Some members of outlaw motorcycle gangs are responsible for serious criminal offences and form part of organised crime networks. They have developed a strong presence in several illicit markets, particularly the illicit drug market.

Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in the organised crime environment 

Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) remain one of the most high profile manifestations of organised crime. They have an active presence in all Australian states and territories. OMCGs see themselves as the ‘one percenters’ who operate outside the law—as opposed to the 99 per cent operating within its confines.1

It is the criminal activities of OMCGs that distinguish them from recreational motorcycle riding clubs, which are made up of people who get together solely to ride their motorcycles and socialise.2

OMCGs have become one of the most identifiable components of Australia’s criminal landscape. While most criminal syndicates or networks rarely aim for public identification, OMCGs maintain websites, identify themselves through patches and tattoos, abide by written constitutions and bylaws, trademark club names or logos and engage in publicity campaigns. 

OMCGs have featured prominently in political and public discussions of organised crime in Australia. However, it is difficult to gauge the percentage of organised crime attributed specifically to OMCG members. While they are prevalent in all states and territories, they are just one part of the organised crime picture in Australia.

OMCG activities are mostly domestic. However, there is an increasing prevalence of international connections, with gangs cooperating with other chapters overseas and with sophisticated and high-threat organised crime groups operating in Australia and internationally.

The most recent assessment of OMCGs identified that there are more than 40 OMCGs operating in Australia, with about 6000 patched members. The total club and membership numbers of Australian OMCGs is rising.

The changing nature of outlaw motorcycle gangs 

Australian OMCGs evolved from core groups of Caucasian men from working class backgrounds. They sought to emulate OMCGs established overseas (originally in the United States) after World War II. Club members were expected to obey strict rules and a militaristic hierarchy that levied harsh and sometimes violent retribution for disobedience.

‘Prerequisites’ for admission to OMCGs has been relaxed to ensure growth of OMCG membership.3 This, combined with Australia’s increasingly multi-cultural population and a desire to broaden spheres of influence, means the traditional make-up of OMCGs has changed.4 There is now a strong Middle Eastern presence in a number of OMCGs. Some gangs do not work to a constitution and others include members who do not even ride motorcycles. Club culture, however, remains predominantly masculine and women are largely excluded.

OMCGs are divided into different regions, known as chapters. Each chapter is headed by a president who has absolute rule and oversees the principles of brotherhood, loyalty and an enforced code of silence.5 OMCG chapters pose a serious risk to public safety because they are liable to react violently to attempts by rival OMCGs to poach members or encroach on their ‘territory’. In these circumstances, OMCG members have on a number of occasions (notably on the Gold Coast and at Sydney Airport) paid scant regard to the safety of innocent bystanders.

Aside from these examples of group violence, most OMCG chapters do not engage in organised crime as a collective unit. Rather, their threat arises from small numbers of members conspiring with other criminals for a common purpose. These criminally involved members are able to leverage off the OMCG to aid their criminal activities, ranging from social nuisance in residential communities through to their involvement in some of the most significant criminal syndicates in Australia.

OMCGs are evolving in response to changes in the criminal environment and attempts by law enforcement to counter their criminal activities. OMCG members are becoming more sophisticated and dynamic in their criminal activities and a number of OMCGs are expanding in size, scope and influence.

Links to serious and organised crime

While OMCG members play a prominent role in Australia’s domestic production of amphetamine-type stimulants, they are also involved in other illicit drug markets, vehicle rebirthing and firearms trafficking. Some OMCG members have expanded their skill sets and become involved in serious frauds, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, property crime and bribing and corrupting officials.

Like all members of society, some members of OMCGs may own or have interests in outwardly legitimate businesses, including in the finance, transport, private security, entertainment, natural resources and construction industries. However, in many instances, these interests have also been used to facilitate organised crime.

OMCGs are no longer isolationist groups. They may provide their ‘expertise’ or ‘services’ to traditional organised crime groups to facilitate a crime. This may include debt collection, extortion, blackmail, intimidation and violence.6

OMCGs also hire or recruit external expertise when needed. They may rely on professionals such as lawyers, accountants, chemists and real estate agents to assist in their crimes or to create complicated structures that hide the proceeds of their crimes. As OMCGs become more sophisticated they are also taking advice from public relations consultants to improve their public image and are actively collaborating to mount legal challenges aimed at disrupting their criminal activities.

They often form alliances with street gangs—possibly in part as a recruitment tool—to undertake the higher-risk aspects of their criminal activities, while remaining insulted from prosecution. They have also been known to collaborate with ethnic-based criminal organisations to distribute drugs or commit other crimes. These connections with more traditional crime groups appear more prevalent and reflect the more diverse ethnic composition of some OMCG chapters.

Government response

The Australian Crime Commission is one of 14 agencies taking part in Attero Task Force, an initiative between state and territory law enforcement and Commonwealth agency partners to target, disrupt, disable, dismantle and investigate the criminal activity of the Rebels OMCG in Australia. 

The task force, which is the first of its kind to tackle a specific Australian OMCG, was established by the Serious and Organised Crime Coordination Committee and subsequently endorsed by the ACC Board in June 2012.

In March 2013 the Australian Government announced a National Anti-Gang Task Force to fight gang-related crime across Australia, as well as an Australian Gang Intelligence Centre to provide national criminal intelligence on gang activity across Australia and its links overseas.

Along with the ACC, the task force includes members from the Australian Federal Police, state and territory police forces, as well as the Australian Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink.

The National Anti-Gang Task Force and Australian Gang Intelligence Centre commenced operation on 1 July 2013.

Serious and organised crime is not only a threat to civil law and order and community safety; it is a threat to Australia’s national security. 

On 23 January 2013 the Australian Government launched Australia’s first national security strategy, Strong and Secure: A Strategy for Australia’s National Security, which provides an overarching framework to guide Australia’s security efforts over the next five years. The strategy recognises that preventing, detecting and disrupting serious and organised crime is one of the eight key pillars to securing the Nation and its citizens. 

Organised crime has evolved well beyond a simple law and order problem within the remit of an individual agency, jurisdiction or country. The social, economic, systemic, environmental, physical and psychological harms caused by serious and organised crime have a very real impact on the whole community. The Commonwealth Organised Crime Strategic Framework (OCSF) and the National Organised Crime Response Plan (OCRP) strengthen multijurisdictional approaches, coordination, information sharing and joint activities to combat the national threat of serious and organised crime.

Further information on the national security strategy can be found at http://www.dpmc.gov.au/national_security/national-security-strategy.cfm

Further information on the OCSF and OCRP can be found at http://www.ag.gov.au/CrimeAndCorruption/OrganisedCrime/Pages/default.aspx

Australia’s response to the threat of organised crime is multi-faceted and ever-evolving. As the picture of criminality in Australia continues to develop and transform over time, Australia’s response strategies will also adjust and develop to meet new challenges and opportunities in the fight against organised crime. 

The Australian Crime Commission conservatively estimates that serious and organised crime costs Australia $15 billion every year. This cost comprises loss of business and taxation revenues, expenditure on law enforcement and regulatory efforts, and social and community impacts of crime. Raising public awareness of crime issues is an important step in minimising the impact serious and organised crime can have on the community.

Endnotes

  1. Lozusic, R 2003, Gangs in NSW, Briefing paper number 16/02, NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service.
  2. ibid.
  3. Schloenhardt, A 2007, The market for amphetamine-type stimulants and their precursors in Oceania, Australian Institute of Criminology, p. 32.
  4. ‘Australia’s biker gangs wage violent turf war’ 2007, Reuters, 11 May.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid.