Members of biker gangs who show off their insignias – even in the form of tattoos –
will face a 12-month jail term and fines of up to $12,000 AUD under new laws.
Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Members of outlaw motorcycle gangs in Western Australia have been advised to hide face tattoos under make-up and plasters, as the state rolls out harsh laws banning people from showing off “prohibited” patches and insignias.The government will this week introduce into parliament what it calls the Criminal Law (Unlawful Consorting and Prohibited Insignia) Bill 2021. The legislation, according to the press release, pledges to “disrupt and restrict the capacity of those involved in serious and organised crime to plan, support or encourage the carrying out of criminal activity,” namely by banning bikers from associating with one another in public and from showing off their club patches – whether they be in the form of patched vests, flags or tattoos.
“These laws represent the toughest and most comprehensive reforms to fight organised crime of all Australian States and Territories. Forty-six organisations, including outlaw motorcycle gangs from right across Australia ... have been captured and explicitly named in the legislation as part of the new prohibited insignia offence,” said state Attorney General John Quigley. “These organisations and their patches are designed to show affiliation with criminality and intimidate others, including law-abiding citizens in our community. This will cease once these laws are in place.”Those caught in violation of the new “prohibited insignia offence” will face a 12-month jail term and fines of up to $12,000 AUD ($8,864 USD). Acting Police Commissioner Col Blanch further elaborated on Wednesday that even markings as conspicuous as face tattoos would need to be concealed in order for offenders to avoid criminal charges.“That will be illegal,” Blanch told WA radio station 6PR, in reference to a well-known and heavily tattooed member of the Australian Hell’s Angels who has club-affiliated initials and insignias inked on his nose and face. “He must cover up anything that … references the club. Whether it’s on his face, or whether it’s on his publicly displayed arms, or whether it’s on anything: his motorcycle or flag or vest.”
In terms of how someone with such face tattoos might be expected to conceal them, Blanch suggested that they “start with things like band-aids or make-up, or have it removed.”“Or alternatively,” he added, “people can have the option not to live in Western Australia if this law passes.”This, according to experts, is part of the plan. Mark Lauchs, an associate professor at Queensland University of Technology and an expert in outlaw motorcycle gangs, told VICE World News that the new legislation was “designed to get the worst bikies to move elsewhere.”Lauchs was also skeptical as to how effective the new laws would be at disrupting and restricting serious and organised crime.“It is very difficult to prove that preventing consorting reduces crime,” he said. “Even though texting counts as consorting there are many apps that allow discussion without surveillance. While it is a ‘tool in their [police’s] belt’ it's more of a threat than an effective weapon.”The new anti-consorting and prohibited insignia laws, which would also give WA police the power to disperse gang members who gather in public places, have been compared to the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act that was introduced in Queensland in 2013. The VLAD laws stipulated that members or associates of criminal organisations who were convicted of a serious crime would have to serve an extra 15 to 25 years on top of any prison sentence, unless they gave information to law enforcement.
That bill was broadly criticised upon rollout – Amnesty International suggested that it “breached international fair trial standards” – and the mandatory sentences were scrapped three years later for being, in the words of Justice Alan Wilson, “excessively harsh.”Lauchs suggested that WA’s newly announced laws were even more worrying from a human rights perspective – and could bear unforeseen consequences.“The VLAD laws in Queensland were tough but explicitly applied to bikies. These laws, under the guise of applying to all organised crime, can apply to everyone in the state,” he said. “They would apply to any organisation that has members convicted of serious offences. It would apply to any person and their associates. There are serious human rights aspects to this legislation that I’m amazed didn’t gather the same protests as were organised against VLAD. “I would argue these laws are far worse and need an effective watchdog to ensure they aren’t abused.”Follow Gavin Butler on Twitter.