By Jane Mahoney
In New Caledonia motorbike riders are rarely hassled by police.
A group of motorbike riders clad in leather, Harley Davidson insignias, scarves and skulls may sound an unlikely sight roaring into a tropical lagoon one hour north of the New Caledonian capital, Noumea.
However, the group of mostly middle-aged riders made the palms trees and crystal blue waters of the Ouano Surf Safari Camp their destination during a ride last Saturday.
The outing that comprised nearly 40 biking enthusiasts would be near inconceivable in Brisbane, Australia with fears of police intervention a very real threat.
“We have 40 members in our ‘free bikers’ group and the police never stop us here” said group member, Sebastian le Courtier.
Le Courtier and fellow rider Johnny Etile were surprised to learn that their venture could have been kyboshed by police had it been attempted in Queensland.
Indeed, their counterparts across the Pacific run the risk of being stopped and questioned by police for riding in a group of three or more.
The conservative government of the State Premier, Campbell Newman, enacted the controversial laws in October last year in a bid to crack down on criminal bikie gangs.
As part of the new laws, accused members of criminal bikie gangs and anyone deemed an “associate” face longer than usual jail sentences for criminal activity and see their right to bail revoked.
Cast with a broad and ambiguous net of definitions, the laws serve to catch out passive and peaceful bike enthusiast clubs.
Groups of motorcycle riders have already found themselves routinely stopped and questioned by police.
Amnesty International has called for the laws to be reversed, saying the broad definitions cited in the act, along with a requirement for accused to prove their innocence, constitutes a “breach of international fair trial standards.”
Le Courtier said that it was difficult to compare his group with Australian motorcyclists, saying New Caledonia “does not have that same problem with criminals here”.
Though the two men claim they have never been hassled by police while riding their motorbikes, they were hesitant to say whether they felt the laws in Queensland are valid or not.
“Yes, it might be a question of human rights but it is not a problem for us to be involved in right now,” said Etile.
With criminal activity aside, Etile said that all motorbike lovers are unanimous on one thing:
“One passion unites motor cyclists all around the world… Harley Davidson.”