Blair Cottrell, 'Chairman' of the United Patriots Front, with Rosalie Crestani.

This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.
(more…)

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Soft drinks.

The Greens have announced a push to introduce a 20% tax on “all water-based beverages with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml”.

The LNP have said they will oppose any bill to implement a sugar tax in Australia, however the idea is gaining ground abroad.

Britain’s Conservative government have passed legislation for a sugar tax, to commence in 2018, and Mexico adopted a sugar tax in 2014.

The Grattan Institute released a report yesterday touting the potential for a sugar tax to raise $500 million whilst tackling obesity.

The sugar tax is a terrible proposal.

All consumption taxes are inherently regressive, a sugar tax would be especially so.

A consumption tax on something that people consume “equally” will account for a higher percentage of your income the lower your income is.

A sugar tax is even more regressive because people with lower incomes are more likely to consume soft drinks. The wealthiest are less likely to get their caffeine from Coca-Cola.

The $500 million that the Grattan Institute and The Greens propose to raise from a sugar tax will come disproportionately from the pockets of the working poor.

The Greens’ embrace of a sugar tax demonstrates their weakness when it comes to class issues. A sugar tax is a measure that essentially blames poor people for consuming soft drinks, whilst ignoring the fact that it is massively profitable soft drink manufacturers who produce and aggressively market these unhealthy products.

If soft drinks are a public health risk then it is soft drink manufacturers who should be penalized. The working poor hammer caffeine and sugar all day long because they are essential (if destructive) tools for getting through long days doing garbage low paid work.

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There are 854 665 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance. There are only 175,000 advertised job vacancies.

The Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, lives in a fantasy world where jobs grow on trees and where the unemployed are to blame for unemployment.

In a speech to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) National Conference, Christian Porter claimed there was no shortage of jobs in Australia, and that instead the Centrelink “compliance regime is failing miserably”.

The Social Services Minister believes that “there’s going to be 115,000 jobs created over the next several years” in the care sector, and thus:

“I just don’t put my hands up and say there aren’t enough jobs. I just don’t think that that’s statistically the case.”

Well it is statistically the case and Christian Porter fails at basic maths.

The ABS reports that there are 708,600 people unemployed in Australia as of October 2016.

Official unemployment figures massively underestimate the true scope of the employment problem. The rate of underemployment (where people have some work but need more) sits at around 8.5%, or a further 1 million people.

The most recent report on advertised job vacancies estimates there are 175,300 advertised job vacancies.

Christian Porter reckons there is no shortage of jobs when approximately ten people compete for every advertised vacancy. If Porter’s hypothesized 115,000 new jobs “over the next several years” materialized tomorrow, there would still be approximately 9 people competing for every advertised vacancy.

Bur rather than an employment problem, Christian Porter reckons there is a “compliance” problem. At the ACOSS national conference Porter raged that a reported 3000 people on some form of welfare turned down a job in the past year.

There are 854 665 people currently claiming either Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance. 1 in 284 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance turned down a job.

And what kinds of jobs would you turn down when the dole is well below the poverty line? I can think of a few.

A female friend reports being offered a hospitality job at a venue with a less than desirable reputation.

I asked if I would get sexually assaulted. they said: well, it’s not ideal, but it’s not rape.

I wouldn’t take that job. My friend is in dire financial straights, so she submitted an application anyway.

This is what the government means when they talk about “compliance”.

The welfare system is designed to discipline the working class. The payments are at poverty levels and the process of claiming is both punitive and humiliating so that when you are offered a minimum wage job with the likelihood that you will be “groped and fondled a bit”, you will apply.

I don’t actually think that Christian Porter is delusional or bad at basic maths. The government attacks welfare claimants because they want to force unemployed Australians to take any job, in any conditions, at any rate of pay.

The government blames job seekers for being unemployed (calling unemployed workers job snobs, dole bludgers, etc etc) in order to justify worsening poverty payments and increasingly punitive measures, which in turn are intended to drive down the cost of labor for capital.

Despite poverty payments and the punishment regime embedded in the welfare system, 3000 people on welfare refused a job last year. I shudder to think how bad those jobs must have been.

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Barwon maximum security prison, where the state government intends to lock up children.

The State of Victoria locks up 10, 11 and 12 year-old children, primary school aged kids, and holds them in filthy overcrowded and understaffed prisons where prison guards encourage fights, diseases are rampant, and violence is common place.

Over the past six months the media has reported on multiple riots and disturbances at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre in Parkville.

Last week, twenty teenagers detained at Parkville broke out of their cells, obtained tools from the centre’s tool shop, broke other detainees out, and ultimately holed up in the buildings roof space.

Their demands? Junk food and a phone according to The Age. I wonder who they wanted to call and what they planned to say.

After the most recent riots last week, the Andrews government has announced that the Parkville centre will be pulled down and rebuilt. The estimated forty teenagers involved in recent disturbances ought to be congratulated, they broke an entire prison, and are forcing the government to act where all manner of other institutions have failed.

In 2010 a report by the Victorian state Ombudsman “found conditions were so bad that a new facility should be built at another site”.

The Ombudsman’s report described Parkville as “dirty, unhygienic and ill-maintained”:

The probe found a ”high prevalence” of communicable infections such as scabies, golden staph and school sores, as well as ”hanging points” throughout the precinct, ”mouldy and dirty” conditions, blocked smoke detector vents and electrical hazards. There were at least two reports to WorkSafe about staff receiving electric shocks from appliances.

In 2010, the Ombudsman’s report was damning of the staff employed at Parkville. According to The Age:

Staff members alleged some of their colleagues had encouraged fights between detainees and incited violence to punish those who ”deserved” it. There were also reports that staff had assaulted detainees and at times attempted to conceal assaults while restraining detainees.

Keeping anyone in these conditions could only be described as a human rights abuse. In 2010 the government claimed it had accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations and there would be new investment and changes at the Parkville centre.

Recent riots have revealed how little has changed at Parkville.

Eighty percent of the childen held at Parkville are on remand. They have not been convicted on an offence, and they are entitled to be presumed innocent.

Accounts from the CPSU, people involved in corrections and former detainees describe the Parkville centre as overcrowded, understaffed, dirty and unhygienic.

Victorian state government figures from July this year revealed that violence is endemic at the Parkville centre:

Department figures show that over the past four years there have been 183 Category 1 reports across the youth system, which comprises the Parkville Youth Residential Centre, the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre and two units at Malmsbury.

However, 100 of those cases were recorded in the last 12 months alone, compared with only 34 cases in 2014-15; 23 in 2013-14; and 26 in 2012-13.

In 2015 the Commissioner for Children, Bernie Geary decried the treatment of children being held on remand:

Mr Geary said that of the 83 people at Parkville Youth Residential Centre last week, only 19 had been sentenced, meaning that more than 75 per cent of children and young people at the centre are still awaiting their day in court. He said 10 of the children on remand, or 15 per cent, were aged between 10 and 14 years old.

“It’s probably the state’s best-kept secret that these children are locked up and haven’t been tried and that most of them, once they have been tried, are released into the community,” Mr Geary said. “It’s just crazy.”

A large number of these kids incarcerated at Parkville are Indigenous.

These stats from the AIC are dated but still relevant; Indigenous kids make up between 50-60% of incarcerated children in Australia.

Rates of Indigenous child removal are also ballooning, it’s been rightly described as a second stolen generation.

There is an unambiguous link between exposure to the ‘child protection’ system and a person’s likelihood of ending up the Youth Justice system.

Indigenous kids are being removed from their parents and families at increasing rates, sent into Victoria’s failed child protection system and are then filtered through the courts into degrading treatment at places like Parkville.

The detention of children at the Parkville centre is an unambiguous breach of the state of Victoria’s obligations under Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 37 (abridged by author):

No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. … The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be … used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time

Victoria’s own Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 states:

Section 23: Children in the criminal process
(1) An accused child who is detained or a child detained without charge must be segregated from all detained adults.
(2) An accused child must be brought to trial as quickly as possible.
(3) A child who has been convicted of an offence must be treated in a way that is appropriate for his or her age.

The initial response by the Andrews government has been to announce further breaches of human rights law.

The Victorian government has announced it’s intend to transfer forty children from the Parkville centre to the adult prison system. Such transfers are probably illegal under current Victorian and international law, it seems for the moment that the Youth Parole board agrees.

Irrespective of their crimes and backgrounds, the Parkville rioters deserve congratulations and solidarity. By all accounts detention in the Victorian Youth Justice system is characterized by violence, overcrowding, and filthy conditions. These kids know that because they are stuck in it.

Forty rioting kids have forced a government to act where Unions, the Ombudsman, and multiple Children’s Commissioners failed.

The Parkville centre is now likely to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere. The campaign still to be fought is for changes in the bail act, and provisions around remand and detention. Children should not be in prisons.

Taking on the prison system.

Taking on the prison system.

Latest Information…

The Victorian government today announced it is going ahead with the transfer of child offenders to the Barwon maximum security prison.

Whilst earlier plans to put some children in the general adult prison population had been blocked, the government intends to segregate a wing of the Barwon prison and use it as a “youth justice center”.

The long overdue demolition of the Parkville centre may also be pushed back as the government has announced plans to “fortify” the centre for continued use.

At least some of the kids being sent to a maximum security prison are on remand, they have not been convicted of an offence.

If the government continues to hold and brutalize children in these conditions more riots are likely. And more riots would be entirely appropriate.

I intend to follow this article up with more on the Parkville centre in the next couple of days. I’d welcome any input that anyone reading who might have experienced the system (on either side of the bars) might have for the next article.

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The TBC and UPF announce their support for a Trump rally.

Melbourne based far-right and fascist groups the True Blue Crew and the United Patriots Front have teamed up and announced a joint rally “celebrating” the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, this Sunday at Parliament House (Melbourne).

This rally is the latest in a series of attempts by far-right groups and politicians in Australia to hitch a ride on the Trump bandwagon.

Last Tuesday, as the US presidential election results began to indicate a possible Trump victory, Pauline Hanson jumped to be the first to “congratulate President Trump”. She cracked a bottle of champagne for the cameras outside Parliament House and announced that if Trump were an Australian, she had no doubt he would join One Nation.

Within the Liberal Party, extremist and Reclaim Australia supporter George Christensen has been parading about with Donald Trump’s books and has declared that he “likes the idea of a wall”.

South Australian bigot and Senator, Cory Bernardi, has gone further, posting pictures of himself on Twitter wearing a Trump-esque peak-cap emblazoned with the slogan “Make Australia Great Again”.

For the likes of Christensen and Bernardi, the election of Trump offers an opportunity to drive Australian politics further to the right. To their eyes, the election of Trump proves the existence of a more explicitly racist “discontented” mass; a constituency whose “discontent” who can be harnessed to advance the cause of their brand of “conservative” politics.

Yesterday. Bernardi re-tweeted a comment by Rita Panahi that doubtless reflects their point of view:

“There’s never been a better time for disaffected conservatives to take the Liberal Party back from the hopeless bedwetters who are spooked by gallery chatter and Twitter storms.”

The hard-right of the Liberal Party aren’t the only force racing to relate to the potential constituency that is supposedly represented by Trump, One Nation and Brexit abroad.

The Guardian reports that the ALP’s Jim Chalmers will today give a speech calling on his party to do more to relate to people drawn to Hansonism in Australia (which is apparently interchangeable for Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK).

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers will launch a plea for Australian politicians to engage with the group of voters “trampled” by the impact of globalisation and technological change – arguing Hillary Clinton may have lost the US election when she branded Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables”.

There is something darkly ironic about this when we consider that since 1983 the ALP has probably done more than any other party to bring about the impacts of “globalisation and technological change” in Australia. The ALP, more than the Liberals, gave us “free trade”, industrial relations deregulation, deindustrialization, and ongoing (and increasingly precipitous) decline in trade union density.

Militant and independent organised labour is the left’s traditional answer to the growth of right-wing populist politics, but organised labour in Australia has been rendered toothless and ineffective because of it’s ongoing and slavish subservience to the political agenda of the ALP.

The ALP is not capable of realizing that it itself is one of the big factors that has precipitated the decline in organised labour, and that it acts a barrier to an effective organised response to the rise of Hansonism.

If the ALP tries to relate to ‘this phenomenon’, it will likely do so by shifting further to the right.

In light of all of this, Left Flank’s article’s on anti-politics are worth a re-read. All manner of political forces are competing to re-incorporate a growing constituency of discontent with “politics as usual”. I see no reason that these efforts should be accommodated or supported. Also worth re-reading is London AFA’s Filling the Vacuum.

Getting back to Melbourne’s far-right, the TBC, UPF and other fascists have also recognized the opportunity that Hanson and Trump offer.

After some initial successes in 2015, these groups have recently been struggling to reach an audience outside their existing networks. A recent anti-refugee rally in Eltham was meant to drew between 70 and 100 people, with few participating from the community that was targeted.

The proposed Donald Trump celebration is already significantly more successful. The Facebook event records 1600 either interested or attending, and a review of the guest list indicates that the participants are not simply the usual fascist suspects.

The longer term challenge for anti-racists is to build an anti-racist movement capable of pushing back against the state and capital as well as specific racist manifestations. In the short term however, there is a fascist rally in Melbourne that needs to be opposed.

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Still from CCTV footage, Ballarat Police Station, Jan 2015.

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission has handed down a report into the violent treatment of an off-duty policewoman, Yvonne Berry, who had been arrested for drunkenness by police in Ballarat.

The Ballarat case has provoked public interest both because it involves a white female police officer, and because the incident was extensively captured by CCTV cameras.

It is worth noting, as the IBAC report does, that “presence of CCTV cameras did not appear to deter some officers from questionable conduct”1.

This indicates that the police involved were not concerned about being called to account for their actions. This is how Victoria Police officers treat someone when they think no one will care, no one will report on it, and no one outside the police force will investigate.

Content Warning: Descriptions of Yvonne Berry’s treatment at the hands of police follow. Police violence, assaults, abuse.

What happened

On the fourteenth of January last year, Yvonne Berry was arrested by Ballarat police. She was drunk.

Berry should probably have been taken to a hospital, but she declined, so four police officer held her down, handcuffed her, and took her to the Ballarat Police station.

Yvonne Berry was thrown in a cell.

Police cells in Ballarat are standard concrete boxes with, “painted concrete floors and bed shaped blocks, a drinking water fountain and toilet”.2 She wasn’t given a mattress or a blanket “for safety reasons”.3

The drinking fountain was broken.

CCTV footage showed Berry waving a plastic cup at the CCTV camera and pointing at the drinking fountain. The police officer responsible for monitoring people in their cells either did not notice or did not care.

An intoxicated and doubtless parched Yvonne Berry was left with no choice but to drink from the toilet.

At 1am Berry demanded to speak to the officer-in-charge. When her cell door was opened, Berry tried to push her way out. In the scuffle, Berry grabbed an officer’s lanyard and pen.

For reasons that baffle me, the police involved decided that the recovery of a stolen pen and lanyard was the single most important mission confronting Ballarat police in January 2015.

Hyperbole perhaps, but instead of giving their drunk inmate some clean water and a blanket, the officer’s on duty barged back into the cell, wrestled with Berry, sprayed OC spray into her face on two occasions, and still managed to end up sprawling on the ground whilst Berry ran from the cell.

More police responded. They found Berry, dragged her back to the cell on her knees, held her face down and handcuffed her whilst onse officer stood on one of her legs. “A significant amount of OC foam is seen pooling on the cell floor around [Yvonne Berry’s] head”.4

The officer’s involved then proceeded to strip search Yvonne Berry, in her cell, whilst she was covered in OC foam.

As [Berry] was lying face down on her stomach with her hands cuffed behind her and she was affected by OC spray, positional asphyxia was a real risk. It is noted that police are trained that death in such a position can occur very suddenly and that an attempt should be made as quickly as possible to get the prisoner upright onto their knees or standing.5

But the cops wanted their pen back. Even IBAC notes that “the search for the missing items could have waited” and that the police should have “immediately taken [Berry] to the showers”.6

Instead, “Constable A [removed Yvonne Berry’s] underwear, with Constable McCarty hovering over her upper body area”.7

More police enter the cells, including a Senior Constable Nicole Monro:

Senior Constable Munro swiftly delivered a forceful kick with her right foot into the lower rib or stomach area of [Yvonne Berry]. Leading Senior Constable Munro was wearing her normal patrol outfit including heavy boots.8

Nicole Monro walked into a cell where a badly pepper sprayed women was being held down and strip searched, and booted her in the ribs.

Then a Constable Steven Repac came in:

Senior Constable Repac entered the cell. He turned to face the cell door away from [Yvonne Berry’s] head, placed his left foot on the lower part of the back of her right leg and then forcefully stomped on the same area of her other leg.9

Steven Repac walked into a cell were a badly pepper sprayed woman, naked from the waste down, was being held down and strip searched, and began stomping on her leg.

According to the IBAC report, Repac stomped on Yvonne Berry’s leg on multiple occasions, and kicked her again when leaving the cell.

Eventually, Yvonne Berry was dragged to the showers. Handcuffed. She was dragged along the floor, “including over the raised metal ridge which is likely to have caused unnecessary further discomfort”.10

In the showers Berry was left unattended for twenty minutes, despite the fact she was “was handcuffed, suffering from OC spray and probably still affected by alcohol”.11

The heat was turned up, “which is contrary to police training as warmth exacerbates the painful burning sensation caused by OC spray”.12

Berry, still in her shirt and underwear, was then “wrapped in a towel” and taken to Ballarat Hospital. “A brief medical observation was conducted while she remained in the vehicle”.

She was then returned to the cells, and “left there with her wet upper clothing still on and her underpants. CCTV footage shows person A attempting to sleep on the cell floor in that condition”.13

Why did this happen?

IBAC has recommended assault charges be laid against two police officers for their role in the beating and torture of Yvonne Berry.

However, the IBAC report is at pains to excuse all but the most grievous actions by the police involved.

Dragging Berry across the ground was apparently “reasonable” despite the “discomfort involved”.

The copious use of pepper spray, sprayed so thick that it formed a visible pool on the ground when Berry was held down, is excused away by an IBAC commissioner who clearly has no appreciation for the horrendous pain and injury this chemical weapon causes.

The decision of the police involved to start a brawl over a pen and lanyard (rather than simply collect them when Berry sobered up) is not even questioned by IBAC’s investigation. The use of hot water on OC burns to torture Berry is dismissed as mere oversight.

IBAC has recommended common assault charges for the kickings, the bruising and the stomping. Common assault, not assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The IBAC report is weak, Victoria Police are worse. Earlier this year “Victoria Police internal investigators [found] no evidence of criminal conduct” and the two police officers involved “had their suspensions lifted”.14

Now that the IBAC report has been released, the Police Minister, and the acting police commissioner, have been at pains to defend the “integrity” of the police at Ballarat, and have publicly rejected claims that violence by the police might be in any way systemic.

The Police Association’s response to the IBAC investigation was to fund multiple court challenges to either prevent police from having to testify, prevent their identities from being revealed, or prevent the hearings from being conducted publicly.

In January last year police beat and tortured Yvonne Berry. They did it despite the presence of CCTV. They did it knowing that any internal police investigation would clear them. They did it knowing the Police Association would have their back. They did it knowing the public, media and politicians routinely excuse violence by the police against vulnerable people. Had Yvonne Berry not later been revealed to be a serving police officer, I doubt this issue would have provoked an IBAC investigation and possible charges.

Police abused Yvonne Berry because they have the power, they have the badge, they have the guns, they have the public support, and they have the confidence that impunity provides.

All of the officers involved in the mistreatment of Yvonne Berry remain serving members of Victoria Police. Be careful.

Further Reading

The Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre maintains an ongoing Police Accountability Project. As they pointed out yesterday:

IBAC’s special report into Operation Ross, released on 10 Novermber, misses a vital opportunity to look beyond Ballarat to the Victorian police complaints system itself.

Existing police complaints mechanisms in Victoria have consistently failed to maintain accountability, uphold human rights, or change police behaviour, and public faith in complaints processes is understandably low.

Victoria urgently needs to move to a system of independent police complaints investigation.

I would go even further, and suggest that Victoria Police need to be disarmed as a matter of urgency, and subjected to significant community (rather than political) oversight, direction and accountability.

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Issac Gatkuoth.

The government, police and media are pursuing a racist campaign of vilification and persecution against kids from Sudanese migrant backgrounds.

The Herald Sun is today boasting that a Sudanese born “suspected member of the Apex gang” will be “forced to return to Africa next year”. The racists are crowing.

Who exactly are we deporting?

Issac Gatkuoth came to Australia as a nine-year old child refugee. He “endured a hellish, parentless upbringing in Sudan”1. He hasn’t seen his mother since he was five years old, his two brothers were killed when his village was “wiped out”, and he spent time as an unaccompanied child in a Kenyan refugee camp.

“Until recently he believed his father was living somewhere in Australia, but was devastated when he learned his dad died when he was just two”.2

Unsurprisingly, Issac suffers from PTSD, has recurring nightmares, and developed an ‘ice’ addiction. Issac “was on ice and had not slept for two weeks” when he committed a violent carjacking.

Issac was sentenced, imprisoned, and next year will complete the prison term that is meant to ‘repay his debt to society’. And then he will be deported to a country which he fled when he was five, where the people he knew are long dead, and which is stricken by ongoing civil war.

Issac denies being a member of the amorphous and ill-defined ‘Apex gang’, but because of the colour of his skin, and the racist beat-up surrounding anyone tarred with these two words, the right-wing media, the shock-jocks and Liberal MP Jason Wood are jubilant because this Australian youth faces deportation.

Issac is as Australian as I am3. He went to an Australian school, grew up in an Australian community, was marginalized by good old Australian racism and neglect, and took popular Australian drugs to blot out the pain.

Issac is as much one of ‘our’ kids as anyone. He needs support, not racism, vilification and deportation.

Aside: Compare and contrast the coverage, ABC 7.30, “Soldiers returning from war turn to drugs and crime – but are we letting them down?“.

What is this ‘Apex gang’ bullshit anyway?

When is a gang not a gang? The police, media and politicians report on Apex gang as if it were a structured criminal organisation engaged in systematic car-jackings, burglaries, and armed robberies. The truth is a little less impressive.

When the ‘Apex gang’ first burst across media front pages in March it was little more than an extended friendship group.

The Age reported earlier this year, the supposed gang “has no clubhouse, no colours and no real structure”. An ABC interview with a ‘gang member’ offered further details:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a really big thing, you know. The media always speculates and tries to make things sound big, bigger than they are. … (It’s) just a group of youths. … Everyone’s got to have friends, you know.”

A bunch of kids growing up in a Melbourne suburb with a “lack of school, no jobs, lack of employment” hang out with their friends and get into fights with other groups of kids. Sounds familiar:

Sharpies, or sharps, are the darlings of Australian gang fashion. They started out in the 1960s when groups of working-class teenagers in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Sydney, came together over cars, tattoos, fights, and “dressing sharp.”

In March, some kids were involved in a punch-on at Federation Square during the Moomba festival. Melbourne’s largest street gang, Victoria Police, responded with copious amounts of pepper spray.

If the kids involved hadn’t been black, and if their little spat hadn’t pissed all over a City of Melbourne tourism draw card, the fight might have gone unremarked.

Brawls involving a couple of dozen people are common enough in any suburb with the right combination of unemployment, alcohol and machismo:

VICTORIA Police say they are not investigating an all-in-brawl at a suburban Aussie rules football match despite reports a pregnant woman was assaulted.

When the police and media reported that a “gang war” had taken place in the city, the Apex gang exploded. As the ABC’s ‘Apex gang member’ pointed out back in March, “Some people just want a reputation”.

Notoriety is a hell of a currency, and when the media, police and political establishment started condemning the ‘Apex gang’, every disaffected kid in the outer suburbs had something infamous to scrawl on the wall.

It is little wonder that the apparent composition of the ‘gang’ has changed and the crimes associated with it are expanding. Hundreds of people from all manner of backgrounds are now using the words ‘Apex gang’ in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

There is no ‘Apex gang’, but there is a hell of a brand, and who wants to let the truth get in the way of a good story? Both the police and media outlets profit by stoking racist hysteria around the ‘Apex gang’. The gang narrative sells papers, drives website clicks, and justifies police budgets.

Anyone interested in how the police and media can invent a ‘gang’ out of whole cloth should read up on Adelaide “Gang of 49“.

In 2007 SA Police announced they were “monitoring a group of 49 primarily Aboriginal offenders held responsible for hundreds of crimes”. The media dubbed it the “Gang of 49” and dozens of articles followed.

The Advertiser and local talk back radio reported on the crimes, members and supposed rituals of this terrifying gang menace. One expert compared it’s lack of structure to the ‘cells’ of a terrorist movement! Before long there were indigenous kids running around calling themselves the “Gang of 49”, where no such gang had existed before.

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

You can bet that the Police Associaton will demand more officers and greater powers, and both major parties will announce ‘new measures’ to ‘combat gang crime’.

Aside: Whenever you see the words “police sources” in a Victorian publication, the journalist actually means “Police Association gossip”.

Police racism

Victoria Police cannot be taken seriously when they talk about the ‘Apex gang’, ‘gang crime’, or anything supposedly connected to the Sudanese community.

In 2014 three police were sacked and thirteen disciplined over the production of racist material at a Police station in Sunshine.

Racial profiling is common place:

Victorian Police LEAP data analysed by eminent statistician, Professor Ian Gordon from the Univeristy of Melbourne in Haile-Michael & Ors v Konstantinidis & Ors revealed that between 2006-2009, Africans in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than other groups despite having a lower crime rate.

The practice of racial profiling extends beyond police “rank and file”. “Overt operational orders by Victoria Police have been known to target African youth” despite 2006 legislation that “makes it unlawful for a person to be treated differently from others on the basis of their race”.

Victoria has introduced a pilot “stop and search receipt” program, but it’s designed to avoid capturing any information about ‘race’ lest racism be detected. The Victoria Police Association resists even this most basic accountability measure.

Victoria Police, and in particular the Victoria Police Association, maintain very close relationships with the newspapers who might otherwise report on police misdeeds. The law-and-order campaigns of the Herald Sun (in particular) mirror the stated position of the Victoria Police Association, and crime reporting rarely deviates from the narrative pushed by Victoria Police’s media unit.

The confluence of interest between Melbourne’s largest tabloid newspaper and the Victoria Police Association deserves closer examination that I am able to provide in this post.

Concluding

Issac Gatkuoth is being sacrificed to the myth of the ‘Apex gang’, and racist narratives around “Sudanese crime”.

The vilification of the Sudanese community continues unchecked in the pages of tabloid newspapers, on talk back radio, at MPs’ press conferences, and in the actions of the Victoria Police.

The reality is that Melbourne’s outer suburbs register unemployment rates approaching 30%, alienated teenagers hang out in ‘gangs’, and kids who’ve experienced war and deprivation need love and support.

We must push back against the vilification of the Sudanese community, public rhetoric about the ‘Apex gang’, and the victimization of troubled kids like Issac Gatkuoth.

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