SYDNEY - Tough new laws to combat biker gangs were passed in an Australian state Wednesday as authorities seek to "destroy these criminal organisations" that have become a growing menace across the country.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs linked to organised crime, particularly drugs and guns, are an increasing problem across Australia with recent brazen violence and intimidation on the Gold Coast tourist strip proving the last straw for Queensland politicians.
In a marathon overnight session of the state parliament new legislation was unanimously passed that includes mandatory sentences of 15 years or more for crimes committed as part of gang activity, in addition to the usual penalty for the offence.
Those found guilty also face incarceration in a bikers-only prison with no gym facilities or television access and having their motorcycles destroyed, while being banned from owning or working in tattoo parlours.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said "the unequivocal purpose of these laws is to destroy these criminal organisations," vowing to pursue gang members "relentlessly".
"This is not some flash-in-the-pan or momentary phase. We are going to hunt you down," he said.
Newman suggested bikers should "take off your colours, get a real job, act like decent, law-abiding human beings and become proper citizens in the state of Queensland and you will not have to go to jail".
The legislation names 26 "criminal organisations", including well-known gangs such as the Bandidos, Hells Angels, Rebels and the Finks as well as lesser-knowns like the Muslim Brotherhood, Iron Horsemen, Mongols, Fourth Reich, and Life and Death.
"These are not lovable rascals and ruffians. That's their spin. That's the way they've been trying to present themselves for many, many years," Newman told reporters.
"Nor are they just free spirits who love to ride motorcycles. They are criminals."
While the laws only effect activity in Queensland, a crackdown on bikers is happening across Australia with more than 700 police swooping on the Hells Angels last week around the Melbourne area in a series of heavily-armed raids.
They seized guns, drugs and cash after new anti-fortification laws came into effect in Victoria state which allow police to tear down barriers, cameras and booby traps at club facilities.
Earlier this year, police launched a series of similar dawn raids across Sydney targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs, seizing firearms, explosives and drugs.
Experts say increased biker violence stems from turf wars over drug distribution, particularly methamphetamine or "ice". The gangs are also allegedly involved in the distribution of firearms and explosives, with links to Balkan and Asian organised crime groups.