A report on organized crime in the Australian state of Queensland has concluded that the Australian war on motorcycle clubs has impeded the enforcement of laws against other crimes, particularly child molestation and fraud.
The 582 page report, called the Byrne Report after its principal author Michael Byrne, was published on October 30. It is the product of a six month long investigation by the Queensland Organised Crime Commission of Inquiry.
The report notes that the focus of law enforcement in Queensland “was squarely on outlaw motorcycle gangs from October 2013, following the violent public brawl that took place on 27 September 2013 between members of the Bandidos and a rival club member…. Following the incident, the Newman Government (which was then in power in Queensland) announced its intention to ‘crackdown on criminal gangs.’ On 15 October 2013, the then-Government introduced a suite of legislation into the Queensland Parliament. It was debated and passed in the early hours of the following morning. The speed with which the legislation was enacted – and the resulting lack of public scrutiny – drew criticism. Furthermore, the laws themselves have attracted significant publicity and controversy. The 2013 legislation particularly focused on outlaw motorcycle gangs, and created new offences and aggravated offences under the Criminal Code. The legislation also changed bail laws, introduced minimum mandatory penalties, increased powers for law enforcement agencies, and introduced vetting in certain licensed industries. The package of reforms included the enactment of the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 (the VLAD Act), which provides a crushing mandatory cumulative sentencing regime for people who participate in the affairs of an association and commit declared offences for the purpose of, or in the course of, that participation.”
The laws were drafted with the advice of “outlaw motorcycle gang experts” from the American Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Among other things, the new legislation decreed which motorcycle clubs were legal and forbid members of those clubs to associate with each other.
The Byrne Report discovered that even with the cruel, new prohibitions, “outlaw motorcycle gang members were charged with one or more offences on 696 occasions. During that same period, the total number of occasions that persons were charged with criminal offences across the state was 133,883. Therefore, in the 21-month period of intense law enforcement focus on outlaw motorcycle gangs, members of such gangs only accounted for 0.52 per cent of persons charged with criminal offences throughout Queensland.”
Queensland dedicated more than 200 police officers to the war on motorcycle clubs. It was a very telegenic war. Motorcycle club members are easy to find because they usually wear signs on their backs that advertise their affiliations. “This seemingly blinkered focus on outlaw motorcycle gangs is concerning,” the report said.
Meanwhile, criminals who were less telegenic were comparatively ignored. For example, Queensland only dedicated 37 officers to sex crimes against children. And Queensland has become a center for financial fraud. Because of the political decision to devote police resources to finding crimes with which to charge bikers, the report found police did “not have capacity to provide an investigative response to the estimated 320,000 fraud victims’ in Queensland.”
The dense report also claims that the reality of “organized crime” is rapidly evolving. “The group structures that dominate fictional representations of organized crime are disintegrating and will increasingly give way to an organized crime landscape dominated by loose networks made up of individual criminal entrepreneurs who interact and conduct their business in a shared, and often digital, criminal underworld,” the report says.
The Byrne Report found this is particularly true of child predators. “Offenders in this area are becoming more sophisticated and technically adept, and are often early adopters of new technologies. They use available technology to their advantage in order to avoid detection in the pursuit of their pedophilic and other paraphilic interests. The Commission was told of the alarming demand for increasingly depraved material involving the abuse of children. Membership of some highly networked child exploitation material sites requires the production and uploading of new material – on a regular basis – increasing the demand for child victims.”