African gang crime is “out of control” in parts of Victoria and tougher sentencing laws are needed, Federal Minister Greg Hunt says, but police insist they are on top of Melbourne’s youth crime problem.
Mr Hunt, who represents the seat of Flinders on Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe, has accused Premier Daniel Andrews of dropping the ball on gang violence and preventing police from taking a strong role.
“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,” Mr Hunt said this morning.
“The failure is not the police, but the Premier.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Government was “very concerned about the growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria”, particularly in Melbourne.
Victoria’s Liberal Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, wants to introduce mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders convicted of serious crimes, including home invasions, armed robberies and aggravated car-jackings.
The Labor Government opposes the policy, and has argued that the last time the Liberal Party tried to introduce mandatory sentencing laws, the plan was thrown out by the courts.
Cars were damaged when an Airbnb property was trashed by a group in Werribee last month. (ABC News: Joanna Crothers)
The comments from Mr Hunt and Mr Turnbull follow several recent headline-grabbing crimes blamed on groups of young African men, including the trashing of an Airbnb property in Werribee and the repeated destruction of a community centre in Tarneit.
In both cases, walls were scrawled with the letters “MTS”, which are understood to stand for a western suburbs-based group, “Menace to Society”.
A spate of jewellery store robberies in 2016 and 2017, many carried out by groups of men described as being of African appearance, also prompted debate about gang crime.
Police dispute ‘gang’ problem
Migrants from Sudan are overrepresented in crime data for offences such as serious assault and aggravated burglary — but they are responsible for far fewer incidents overall than Australian-born offenders.
The Victorian Crime Statistics Agency’s data for the year to June 2017 shows Sudanese-born offenders were allegedly involved in 98 aggravated burglaries in the state, compared to 540 Australian-born offenders.
For the same period, 45 serious assaults were allegedly committed by Sudanese-born offenders, compared to 1,462 Australian-born offenders.
People born in Sudan make up about 0.1 per cent of Victoria’s population, Census data shows.
Last week, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp said Melbourne did not have a gang problem, and urged the media not to label groups of young thugs as “gangs”.
“I don’t accept for one minute that we do have gangs,” Deputy Commissioner Crisp said at the time.
“I urge you [the media] not to play up to the ego of these young people by calling them a gang, because they’re not a gang.”
When asked about the Government’s comments today, Deputy Commissioner Crisp maintained Victoria Police was “well and truly on top of” youth crime.
“The data shows … we’re locking up more and more people and, at the same time, we’re focused on some of the underlying social issues,” Deputy Commissioner Crisp said.
He said there had been a shift in behaviour in the western suburbs around Tarneit following police operations targeting youth crime.
“I’m very confident where we’re going and how we’re tackling youth crime in this state.”
Victorian Government frontbencher Philip Dalidakis said the Government would take its instructions and advice from Victoria Police, not the Prime Minister.
“We certainly will not be taking suggestions or advice from a bloke who can’t even put on a life vest when he’s on a boat in Sydney Harbour,” Mr Dalidakis said.
“So if Malcolm Turnbull wants to play games instead of working in a collaborative effort, then he can do so and talk to himself.”
Data released in December by the state’s Crime Statistics Agency shows Victoria’s overall crime rate dropped by 6.2 per cent in the year to September 30, largely because of falls in theft from cars and aggravated burglaries.
But sexual assaults and robberies continued to rise.