The arrival of a third major outlaw bikie gang in Tasmania has prompted a warning that a turf war in the state is only a matter of time.
The numbers of bikies in Tasmania are increasing — estimates say there are now about 250 fully-fledged gang members.
The latest to establish a presence is The Bandidos, but despite the growing number of bikie clubs and members, police are adamant they have not lost the war.
A national run by the Rebels outlaw gang in October prompted Police Commissioner Darren Hine to warn that “bikie gangs are not welcome in Tasmania”.
The following month, rival gang The Bandidos held its national run in Tasmania.
The club, which is known for its violence, opened a chapter in Devonport, and the run was in part a recruitment drive for more members in the state.
Former Sydney detective and authority on outlaw gangs, Duncan McNab, questioned the usefulness of statements like the Commissioner’s.
Bikies ‘not in Tasmania for the wine’
“I don’t think the bikies are gong to be terribly worried about the coppers not welcoming them,” said the author of Outlaw Bikers in Australia.
“They’ve had decades of being not welcomed by coppers.”
The Devil’s Henchmen, the Satan’s Riders, the Black Uhlans, the Outlaws, the Rebels, and The Bandidos all call Tasmania home.
But it is the last three who have police particularly worried.
“These are the really serious top end of the gangs — these are in the top five, these guys, so the fact that they’ve decided that Tasmania is a place they want to be is really, really troubling,” he said.
“These guys don’t go into places unless there’s terrific opportunities for them. They’re not there for the weather and the excellent wine.”
He is concerned about the potential for a turf war with the big three gangs competing in such a small area.
“You’ve got three gangs known for their violence, three gangs known for the indiscriminate and public nature of their violence … at some point they’re going to come into conflict with each other,” Mr McNab said.
Assistant Police Commissioner Glenn Frame said the state’s epidemic of ice use seemed to be attracting the gangs.
“Outlaw motorcycle gangs are involved in the import and trafficking of ice nationally and Tasmania is not exempt to that,” he said.
“We see the impact on that with street offences, with burglary of homes with burglary of business. A lot of that is ice-related and the outlaw motorcycle gangs play a part in the distribution of ice,” Mr Frame said.
Police said little, if any, ice was being manufactured in Tasmania and he believes bikies are brining it to the state on the Spirit of Tasmania, commercial airlines and fishing boats.
Bikies taking advantage of island
Mr McNab said anti-association laws, bans on wearing club colours in public and units specifically created to target and disrupt day-to-day club member life had made it difficult for the gangs to run their illicit businesses interstate.
“Bikies are terrific logistic managers and Tasmania gives them an opportunity with airports, with discreet coastline and with plenty of ports so it’s easy to manage a distribution business and focus it in Tasmania where the police don’t have the resource or the laws at the moment to have a hard crack at them,” Mr McNab said.
Police are pushing for tough anti-bikie laws to try to stem the invasion of the gangs into the state and are adamant the force has not lost the war on bikies.
“Bikies aren’t winning and they won’t win — we’ll work hard to hold them to account, the same as other people involved in serious and organised crime,” Mr Frame said.
Police have had some wins over the past few years:
- The Finks outlaw motorcycle gang, which had chapters in the north has left the state;
- High-profile bikie and one of the founding members of the Rebels in Tasmania, AJ Graham, was deported to New Zealand in September;
- Rebels chapters in Smithton, Kingston and Mornington have closed down.
But the opening of The Bandidos’ chapter is a blow.
Police admit they are losing the PR war, with the bikie clubs not only recruiting new members in the state but gaining some public support.
“A lot of people are listening to it, you looking at social media, you look at some people making comments that they’re not that bad,” Mr Frame said.
“It’s because they’re not standing on street corners selling drugs or intimidating the public in an overt way, but they’re responsible for drugs being imported in Tasmania and the drugs have an impact on the community.”