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Plan B

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Gangs, Race and Melbourne

Two’s a company; three’s a crowd. More? This issue is preoccupying political and policing figures in the city considered by the Economist Intelligence Unit the most liveable in the world, bettering a whole host of other seemingly more appropriate candidates. So liveable, in fact, that it houses all sorts.

Having repeatedly boasted, self-congratulated and beamed at the idea that Australia is the most multicultural nation on earth, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been less cautious of late. He has been getting stroppy with the Victorian Government for not doing enough about what he considers Melbourne’s “growing gang violence and lawlessness”.

The straw that broke a very fragile camel’s back involved acts of vandalism in Werribee. Depending on which news source you referred to, there was a mass riot at an Airbnb property that would have made the Communards proud. Other sources saw more modest damage to cars and rental property. Everyone took notice of the juvenile expressions of delight from the perpetrators, who scrawled the letters MTS (“Menace to Society”) on walls to leave their little residue of destructive pride.

At the federal level, politicians see the former: mayhem, riotous violence, a loss of control. Federal minister Greg Hunt has come up with his own assessment: “Gang crime in Victoria is clearly out of control. We know that African gang crime in some areas in particular is clearly out of control.” In the tables of political point scoring, Hunt had found a handy, simplifying culprit.

For Hunt, there were no relevant sophisticated sociological principles here, nor matters of economics. Society was imploding; an African wave of violence had been unleashed. Nor was it a police issue. “The failure is not the police but the premier.”

Victorian police have been a touch more tentative, while various African community leaders have been less than confident in the tag of “gang”. Label and be damned. “These young thugs, these young criminals,” claimed Acting Commissioner Shane Patton, “they’re not an organised crime group like a Middle Eastern organised crime group or an outlaw motorcycle gang. But they’re behaving like street gangs, so let’s call them that – that’s what they are.”

South Sudanese community leader, Richard Deng, prefers the direct option: engage the estranged; bring in those lost souls from the cold. Fine for Mr Turnbull to speak from a distant pulpit, but come down to Melbourne and see for yourself and cosy up to conversation with local leaders. “What disappointed me as a community leader is to see a Prime Minister of our country trying to say these are ‘African gangs’ – these are the children of Australia”.

Deng’s message is that of understanding, conciliation, accommodation, the sugary terms that have long ceased to exist in the official speak of Australian law enforcement. This remains a country keen on promoting its tolerant cosmopolitanism even as it finances gulag processing centres for asylum seekers on tropical islands in developing countries. Compassion rarely sells.

Foremost in the approach of such figures as Deng it is that of instruction, the pedagogue in action, the elder in sympathy. “He’s the Prime Minister, he needs to join hands with the State government and police to support these kids.”

Figures such as Ahmed Hassan, director of the outreach group Youth Activating Youth, adds his vote of confidence to ongoing efforts of the Victorian Government, ones that follow the pathway of encouragement and engagement. Strategies are being implemented through sporting clubs, through schools. “We need to continue this and it has to come from a federal level where the Prime Minister has to support the State Government initiatives.”

Race, immigration and security are not provinces where Australian leaders have been particularly keen to separate. Every attack is a political opportunity, enabling markers of identity to be used to bolster the next populist policy. Reassurance is less enticing than the drum beat of conflict, the stimulant of fear. Rather than considering matters of structure and influence in terms of why a section of the population might turn to crime, or even more broadly mischief, the superficial will sell.

Matthew Guy, Victoria’s Liberal Opposition Leader, is an adherent to the tedious view that the fist is better than the mind, the prison a better solution than the classroom. The fact that prisons are ideal schools for crime eludes him. The Guy formula here is mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders, those involved in home invasions, aggravated car-jackings and armed robberies.

Not that the community leaders are necessary the best panacea for the lost. Having assumed the authority to speak for alienated youth figures, they can themselves come across as compromised, seeking authority before others in the immigrant hierarchy. Resources, and prestige, are there to be fought over, even as the problem perpetuates.

Nor do they all agree, either. Nelly Yoa has provided manna from heaven to more reactionary commentators keen to put the kibosh on “African” perpetrators. As one who mentors the troubled, he feels that the Victorian government has been sluggish and slow on the uptake. “The State Government has watched this unfold over the past two years. Nothing has been done.”

Between Deng and Yoa is a yawning chasm. One claims that community leaders are engaged, their activities approved and backed by the Victorian government. The other insists that the issue has become something of a conference set, an interminable chat show that tanks more than thinks. “As a Melbournian,” claims Yoa, “I do believe enough is enough. Action needs to be taken instead of just talking about it.”

But the options are thin, and refusing to involve those involved in matters of violence or misdemeanour adds teeth to their cause, whatever it might be. Then comes the issue of policing itself, its protocols, its approaches. As Deng himself explains, “These are young people who like to make a name for themselves to look tough in front of the Victorian police”. They are far from the only ones in this.


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  1. wam

    At least the Lord will not confuse the Aborigines of his days with the shiny black africans of today. Although Macdonald-Tipungwuti might get swept up??

    Couldn’t we use the send home laws? Dustin’s dad got deported for ‘associating’ so these boys could go the way of him, or Ricardo Bolvaran??

  2. Jack Russell

    I think the state and federal L/NP are in a mouth-foaming ball-tearing rage over current ALP state governments doing rather well for their constituents, as well as dealing with the mine-fields deliberately left for them by spiteful outgoing L/NP losers.

    Add the poor results in endless polls to that and it’s quite clear that the L/NP is willing to, and are, telling any lie and doing every deceitful thing they can think of to try and tear the ALP down.

    It’s an epidemic of L/NP dog-whistling … and not very skillful dog-whistling either.

  3. Arthur Tarry

    I totally agree with Jack Russell.

  4. Triestegal

    And Peter Dutton is currently copping flak on Twitter for saying that people in Melbourne are too scared to go out to restaurants. Really, how stupid do they think we are?

  5. Terry2

    We have seen Turnbull, Hunt and of course the egregious Dutton come out shrieking that Melbourne is under siege and people are afraid to go out after dark and won’t go to restaurants for fear of attack by African gangs.

    Sure, it’s a slow time for news but don’t you think it strange that these numpties find time to comment on something that is beyond their pay grade but they usually end their statements by having a kick at the Andrews government which just happens to be a Labor government.

  6. Scott Godfrey

    “Other sources saw more modest damage to cars and rental property” . Must have been in the wrong street .Usually rubbish article of nothing to see here move along . Also the juvenile that kicked the police officer in the face ,while on parole, received bail . System working fine according to you.

  7. Phil

    Binoy is on the mark. This is wholly about race and populist politics. Ultra-conservative Dutton, the most callous and supremacist minister among a political cabinet chock full of callous indifference, stands surrounded by flags, pontificating on race and fear. No calm, mature political leadership from this quisling minister – there’s a Labor government in Victoria to be attacked and by Jove that’s all that matters.

    2018 has only been up and running a few days and already Turnbull and his unrestrained Rottweiler minister have set the tone for the year ahead – political survival at any price and to hell with unity, to hell with society and to hell with progress.

    What’s happening at Werribee in Victoria is being blown out of proportion so as to feed the Liberals politics of fear strategy for this 2018 election year.

    If you were in Perth, Sydney or Melbourne in the 1960s you would remember the sharpies, mods and rockers – often violent youth gangs in large enough numbers that sometimes even intimidated the police – but race never entered the debate then because these were home grown white Australian youth whereas today all our youth troubles stem, according to the politics of fear, from recent immigrants – and anyway, it’s all Labor’s fault.

  8. Freethinker

    With how many more distractions are going to come the disgraceful right political faction to make sure that the electorate divide and not look into the important issues?

    “There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions. It is not generally realized to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes.”
    Edward L. Bernays,

  9. Regional Elder

    Binoy, A wonderful paragraph debunking the Matthew Guy ‘ solution ‘ for Victoria.

    Might I suggest also that in the state which pioneered private prisons in this country under Jeff Kennett, the investment opportunities that abound with the companies that run such institutions for profit, go hand in hand with Guy’s tough on crime approach.

    More ‘ customers ‘ for prisons are generated, while education, employment opportunities, community support, and mental health networks are starved of funds.

    Elements of that approach were tried and failed in 18th century England. The rotting hulks on the Thames River, used to contain the avalanche of customers convicted in London’s courts ( mainly from the poor and destitute of the time) , led to the establishment of the Port Jackson settlement under Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788.

    The U.S. still persists with such an approach, having more of its citizens jailed or under detention than any other OECD country, about 666 per 100,000, which has fallen in recent years. In comparison, Australia’s figure is 162 per 100,00 and the lowest figure is Japan with 45 per 100,000


    Victoria, nor do the other states need the Matthew Guy approach to societal order, a correlate of capital acquisitive neo-liberalism.

  10. Adrianne Haddow

    A new year, a new cultural group to vilify. Let’s make sure they are easy to identify… isn’t that what racial profiling is for?

    This LNP government needs to change their song…… the message and intent is becoming far too transparent. Sadly, none of the spokesman for our brave new world, Turnbull, Hunt and Dutton, have the wit to change the words.

    Of course, mandatory sentencing is the first cry which will appeal to Mr and Mrs ‘Normal Aussie’, and also to those with shares in the privatised prison business.

    Perhaps, rather than investing in various forms of punishment, imprisonment and ‘sending them back to where they came from’, our government could do something about unemployment, education and jobs for Australian youth of all skin shades.

    But that might require the tax concessions for the rich mates to be shelved in the interests of creating an equitable, cohesive society.

  11. jim

    Having been a taxi driver I’ve dealt with young thugs and I can tell when they’re in a group they have no reason
    and only want insult and cause trouble, they find this funny , why I left the job. as usual the Labor haters have nothing to offer only insults.

  12. Marlene Gorman

    Yes, something needs to be done to help a lot of disaffected youth of today, including First Nation youth. Name-calling, ‘send them home’ and other derogatory remarks do nothing. More peer-group trained mentors needed and funding for jobs. Jobless figures are higher for youth than any other bracket. When you’ve nothing to do, it’s always easy to follow a crowd. Furthermore, stay out of Victorian politics LNP Federal.

  13. Aortic

    H L Mencken, ” it is the aim of all practical politics to keep the populace alarmed and thence clamorous to be led to safety.”

  14. Jaquix

    I agree with Jack Russell too. Turnbull must be very pleased with himself, having stirred up so much trouble for Victorian LABOR Premier Andrews. Also pre electioneering for pathetic Lib wanna be Leader Matthew Guy. Now Dutton has weighed in saying Melburnians are too scared to go out at night to eat in restaurants! (Fairfax uncritical article). Twitter lit up and now #MelbourneBitesBack is where ppl are posting photos of their restaurant dinners, kicking Dutton with potato recipes! Dutton more dangerously also criticised Andrews for “appointing libertarians to judicial positions” and talk of deportations! Truly what an embarrassment this Liberal govt is.

  15. Kronomex

    The LNP are in “Let’s get all the political mileage we can from this while kicking in the teeth of the states who aren’t LNP.” mode.

    “…our government could do something about unemployment, education and jobs for Australian youth of all skin shades.” They’ll save that up for when they call the election and suddenly remember to make it a “promise” that they will help all young Australians. Until then fear and terror of the Other will continue to be used as a weapon of (jeez, can’t believe I’m about to use this hoary old line) of mass distraction.

  16. Zathras

    Not so long ago it was Lebanese Crime Gangs and before that it was the rampant Triads that were terrifying us. I recall when the Italian Mafia connection was allegedly controlling the local drug trade.

    Where did they suddenly all go? It’s almost as if they never existed.

    More recently it’s the so-called “Apex gang” running amuck in Melbourne and even spreading to Newcastle.

    What’s changed since this happened in 2007 – a time when the issue of Sudanese refugees was being debated?

    The Apex gang story was similarly contrived, and as for the Newcastle connection –

    I can’t help but notice – like periodic refugee-bashing – these gang-related stories all seem to dovetail nicely with political agendas.

    Maybe there’s an election coming up in Victoria sometime in 2018?

    Maybe if he can spook the Victorian State government into going early the Victorians will take their anger out on the State government before the next Federal election.

    At best it’s just another distraction for him and a way of looking like he’s serious about something.

  17. Harry

    jim: I am sure there are white thugs and black thugs about who are not amenable to reason. Criminal behaviour definitely should not be tolerated but I challenge the simple notion that harsh penalties are THE or the ONLY answer to criminal behaviour. I work on the assumption that criminal behaviour has sociological antecedents. To spell it out: many of these young offenders are alienated, bored, unemployed and may not have two parents (father may have died in the Sth Sudan conflicts that brought them here). The article makes that point.

  18. totaram

    Regional Elder: spot on with your remark that privatised prisons are a recipe for trouble. How to grow that business? After all, any business wants to grow, doesn’t it? Simple, call for harsher penalties and longer jail sentences. Also ensure that prisons are run so that no one can ever dream of being rehabilitated into society again. State-funding for the business assured! Talk about the costs of welfare! It is the costs of corporate welfare of all kinds that is killing us.

  19. Ricardo29

    What an amazingly ill thought out concept is the privately run prison. Why offerrehab when it is in their best interests to have their ‘clients’ return, often. This is one area of privatisation which needs to be reversed.

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