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Cronulla: finger pointing not the answer

By Jason Falinski - posted Wednesday, 28 December 2005

On Sunday, December 11, the fabric of the Australian ideal was torn. It was not the first time, and it will not be the last. We have learnt from our past that it is in the knitting together of our community, the healing, that real and long lasting progress is made.

One of the many things that Australians have been rightly proud of is the large and successful integration of many peoples, from many lands. Our nation is different for their arrival, as they are, and we are, both better for it. The events of recent weeks seem to cast that success in a more delicate light.

Much of the comment since that time has focused on who is to blame. The uncomfortable truth is there are too many to blame for it to be constructive. If we were to engage in the time honoured tradition of finger pointing, it would keep a genetically enhanced octopus busy for well over a week.


What we know from over three decades of crime epidemics is that context is king. When good people are in bad situations, people don’t win. People will do whatever it takes to survive as Joseph Conrad mapped out in his novel The Heart of Darkness. The most famous exploration of this theme in crime is James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s “Broken Windows” theory.

Kelling was employed by the New York transit authority in the 1980s to advise on cleaning up the system. As Malcolm Gladwell details in his book Tipping Point, crime was rampant on the NYC transit system by the mid 1980s. Police were stretched just trying to hunt down murderers. Kelling’s counter intuitive advice was to spend time and resources getting rid of graffiti - and it worked. William Bratton, who later became the head of NY Police and presided over the largest fall in crime in modern history, extended this crack down to fare evasion.

The results are well documented. Crime in New York City, and on the transit system, fell by over 75 per cent. The people did not change, the economy improved after crime fell, and there was another crack epidemic later in the 1990s as crime continued to fall. Essentially, Bratton, Kelling and Wilson showed that regardless of how reasonable people are, you can’t fix crime unless you fix the environment.

Cronulla is not about the stabbing of two life guards, just as the Rodney King verdict was not the cause of riots in South Central Los Angeles. Such a disproportionate response is not causation. It was a spark next to a large keg of gun powder. The question is how did the keg get there?

The answer is not comfortable.

Welfare policies that encouraged the destruction of households - policies that brought people to this country and gave them nothing to do, and no reason to change the situation; that encouraged the poorest, most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our community to have children they could ill afford much less care for.


Then there were housing policies that for years were used by State ALP governments to literally stack electorates with little thought of the social consequences - which came alive in Macquarie Fields and Redfern earlier this year.

Political dialogue uncoupled from statistical evidence, appealing to often illogical and irrational propositions, left unchecked and unchallenged, whether on radio or in an election campaign.

History has taught us clearly that those who seek to ride the back of a tiger often end up inside it.

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About the Author

Jason Falinski is managing director of CareWell a provider of furniture and equipment to the health sector, and a former national president of the Young Liberal Movement.

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