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Dismantling Dutton's race-baiting

  • 24 July 2018


Before I moved to Ireland with my family, we lived in Apex St, Dandenong. Yes, that Apex St. For a number of years as my daughter was growing up, she happily walked up and down the street to the primary school where she spent her days studying and playing with her Cambodian best friend Melissa, her Samoan neighbour Malachi and her Sudanese pal, Buom. We counted it a blessing to live in Australia's most multicultural city.

Sadly, my street is not famous for its diversity. For our current conservative and right-leaning politicians and journalists, my street is agitprop. It's supposedly the eponymous moniker of an African gang that's been wreaking havoc in the south-eastern 'burbs of Melbourne, along with others in a wave of African-flavoured crime.

So much so that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has 'real concern about Sudanese gangs', supporting Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's telling Sydney-siders that their Melburnian cousins can't even enjoy an evening's fine-dining anymore. 'People are scared to go out at restaurants of a night time,' he explained, for fear they might be accosted by a roving African.

Except that the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency says crime has actually been dropping in the southern state, and that the Sudanese make up only one per cent of the 'unique offender population'. Melburnians are much more likely to be a victim of an ordinary 'Anglo' Aussie's criminal activity than that of a Sudanese or Somali-ancestry offender. Even the tragic killing of 19-year-old African-Australian Laa Chol last Saturday was unrelated to gang activity, according to police who specifically dismissed Dutton's suggestion of a Sudanese gang problem.

So why has this become such a hot topic, given the lack of empirical evidence? The answers are not very flattering to prominent members of the Liberal Party and the media outlets that support them. Either they are flat-out wrong, unable to read crime reports or understand what the police and other agencies are telling them (which leaves in question their ability to accurately and intelligently govern), or some apparatchik in the strategy back-rooms has decided it is a good way to garner votes with a 'tough-on-crime' campaign.

Given that Turnbull and Dutton have been attacking the sitting Victorian (Labor) Premier Dan Andrews as being in denial over the 'problem', my bet is on the latter.

But stigmatising a minority community to win votes is a terrible idea, even though Australia has a long and not-so-proud history of