By Bonny Burrows
African gang behaviour in South-East Melbourne reached crisis point two years ago, according to Latrobe MP Jason Wood.
In the wake of Victoria Police’s announcement of an African Australian community taskforce to tackle youth gang crime in Melbourne, Mr Wood has both welcomed and criticised the measure, saying it’s come a little late.
“I have no issue with Victoria Police’s measure. But I do believe in our area, this is something that needed to be in two years ago,” Mr Wood said.
The local MP and former police officer said locally, there had been for a long-time widespread community fear driven by African gang behaviour.
“And yes, it’s gang behaviour. When you have three, four people going out with a common desire to cause violence, it’s a gang,” Mr Wood said.
“Street gangs cause the most fear in the community because they’re unstructured and impulsive.”
Mr Wood pointed to his work on the Parliamentary Inquiry into Migrant Settlement Outcomes and its recommendations as an example of how people felt both locally and across Australia.
In the report, released in December, former Casey Mayor Sam Aziz describes gang crime in the area as “an epidemic”.
“We are going through what I would describe as an epidemic in terms of crime. It really is that serious. I live on a lovely estate in Berwick of around 300 homes. In one week alone 25 homes were home invaded—suffered aggravated burglary. Home invasion has become a very worrisome crime pattern in the south-east and particularly in the city of Casey,” Mr Aziz said.
The Pakenham Uniting Church also commented on their experience with gang issues, stating “we have big numbers of youths from the South Sudanese groups, and those kids have committed a lot of crimes and been working like a gang group.”
“If we leave them hanging around, that is when they commit crime. When you see people living in Pakenham, they know when school is finished, the kids go in a gang group, and everyone is scared. They do not know what to do,” the church said.
Mr Wood said he had “a number of positive meetings in my electorate with African leaders”, who have recognised the growing issue and offered insight into the challenges faced by migrant young people.
“Each discussion comes back to (the need for) youth engagement and activity, employment and education,” he said.
“The taskforce is a great idea but the biggest game changer is education and English. You need that early intervention.”