No, Mr Dutton, you are not entitled to your own facts!

“We just need to call it for what it is. Of course it’s African gang violence.” And “people are scared to go out to restaurants of a night time because they are followed home by these gangs”.

Those are the words of Minister Peter Dutton from last week in a radio interview at Sydney radio station 2GB. Many other commentators (including many shock jocks) have jumped on Dutton’s bandwagon and condemned these groups as “Un-Australian” and “deserving of deportation”. So let us examine exactly what the situation is and why I am mortified by the words of the Minister and condemn his usage of those terms entirely.

Anyone who has been to Melbourne recently will confirm that there does not appear to be any diminution in the numbers of people going to restaurants and cafes. There are often waiting lists and queues at some of the establishments and that would put paid to the first claim from the Minister.

There are 54 countries in the continent of Africa. The Ministers statement is suggesting that his stereotype applies to all those countries. I am sure that there are white South Africans (just as much African as Black Zimbabweans, Eritreans or Sudanese) in Melbourne, who do not appreciate being considered a being that engenders fear among the denizens there. Clearly this perpetuation of a stereotype is completely unhelpful to the creation of harmony in society.

Later commentary around this subject has pointed to the Sudanese as one group in the crosshairs of the Minister’s target. Let’s look at the reality of that community. There are 19300+ Sudanese born people in Australia (2011 Census). Of those 6085 live in Victoria, 5629 live in NSW and around 2700 in each of WA and Queensland. Given that we are talking about Melbourne we can confine ourselves to being scared of around 6000 people. Take the number of elderly and infirm and children under the age of 16 we are left with a potential “scary” target group of around 2000 or so people. As a proportion of the Victorian population of just under 6 million, it is not a significant group. Further, as at a year and a half ago, there were 18,000 sworn police Officers in Victoria, to enforce the law. That gives us some idea of the significance of this issue.

No one is denying the fact that gang violence is unacceptable and is impacting on people from all walks of life. When a similar issue was being played out here in Perth relating to what the then Police Minister called “Asian Gangs”, my response and advocacy to the minister was to suggest that they establish “Gang Squads” in WA Police but not to “ethnicise” that squad. The addition of an ethnic tag to the squad and/or divisions was only going to entrench inappropriate stereotypes in the minds of the public who were informed about these issues by media that was not necessarily looking to establish or promote harmony.

To take the non-ethnicisation of crime further, I have worked with WA Police to drop the use of Ethnic descriptors in the public reports of crime. The pages of the West Australian, for example, will not use terms such as African, Aboriginal etc in describing the perpetrator of a crime unless that is clearly established and known to Police. One of the primary reasons that that policy has been implemented is precisely to ensure that stereotypes are not created or perpetuated.

This also goes to the issue that there is NOTHING about a person’s culture or ethnicity that predisposes them to commit a crime. It is the individual that undertakes a crime and this is for reasons that people with psychological qualifications can better assess.

Already one of the outcomes of Minister Dutton’s intemperate comments is the emboldening of the racist and anti-Immigration groups in our society. They have taken great delight in finding a Minister of the Crown who shares their position and view about groups in our society.

The sheer hypocrisy of the Minister’s commentary on this matter will be there for all to see during the week of March 21 when we celebrate Harmony Week. Certainly at this stage the Minister has done nothing to enhance harmony in our community.

 

  • Suresh Rajan is a former President of the Ethnic Communities Council Western Australia and is regularly called upon by governments and various institutional bastions to provide counsel to multicultural and anti-discrimination policy making.