ACT no bikie 'holiday island' says government
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ACT no bikie 'holiday island' says government

The ACT Opposition will have a second crack at introducing anti-consorting laws, as the Barr government dismisses calls for an independent review of its anti-bikies measures.

There are chapters of four motorcycle gangs in Canberra, which has led to conflict across the city.

There are chapters of four motorcycle gangs in Canberra, which has led to conflict across the city.Credit:Rohan Thomson

During annual reports hearings on Wednesday, ACT Human Rights Commissioner Helen Watchirs said she would be "in favour" of a review that looked at the effectiveness of the ACT's measures, versus the effectiveness of anti-gang legislation in other jurisdictions.

"A review into whether that broader balance can be achieved?" Canberra Liberals legal affairs spokesman Jeremy Hanson asked.

"Well looking at the effectiveness of laws in other jurisdictions and the effectiveness of amendments that have occurred in the ACT," Dr Watchirs said.

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Dr Watchirs said the review would need to be done by an independent expert who specialised in criminal law.

However ACT Attorney General Gordon Ramsay wouldn't commit to a review of this kind.

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"The ACT government’s strong measures to tackle criminal gangs are evidence-based. We have actively targeted the financial motivations behind organised crime by funding more police and prosecutors to seize criminal assets, and we are working with the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions to develop new ways of targeting unexplained wealth. That work has and will continue to show concrete results," Mr Ramsay said.

"We’ll keep monitoring the evidence as it becomes available about both the human rights impact and effectiveness in preventing crime of any new legislation. This includes discussions with the Human Rights Commissioner."

The government has repeatedly ruled out introducing the laws that have been introduced in other jurisdictions to target outlaw motorcycle club activity on the grounds of human rights.

It tried and failed to draft anti-consorting laws in 2016 that were consistent with the ACT's human rights framework, and abandoned the proposal before the last territory election.

Instead the government has beefed up funding for Taskforce Nemesis and introduced a tranche of other legislation targeting gang activity, including giving police the power to declare a crime scene on private property for six hours without a warrant if its occupants refuse to cooperate, and making shooting an empty building a crime.

The human rights commissioner attacked the plans to introduce anti-consorting laws in the ACT in 2016, saying the evidence of low level bikie activity in Canberra does not justify such a "serious limit on human rights".

However since then a turf war between gangs has led to violent crimes across Canberra.

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The ACT Opposition tried and failed to revive the legislation last year, as gang activity increased in the city.

At that time, Dr Watchirs said: "we're no longer a one-gang town and there has been inter-gang violence recently, so in principle to prevent such behaviour new laws maybe necessary".

ACT Policing's top brass told the hearings they were dealing with bikies within "the constraints of our legislation".

"I think the last time we had a group of OMCGs arrive in the ACT police were quite active with dealing with that group of people so without going into the details of those interactions they were left in no doubt police were interested in their behaviours," Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson said.

Police minister Mick Gentleman denied Canberra was a "holiday island" for bikies without the laws.

"In fact on the weekend the Black Uhlans rolled into the ACT, 30 members of the Black Uhlans, 600 outlaw motorcycle gang members rode into Melbourne," Mr Gentleman said.

"Canberra is a very safe city but we're not immune from criminal gang activity and ACT police I think are doing a very great job of ensuring the safety of Canberrans when these occurrences happen."

However Mr Hanson said Mr Gentleman was "clutching at straws" and he would bring forward re-drafted anti-consorting legislation either this year or early next year.

"What we've been told is that bikies in some cases will truck their motorbikes down then come to the ACT and congregate or they can come down individually and congregate here in the ACT or they can not wear their colours in NSW and move to the ACT and then put their patches on so there's three quick ways we've been told that bikies can get to the ACT without interference in NSW to do the sort of activities that we've seen in the ACT," Mr Hanson said.

"The reality is the evidence from the chief police officer is very clearly that they need these laws if they're going to combat the scourge of bikie violence. The evidence is that in 2009 when NSW brought those laws in we had one motorbike gang in the ACT.

"We warned, the AFP warned and the Australian Federal Police Association warned that without similar laws we would see an increase in bikie gang activity, and this would become an attractive place for bikies. This is exactly what's happened, we now have four gangs and more bikies and as a result of having more gangs there's a turf war and that's leading to the violence in our suburbs."

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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