Bikies bill gives police new powers to crack down on drive-by shootings

Police in Canberra will be able to declare a crime scene on private property for six hours without a warrant if its occupants refuse to cooperate, under draft laws introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Tuesday. 

It will also be a crime to shoot at a building, even if it is empty, under the bill to address outlaw motorcycle gang violence in the territory.

ACT Attorney-General said the new police powers would “disrupt” bikie activity in Canberra, after a recent string of shootings and firebombings in the city’s south.  

The laws come after a judge found two Comancheros accused of peppering a rival bikie’s empty house with bullets not guilty, citing a lack of evidence after a trial that also did not feature the alleged victim.

They also come after police were unable to get a search warrant in time to stop tradesmen clearing away evidence at a home where a drive-by shooting allegedly occurred, and where the victim refused to cooperate with police.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said there would be safeguards in place to ensure the new crime scene powers were not gratuitously used by police.

There would be a higher offence threshold for establishing a crime scene on private property and could only be used if there was an urgent need to protect or preserve evidence.

Police would also have to take reasonable steps to get permission from the owner of the property and could only declare a crime scene for as long as it took to secure the evidence, with a limit of six hours.

Officers could only use the power once in a 24-hour period, and could not use “rolling” crime scenes in lieu of a warrant. 

In cases where the occupants will have to leave their home because of the crime scene, police may have to offer them shelter in one of the “soft” interview rooms at the police station.

Where there are children in the house, police must take care not to traumatise them.

Police will be allowed to re-enter the crime scene, at the risk of evidence loss, to retrieve items that children need like shoes, warm clothes or a teddy bear. 

Mr Ramsay said the laws were “necessary and effective”.

Police minister Mick Gentleman foreshadowed further laws to prevent criminal gang activity, including firearm prohibition orders.

But the ACT Opposition said the government was merely “tinkering around the edges”.

The Canberra Liberals will also table its controversial anti-consorting laws this week.

Legal affairs spokesman Jeremy Hanson accused Labor and the Greens of “protecting” criminal gangs.

“We cannot wait for a tragedy when prevention is available to us right now,” Mr Hanson said.

“The most recent attack saw one person shot, bullets fired into a home with children inside, and reports of a small girl using a garden hose to put out cars that had been firebombed by attacking bikies.

“This is the latest in at least eight attacks this year, each one getting more and more violent.”

The Liberals bill would allow the Chief Police Officer to apply to the Supreme Court to have certain organisations branded as criminal.

She could then nominate the members of that association to a public register. Those members would be barred from meeting with each other.

Mr Hanson said there would be exceptions, for family members and for events like weddings and funerals.

People could also appeal to have their name taken off the register.

Mr Hanson said his laws had been changed after speaking with the ACT Human Rights Commission and would no longer prevent people on the register from taking part in certain professions. The court instead would have the discretion to do that.

However Mr Gentleman said he was yet to see any evidence that the Liberals’ bill would comply with the ACT’s human rights laws.

Mr Hanson said he was less concerned about the human rights of “violence criminals” than innocent bystanders.

But Unions ACT secretary Alex White said he was concerned the laws could be used to target unions. 

“The police already have more than enough powers to act against organised crime and outlaw motorcycle gangs,” Mr White said.

“Ironically, Mr Hanson’s federal Liberal colleagues are diverting AFP resources away from investigating serious organised crime by staging unnecessary, politicised and potentially unlawful raids on union offices.”

– with Alex Back