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Youth gangs in Australia - we're not L.A.

Media Release

13 November 2000

Media release from Senator, the Hon Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Justice and Customs

"Contrary to what some people think, Australia has not got a chronic youth gang problem" said the Minister for Justice and Customs Senator Amanda Vanstone. Senator Vanstone was today releasing a trends and issues paper from the Australian Institute of Criminology Young people and gangs.

"There is no evidence that criminal gangs, like the colour gangs in Los Angeles, exist in Australia," Senator Vanstone said.

"Young people sometimes commit crime in Australia, no one can deny that. But the fact is that the vast proportion of crime committed by young people in this county is opportunistic in nature. Young peoples' crimes are often street level crimes like shoplifting, and small scale drug dealing. Just because young people hang around socially in groups, does not mean that organised gangs are running rife."

"Young people's crime in Australia is not highly organised, it is not entrepreneurial, and it is therefore unlike the experience in the United States."

"Many young people report their illegal behaviour as a thrill-seeking exercise prompted by boredom and peer pressure."

"Turf is not a distinctive feature of young people's gangs in Australia."

"It is more accurate see youth gangs in Australia as loose friendship groups, who are visible because of they routinely congregate around public areas like shopping centres."

"The media have a role to play in providing reliable, accurate information about young people and in minimising reporting of youth activities in a stereotyped manner."

The paper from the Australian Institute of Criminology Young people and gangs also highlights the importance of:

  • community and school education to reduce violence between groups of young people;
  • concerted action against school bullying;
  • developing constructive methods of managing public areas so that young people can use areas like shopping centres safely without being needlessly harassed; and
  • action to increase employment in disadvantaged communities.