So it was all bullshit. Total and utter bullshit.
New official statistics confirm that the alleged Victorian crime wave – an outbreak of criminality supposedly so intense that, at one stage, Liberal MP Craig Kelly wanted road signs on the border warning travellers from New South Wales about the danger they faced – never existed.
On the contrary, Victoria’s safer than at any time in the past ten years, in line with a general decline in crime across the nation. As Fairfax’s Peter Martin notes, ‘at 1392 offenders per 100,000 people over the age of 10, Victoria’s offence rate was Australia’s second lowest, bettered only by the Australian Capital Territory.’
Crime in Victoria is not increasing. Rather, the new figures mark the fourth successive annual fall. That’s right. Contrary to just about everything you’ve read or seen on TV, crime in Victoria’s been declining for years.
But that’s not all. As everyone knows, the panic in Victoria’s been not just about crime in general. It’s been about a supposed spike in youth crime – the result, we’re told, of rampaging ‘African gangs’. Well, here’s the ABS.
In 2016–17 there were 8,280 youth offenders in Victoria, a decrease of 5% (446 offenders) from 2015–16. The highest decreases in numbers of youth offenders were for the principal offences of Miscellaneous offences (down 28% or 290 offenders), and Theft (down 7% or 162 offenders).
Victoria has the second lowest youth offender rate at 1,447 offenders per 100,000 persons, after the Australian Capital Territory (884 offenders per 100,000 persons).
Right from the beginning, the whole ‘African gangs’ beat-up relied on errors, distortions and flat-out lies.
You’ll recall how Federal Minister Greg Hunt announced that African gang crime was ‘out of control’ in parts of Victoria, while Peter Dutton said Victorians were too scared to go out for dinner. That was despite the previous month’s figures from the Crime Statistics Agency, which showed criminality in Victoria on a massive downward trend.
Then, later in January, the CSA released a remarkable ‘statistical clarification’, explaining that the figure showing a disproportionate rate of crimes committed by people born in Sudan – a statistic widely cited by politicians and pundits – was the result of an erroneous calculation, a mistake that blew the correct number out by forty per cent.
The amended figures showed that a greater proportion of alleged criminals were from New Zealand, India, the UK and Vietnam than from Sudan (with, of course, the great bulk of offenders hailing from Australia).
The implosion of the statistical ‘evidence’ about Sudanese gangs came after the equally dramatic collapse of an anecdotal buttress: the testimony of Nelly Yoa.
On 1 January, Fairfax had published an opinion piece from Yoa that began:
As a South Sudanese man who personally knows and mentors members of youth gangs in and out of prison, I firmly believe we have a major issue among young South Sudanese people in Melbourne. After watching the horrendous and appalling behaviour committed by my fellow South Sudanese youth in the past few weeks, I am furious – and in total disbelief – to hear our top cop and government officials say there are no Sudanese gangs in Melbourne.
Yoa’s intervention – essentially, a reiteration of the right’s main talking points – quelled liberal opposition to the ‘African gangs narrative’ while massively fanning the growing hysteria. Yet the piece was nonsense and never should have been published.
Noa’s article now appears online with the following extraordinary introduction:
Several of the assertions made by Nelly Yoa in this article about his personal circumstances have been challenged, exaggerated or found not to be true. Sudanese leaders are not aware of anyone in the community Mr Yoa has mentored. He is not training with an AFL team and while he maintains he had official trials with Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers, there is no evidence of this. Additionally, some of his “ideas” for solutions to the issue of youth crime appear to have been plagiarised from an article written in 2015 by Manola De Vos on the website devex.com. The Age accepts that Mr Yoa’s assertions and credentials should have been checked more thoroughly before publication and apologises for not doing so.
Round the same time as Yoa’s credibility collapsed, Merita Tabain, the Victoria police executive director of media and corporate communications, sent an extraordinary email to the editors of major media outlets warning them about fanning racial tensions. In particular, Tabain referred to a news photographer who’d travelled to Tarneit Central shopping centre ‘to take closeup photos of a group of African teenagers socialising’.
The teenagers had been doing nothing of public interest prior to the photographer’s decision to move in and take the photos and [the group] reacted to the photographer and what he was doing.
This led to police being called in and a scuffle ensued in which police were spat on and arrests were made. After the event, the photographer acknowledged that his actions had provoked the incident and apologised.
The photographer in question worked for the Australian wing of the Daily Mail, a publication that, in 2017, had been caught out using a publicity shot of the London grime group Section Boyz to illustrate a piece about Melbourne gang violence.
The Mail’s headline about the Tarneit shopping centre incident ran: ‘Police SPAT ON and abused as officers arrest African teenagers outside a shopping centre in Melbourne’s west in broad daylight – in latest gang flare up’.
Nowhere did the story mention that, according to Victoria police, the ‘latest gang flare up’ had been instigated by the Mail itself.
How did the media and politicians manage to gin up a crime scare out of almost nothing? The Economist Intelligence Unit recently judged Melbourne to be one of the five safest cities in the world; the Time Out City Life Index voted it the ‘happiest city’; the Economist declared it ‘the most liveable city’. Given those assessments, how could the tabloids successfully present Melbourne as a violence-ridden hellhole, a place where gangbangers would shank you as soon as you stepped out for a bite to eat?
By way of answer, consider the mass brawl that broke out on Chapel Street a few days ago. A fight in a bar grew into a confrontation between twenty or more people, a stoush that police described as ‘brutal’ and ‘vicious’.
As frightening as that affray must have been to anyone in the area, the state hasn’t descended into panic as a result. No federal politicians have weighed in, calling for stronger laws or harsher sentencing. By and large, the fight’s been accepted as one of those things that occasionally happens in a big city: regrettable, yes, but not an existential threat to law-abiding citizens.
Why the difference in the reaction to that fight and to similar incidents in Tarneit? Everyone knows the answer. The brawlers in Chapel Street were white. It’s as simple and as ugly as that.
The new statistics show that Victoria doesn’t have a crime problem. Unfortunately, they also reveal the extent of the state’s problem with racism.
Image: Watering hole / flickr