Peter Dutton causes leadership to emerge in a time of stress

19 January 2018 By Richard Dent OAM, CEO, Leadership Victoria

Peter Dutton’s recent comments about a “gang problem” with “Africans” in Melbourne are very unhelpful to the demographic he’s targeting and to Victoria as a whole. Scapegoating a group is not unusual leadership (think Trump and the Mexicans), but it’s also not good leadership.

Perhaps he’s backpedalled somewhat in his subsequent comments, highlighting – completely appropriately – that a tiny minority of young men in a few locations do not represent an entire demographic. But nevertheless his statements are causing very public damage, allowing racists in the community to latch on to his comments to scapegoat an identifiable group, and causing fear and concern in that population and in Victoria more broadly.

But – perhaps perversely – his comments have helped good leadership emerge.

Leadership Victoria is proud of working with African-focused organisations such as the African Think Tank for almost a decade, and many members of the African Australian community have been actively building their leadership capability for years. ALDP

One of LV’s key messages is that “anyone can exercise leadership, anywhere, anytime”, and that’s exactly what’s been happening.

Over the course of the past week, time and again African Australians have been on the nightly news and in our papers and online (notably in the delightfully ironic #africangangs movement). We are seeing individuals like Haileluel Gebre-selassie, Kot Monoah, Zione Walker-Nthenda and many others with a direct or indirect LV connection exercising community leadership in the best possible sense.

The message of these leaders is clear: they are proud to be part of the diverse tapestry of the Australian community and they are proud to exercise leadership and to contribute to a modern, inclusive, increasingly safe Australia.

Criminal behaviours should not be excused, no matter who they are: people who break the law should be legally apprehended, tried, and if guilty punished and rehabilitated. We should support Victoria Police in both their excellent community liaison work and their crime-fighting work. And we should support every organisation whose purpose is to address issues that lead to criminality as well as those who support victims.

If we want swifter, better progress for Australia, then more Australians (regardless of background, ethnicity, ability, gender or religion) will need to engage in civic processes, exercise community leadership at all levels and work to create a diverse and inclusive Australia.

In Victoria all mainstream political parties support our very successful multiculturalism, and we should celebrate the diversity of everyone who helps create a better world through good leadership. At the upcoming Premier’s Gala Dinner in Cultural Diversity Week, the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition will walk together in excellent symbolism of our state’s shared commitment to diversity and inclusion: we should be proud of their leadership in this.

Negative comments by high-profile people who don’t really understand our Victorian multicultural successes are unhelpful, but with good community leadership excellent positive progress can emerge.

After all, anyone can exercise leadership, anywhere, anytime.


Richard Dent is CEO of Leadership Victoria, an independent nonpartisan nonprofit organisation which fosters leadership for swifter, better progress on complex social, economic and environmental issues.