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Political brawl over Aboriginal gang -

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ELEANOR HALL: In South Australia, the Government and the Opposition are trading insults over what
should be done to control an Aboriginal gang.

Yesterday, as some gang members appeared in court, the state's Attorney-General called them "pure
evil" and beyond rehabilitation.

Today the shadow Attorney-General took her own rhetorical swipe.

But a senior Adelaide criminologist says all the politicians are doing is encouraging the gang
members by giving them greater celebrity.

Michael Vincent has our report.

MICHAEL VINCENT: South Australia's current marketing pitch to the world is that it's a "brilliant
blend" - a place of culture and ideas.

But the state goes to the polls in five months and a law and order debate has broken out in
Adelaide.

MICHAEL ATKINSON: We are dealing with an evil phenomenon. We are dealing with a criminal gang,
gunmen, who go round in gangs hitting soft targets. This is about pure evil.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.

Not to be outdone, his Opposition counterpart Vickie Chapman.

VICKIE CHAPMAN: These are the children who are really little turds, let's be honest, they really
are difficult children and they have got all sorts of hideous backgrounds and they're nasty little
pieces of work.

MICHAEL VINCENT: And finally a talkback caller this morning on ABC local radio.

TALKBACK CALLER: The citizens of Adelaide, and I know in my own area, have been absolutely
terrorised, really, really terrorised. Now surely this gang is a mob of terrorists.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Members of this single gang have been accused of a five-week rampage that included
a dozen hold-ups and several home invasions.

Some of them are alleged to have taken part not long after being released from jail.

But South Australia has had some gruesome mass murderers in its time. If this gang of alleged
stick-up artists is "pure evil", how would those other criminals compare?

The Attorney-General was not backing away from his comments on ABC local radio this morning.

MICHAEL ATKINSON: They're using guns, they're bashing people with the butt of the gun, they're
putting their exploits up on Facebook and boasting about it, they have no conception that what
they're doing is wrong - yes they're evil.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But the Opposition has seized on his rhetoric, pointing out that the gang will
just add that to their webpage promoting their exploits.

VICKIE CHAPMAN: Worried about what's on Facebook now? This will be a badge of honour. This won't
resolve the problem. These are kids who are seriously disconnected, they're out there causing havoc
in the community and inciting fear in the general community and they do need to be treated. There's
no question about that and included in that is a penalty.

But having a piece of legislation which keeps them in there for two weeks longer or two months
longer of a sentence is not going to make a scrap of difference.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Dr Allan Perry has been a criminal law specialist at Adelaide University for 33
years.

He says publicity will just encourage the gang members.

ALLAN PERRY: Yeah look, I think it's understandable that people can both be frustrated and fearful
about this kind of behaviour but to talk in those sort of emotive ways doesn't improve the
situation at all. I'm afraid all it does is reinforce the extremely inefficient punishment paradigm
that has characterised the correctional system in South Australia for a very long time.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Does it also play into the hands of this gang and make them feel like they're more
notorious?

ALLAN PERRY: I certainly think that publicity given to it encourages them and for senior government
officials and Opposition officials to come out in this sort of way, yeah I think increases the
sense of celebrity that they feel and in that way, you know, encourages them and it certainly can't
be seen to be done for any sort of effective reason. It's been done purely for political reasons,
which is what so much of criminal justice policy is underpinned by and why overall it's so
ineffective.

MICHAEL VINCENT: South Australia goes to the polls on the 20th March next year.

ELEANOR HALL: Michael Vincent with our report.