Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced plans for sweeping new national powers based on America's Federal Bureau of Investigation to combat bikie gangs and organised crime as tensions between the Hells Angels and Bandidos in Victoria threatened to flare into open warfare.
Violence between outlaw motorcycle gangs has been spreading through turf wars along the eastern seaboard, adding to widening concerns about the growth and sophistication of crime syndicates.
Tied to narcotics, a thriving black market in illicit firearms, shootings, extortion, corruption and other serious crimes, gangs have taken advantage of state borders to evade crimebusters, and thwarted tough state legislation through challenges in the High Court.
"Organised criminals move from state to state," Gillard said. "They also have assets in different states and overseas.
"It is vital that state and federal law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to break up gangs and seize their assets."
Gillard's proposals, including a national FBI-style anti-gang task force and intelligence centre, a clampdown on "unexplained wealth" and nationwide consorting laws, will require referral of powers from the states.
Although similar moves have previously been rejected by the states, and New South Wales and Victoria yesterday expressed reservations, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare was hopeful of a change of heart when Gillard and the premiers meet next month.
As bikie gangs compete for both criminal turf and recruits, violence has spilled into the streets with murders and drive-by shootings at Sydney airport, bars and suburban homes.
Gunfire in public places in NSW has soared over the past 15 years, robberies involving firearms rose 10 per cent in Victoria last year, and there were 14 shootings in South Australia in the first five weeks of this year.
Not all have been connected with bikies, but their involvement and a general increase in trafficking in illicit weapons has alarmed police.
Gillars will also be taking plans to crack down on the illegal firearms market to her meeting with state premiers.
The push for national laws against bikie gangs have been given further urgency by the threatening war between the Hells Angels and Bandidos in Victoria, which erupted into a wild gunfight outside a gang clubhouse last Friday.
Hells Angels members attacked the Melton headquarters of the Diablos in Melbourne's west, a gang associated with the Bandidos.
When several carloads of Bandidos arrived to help they were ambushed, with sergeant-at-arms Toby Mitchell shot in the arm. Mitchell had been previously seriously injured in a gunfight in 2011.
Assistant Police Commissioner Stephen Fontana told reporters the threat of open warfare erupting on Melbourne streets was real. Emails have been sent to police officers warning them to use extreme caution when approaching gang members.
"We have concerns about a feud that is escalating and we're warning our members to take care. We don't want anyone getting hurt," Fontana said.
"Murder, torture, a whole range of things could happen with these people."
Victoria has launched a new operation codenamed Resound to crack down on gangs, working with the Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission.
Four people were arrested in raids across Melbourne yesterday during which bomb squad officers removed a suspicious device and weapons, drugs - including indoor cannabis crops - and stolen property were seized.
In Sydney, Gillard announced the creation of a new $A64 million taskforce to fight gang-related crime, based on the American FBI's violent gang safe street taskforce.
The new unit will directly target gang members across the continent, provide intelligence on gangs to Australian and international crime agencies, and investigate the activities of Australian-based gangs overseas.
It will work with a new Australian Gang Intelligence Centre and strike teams based in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The proposed new national laws would give courts the power to declare a gang as a criminal organisation, imposing control orders preventing members meeting each other, holding a liquor licence, visiting clubhouses or holding weapons or explosives licences.
National unexplained wealth laws would give police across the country more power to seize cash, cars and houses that have been obtained illegally and reverse the onus of proof so that criminals have to explain how they obtained their cash or assets through legitimate means.