Giving police the powers they need to fight the violent gangs

The Daily Telegraph, 19 April 2013

On Father’s Day in 1984 two rival bikie gangs, the Comancheros and the Bandidos, turned a Western Sydney carpark into a killing field. It was supposed to be a motorcycle parts swap meet. But two groups of bikies arrived armed with pistols, shotguns, machetes and even a pick axe.

As members of the public milled around a shot was fired into the air. All hell broke loose. In the minutes that followed 28 people were wounded and seven were killed. One of them was a 14 year old girl, Leanne Waters. She was in the car park selling raffle tickets before the shooting began.

Almost 30 years after the Milperra Massacre, bikies and organised criminals are still shooting at each other and there is still a risk of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.

This Friday we have the chance to do something about this when State Premiers go to Canberra for the Council of Australian Government (COAG) with the Prime Minister. On the agenda are three important reforms: national anti-gang laws, national unexplained wealth laws, and new laws to give police the power to randomly search serious criminals for guns.

National anti-gang laws give a court the power to declare that a particular organisation is a criminal organisation and impose control orders on its members. These orders prevent members engaging in activities like meeting with other gang members, holding a liquor licence, visiting clubhouses or holding a firearms licence. Some states have these laws, some don’t.

The fact is most of the gangs we are talking about have chapters in different states. Members move from state to state. They have assets in different states. If you clamp down on them in one state, they move to another. We have seen evidence of this.

National anti-gang laws mean a criminal organisation can be banned right across the country. There will be no soft spots, no safe havens, no places to hide.

We also need national unexplained wealth laws. National unexplained wealth laws would give police across the country more power to seize cash, cars and houses that have been obtained illegally and reverse the onus of proof so that criminals have to explain how they obtained their cash or assets through legitimate means.

We all know the story of the person with the flash car who doesn’t have a job. National unexplained wealth laws mean that if you can’t explain where the money comes from to buy the expensive car it can be seized.

This is really important. Ask any police officer and they will tell you that serious criminals are more worried about losing their money than going to jail. The criminals shooting at each other are fighting about drugs, turf and money. Ultimately it’s all about money. Money is what drives most of these crimes and it’s what drives power in the criminal underworld.

Organised criminals are making serious money. The Crime Commission estimates that organised crime costs our economy about $15 billion a year. Police are seizing millions at the moment. With our help, they could seize a lot more.

Some states have expressed concern that this is a ‘cash grab’ by the Commonwealth Government. The Prime Minister and I give this guarantee. If we create these powerful new laws then states will get more money, not less. They will be able to keep what they catch and together we will catch a lot more.

There is no reason not to do this – and lots of reasons to do it.

Last week the Prime Minister and I announced a $40 million National Crime Prevention Fund to fund more CCTV for local councils and expand the work of organisations like Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets and PCYCs. The funding for these projects doesn’t come from taxpayers. It comes from the assets we seize from criminals. With national unexplained wealth laws we will seize more assets, and be able to fund more projects like these.

We also need to give police more power to search for guns. Police know who most of the serious criminals are – the ones who stash the guns, the ones who sell them, and the ones who shoot up houses in the middle of the night. But the code of silence amongst criminals and their victims makes it hard for police to do their job.

If someone is a serious criminal police should have the power to stop and search them for illegal firearms at any time. This includes searching any vehicle they are in and any premises they are in. South Australia already has laws like this. On Friday we are going to ask all States to give the police this power.

While ever there are drugs and guns, and morons who want to shoot at each other, there will be crime and violence. But we can do something about it.

Police have asked for these powers. On Friday politicians from across the country and from across the political divide have the chance to work together to give them these powers.

That is what the Australian people expect of us – and that is what they deserve.