CANBERRA (XINHUA) - Race relations in Australia are at their worst level in years, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has said.
Mr Soutphommasane, whose five-year term in office ends in August, said that panic over African gangs in Melbourne had prompted the worst prejudice and racism he has witnessed during his tenure.
"The panic about African youth crime has undoubtedly done significant damage to racial harmony in Melbourne and Australian society more generally," he told Fairfax Media on Monday (April 23).
"There is never anything to be gained from focusing excessively on ethnicity and race around discussions around crime - there is very little to be gained from having race-based panic."
Mr Soutphommasane said that federal politicians were exacerbating the discord for their own personal gain.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton drew criticism in 2017 when he claimed that Melbournians were avoiding going out after dark for fear of being targeted by African gangs.
"The most dangerous thing for politicians to do is to single out a particular community and direct hostility towards them," Mr Soutphommasane said.
"If you were to delve into criminal offending and look at the causes behind that, social and economic disadvantage is a much larger driving force behind offending than race or ethnicity," he added.
"But if you look at the reporting and coverage in recent months, that is not the impression you would get."
Data released by Victoria's Crime Statistics Agency earlier this month revealed that 84 per cent of chronic criminal offenders in the state were born in Australia.
Overall, Victoria's crime rate dropped 9.9 per cent in 2017.