Touching down in Melbourne’s Tullamarine Aiport my JQ30 experience was considerably better than my previous one. For any new readers, I was one of the 400 unfortunate passengers stranded for two days at BKK airport. However, credit were credit is due, this Jetstar flight was on time and partly paid for by the coupon’s received from the previous debacle. The cold Melbourne weather, of course, was anything but a pleasant welcome home and as always provides for an awkward trip from the airport to home when you’ve only packed your South East Asian gear.

Instead of repeating the JetStar story, you can find the story well reported in the Australian media here.

Whilst referring to the Australian media I still enjoying reading the online news during my travels. It is also interesting to juxtapose the same news items from the Australian media and the local media reports. For example the current ongoing saga of Thailand’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow’s account about his role in a 3.2kg heroin-smuggling crime that landed him in a Sydney jail in 1993.

With defamation and intimidation laws vastly different in each publication’s jurisdiction, it could almost be a university case study in the difference between a free and fair media. Although this contrast in reporting is hardly a surprise when referring to the well lauded French Organisation Reporters Without Border annual Freedom of Press Index.

Australia is currently ranked 16 in the world rankings.

Another Australian / Thai story that caught my eye during the trip, in particular, was the report that the well known Australian bikie boss Mick Murry was refused entry at Thai immigration. This is big news for anyone in the know, as South-East Asia especially Thailand has been a destination of choice for Australian bikers and underworld figures.

Speaking to a few in the know locals many have found the whole situation rather comical. Considering it was the Australian (specifically Victorian) jurisdictional system that allowed his bail conditions to leave for a week holiday in Phuket. Many are now joking the Thai Government’s immigration character tests are stronger than the Australian Government’s.

Task Force Morpheus

South-East Asia and Thailand, in particular, has always been known to draw ‘colourful’ characters. Its was only few years ago when I first starting visiting South East Asia that I found myself in part of the Hell’s Angles MC Bangkok Clubhouse. The clubhouse at the time was located inside the well know Patong night market strip and appeared to run in conjunction with the Black Pogoda Night Club. It was a rather odd experience being in a Thailand nightclub and having Australian Bikers in full colours roaming around.

On the same trip when I was exploring Cambodia’s seaside town of Sihanoukville (before the Chinese development). I also observed a very strong presence of the Rebels MC riding around the town in full colours too.

This is an exert from an article I wrote at the time (2016).

Arriving in the city at dusk the glow of casino lights fill the sky and the sheer number is astonishing – considering under Cambodian law it is illegal for Cambodians to gamble in their own country.

Some later research and a few questions to some in the know locals, I learn the casinos are mostly used by outlaw gangs for money laundering, illegal drugs and firearm profits.

Reports have also been circulating that the local Australian bikie group the Rebel’s are looking into establishing or purchasing their own casino. The gang has already set up a local chapter in the region and currently operate a bar with the Thailand based gang The Lone Brothers MC.

Well, what a change in only three years since I wrote this travel article, during my time on this trip, I did not see one ‘patched’ MC member. It appears there has been a deliberate reduction in the visible presence of colours by both The Hells Angles and Rebels in Thailand and Cambodia respectively.

The Hells Angles Clubhouse in Bangkok has now been moved to a remote location in the suburbs of Pattaya. There are now no longer any MC Clubhouses in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville (although from reports they may be moved to another Cambodian beachside town most likely Kampot). The Lone Brothers MC bar in Phnom Penh Street 51 has been relabelled.

*There are many other changes both local and international, these are just some of the most prominent Australian related examples*

However, whilst these clubs are operating under the Thailand and Cambodian authorities rule of law, many believe the pressure is, in fact, coming from the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Over the past few years, there has been a massive push by the AFP both domestically and internationally to control what they describe as ‘Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs’ (OMCG). This has resulted in the creation of  Task Force Morpheus. A joint initiative of all law enforcement agencies of the Australian Commonwealth targeting the highest risk outlaw motorcycle gang (OMCG) risks to Australia.

Through Morpheus, all agencies are using their full range of capabilities to proactively and collaboratively target the highest OMCG risks to Australia, and detect their criminal activity. This includes:

  • improving understanding of the nature of OMCG serious and organised crime activity
  • developing and implementing crime prevention and disruption strategies
  • identifying underlying factors that allow OMCGs to be resilient to law enforcement
  • restricting and preventing opportunities for OMCGs to infiltrate legitimate business
  • confiscating illicit profits
  • targeting professional facilitators who assist OMCGs to carry out their illegal activities.

Between 2015 and 2018 Morpheus resulted in over seven and a half thousand OMCG members, nominees or associates being arrested and approximately eighteen thousand charges. Whilst many may be questioning how an Australian Taskforce is able to have such reach into what should be considered a foreign jurisdiction.

It appears to achieve this the AFP has been jumping on the back of the drug hysteria that occurs in South East Asia. Through providing tip off’s and ensuring the arrest is made in the South East Asian nation, not Australia. This real-world example occurred in 2013 when the 46-year-old former Queensland primary school teacher Yoshe Ann Taylor was arrested in Cambodia carrying 2.2 kilograms of Heroin through Phnom Penh International Airport. Someone who the AFP was most likely innocent and had been the victim of a Nigerian love scam.

This is the exert from a Channel Nine investigation into the case, to read the full Nine article click here.

Taylor’s incarceration was based on information provided to Cambodian authorities by the Australian Federal Police. Her sentence is 23 years, enough to miss the entire childhoods of her young son and daughter, who now live without her in their Queensland home even though Australian authorities have folders of evidence that suggest she is innocent.

Taylor has now been released after spending six years in a Cambodian jail after a Cambodian court ruled she was an innocent victim of a drug-smuggling operation, duped by a man she thought loved her and wanted to help her.

It will be very interesting to watch how many other both guilty and innocent Australian’s are used by the ADF for the ‘greater good’ over the next few years, and if there is an actual change to Australian outlaw OMCG’s in Thailand and Cambodia. Or if this crackdown results in just pushing the clubs further underground and has little to no genuine impact on crime reduction.

You can guess my answer…

Photo of the week:

This segment is always intended as a light-hearted section of the weekly post that I hope does not cause any offence. However, acts as a conduit for discussion about the lighter side South East Asia.

Image result for vietnam funny photos

This photo was sent via a new reader and taken in Saigon, Vietnam. Sums up the Vietnamese people well I think!

The Week Ahead:

Thanks again for following this weeks news and views, now I am back in Melbourne I will be writing on the experience of applying for an Australian Visa if your Cambodian. A process that no Australian ever has to experience and hence I hope will provide some detailed insight.

As they say, it will be a big week in South East Asia so I hope you tune in and as always continue to send in emails with comments or complaints, stories and photos. As it is these emails that I rely on for not just the inspiration to write a weekly blog but also the ideas I get for the news and views that I post.

Harrison White can be contacted at harrisonwhitejournalist@gmail.com