THE outrageous shooting of an outlaw bikie associate and an innocent woman at the Gold Coast’s Robina shopping centre on a busy Saturday afternoon may well herald a new era in bikie gang-related violence.
Queensland is the latest battleground in what appears to be an escalating national feud between the Hells Angels and the Bandidos. Both had humble beginnings in the US some decades ago but in recent times they have spread across the globe, from Europe to Australia.
The expansion of these two groups has coincided with an explosion in violence in countries where they have set up chapters and, typically, that violence has caught law enforcement and governments by surprise.
In some instances, the rise in membership of these two groups has happened so quickly, local authorities could be forgiven for thinking an invasion by medieval hordes had taken place, such is the “shock and awe” that announces each gang’s arrival.
The Hells Angels and the Bandidos both boast more than 2000 members worldwide, including in Australia where their numbers are being swelled by men of Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander descent.
The tit-for-tat violence committed by both groups along the east coast in recent months mirrors the exact passage that the feuds in Canada, Scandinavia, Germany and France have taken in recent times before erupting into deadly wars between the two gangs.
For a taste of what may be coming to Australia, you have only to revisit the “Quebec bikie war”, the “great Nordic bikie war” and the present crisis in Germany.
The Quebec bikie war began in 1994 and lasted until 2002, eventually claiming the lives of 150 people including an 11-year-old boy and two prison officers. The fact that the war lasted eight years before it was brought under control should be an important reminder to law enforcement and governments here in Australia that there is no quick fix. These groups have flourished under Labor-dominated governments both state and federally during the past decade.
Recently installed Queensland Premier Campbell Newman echoed these sentiments on the weekend after the Robina shopping centre shooting by stating: “We’ve had Labor governments up the east coast for the best part of 20 years and I do blame them.”
In Quebec, it took a national approach on law enforcement and powerful anti-gang laws to rein in the out-of-control bikie menace that had become a national security problem for Canada.
The threat was from within rather than outside Canada and we may be facing a similar situation here.
The “great Nordic bikie war” lasted for the best part of the 1990s and included 11 murders and 74 attempted murders. It included incidents familiar to Sydneysiders, violence between Hells Angels and Bandidos at international airports.
The most recent Hells Angels and Bandidos violence in Europe is occurring in Germany. It began with the usual firebombing of tattoo parlours, car yards and brothels controlled by both gangs. The tit-for-tat violence, as in Quebec and Scandinavia, soon escalated to murderous revenge attacks that left Germany’s citizens reeling and their police force searching for solutions.
A little more than a year ago in an industrial city in Germany’s Rhine Valley, the trial of a Hells Angel associate charged with murdering a rival Bandidos member required 600 German police to flood the streets surrounding the courthouse in order to prevent a significant violent incident between the two gangs. Those numbers are equivalent to putting more than a battalion of soldiers into the field to conduct an operation in a war-torn country, only the war-torn country was Germany.
The heart of the problem lies in the extraordinary riches to be made by outlaw motorcycle gangs in illegal drugs, prostitution, extortion and money laundering. Running alongside this financial gain is the deep-seated hatred that Hells Angels and Bandidos hold for each other across the globe. Australia is just the latest country to be caught up in this senseless feud.
In Australia, the Hells Angels are undergoing a phenomenal rise in membership and geographical influence across the eastern states. It’s reported they have enticed up to 60 members of rival Bandidos chapters in Sydney to “patch over”, the ultimate act of betrayal within the outlaw motorcycle gang “code of ethics”.
Perhaps the widely admired Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson summed it up last Saturday night following the Robina shopping centre shooting, when he alluded to the ongoing bikie violence as probably the worst the state had ever seen.
All governments across the country should listen to Atkinson, as he is an old-style police commissioner and a man who chooses his words carefully.
When I saw him interviewed by the media on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but notice the deep concern that he showed when he was questioned over the escalating bikie war in Queensland and the potential for it to have a significant effect on the otherwise law-abiding community he protects.
As in North America and now Europe, the Hells Angels and the Bandidos will not be broken up completely, no matter what governments threaten to do in the way of radical anti-gang laws.
The only achievable outcome, judging by the efforts of law enforcement overseas, is to limit the damage these groups can do in the short term.
Whatever measures are proposed to deal with this emerging menace, you can be assured that a squadron of eminent lawyers retained by the gangs will scrutinise any proposals to ensure not only their clients’ continued freedom, but also to allow these groups to continue their activities with as little interference from police as possible.
The crackdown by NSW police on bikie gangs on the weekend is commendable but unlikely to stem the tide of violence that will sweep along the east coast in the months and years ahead.
In the meantime perhaps we should insist the bikies wear their colours 24 hours a day, so that at least they are visible to innocent members of the public who can then take evasive action before the next incident occurs.
The only glimmer of hope outside law enforcement is that the traditional bikie gangs bring their own brand of pressure to bear on the two warring groups and enforce a ceasefire.
Tim Priest is a former NSW Police detective sergeant and author of three books on crime and policing.