New assistant minister for multicultural affairs criticised for 'African gangs' rhetoric

Jason Wood, Liberal Member for La Trobe. Source: AAP

Jason Wood has been vocal in pointing to an alleged rise in so-called "African gang" violence in Victoria.

The new Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs has come under fire for repeatedly using divisive "African gangs" rhetoric after Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said people in Melbourne were "scared to go out to restaurants" at night because of African street violence early last year.

Liberal MP Jason Wood, a former police officer, was appointed to the ministry on Sunday as the newly elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison reshuffled his cabinet following the Coalition's shock victory this month. 

But many have criticised the appointment on social media, citing a series of social media posts by the Victorian MP targetting "African gangs".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and Liberal Member for La Trobe Jason Wood are seen during an announcement in Melbourne, Thursday, March 21, 2019. (AAP Image/Ellen Smith) NO ARCHIVING
Member for La Trobe Jason Wood with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

On April 30 - less than three weeks before the federal election - Mr Wood wrote on Facebook that the "behaviour being displayed by African youth gangs" was "sickening and disgusting". 

Months earlier, on February 14, the member for La Trobe shared an article describing a violent burglary alongside the caption: "No African gangs? I feel very sorry for the victim and the young children ... if these thugs are foreign-born, they should be deported."

The CEO of African Media Australia, Clyde Sharady, told SBS News he thought the appointment was "appalling".

"Jason Wood hasn't had a very good record at all within the African community ... I don't know why anyone in the Liberal party would think it's a good idea to promote him," he said. 

"Such [Anti-African] comments have very significant negative effects on people's lives. They contribute to a negative perception of Africans that then ultimately affects the opportunities that African-Australians have in the society, employment, education and housing, so that is really a serious problem."

Crime in Victoria
Crime in Victoria

Despite the criticisms, Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils chairperson Mary Patetsos congratulated Mr Wood on his appointment on Monday.

"FECCA looks forward to working with Mr Wood to develop strong policies that help bring Australia's diverse communities closer together, improve access and equity for migrant groups and stamp out hate speech in our society," she told SBS News.

The comments by Mr Wood come after media outlets were accused of "fear-mongering and racial hysteria" in their reporting on "African gangs" by former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.

In January 2018, the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency (VCSA) revealed that much of the reporting of "African gangs" relied on an incorrect statistic, provided by a Coalition-led committee chaired by Mr Wood, that claimed Sudanese offenders were allegedly responsible for 1.4 per cent of Victorian crimes in 2016.

The actual number, as supplied by the VCSA, was 1 per cent.

The death of 19-year-old South Sudanese-Australian woman Laa Chol in July 2018 re-ignited the debate about whether there was a gang crisis in Victoria, with a number of politicians linking her death to African crime.

But Victoria Police Commander Stuart Bateson was quick to warn against over-exaggerating the problem of youth crime.

"Absolutely there are some problems we have to tackle, but we also have to be aware of what happens as a result of over-exaggerating, and targeting them and tarnishing a whole community," he said.

"It's not related to ethnicity, we've seen murders occur in similar circumstances ever since I’ve been in the police force."

Mr Wood's office has been contacted for comment.

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