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Outlook Symposium '99 - Director's keynote speech

Media Release

21 March 1999

What's driving crime and where does the road ahead lead?

The following are excerpts from the keynote speech given by Australian Institute of Criminology Director, Dr Adam Graycar, at the opening of the Institute's 3rd National Outlook Symposium on Crime.

Crime is a complex problem that cannot be addressed by simple solutions.

Crime is largely determined by factors outside the criminal justice system, which is why we need to look beyond the system into the economic and social structures that shape it.

We need a whole of government approach to fighting crime. Currently most departments and agencies focus on their own core business.

We also need a whole of community approach. Crime prevention needs to be more embedded all areas of our lives - family support, health, housing, education, employment and town planning.

Each week new sets of conflicting, confusing crime statistics are released.

For example:

  • the rate of armed robbery ranges from 9.5 per 100 000 in Tasmania to 79.3 in NSW;
  • the rate of armed robbery in NSW is three times greater than that in Victoria;
  • from 1993 to 1997 the rate of armed robbery has more than doubled in NSW, increased by 15 per cent in Victoria, and fallen by 26 per cent in South Australia; and
  • assault has increased by 44 per cent in NSW in the past three years, but by less than three per cent in SA (which has the highest state assault rate) and Victoria (which has the lowest rate).

Can these statistics be taken at face value?

These very great discrepancies are confusing. But we do know that the fear of crime is very real.

A recent survey showed that only around 20 per cent of people felt safe on public transport at night, around 40 per cent felt safe walking or jogging at night, and 80 per cent felt safe in their own home at night.

But most places have no serious crime.

Crime has a tendency to occur in certain "hot spots". Some shops have no robberies while a few have many. Even in high burglary neighbourhoods, most residences have no burglaries.

The main business of criminal justice is not serious crime. Most crimes are at the other end of the spectrum, punished with fines or infringement notices.

For too long in Australia, limited data has fed the crime debate.

Australian crime prevention programs are hindered by a lack of reliable Australian evidence which shows what works and what doesn't. What works in Pittsburgh or Pimlico will not necessarily work in Parramatta.

Ironically, the Australian Institute of Criminology has better access to overseas data than to Australian data.

The Australian Institute of Criminology proposes to establish a national crime modelling centre.

Too little, too late.

Crime reduction is about:

  • reducing the supply of motivated offenders,
  • making crime more difficult to commit, and
  • keeping one step ahead by anticipating new crimes - especially in today's high-tech world.

Too often our criminological enterprise focuses on reducing crime after it has been committed. We have not been sufficiently future-oriented. Rather than relying on hindsight we need to be better at prediction.

We need information, innovation and partnerships.

We need new, innovative early intervention programs and crime reduction strategies, like the drug courts.

We need to make a stronger financial commitment to restorative justice - reintegrative shaming, community-based corrections and community policing.

We need to move beyond the traditional boundaries between the public and private sector, between the three tiers of government, between national borders, and between the three elements of our criminal justice system - the police, courts and corrections.

We need to develop connected thinking and partnerships for integrating activities and sharing information.

This National Outlook Symposium on Crime provides a unique opportunity to move in the right direction. No other forum considers such a cross-section of controversial issues and canvasses crime prevention options which go beyond the traditional.

The National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Australia is being held at The Rydges Hotel, Canberra, 22-23 March.