Australia’s race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, has weighed in on the debate over African street crime in Victoria, calling for calm and warning that “sowing fear and whipping hysteria” will divide suburbs.
A day after Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton claimed people were afraid to go out at night for fear of being targeted by violent youths, Dr Soutphommasane told Fairfax Media there had been “too much panic and not enough perspective”.
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“People are understandably concerned about youth crime. But it’s important to cool down some of the commentary,” Dr Soutphommasane said on Thursday.
“It is concerning that African communities are being blamed for a supposed gang crisis. Crime statistics in Victoria don’t appear to support this assessment. Youth crime within certain communities is also complex. A lot of it reflects social and economic disadvantage. It shouldn’t be reduced to race and ethnicity.
“Racial panics about crime create more problems than they solve. Experience tells us that sowing fear and whipping hysteria are sure ways to divide communities.”
While people of Sudanese backgrounds are over-represented in crime statistics, Victoria’s youth crime rates have been declining for a decade and the last quarter of 2017 saw a drop in overall crime.
On Wednesday, Mr Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB that political correctness had taken hold in Victoria and the judiciary had made “pathetically weak” decisions on gang crime.
The comments from Dr Soutphommasane, an academic and writer, came as Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese lambasted Mr Dutton.
Mr Albanese said the senior Coalition conservative was “playing to the crowd” and not helping reduce crime.
“It doesn’t actually do anything to address the real issues of crime that needs to be addressed, but we also need to put these things in perspective,” Mr Albanese said.
A spate of criminal activity – particularly four high-profile incidents in December – have seen heightened media coverage of the issue.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other federal Liberal colleagues have entered the fray in recent days, putting pressure on the Victorian Labor government.
Acting Victorian Premier Tim Pallas labelled Mr Dutton’s views “ridiculous” and desperate.