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Bikers may become very lonely in Australia

TOUGH legislation that could land bikers in jail for associating with one another sailed through an Australian state parliament yesterday, following a series of bloody clashes between warring gangs.

Public anxiety over the long-simmering problem of biker gang violence escalated recently after a member of the Hells Angels was killed in a brawl at Sydney's airport last month in front of terrified travelers. Those fears were compounded when the victim's brother was seriously wounded last week.

The new laws will enable police to ask the state Supreme Court to declare a motorcycle gang a criminal organization.

If the petition is approved, it becomes a crime for members of that gang to associate with one another. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to five years.

Members of outlawed gangs could also have their assets seized and will be banned from working in "high risk" jobs in the security, firearms and liquor industries.

"These are tough and well-constructed laws," New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees told parliament. "They aim to give no second chances to those declared members of an illegal gang."

The legislation was passed in the lower house of Parliament by a near-unanimous vote. It was being debated in the upper house, where it was expected to pass.

Critics say the laws are a knee-jerk reaction to the violence and are unnecessary.

"The legislation simply will lead to people going underground," said Joe Catanzariti, president of the Law Society of New South Wales.

Similar laws already exist in South Australia, and this week, Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said her government would consider pushing through comparable legislation.


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