In Canada and Scandinavia the legislation introduced to eliminate outlaw motorcycle clubs has only made matters worse.

When such legislation is introduced and then enforced, the law enforcement fraternity comes under attack by outlaw motorcycle clubs. For example, in Canada police and prison officers have been killed by members of outlaw motorcycle clubs and bombs have been found under police stations. Three stations have been blown up.

This is since measures were brought in 12 years ago in Canada. For Australia to travel down the path of enforcement and legislation as a policy to get rid of clubs is, in my opinion, the exact wrong way to go… it’s going to exacerbate the problem.

One alternative is to introduce some form of government appointed investigator or auditor who takes over the clubs, registers all the club members and who basically scrutinises each club.

In America a version of this tactic is proving to be very effective. It is called Civil Racketeer and Criminally Influenced Organization legislation. This technique allows the 120 years of history of outlaws motorcycle clubs to remain whilst purging the clubs of the criminal element. These clubs are a counterculture and, as the clubs as a whole are not attacked, this means simply going after criminal elements of clubs, not the clubs themselves.

Some of the clubs have actually started to do this currently in Australia in terms of cleaning up their own act. In discussions they’ve decided to reintroduce the riding principle — that members must extensively ride motorcycles and actually be bikers. These clubs have ejected from the club any members involved in crime as ‘out in bad standing’, thus ridding themselves of the more notorious criminal elements. These few clubs have taken this initiative as they can see writing on the wall — clean up the club or face destruction.

Bikers are a lot like gypsies, a counter culture that has existed for years. Three years after the formation of the first reliable motorcycle, motorcycle clubs were formed. This occurred around the 1880s … there’s reasons for it, because riding in group provides mutual support and a shared camaraderie (including debauchery) in the adoption of the motorcycling lifestyle.

National bodies formed that drew in the clubs, and to be a sanctioned club, you belonged to the national body. Those that didn’t were soon dubbed outlaw motorcycle clubs. These renegade clubs were into partying and going on runs.

The rise of today’s clubs that we call outlaw motorcycle clubs are the “one percenter” clubs. They still belong to that counter culture but have become increasingly influenced by criminal members. The clubs themselves are not organised criminal entities and thus the reason they’re so hard to police. Almost all these one percenter clubs are participatory democracies.

The police and political problems for the clubs are the members of the clubs carrying out criminal acts. So in a nutshell, the tactic is to get rid of the criminal element of the clubs, but still allow the counter culture to exist as with which they identify so strongly.

By cracking down on the clubs as a whole, you build cohesion amongst the club and it brings along those members that would like to return to the “good old days” when being an outlaw motorcycle club member was being defined as a member of a counter culture. You’ll find at least half of the members of the clubs are crime free.

If states opt to go the strong enforcement techniques as proposed, it is most likely to result in an escalation of violence, particularly aimed at law enforcement agencies as the Canada and Scandinavian examples have shown us.

Professor Arthur Veno of Monash University is the author of The Brotherhood: Inside Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs, and The Mammoth Book of Bikers, due out in September.