Is Crime In Australia Getting Worse?

"I’ve spoken to a lot of Australians who don’t believe they are safe on the streets anymore… We’ve had bombs and stabbings, it is happening. You see murders every night on our TV. The situation is growing worse and I know in Sydney and Melbourne the police won’t go into certain suburbs."

These are the words of former federal MP Pauline Hanson, who is back on the campaign trail for a Senate seat in Queensland. So is crime in Australia really getting worse? We take a look at the facts.

Guns picture from Shutterstock

Checking the source

We asked Pauline Hanson’s office to provide a source to support her statements. Her spokesperson said by email that:

Research shows that Australians' perceptions of crime and justice aren’t always in line with what crime statistics show. But rather than basing judgements about crime trends on a particular incident or spate of incidents, or on how crime is portrayed in the news, it’s important to look at the trends for all crime – or, at the very least, all reported crime.

Drawing on statistics from the past 15 years, we can fact check many of Hanson’s claims – although not those based only on anecdotal evidence.

Has the murder rate in Australia gone up?

No. According to the national recorded crime statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the murder rate in 2000 was 1.6 per 100,000 of population. In 2014 (the most recent year available), the murder rate was just 1.0 per 100,000 of population.

What about attempted murder? That’s declined too. According to the ABS, in 2000, the recorded rate of attempted murder was 2.0 per 100,000 of population. In 2014 the recorded rate of attempted murder was 0.6 per 100,000 of population.

What about assault?

The ABS does not publish long-term data on recorded rates of assault. However, it has conducted a representative sample survey of the Australian population over the last few years and asked Australians about personal experiences of crime.

One of the questions in the survey asked respondents whether, in the last 12 months, they had been victims of assault or threatened assault.

The ABS figures suggest that assault is becoming less prevalent, not more prevalent.

In 2008-9, 3.1% of Australians over the age of 15 said they had been victims of assault in the last 12 months. All the figures since then have been lower.

In 2014-15 (the most recent year available) 2.1% of respondents said they had been victims of assault.

The story is much the same for threatened assault. In 2008-9, 3.9% of respondents said they had been threatened with assault in the preceding 12 months. All the figures since then have been lower. In the last survey the ABS estimated that only 2.6% of those surveyed had been threatened with assault in the preceding 12 months.

What about bombs, stabbings and police “no go” areas?

There are no national data on the number of bombings, so I can’t answer that question with any statistical evidence.

As to stabbings, according to the ABS, since 2002 both the number and proportion of knives used during the commission of a serious crime like murder, attempted murder, sexual assault or robbery have also declined.

There is no official empirical evidence that police “won’t go into certain suburbs”. Hanson’s evidence to support this point is anecdotal only.

What about other crimes?

National crime statistics show that since the year 2000 the recorded rate of:

  • break and enter has declined by 64%,
  • motor vehicle theft has declined by 69%,
  • robbery (the classic “street” crime) has declined by 63%; and
  • general stealing offences have declined by 37%.

But some crimes have gone up. We have a growing problem with methamphetamine use. We have a growing problem with identity theft.

Public perceptions of crime and justice are commonly out of kilter with the facts. Surveys conducted by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show that most people think crime is increasing when it is not.

Verdict

Pauline Hanson’s statement about violent crimes – including bombings, stabbings and murders – “growing worse” is wrong on the most recent official data.

Some crimes – methamphetamine use and identity theft – are growing worse. But there is no official empirical evidence to support Hanson’s assertion that police won’t go into particular suburbs.

As for people believing they don’t feel safe on Australian streets, surveys show that most people think crime is increasing when it is not.


Review

This is a sound analysis that looks at longer-term national crime trends to determine if the above statements are correct. The crime categories mentioned have, in fact, declined nationally.

More recent data also supports this. In New South Wales, the number of incidents and rate of homicide have declined over the last seven years up to and including December 2015. In Victoria, there was a 5% decrease in the homicide rate in 2014-2015, and the number of homicide incidents reported has been stable over the last two years up to and including December 2015.

While some areas in the community may require a different policing response due to perceived threat levels to policing operations, it would be surprising to find that there are police “no go” zones in Australia.

I agree with the author’s verdict. – Terry Goldsworthy


Don Weatherburn, Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research; Adjunct Professor, School of Social Science, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


Comments

    I live in the heart of bikie territory and it feels like a safe and strong community with most hoodlums being too scared to try anything too stupid because of the repercussions.
    Most charity and public social events are (from what iv seen) cooperative events between local law enforcement and local bikies which is always a great feeling.

    Sydney CBD is a different story, no one cares and I dont feel remotely safe

      Sydney CBD is perfectly safe, except maybe george street at around 2am every now and then...

        20 stitchers, 1 broken bone over 2 years begs to differ.
        What happened to the good ol' days when the freaks only came out at night...

          It depends when you go to the CBD and where you go. Obviously your risk increases on a Friday or Saturday night and if you go into areas with low levels of lighting, foot traffic and not much natural surveillance. Be street smart and you will be fine I mean I have been to some very dangerous cities in my lifetime that makes Sydney look like the safest place on Earth.

    Ah yes, facts. You can use "facts" to prove almost anything these days...

      Yeah! who needs facts eh? What has facts ever done for us anyways??

        Statistics are a wonderful way of distorting the truth.
        Say you have an area with 250,000 people and there are 4 murders. That works out to 1.6 per 100,000 as the article mentions.
        Fast forward to today, the same area now holds 500,000 people and there are 5 murders. According to statistics, 5 is LESS THAN 4 because you now have "only" 1.0 murders per 100,000.

    I've had more negative experiences with the Police.

    "But some crimes have gone up. We have a growing problem with methamphetamine use." that is not a crime, that is a personal abuse issue...

      That can lead to crime. Assaults, thefts, road accidents. When it affects other people it's no longer a personal issue. Same as alcohol abuse and all the others.
      And using or possessing methamphetamine is illegal so at its most basic level yes it is a crime.

    A community in fear is a community controlled. We are living in the safest times ever.

    It's all about perception really. Media is all encompassing these days, and seem to go a long way to making it look like we're days away from complete anarchy in Australia.

      As with motor vehicle fatalities. There are dips and peaks but the overall trend is lowering. The police/revenue off will say compared to 20 years ago there is X many more deaths. But when you factor in the difference of amount of vehicles on the road. It's less.

    Here in WA we've had close to 18 consecutive months of double digit percentage crime increases. Since the conservative Government game to power 8 years ago the prison population has increased by 66%.

    The previous WA Government decriminalised possession of small amounts of drugs and people were referred to counselling services or had to pay a small fine and this lead to a decline in drug use. As soon as the conservatives got back in they said this "sends the wrong message" and reverted back to criminal sanctions which has been one of several causes resulting in a significant increase in drug use.

    "Tough on crime" may be a vote winner but it doesn't work. Now the taxpayer has to fork out ever increasing amounts of money to fund an ineffective and over utilised criminal justice system. The money would be better spent on social services to address the issues that cause people to turn to drugs and criminality in the first place.

    Law enforcement is a business and like any other their success depends on strong revenues. They have a vested interest in making people feel unsafe so they vote for Governments who campaign on a "tough on crime" platform.

    Last edited 10/06/16 2:09 pm

    Pauline Hanson speaks from her "feels", not facts.

    While she spoke to 15 to 19 year old women afraid of being out at night, she didn't provide any comparative data about how other generations of 15 to 19 year old women felt going out at night. Unfortunately, women have always felt less safe going out at night (for good reason). Indicating that this is "evidence" of crime going up is problematic. Feeling unsafe is not a measure of actual crimes committed.

    The news is also a bad place to assess crime levels. A crime that is not committed does not get reported on the news. Things are disproportionate on the news. Based on nightly news stories, all aeroplanes must crash, because you never hear a story about one that takes off safely.

    As for police feeling unsafe going into some suburbs, how does this compare to how they felt in the past? Have they always felt unsafe going into those suburbs? Maybe.

    Saturate the public with terror stories and we feel unsafe because of the threat of terrorism. Tell people often enough that your a great economic manager whilst the deficit balloons and they believe you. You only have to tell us often enough and we end up believing everything we hear.

    Pauline Hanson’s statement about violent crimes – including bombings, stabbings and murders – “growing worse” is wrong on the most recent official data.You spelled "grossly inaccurate and self-serving" incorrectly.

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