Victorian Liberals defend election leaflets warning of ‘gangs hunting in packs’ | Australia news
The Victorian Liberal opposition has defended distributing election leaflets that warn of “gangs hunting in packs” in Melbourne, which Labor has denounced as “nasty and bigoted”.
The leaflet, which features the opposition leader, Matthew Guy, and the Liberal candidate for Keysborough, Darrel Taylor, was handed out in Keysborough on Thursday morning. It comes amid a growing backlash to a recent Channel Seven story suggesting the city was gripped by an “African gangs” crisis.
The pamphlet states that “only the Liberals will: stop gangs hunting in packs”, and is accompanied by a shadowy image of five young men gathered together in hoodies.
The image was not taken in Victoria. It was published in London’s Evening Standard newspaper in 2012 to illustrate a story about gangs in London, but has since been used by a number of media outlets. The Liberals’ pamphlet makes no reference to race.
The shadow police minister, Ed O’Donohue, told ABC radio the Liberals “will prosecute the case every day for reform to the justice system”.
Asked by host Jon Faine if the pamphlet allowed people to “join the dots” between the mention of gangs and recent coverage around the African community, O’Donohue said: “I’m not joining the dots, Jon.”
“What we’re concerned about is gang violence and gang behaviour from anyone, no matter where they’re from,” he said.
“The intent of the brochure is to highlight an issue, and the issue is gang crime,” he added.
Nyadol Nyuon, a South Sudanese-Australian lawyer, said in a tweet that the pamphlet used coded “language and symbolism but it is not hard to tell, especially after the back of Channel Seven’s reporting, who they are referring to.”
The electorate of Keysborough, in Melbourne’s outer south-east, includes the suburb of Noble Park, which is home to a large African-Australian community.
The Victorian attorney general, Martin Pakula, who represents Keysborough, accused the opposition of trying to frighten his constituents.
“I expect this is a sign of things to come – a nasty and bigoted campaign by Matthew Guy and the Liberal party,” he said in a statement to Guardian Australia.
Taylor, the Liberal candidate for Keysborough, has been contacted for comment.
The pamphlets come as both major parties expect law and order to be a key issue at the November state election.
In January, Guy warned Melbourne could soon become “the Johannesburg of the South Pacific”, prompting a rebuke from South Africa’s African National Congress.
Asked on Friday how the Coalition would stop what it describes as the city’s gang crime problem, O’Donohue said a big issue in the state was a “loss of respect for police and institutions”.
The Coalition would reintroduce the police-in-schools program to rectify this, he said.O’Donohue also said the Coalition would increase police numbers and make it a criminal rather than procedural offence when minors breached their bail conditions.
Following Channel Seven’s controversial Sunday Night report, South Sudanese community leaders told Guardian Australia they were bracing for more negative attention and harassment.
Members of the South Sudanese community are planning a protest outside Channel Seven’s offices in Melbourne next Friday.
“You guys are making people fear us for no reason,” organiser Titan Debirioun said in a video posted to Facebook.
“You’re making people look at us like we’re monsters, as if we’re not people. We’re just like anyone else, we have dreams, we have aspirations.”
The race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, said on Twitter the promotion of the segment smacked of “fear-mongering and racial hysteria”.
Data from the state’s Crime Statistics Agency, released in June, showed the number of criminal incidents recorded by police to March 31, 2018, was 380,150, a reduction of nearly 9% from the previous 12 months.
The Coalition argues that the offence rate per 100,000 people remains higher than when Labor came to power in November 2014. But the offence rate had also been trending upwards during the last Coalition government, the statistics show.
The opposition’s claims of a gangs crisis are also at odds with the public position of Victoria police, with the chief police commissioner, Graham Ashton, previously saying it was “nonsense” to suggest Melbourne was an unsafe place to live.