Vines police needed to show existing powers were insufficient before new laws were introduced.

"We already have rules around if you're on bail or been paroled for an offence, then you're subject to conditions around who you can associate with, curfews, drug and alcohol tests, and so on," Mr Vines said.

"There's a legitimate connection between the behaviour the state is trying to regulate and you being in the criminal justice system.

"But if you've already served your time, been released and not on parole, then the state should not be limiting your behaviour in that sort of way."

Mr Vines said anti-consorting type laws disadvantaged particular groups including young people, those with a mental illness, Indigenous people, and the homeless.

ACT Law Society president Martin Hockridge said the peak law organisation had not yet been consulted by the government about the proposed laws.

While Mr Hockridge said the Law Society would not oppose new laws, he warned a knee-jerk reaction could create similar problems to those experienced interstate.

"The difficulty interstate, particularly in Queensland, is that the anti-bikie laws went a little too far," Mr Hockridge said.

"We would want to make sure that the law isn't framed so broadly that there is any possible they could be misused going into the future … that ordinary people meeting with each other run the risk of becoming criminals.

"If the proposed ACT laws are more constrained and properly reactive to what the situation requires then we'd be quite happy to look at them and give the government our view on whether we think they are appropriate or not."

Mr Hockridge said the Law Society would be keen to hear from police about why they felt tougher laws were necessary.

"I'm not aware at the moment there is anything in the current legislation that doesn't allow them to properly investigate any offences allegedly committed in the ACT."