Bikies will come to regret their actions

If Australia survived being menaced by the Communist Party in the 1950s, an era when the murderous Joseph Stalin commanded all of the resources of a militarised communist superstate, we'll probably survive the modern era of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Robert Menzies tried to ban the Communist Party of Australia, a law which was struck down by the High Court for being unconstitutional.

Premiers Campbell Newman, Barry O'Farrell and Ted Baillieu might well be tempted to ape his failure, given the hysteria surrounding outlaw biker gangs, a gathering storm of fear and loathing that intensified over the weekend after the shooting at Robina.

Newman hastened to blame the shooting on the ALP, a piece of political satire worthy of Clive 'Titanic' Palmer, except that he knows how politically dangerous it can be to soft-pedal such an incident. A quick glance through the comment threads on stories about Robina is enough to recognise the dangerous passions unleashed by unexpected and violent discontinuity.

“In all seriousness, should there be state-sponsored summary assassination of known criminals (such as has allegedly occurred in places like Israel) even if the case against them is not proven at court?” wrote one correspondent from West End.

Others suggested milder, but legally adventurous options such as simply outlawing motorcycle club membership, or perhaps sealing off an island or remote area of the bush to allow the gangs to cowboy up and shoot it out amongst themselves without bothering innocent shoppers.


These people vote. As crazy as their suggestions are - and they are bugshit crazy - the motivations behind them are understandable. Millions of people in southeast Queensland, for instance, would have walked through or stood on the exact spot where Saturday's shooting took place. Often with their kids in tow.

That particular part of Robina is familiar to me, lying as it does astride a well beaten path between the Apple Store and a couple of videogame shops of which I am fond. Rather than putting a bullet into the bicep of an alleged gang rival, the shooter could just as easily have put it through my daughter's head, your husband or wife's throat, a small boy's chest.

In these circumstances, imagination inflames the passions, and the prospect of heavily armed tactical squads kicking down the reinforced gates of outlaw compounds, dealing out the sort of retribution you and I would be incapable of, is an enticing prospect indeed.

But it's not going to happen. Not because we have lost the will to defend ourselves, or neutered the police, or because the Labor Party is in secret league with the Hell's Angels. It's not going to happen like that because mature, sophisticated and powerful states do not behave like, well, outlaw motorcycle gangs..

Allow Assistant Police Commissioner Mike Condon to explain: “When an incident occurs, it is almost a competition about who appears to be the toughest between two groups but when it is over and the reality hits home, there is regret that the incident occurred.”

That reality hits home not from some moral imperative pressing itself upon the warring bikers consideration, but rather from a realistic appraisal of the power imbalance between the modern state and those who would live outside its walls. As violent and savagely Hobbesian as the outlaw world is, it pales next to the insensate violence available to the state.

The reason outlaw gangs operate underground and out of sight for the most part is that they know they cannot survive a head-on clash with Hobbes's Leviathan. They'll be crushed. Not by ridiculous fantasies of unacknowledged wetwork operations, with spies and assassins taking them out in the dead of night, but by law and by the threat of massive, unanswerable state violence that stands behind the law.

Condon was right when he said the groups involved in Saturday's gunplay would come to regret it. But they will regret it because the machinery of the state, a machinery so powerful and destructive it must be constrained by law, will now turn its cold lidless gaze upon them with renewed focus.

They are doomed.

There is no need of extraordinary measures or intemperate legislative changes. What's needed is probably quite simple. Funding and political support for hard, long haul investigative and prosecutorial work that lasts beyond the excitement of the news cycle, and patience enough to let the police bring to bear the resources they require.