Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 17, 2023


African Communities Council of South Australia

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:35): I move:

That this council—

1. Recognises the important work of the African Communities Council of South Australia (ACCSA);

2. Notes the findings and recommendations outlined in the report, titled 'Inquiry into youth violence and crime within African-South Australian communities';

3. Recognises that the overarching objective of the focus group was to inquire into the causes, challenges, and potential solutions to violence and antisocial behaviours committed by African South Australian youth;

4. Acknowledges the extensive work and contributions by government agencies and non-government organisations who participated in the focus group discussions and shared their experiences of working with justice involved African-South Australians and their families; and

5. Calls on the South Australian government to consider key recommendations and empower ACCSA with resources to implement key priority preventive actions.

As the shadow minister and the longest continuous serving member of parliament in the portfolio of multicultural affairs, I have had the privilege to work with many exceptional multicultural leaders and not-for-profit organisations over the years, and today I want to highlight the incredible work by the African Communities Council of South Australian, also commonly known as ACCSA.

As a peak body for African communities in South Australia, ACCSA strives to promote and preserve the diverse cultures of its members. This motion seeks to recognise that, as a community organisation, ACCSA is led by a hardworking team of volunteers, including the management committee who diligently work tirelessly to meet the evolving needs of the 35 ethnic communities they represent.

Census data shows that there are approximately 35,420 African South Australians, of which 24 per cent are white South Africans and the remainder from Sub-Saharan and North African regions, the majority of which are born in South Sudan, Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Eritrea, Liberia, Somalia, Ghana and Burundi. I would like to thank ACCSA for being proactive in supporting its members, always seeking to empower communities through cultural events, programs and culturally linguistically appropriate resources, which enhance the governance skills and capabilities of its members.

For those of us who have the pleasure and privilege to attend events such as its Africa Unites gala dinner and Unmasked Africa Festival, the African Nations Cup soccer tournament or the Africa Day Celebration, we get to see the vibrancy, energy and positive impact made to our state by extraordinary African Australian individuals, business owners and communities. The magnitude of ACCSA's work can be demonstrated through cultural events and sports carnivals which help break barriers and foster social inclusion.

While recognising that many of these initiatives I mentioned earlier promote social harmony and highlight the successful settlement and integration of African communities in South Australia, there are, however, some confronting issues about youth violence and crime within African South Australian communities which are often not widely known or talked about or being handled effectively in a holistic way.

I would like at this point to bring to the attention of honourable members in this parliament a number of shocking incidents that put a spotlight on a significant problem in the African communities that led to ACCSA initiating a working group to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into youth violence and crime within African South Australian communities. The first shocking incident I would like to highlight happened in the early hours of ANZAC Day, 25 April 2022.

A young man was stabbed to death in Adelaide's CBD. The victim was 25 year-old Ngor Bol, of South Sudanese origin from Melbourne. South Australia Police (SAPOL) identified a group of young men of South Sudanese background as the suspects in the murder of Ngor Bol. It was further alleged that offenders of the violent crime were members of the rival peer-affiliated groups of young men between the ages of 18 to 25 from the South Sudanese community in Adelaide's northern suburbs who had been under police surveillance over the last few years.

Sadly, the murder of Ngor Bol was not an isolated incident allegedly perpetrated by young men of South Sudanese origin. On 13 March 2022, it was widely reported that groups of young men had engaged in a mass brawl involving the use of knives and machetes outside The Nairobi Affair Lounge on Adelaide's Grenfell Street. Six people were reported to have sustained injuries from knife and machete attacks during this incident.

In February 2022, it was reported that SAPOL had laid over 120 charges against several people of South Sudanese background for engaging in crimes, including knife fights, fraud and robberies. African South Australian communities were shocked by these terrible crimes committed by some of their young people and have since called for law enforcement bodies to hold perpetrators to account.

Meanwhile, the African South Australian communities remain concerned about the far-reaching consequences of crimes committed by a small number of young people on the vast majority who are law-abiding and peace-loving people not involved in violence or criminal behaviour. Unfortunately, with matters that are culturally sensitive and of such a complex nature, public and media discourse commonly take on a biased view or racialised tone, as though crimes are solely committed by a particular racial group. This can perpetuate negative stereotypes and lead to perceptions of exaggerated criminality within the broader African South Australian community.

Indeed, the fear is not without foundation. Evidence from the 2015-16 Challenging Racism Project demonstrated that sentiments towards African Australians was hardly welcoming because of racialised reporting of crimes in parts of Australia, with survey respondents possessing negative sentiment towards African Australians. This type of negative public perception must not be underestimated. It can undermine the status and credibility of African Australian communities, lead to misunderstanding, limit their opportunities and, more importantly, invoke unwarranted law enforcement responses and further vilification of members of African communities.

The African Communities Council of South Australia, as a peak body, through the strong leadership of its chairperson, Denis Yengi, and the management committee, knew that they must act quickly and responsibly to address those important youth justice issues and concerns with the intention to explore potential solutions to tackle crimes committed by young people of African origin.

With that objective in mind, ACCSA established a working group on 14 June 2022. The working group prepared a terms of reference, setting the parameters of the inquiry into the causes, challenges and potential solutions to violence and antisocial behaviours of young people within the African South Australian communities.

The final report of the inquiry was completed in April 2023 (this year), and I want to thank three members of the working group—Denis Yengi, the chair of the African Communities Council SA; Dr Yilma Woldgabreal, the report author; and Billy Siegfried Mends, the legal adviser—for coming to Parliament House to meet with me together with the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. David Speirs and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. John Gardner. On behalf of the Liberal Party, I would like to pass on my sincere thanks to these gentlemen and all members of the working group for meeting with us and tabling the important report in parliament on 4 May 2023.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the comprehensive work, the commitment and the dedication of each member of the working group that made the comprehensive Inquiry into Youth Violence and Crime Within African South Australian Communities. The full working group consists of Mr Denis Yengi, the Chair; Ms Jane Nyaketcho, Manager of Operations, ACCSA; Dr Yilma Woldgabreal, a psychologist whose experience was vital to facilitating discussions, developing surveys and ultimately writing the report; Mr Siegfried Mends, legal adviser; Mr Steve Millsteed QC, District Court judge and now barrister; Ms Mary Ajang, South Sudanese women's representative; Mr Mba Idikauduma, community leader; Mr Jur Deng, South Sudanese representative; Mr Elias Kabura, community leader; and Ms Amiok Wol, youth representative.

The working group's findings identified intervention and prevention mechanisms needed to be at the individual, relationship, community and institutional level to address challenging behaviours among a section of African South Australians. Early departure from family home due to conflict, disengagement with school and exposure to problematic behaviours, such as substance abuse, were found to contribute to the development of antisocial behaviour and see young people on a path they would not have imagined for themselves.

At this point, I would like to quote from the report to give honourable members some background evidence from the families themselves that experience these issues in their community. In terms of criminal justice issues, the members have relationships with the police that were questionable. For example, a quote in the report says:

We can't walk down the street as a group without getting stopped, searched and humiliated.

If I am out in the city in the weekend, I guarantee I will get stopped. The most embracing thing is others watching when it happens and giggling at what is happening to me. I just want to have fun and be normal like other young people, but you know they (police) spoil it on you and make you feel different wherever you go.

Another witness said:

We black people get searched all the times; I would say every second day at least. They spot us from a mile. When they spot us, they ask the same questions all the times—What is your name? Where are you going? What have you got on you? It was like they (police) have a vendetta against us.

In terms of experiences of court and legal services, I will quote directly from a 19 year old:

I went to court twice for gathering around shops and police thought we were going to do something illegal and charged us for loitering. Going to court really scared the hell out of me. I had no support on both occasions.

In terms of the juvenile justice area and the corrections area, young people do not feel they have been able to develop any relationship with the police, which causes lots of trust issues. Mental health problems have been quoted in the report as well. This 51-year-old female respondent said this:

The children know that you cannot discipline them the way we used to do in back in Africa. They feel like they have more power than their parents. In school, teachers encourage them to report everything and even to call the police on us. It is easy for children to get away with bad behaviours and that is why they end up doing crimes.

Another mother said:

We have a different culture, and it is hard to fit in with everyone else. It is hard when you don't have a middle ground.

In terms of family violence, a community leader said this:

We know family violence is a major problem in pockets of our communities. It has broken families apart…mothers could not control and raise children alone and that is why they are in trouble with the law. We need to stop this. But we could not do this without culturally sensitive services that would not further ostracise families.

Legal literacy is another major problem. This father said:

I didn't know disciplining children was wrong until I saw the Government removing them from the care of many families in our communities. They took them where they could do anything. Most of them are now homeless and doing crimes.

There is also a lack of trust and help-seeking behaviour within the African communities. This is a quote from a 39-year-old male:

We know some families don't share their problems. They feel shamed and keep everything to themselves. Even when those who talk about family problems don't ask help from police and other services. They have trust issues.

In the areas of discrimination and racism, a 23 year old said:

It doesn't matter whether you have a criminal background or what position you hold in your communities. If you are black, you are watched wherever you go. Even supermarket securities want to watch you closely. I personally feel anxious and unsafe wherever I go out these days.

I think they are enough examples and evidence from families and members in the communities feeling the issues are problems that I need to bring to the attention of this chamber.

The working group identified the need to help at-risk communities enhance their help-seeking behaviour to properly address the effects of pre-migration and post-migration experiences and prevent trauma manifesting in harmful behaviour. I want to thank the ACCSA for taking this really important initiative to put this working group together. The important findings of the report will highlight what we as a society and government should be doing to help address the problems. There are 39 recommendations contained within this report, and I encourage all members to read the report online at the ACCSA website.

I also want, on behalf of the Liberal opposition, to call on the government to allow ACCSA to continue its work with the resources that are required to be effective. The opposition today in the Legislative Council calls on the South Australian government to consider key recommendations and empower ACCSA with resources to implement key priority preventative actions. I encourage all members to support this motion. I commend this motion wholeheartedly to the council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo.