Monday, 14 November 2011

Book Review - Outlaws: the truth about Australian Bikers

Outlaws : the truth about Australian bikers by Adam Shand

Sydney; Allen & Unwin, 2011       ISBN 9781741759792

Adam Shand is a writer who specializes in books about "true crime" - the type of books that use tabloid language to create a story that will hopefully sell, while entertaining on the way - the non-fiction version of airport fiction, easy to digest, and mostly forgettable.

Outlaws is a book of this genre, but one which, in between stories of fights, club runs and strippers, follows the story of a little known but very important stoush between governments and courts, with the biker clubs stuck in the middle.

The thread of this story is a simple one - Shand, in his role as TV journalist, hooks up with some Adelaide bikies, who are facing extinction from Mike Rann's law and order push, of which a big part was legislation to outlaw bikie clubs on the basis that they are fronts for criminal organisations. Shand asked for and was allowed entry to an Adelaide club to see first-hand what the bikie life was like, and how they were reacting to the crackdown.

Shand shows quite neatly how we all have to be careful when invited by the powers-that-be to believe what they tell us - many of the "crimes" that exist in the stats about these clubs are in fact things like traffic tickets and minor misdemeanours, rather than large scale criminal activity. In fact Shand quotes several (late) Melbourne underworld figures, who state that bikies were not major players in any of the drug crime going on in Melbourne at all.

Shand's time in bikie clubs shows him that while there are certainly bikies who travel on the wrong side of the law, a bikie club by it's very nature is not a dictatorship, where the members must do what they are told. In fact they are very democratic - everyone gets to have a say, and any disagreements are worked out, admittedly sometimes with fists rather than words. His central point is that yes, some bikies are definitely criminals, but there is no evidence that has been released by authorities that bikie clubs per se are involved in any criminal activity.

However, Mike Rann used the moral panic he created for his own political purposes, and introduced legislation that would have banned bikie clubs, and made it a criminal offence for members of the club to be together in the same location. There was no requirement that the police show evidence that any criminal act had been committed or planned, and the bikies were not entitled to test any such evidence in court. In effect, this legislation allowed the Government of the day to ban any association or group, based purely on the whim of that Government. Of course laws like this have been enacted previously - in places like Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and other assorted dictatorships.

Mike Rann did not expect what happened next. The bikie clubs, usually at loggerheads with each other and eschewing the society of "citizens", started a process of banding together, forming in many states United Motorcycle Councils. These Councils became an avenue for the clubs as a combined force to fight these laws, which now began to appear or be talked about in other states.

These Councils became part of a groundswell of action coming from legal groups, bikies and concerned citizens. Shand's book documents the court battles that threw out the South Australian law (the NSW law has since been deemed illegal by the courts there). The irony of the situation of the "one percenters" upholding human rights and freedom is one that is not lost on this reader.

If you are after a light read with a heavy message, this book might be for you.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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