People who brawl in or around pubs and bars in Canberra could soon be banned from licensed venues in the city, under proposed laws targeting bikies.
The legislation would also allow police to stop criminals from getting a liquor licence or working as a licensed builder, in a bid to protect those industries from organised crime.
The crackdown coincides with a surge of inter-gang violence in the national capital in recent years as rival bikies — in particular Nomads and Comancheros — battled for supremacy.
The turf wars occasionally involved shootings, fire-bombings and brawls in Canberra’s relatively quiet suburbs.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the proposed laws would affect bikies as well as other organised crime groups.
“Outlaw motorcycle gangs are one of the most high-profile manifestations of organised crime, with an active presence in all Australian states and territories,” he said.
“They see themselves as the ‘one percenters’ who operate outside the law.
“It is important that the ACT has strong and effective measures in place to target these people and subject them to the justice system.”
‘Broad’ powers to disrupt organised crime
The bill introduces new offences of “serious affray” designed to disrupt criminal gangs but which could be applied more broadly.
It allows the chief police officer to apply for a court order that excludes a person from entering, or even trying to enter, a range of licenced premises, at the court’s discretion.
Offenders who breach the order will face a fine of up to $16,000 and/or a year in prison.
Mr Ramsay said the legislation would also tighten eligibility for liquor and construction licences, allowing authorities to deny applications from “people who are involved in criminal activity, such as organised crime”.
This would include licences to work in most building trades — for example, as a surveyor, plumber or electrician.
Organised criminals have allegedly become increasingly influential in the construction industry over the past decade, with the Federal Government using the link to justify the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
Tough, but ‘human rights-compliant’
The police union and the Canberra Liberals have strongly criticised the lack of anti-consorting laws in the ACT, which are used in neighbouring New South Wales to prevent bikie gang members from associating with each other.
Earlier this year, Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith said the capital’s different approach had created “an outlaw motorcycle gang haven that is detrimental to Canberra being a safe city”.
However, civil libertarians and the Australian Human Rights Commission have urged NSW, as well as Queensland and South Australia, to amend their anti-bikie laws, saying they unjustifiably limit freedom of association and assembly.
Mr Ramsay said the ACT Government would not resort to legislation that breached human rights.
“That is not the values of the Canberra people, that is not the way this government works.”
He said evidence emerging from other states showed it was “very clear” that anti-consorting laws were ineffective.
“We will target organised crime and we will do that in a way that is effective and human-rights compliant.”
Meanwhile, shadow ACT attorney-general Jeremy Hanson said the Opposition would back legislation that made life harder for organised criminal groups.
“But the reality is that, without anti-consorting laws in this jurisdiction … this myriad of laws they’re coming forward with is like putting more bolts and locks on your front door while you’re holding your back door open,” he said.