Column – Lynching Kevin Andrews
CHRISTINE Nixon has proved we still can’t hold a frank and honest debate on immigration.
Worse, our supposedly apolitical Chief Commissioner of Police has showed that by giving us false crime figures just before the federal election.
These were figures that made African refugees in Victoria seem law-abiding, rather than so law-breaking that as many as one in 10 Sudanese immigrants might have been investigated for alleged crimes.
In so misinforming us just weeks before the poll, Nixon not only helped to turn voters against the Howard government, but hid from us the terrible scale of a crime problem her police now struggle to contain.
And, most miserably, she fed a campaign of abuse against the immigration affairs minister, Kevin Andrews, that was so vitriolic it may have ended an honest man’s career.
Andrews, cautious and deeply Christian, had been gradually cutting our intake of refugees from Somalia and Sudan for some time, and in October last year explained why.Â
African refugees, particularly Sudanese, seemed to have serious trouble settling here, he said.
There were understandable reasons for this, of course: “Their level of education, for example, is a lot lower than for any other group of refugees. They’ve been in war-torn conflict for a decade, many of them. Many are young . . . and many have been in refugee camps for decades.”
No wonder their crime rate was high and their respect for our laws low.
But until we’d settled in those thousands we’d already taken in, we should be slow to take in more.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me to acknowledge you have a problem . . . but not actually slow down the rate of intake until you’ve dealt with it.”
Oh, and in case you thought this was just an excuse to slam the door on foreigners or non-Christians, Andrews said he’d still take in some Africans, and would bring in more Iraqis and Burmese to make up the difference.
But bang. Within days, he’d been dragged away and shot for daring to speak an important truth.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh reached into the slop bucket to smear Andrews for “a pure form of racism”, and said his comments belonged to the “deep south of America in the 1950s”. The Australian Democrats said he was deliberately stirring up hatred and the Howard government was “not fit to govern”.
An African immigrants’ group lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commissioner, accusing Andrews of racial discrimination, and he was pilloried on the ABC and in almost every daily newspaper.
But perhaps the most crucial rebuke came from Nixon, who on 3AW accused this Howard government minister of simply being wrong.
“When you look at the numbers we’re talking about, the young Sudanese who actually come into custody or dealt with us, only really make up about 1 per cent of the people we deal with,” she said.
“(W)hen we look at the data, what we’re actually seeing is that they’re not, in a sense, represented more than the proportion of them in the population.”
On the ABC she went even further: “Those Sudanese refugees are actually under-represented in the crime statistics.” Note: under-represented.
I rang Nixon’s office at the time to confirm that these figures were genuine. I was assured they were.
And, stupid me, I believed them. Perhaps tired of being on the hard end of another race debate, and knowing of fine African boys who’d volunteered to coach local basketball teams, I gratefully joined in hammering Andrews. Sure, I didn’t call him a racist, but I still kicked hard.
How nice it was to be so highminded. And, indeed, it was moral to remind readers that many Africans here are decent people, peaceable and grateful to have a safe home at last.
So there I was, urging you to have a “crack at Kevin Andrews for making the Sudanese seem worse than the crime figures suggest”.
Plenty of people did have that crack, and the man’s reputation is now so befouled that he hasn’t held a front-bench job with the Liberals since.
It took more than a year – until this week, in fact, – for me to belatedly decide to check Nixon’s figures, that had persuaded me and many others to hit Andrews rather than heed him.
My suspicions had been mounting, you see. Police on the front lines were telling me of the trouble they had with African gangs – a term banned by Nixon to reassure the public.
African gangs even fought a battle in Highpoint Shopping Centre, and Indian cabbies meanwhile complained of being robbed by Africans in the inner city and around the Flemington housing commission flats.
In the past six weeks alone, 16 robberies or armed robberies have been reported to police in just Flemington and Ascot Vale, all blamed on Africans. But last week we discovered how slow is police command to confront criminals from this ethnic group – and add to the crime statistics.
It dropped charges against men arrested at a confrontation last December in which some 100 Africans surrounded 21 police and sent one to hospital with suspected cracked ribs.
Sen-Sgt Mario Benedetti, in charge of Moonee Ponds police station, says he suspects the charges were dropped because of the alleged offenders’ race. Other police involved tell me the same, adding that the charges were dropped without their knowledge or consent.
But what ultimately pushed me to check Nixon’s figures at last was an admission last week by a senior South Australian policeman after two Sudanese gangs clashed in Adelaide, leaving one boy dead.
Deputy Commissioner Gary Burns conceded his force faced “an emerging, probably contemporary, policing issue”. Over the past 16 months, 450 offences had been committed by 93 members of Adelaide’s 1500-strong Sudanese community.
His figures, if accurate, are astonishing. That’s one in 16 Sudanese immigrants in Adelaide committing a crime, on average, every three months.
And so I checked at last Nixon’s assurances about crime among our own African refugees.
The Victoria Police Crime Statistics 2006-07 records that 115 Somalis allegedly committed a crime that year. Given the 2006 Census says 2626 Somalia-born people live in Victoria, the police figures mean one in 23 Somalis was allegedly involved in crime in just one year. For the rest of us, it’s just one in 85.
The police statistics for some reason do not include separate figures for Victorians born in Sudan. But Nixon last year said Sudanese made up “about 1 per cent of the people we deal with” – or about 600 of the 60,000 alleged offenders in 2006-07.
With 6206 Sudanese in Victoria, according to the Census, that means around one in 10 is an alleged criminal.
That figure may not be completely accurate. Nixon may have given only a rough estimate. She may argue the Sudanese community is in fact bigger than the 2006 Census says.
She would certainly point out that it’s unfair and divisive to besmirch all Sudanese for the crimes of a minority – and good on her from doing so much to hold out a hand, not a fist.
Legal aid workers might even claim that Africans also get picked on more by the police, inflating the statistics.
But here’s the central point. Last year Nixon told us Sudanese refugees, if not all African refugees, were “under-represented in the crime statistics”. In fact, we now know they’re over-representedâ€”by as much as eight times.
Andrews was right to worry and urge caution. Nixon was wrong to challenge his figures. And we, who relied on Nixon’s assurances, were grossly unfair to damn Andrews as a racist and a hatemonger for merely doing his duty. I’m sorry for my part in that.
Oh, a postscript: our new Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, has said “we have a job to do rebuilding confidence and our international reputation” after Andrews’ “politically motivated” comments.
So “African migration continues and we want to do more next year”.
It seems that to debate the wisdom of that is not permitted. Just see what was done to Kevin Andrews, who tried.