Turnbull says there is ‘real concern about Sudanese gangs’ in Melbourne | Australia news

Malcolm Turnbull has said there is “real concern about Sudanese gangs” in Melbourne and defended earlier remarks by Peter Dutton suggesting people were afraid to go out for dinner in the Victorian capital because of the fear of “African gangs”.

On Tuesday, Turnbull defended the home affairs minister’s remarks in January, while insisting his government had “zero tolerance for racism”.

The prime minister’s comments come amid escalating campaigning by the Coalition on immigration and crime in the lead-up to both the super Saturday byelections on 28 July and the Victorian state election later this year.

On Monday, the Liberal senator Dean Smith used the fact Australia’s population will soon tick over to 25m to call for an inquiry into population growth, while Dutton injected the immigration debate into the byelection campaigns in Longman and Braddon by boasting that permanent migration has fallen on his watch.

Turnbull picked up on that theme in an interview on 3AW radio on Tuesday, noting that permanent migration of 163,000 people in the past financial year was “the lowest its been in a decade”.

Despite describing immigration as an exercise in “recruitment” of the “best and brightest” to Australia, the prime minister suggested it was “good that it’s down, on the basis we’re not taking any more than we need”.

Business and industry groups have blasted the reduction, noting Australia has taken 12,500 fewer workers on skilled visas in the past year and warning of labour shortages in areas outside Sydney and Melbourne.

On Tuesday, the Infrastructure Australia chief, ­Philip Davies, told the Australian the country lacked “national-level, long-term planning” about population growth and had been “lazy” in planning for its infrastructure needs.

Turnbull said it was “not right” to claim there was no planning around population levels, citing intergenerational reporting started by the former treasurer Peter Costello, and arguing the level of skilled migration “responds to the demands of the economy”.

“Where there has been a massive failure is in terms of infrastructure,” he said, adding there was “real concern about congestion, in particular”.

Regional Australia had “different concerns” because “in many places they want to see more migration”, he said. Turnbull said his government was considering how to encourage people who come to Australia to work in regional areas to remain by adding conditions to their visas.

On Saturday the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, James Pearson, told Guardian Australia the government was pursuing a “contradictory policy approach” by attempting to encourage more workers to the regions while lowering the overall migration intake.

Turnbull left the door open to a parliamentary inquiry into population, suggesting the joint standing committee on migration was “always open” to review the issue.

Asked about alleged fears of “Sudanese gangs”, Turnbull said that he had “heard that from people in Melbourne”.

“I’ve heard people – colleagues from Melbourne – say that there is real anxiety about crime in Melbourne. It is a real issue.

“There is certainly concern about street crime in Melbourne.”

On Monday, the Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commissioner, Kristen Hilton, warned against “racially divisive statements” after a resurgence in race discrimination complaints.

Asked whether Dutton had provoked racial hatred with his comments, Turnbull said it was “nonsense” to suggest that, adding he was “simply seeking to do the best job” as the minister for home affairs, responsible for domestic security and migration.

“There is real concern about Sudanese gangs,” Turnbull said. “You’d have to be walking around with your hands over your ears in Melbourne not to hear it.”

Both Turnbull and defence industry minister Christopher Pyne said they were not afraid to go out to dinner in Melbourne. At a press conference in Tasmania, Pyne seemed unsure of the context of the question when asked, responding “no” before adding “oh because of the violence?”

Henry Belot

REPORTER: Are you afraid to go out to restaurants in Melbourne?

PYNE: No, why? Should I be?

REPORTER: Well the PM says colleagues have told him…

PYNE: Oh, because of the gangs, the violence… pic.twitter.com/W41YggbM7N

July 17, 2018

At a later press conference in Baxter to announce an upgrade of the Baxter to Frankston line, Turnbull said “not everyone is frightened of street crime, but a lot of people are”.

“You have to be honest; there are Sudanese gangs in Melbourne. No one is making any reflections about Sudanese migrants, Sudanese [people] in general.”

Last week the Victorian Liberal opposition was labelled “nasty and bigoted” by the state Labor government for releasing a pamphlet warning of “gangs hunting in packs”.

Overall crime rates in Victoria are down, including youth crime. Sudanese-born people are disproportionately represented in some offence categories such as violence and affray, although experts argue this is due to a higher incidence of other factors that are associated with a high crime rate, such as poverty and a lack of engagement in work and school.

The Victorian police commissioner, Graham Ashton, has previously labelled claims the state was an unsafe place to live as “complete and utter garbage”.