The flyer was promoting Liberal candidate Darryl Taylor in the safe Labor seat of Keysborough. (ABC News)
A Liberal Party flyer depicting hooded youths and warning against gangs in the suburbs has been heavily criticised as drumming up racist fear and dog whistling.
In a sign of how hard the 2018 state election will be fought, the Liberal Party has handed out the flyers in a community in Melbourne’s south-east, Noble Park — which has an African population — saying only the Coalition will tackle gang crime.
Fears about gang crime — sometimes linked to youths of African background — do exist in some pockets of the community.
But the image on the flyer is being attacked because critics say it was whipping up unnecessary fear and targeting African boys.
The photo is the same as a one that appeared in a London newspaper in 2012.
The pamphlet is promoting Liberal Party candidate Darrel Taylor in the safe Labor seat of Keysborough held by Attorney-General Martin Pakula.
Mr Pakula called the ads “disgraceful” and said the photographs were designed to “try and frighten my constituents”.
“I expect this is a sign of the things to come — a nasty and bigoted campaign by Matthew Guy and the Liberal Party,” Mr Pakula said.
Mr Taylor said he would not be handing out the flyers again due to some of the concerns raised, but he did not think the material was racially based.
He said the flyer was produced and endorsed by Liberal Party headquarters and that inquiries should be directed there.
But Mr Taylor did say he would continue to campaign against gang violence, regardless of a person’s background.
A Liberal Party spokesperson said it would continue to campaign on crime issues.
“The only people complaining are those who deny there’s a violent youth gang problem,” the spokesperson said.
“Violent crime is one of the biggest issues that is worrying Victorians and we aren’t going to stop talking about it and our minimum mandatory sentencing policy.”
Helen Kapalos, the Victorian Multicultural Commission chair, was asked on ABC Radio Melbourne if she thought the flyer was dog whistling.
She replied “it appears to be, and unfortunately so”.
‘It was unconscionable’
Ms Kapalos said “there doesn’t have to be” a specific reference to the African community for the flyer to send a negative perception about that community.
“A big part of my role is interfacing with the African community. And what I see does not correlate with pictures like that, does not correlate with stereotypes like that,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“Under the banner of crime, law and order [it’s] painting a very undesirable … not just picture, but feeling and sentiment which I don’t think obviously depicts the whole community.”
Mr Pakula called the ads “disgraceful’ and said it was a sign of things to come in the state election. (ABC News)
The Liberals’ shadow police minister Edward O’Donohue was not backing away from the sentiments expressed in the flyer, saying there was a serious problem with gangs in Melbourne.
“I’m not joining the dots. What we are concerned about is gang violence and gang behaviour by anyone no matter where they are from, or their background,” Mr O’Donohue said.
“This is about making the community safer.”
A spokeswoman for the advocacy group Colour Code, Roj Amedi, said when she saw the flyer she was totally taken aback and thought it may have even been fake.
But she quickly confirmed it was Liberal Party material.
“It was unconscionable. I couldn’t believe a person aspiring to government would actively drum up fear,” Ms Amedi told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“I think the people that will be actually harmed are young black kids.”