The man responsible for community safety and multiculturalism in Scott Morrison's new ministry has pledged to work closely with Islamic, Sudanese and other key communities but is making no apology for leading the charge against "African gangs" in his home city.
Liberal MP Jason Wood, a supporter of Peter Dutton in last year's leadership coup, will now work underneath Mr Dutton in the Home Affairs portfolio as assistant minister for customs, community safety and multicultural affairs.
While Mr Wood was yet to be sworn in and receive his first briefings, he said he intended to focus on nationwide versions of integration and intervention programs that had already succeeded in his own multicultural electorate of La Trobe, in outer-eastern Melbourne.
"When you say 'there's nothing to see, nothing to worry about', you then can't go and get funding for all these programs," Mr Wood told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday as he prepared to join Mr Morrison's outer ministry.
"If you want someone in this role to say, 'everything's fine, everything's dandy' – I'm not the guy for the job."
Amid raised eyebrows within multicultural groups about Mr Wood's appointment, the chair of the South Sudanese Community Association of Victoria, Achol Marial, told The Guardian the MP's rhetoric on African gangs was "quite disturbing".
As recently as last month, Mr Wood used his Facebook page to rail against "African youth gangs" who were "out of control" and demanded the deportation of "foreign-born thugs".
Mr Wood said he had "no regrets" about calling out African gang crime, and claimed many members of the Sudanese and other migrant communities had applauded his efforts and even joined his re-election campaign.
"They say: you're tough, you call this out," he said. "They look at us [the Liberals] as the ones who can get them jobs. My end goal is to keep the kids in school, keep them active in sport and recreation, and you have to get jobs. English, training and jobs."
Mr Wood said his role was to listen to the concerns of multicultural communities and respond accordingly. But equally, "if fifth-generation Australians have concerns about integration and how it works, that's obviously my concern as well".
He said integration was about more than learning English. "Most migrants when they come here don't know what it means to be Australian. It's more [about] making the effort to get multicultural groups together and mix with the other more traditional, sporting groups.
"If you're here and you're doing your absolute utmost to get involved in the Australian community, it's our job to do everything we can to help you get a job and be part of that."
Mr Wood did not resile from his view – repeatedly expressed on Facebook – that criminal non-citizens should be deported, and doubted whether such "thugs" could be rehabilitated during incarceration.
"You put these guys in jail and they don't come out clean shaven and ready to work, they come out ready to go to the next level in the world of crime," he said.
"If you're on a visa here and you commit a carjacking or home invasion … I don't care where you're from, if that's what you do, you go home."
Mr Wood said he wanted to prioritise early intervention in communities where young people are vulnerable to unemployment, boredom and crime. He also wanted to work with other portfolio ministers on programs to tackle domestic violence and bullying at schools.
Mohammad Al-Khafaji, chief executive of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, said he hoped Mr Wood's appointment would see him deepen his connections with a broad range of migrant groups.
"We know that migrants are not over-represented in crime statistics. We also understand that focusing on specific ethnic groups when discussing these issues is counter-productive," he said.
"The best way to combat crime in modern Australia is to address the disadvantage and disenfranchisement that often drives it, regardless of race or religion."