Declared criminal: An examination of the South Australian ‘bikie gang’ moral panic

Author: Rhys Wain

Wain, Rhys, 2022 Declared criminal: An examination of the South Australian ‘bikie gang’ moral panic, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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Numerous claims such that Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (OMCs) were ‘the biggest threat to society’ after terrorism, that they ‘ran’ organised prostitution, drug racketeering, and organised crime, that they controlled ‘75 per cent of Australia's methamphetamine trade’, and that they were expanding into people smuggling and sex slavery, heralded the introduction of the ‘the toughest legislation anywhere in the world’. The severe legislative response to these groups is evidence that they are perceived as a significant problem, however a paucity of publicly available data to support many of the claims led various researchers to label the phenomenon a moral panic, and others to refute it. Thus, this dissertation examines the fitness of the concept of ‘moral panic’ to the problem of OMCs. The term moral panic suggests some kind of hysteria or at least overreaction to a social condition that is perceived as posing a threat to the moral order. Driven by claimsmakers and moral entrepreneurs, and given impetus by the media, moral panics use problems as symbols that play on people’s fears to drive changes to policy or law. In exploring the extensive literature on moral panic, it was found that discussions are often limited by the traditional model’s concepts of monolithic hierarchical power, absolute truths, deliberate political lies, and binary oppositions. However, postmodern theories of power and truth instead conceptualise the episodic panics which target deviants as the result of a plurality of value interests. The research involves interviews with several members of the OMC subculture, a discourse analysis of news media, and numerous government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act 1991 (SA), to review the publicly available information the on the subject against the claims-making regarding the threat of OMCs. The research makes an original contribution to moral panic literature (particularly on disproportionality) and to the understanding of the institutional context of the South Australian OMC problem.

Keywords: OMCG, bikie, outlaw, moral panic

Subject: Criminal Justice thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Caitlin Hughes