Community safety in Australian Indigenous communities: Service providers’ perceptions

Foreword | The disadvantages faced by Indigenous Australians are well-documented and are the focus of determined efforts by government and non-government agencies throughout Australia. Indigenous justice and safety are priority issues for the Council of Australian Governments and law enforcement. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has contributed to work on closing the gap of Indigenous disadvantage by increasing knowledge about justice and community safety issues affecting Indigenous people. This report on the development of a community safety survey complements the AIC’s recent Australian Crime Commission-funded research on risk factors for Indigenous violent offending and victimisation.

This project arose from a desire to know more about the safety issues that impact on life in Indigenous communities. Specifically, it arose from a need for a greater level of awareness about the behaviours and circumstances that affect community safety and the services available to communities to deal with them. It was important also to capture some of the initiatives being taken by Indigenous Australians to respond to their safety concerns and to identify community priorities and needs.

The perceptions of service providers, who often work with the people affected by safety problems and contribute to resolutions, are a valuable way of building this knowledge. This report shows that while service provider respondents felt safe in most situations, they were concerned about their safety at night and the safety of others in the community, particularly female children and young people. While perceptions of crime and safety do not always align with the realities of risk, other evidence highlights the extent of the work ahead in ensuring that young people are able to pursue their potential free of the impacts of violence and trauma.

While government investments have increased the availability of fundamental services, such as police and schools, challenges remain in making sure that these services are reaching the people who need them most. This report highlights the gaps that exist for Indigenous Australians in being able to make use of available services that can lead to real gains in community safety. Victims of crime need to be confident they can go to police for help without fear of retribution and further victimisation. Children need to be able to go to school and not have their education affected by the consequences of behaviours like family violence, alcohol use and gambling. Beyond government services, this report points to the desire for community-based services targeting specific needs, such as men’s places and community patrols that can play a vital role in preventing unsafe behaviours from occurring or minimise the impacts on victims.

Alongside the research findings detailed in this report, the project has produced a survey questionnaire and methodology that will be available for use by Indigenous organisations, service agencies and policymakers. This report details how these tools were developed through consultation and feedback from the pilot phase for use in an Indigenous community context. Together with the draft guidelines included in the report, these tools can help create an evidence base for developing initiatives that build on the resilience and capacity in Indigenous communities.

Adam Tomison