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Canberra's lack of anti-gang laws attracting bikies, Chief Police Officer warns
Canberra has become attractive to bikies because it does not have the same anti-gang laws the rest of the eastern seaboard does, the ACT's top cop has warned.
What are anti-consorting laws?
Anti-consorting laws are designed to make it more difficult for gang members to associate with other bikies.
New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory all have their own versions of the legislation.
In NSW, for example, you can be jailed for three years if you repeatedly speak to two or more convicted offenders after being warned not to by police.
In Queensland it recently became illegal to wear bikie club colours in public.
Chief Police Officer Justine Saunders told ABC News outlaw motorcycle gangs were a growing threat in one of Australia's "safest cities".
"[They] will capitalise on any opportunity to commit crime. So we're seeing the full suite of offences. Whether that be assault against the person, property crime, drug related activity," she said.
About 50 gang members are understood to live in the city — Rebels mostly in Belconnen, Nomads in Tuggeranong, plus the Comancheros — and that number has not changed in recent years.
The bikies were mostly part of one group until recently, with the fracture into three being blamed for an increase in gang-related crime in Canberra.
There are also concerns the territory is a convenient meeting point for bikies from New South Wales and Victoria, which both have tough anti-consorting laws.
"My observation in the time I've been here is we've certainly seen some activities which generate greater concern for me," Assistant Commissioner Saunders said.
"The public have come and spoken to me directly in regards to the fact that they're now seeing a greater presence [of bikies] in Canberra."
The Government previously suggested its own anti-consorting orders, which could have seen bikies locked up for two years if disobeyed. However it abandoned the proposal before the 2016 election.
Human rights activists argued the orders were unnecessary and would restrict a person's freedom of association.
The Government has since promised to fund an extra eight positions attached to ACT Policing's anti-gang taskforce Nemesis at a cost of $6.4 million.
Saunders in talks with Government over laws
Three months into the top job, the Chief Police Officer acknowledged the extra resources were helping fight organised crime, but she expressed support for tougher laws to match.
"I think the key benefit of anti-consorting laws, noting that's not the only solution, is that it's a preventative tool," she said.
"So what it means is people can't wear their colours and they can't congregate in groups, which allows them to undertake their planning and preparing and potentially criminal conduct.
"It's about dismantling, disrupting and preventing rather than responding."
Assistant Commissioner Saunders agreed that Canberra's lack of anti-consorting laws made Canberra a haven for bikies.
"I believe that's a factor in the decision to come here and undertake their activities," she said.
"That is why I'm really keen to work with government in exploring a range of options that might assist law enforcement in preventing potential criminal activity when they do come to Canberra."
The comments suggest the new top cop is not afraid to participate in debate about public policy, something which will appease officers who have privately grumbled about the issue for some time.
"We've had a long standing conversation with government about the benefit or otherwise of anti-consorting laws and a suite of other reforms that might be necessary," Assistant Commissioner Saunders said.
"It would not be appropriate for me to say more than I'm in conversations with government and government is listening to what I have to say."
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