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My Opinion Pieces

Herald Sun: Gang crisis points to a range of failures

   Monday, 8 January 2018

Monday 8 January 2018 Herald Sun Gang crisis points to a range of failures

Police Minister Lisa Neville finally admitted last week that Melbourne has a serious African youth gang crisis. It has been obvious for some time that we have a significant problem with some African — and other youths — disrespecting the police, the law and their fellow citizens. This is a symptom of a broader disease in our education and youth justice system that perpetually excuses shocking behaviour, suggesting there are no consequences for breaking the law.

It also reinforces the view among youths from a variety of backgrounds that there are no responsibilities that come with being a resident or citizen of Australia. A recent test of all year 10 students showed a total lack of understanding of civics and citizenship in Australia and the important principles and values that have shaped our society.

In Victoria we scored only 39 per cent, a massive fail. What could be more important than teaching young people that being a citizen of Australia is a privilege coveted by thousands of people around the world, not a right?

As South Sudanese-Australian poet and writer Majok Tulba said “ ... their parents talk to them about war, violence, gunfire, they think it was 100 years ago. I would like them to give up their lives in Australia for one week and experience South Sudan”.

Our freedoms derive from our laws and the democratically elected institutions that created them. It worries me that so many youths disrespect those fundamentals. During the bail application by the 17-year-old who allegedly kicked a police officer in the head, prosecutors said the accused had previously posted online wanting payback against police for his first arrest in 2016.

“He harboured a hatred towards police and he stated he had been biding his time. He had been very angry towards police and wanted to get back at them, consistent with what he stated on Facebook.”

I suspect the cause of this antiauthoritarianism is multifaceted, but the Andrews Labor government and its ideological fellow travellers in the education establishment must bear some responsibility. Our school curriculum in Victoria fails to inspire respect for Australian values and the rule of law. It fails to meaningfully communicate to young people the importance of the principle of “one rule for all” to our democracy and that there should be severe consequences for disrespecting the law, other citizens and the police.

The problem is the underlying contradiction that wayward youths often hear from the government; that their behaviour can be excused because of their background. Almost on cue, the day the Andrews Government conceded there was an African gang crime problem, Minister Martin Foley launched a Twitter attack on the Prime Minister accusing him of “cheap politics (sic) attacks on refugee ‘crime gangs…’.” In a pathetic attempt to excuse these youths’ behaviour, Foley attempted to suggest that supposed cuts to settlement and employment services were the cause of Victoria becoming the nation’s gang crime capital.

The Andrews Government always blames society instead of individuals when dealing with wayward youths. Foley’s comments reflect this insidious culture that perverts individual accountability not just in society, but also at schools. Some children are learning early in life that there are often no consequences for disrespecting the authority of teachers and school rules. There was a time such behaviour carried a level of punishment, and it ought to now. This prevailing attitude flows through to society when students leave school.

Privately, teachers, principals and peak bodies implore me to make it easier for schools to discipline wayward and disruptive students who have potentially engaged in criminal conduct. Some teachers are dealing with the most vile abuse and aggressive behaviour in their work.

Take, for example, the causes of these successful WorkCover claims by public school staff — “threatened and physically harmed by violent student”; “student punched and kicked me”; “anxiety symptoms as a result of being threatened and attacked by student”; “student punched me in the face, several times”; “student threatened, attacked, terrorised and traumatised me”.

This is a disgraceful indictment on the behavioural standards in some Victorian schools that is clearly carrying over into society.

And last year, when the Herald Sun revealed two children aged 12 and 13 had been found allegedly pushing drugs at school, the government’s response failed to meet community expectations and was again shockingly weak: “Where a student is involved with drugs, they are supported by staff at the school as well as student support officers and other agencies.”

Why doesn’t the government send a strong message to students, as an early intervention, that what they did was criminal and requires punishment, at the very least suspension?

I believe Victorians are sick of seeing young people without respect for authority and a sufficient understanding of the serious consequences for breaking the law. The Andrews Government must get serious about instilling the principles of individual responsibility, respect for others, our laws and Australian values in Victorian schools before its insidious brand of political correctness further erodes the fabric of our society