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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Bullet-holed body of slain motorcycle gang leader Richard Roberts.

Bullet-holed body of slain motorcycle gang leader Richard Roberts. Australia's motorcycle gangs are at war and police in the national capital are out in the streets making sure vengeance is left to another day.
'He was a hard-working man, a heart of gold. He was respected by many people,' Rebels Motorcycle Club national president Alex Vella said at the funeral of the convicted drug dealer.
Killings, fire-bombings and drive-by shootings have led state governments to promise legislation making the Rebels and other gangs illegal. Roberts, whose flag-draped coffin was followed by 300 motorcycles, may be the last to get a big send-off from his mates. 'Your days are up. It's finished,' declared New South Wales state Premier Nathan Rees. 'We'll move whatever laws we need to stop it occurring.' Leaders in other jurisdictions have pledged to follow suit, fearing that a crackdown in one state will see the hoodlums setting up somewhere else.
Ross Coulthart, who has written extensively about gangs, welcomes a change in the public perception of motorcycle gangs. Gone is the notion that members are unreconstructed Anglo-Saxon males who hold down jobs during the week and like drinking and getting into fights at the weekend. The reality now is that some motorcycle clubs are criminal gangs and that the sometimes deadly skirmishing is over control of the drug trade. 'Much of the present bikie wars is a simple battle for dominance between gangs, sparked by the entrance onto the local drug-dealing scene of a self-styled Middle Eastern bikie gang calling itself Notorious,' Coulthart wrote. Australian Crime Commission head John Lawler has spoken of the difficulty of taking on motorcycle gangs. A vow of silence means those dragged in for questioning opt to be charged for obstructing police rather than give evidence. There is terrible retribution for those who break ranks. 'They are quasi-military groups who depend on strong bonds of internal trust and honour, which is what makes them so hard for police to counter,' says Duncan McNab, author of a book on the Bandidos club. In the past, the clubs themselves kept each other in line. But the big money to be had in drug dealing has led to defections and the formation of clubs where the focus is amphetamines, not Harley Davidsons, and where money-laundering is what's important rather than weekends away. Many, perhaps most members of motorcycle gangs, still maintain they are law-abiding citizens who join for the camaraderie, the joy of riding bikes and the fun to be had in patches and leather. Yet many of those who claim to abhor drugs and violence were in Canberra to pay tribute to Roberts, who had just served seven years on drug offences and was up on an assault charge when he was shot dead.
Notorious club president Allan Sarkis was arrested last week and charged with possessing drugs. He denies he's the head of a crime gang and denies dealing in drugs. 'We don't want to be portrayed to the public as we've been,' Sarkis said. 'We want to be acknowledged and respected as a motorcycle club, not as gangsters.'
Criminologists question whether Rees and other state leaders have the stomach to take on motorcycle gangs. They note that anti-gang laws on the books since 1929 are not being used for fear of touching off an all-out war. Monash University's Professor Arthur Veno is the pre-eminent authority on Australia's motorcycle gangs. He see the solution not in a police crackdown but in club leaders meeting together to thrash out their differences.

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