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The spinning plates of VLAD laws

In the distance you can hear it. Rumble, deep bursts of engine noise. Rat-ta-tat-tat. Roaring thunder. That’s the sound of a hoard of motorbikes revving in the distance. And it’s a sound that’s been absent from Queensland streets since the introduction of the VLAD laws in October 2013.

Just the month earlier at a Broadbeach resturarant – while families with young children looked on – a group of up to 60 Outlaw Motorcycle Cycle Gang members brawled amongst themselves. At least 40 members of the Bandido’s marched through the busy Broadbeach mall looking for their apparent target. In and out of various restaurants they looked until they found their rival member.

It was school holidays.

The cops turned up and were severely outnumbered. Tasers were drawn, yelling, tables knocked over – all hell broke loose. One bar attendant grabbed knives and forks from the tables in fear that they would be used as weapons. What happened made headlines all over the world. This was Australia’s tourist strip, frequented by millions all year round, and a haven for families visiting nearby theme parks and those wanting the Australian Las Vegas experience.

Rightly so, the government of the day was outraged. And they didn’t muck around, hitting the bikies where it hurt with severe anti-association laws. Laws that were later heavily criticised by left groups, law-abiding motor cycle riders and, of course, the bikies and their supporters themselves. The laws even raised the eyebrows of everyday people who were surprised that, in today’s society, such harsh laws could be in place.

But despite the criticism, the engines stopped. Queenslanders no longer saw scores of leather-clad bikies roaring up the highway or infesting public bars. And they no longer saw violent brawling in the streets. In that sense, the laws worked to subdue the OMCG activities in public, leaving the perception that people were safe from the type of criminal activity like that seen at Broadbeach.

But was the crackdown worth it?

This week, an “outraged” Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk seeked to meet with the Police Commissioner about the recently handed down Commission of Inquiry into Organised Crime. Authored by Commissioner Michael Byrne QC, the 600-page report is scathing of the Police – and the Crime and Misconduct Commission – and their decision to target OMCG. All at the apparent expense of other crimes, like child exploitation and fraud. Justice Byrne told the Courier Mail, “I’m not pointing the finger of blame at anyone but resources were being focused on OMCGs”.

His report cited the massive difference in the numbers of detectives in squads such as fraud, child exploitation and OMCG’s. A bit like, as the Courier Mail describes, playing whack-a-mole – as soon as one problem rears it’s head, another one pops up.

The challenge is to make sure one of the moles in the game doesn’t stay up too long. What this analogy also demonstrates is something that is not observed by most commentators – or if it is, is touched upon as a passing point – that policing generally is under resourced. The cops have got to throw resources where they are most needed, all while trying to balance the needs of other areas. One can argue that one crime may or may not be more important, but in the end it doesn’t matter. If you’re a victim. The plates have got to be kept spinning before one falls off and smashes.

It’s a bit like arguing wit the traffic cop who’s pulled you over for using your mobile phone. Why don’t you do some real police work? You should be out there catching the real criminals! All good until one day, while looking your mobile phone, you have a head on crash and kill a family of four. The fact that someone stole your credit card and racked up a debt of thousands of dollars on cigarettes, grog and KFC is important, to you, the victim. But does it make you scared to walk down eat street at Broadbeach, Brunswick Street or Mooloolaba? Probably not.

There’s only so many police and only so much money to fund the work they do. And it’s true that the government of the day can have a heavy influence into there the pot is tipped. There was always going to be a review of the VLAD laws – it’s legislated – but it took a major 600-page report to square the ledger. And all this from, ironically, a different government from the instigator of the original laws. Let the political games begin.

One can only hope that common sense prevails. Re-allocation of resources based on need is nothing new, but to use it as a political tool takes away from the hard working men and women who’ve kept the streets safe over the past two years.

Lets just hope the focus doesn’t shift the opposite way completely, otherwise those engine roars in the distance will move a lot closer. And that’s what some groups want to see, but not the police.

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