Safe, but scared. How Victoria became a state of fear
There’s something weird in the crime section of the report on government services released on Thursday.
The proportions of Victorians who feel “safe” walking at night has dived from 50 to 45 per cent in 2016-17. The proportion of NSW residents who feel safe has also dived, but from 54 to 49 per cent. The figures are for 2016-17. Victoria is now easily the most scared state in the nation, suddenly even more fearful than the traditionally scared states of Western Australia and Northern Territory.
The proportion of NSW locals who feel safe in their own homes at night remains unchanged at 90 per cent, but the proportion of Victorians who feel safe at home has dropped from 87 to 79 per cent, making Victorians now also the most scared on this measure, sharing the honour with Northern Territorians.
The (dated) figures for actual crime released in the Productivity Commission report show an increase in assaults per 100,000 Victorians during 2015-16, but to nowhere near to the level in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Victoria is far from Australia’s most dangerous state on the figures published, but Victorians seem to think it is.
It’s understandable. We’re more attuned to changes than absolute levels. The more dangerous states are no more dangerous, while the not particularly dangerous state of Victoria has become more dangerous. And the newspapers, especially the most tabloid of them, have been scaring Victorians for months.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton lent legitimacy to their campaign when he said Victorians were “scared to go out to restaurants”, a claim he might have clarified by saying that the risk of assault in Victoria (2490 assaults per 100,000 people) is little more than the Australian average (2420 per 100,000 people).
It’ll doubtless lead to more police. Victoria already has more than NSW (297 per 100,000 residents compared to 256) without noticeably better outcomes.
NSW residents are more law abiding when it comes to seatbelts (only 2 per cent drive without them compared to 5.6 per cent) and less law abiding when it comes to speed (61 per cent drive more than 10 km/hilometres per hour over the speed limit compared to 53 per cent).
The most lawless part of Australia by far is the Northern Territory. One in 12 of its drivers drive without seatbelts and one in nine drive over the alcohol limit, compared to one in 17 in NSW and Victoria. The Territory has almost twice the rate of assaults as Victoria and more than twice the ratio of police: an extraordinary 732 per 100,000 residents.
An outsized proportion of the Territory is in prison: 898 in every 100,000 adults, an imprisonment rate comparable with the United States. Western Australia is the next-highest with one-third the number: 320 prisoners per 100,000 adults. NSW sits on the Australian average at 215. Victoria has Australia’s lowest imprisonment rate: 140 per 100,000, a distinction it shares with Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.
Indigenous Australians are far more likely than others to be imprisoned, especially in Western Australia, which has an even higher Indigenous imprisonment rate than the Northern Territory with 3000 in every 100,000 Indigenous adults behind bars. Victoria’s Indigenous imprisonment rate is Australia’s lowest apart from Tasmania’s.
Detention of Indigenous youth is also lower in Victoria than anywhere else, at 190 per 100,000 young people, compared to 360 in NSW and an extraordinary 600 in Western Australia, a rate that exceeds the Territory’s 400.
Victoria treats its prisoners better than other states, allowing more than 80 per cent of them to work and 35 per cent to take part in education or training. It gives them an average of 11 hours per day out of cells. On each of these measures it does better than NSW, and on access to work, for prisoners it leads the nation.
Victoria trumps NSW in other respects. It spends more per resident on aged care. It spends more on aged home support, and it warehouses far fewer old people in hospitals while they are waiting for aged care places. It provides more access to disability support services and much more respite support for carers of people with disabilities. It is quicker at investigating and substantiating claims of child abuse and it places more of the children it takes out of home with relatives, the most in Australia, both Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
But it spends less on social housing than NSW and less per tenant. Its public housing is more overcrowded. Conversely, it spends more on support for the homelessness, especially on help with domestic violence.
The staged release of the Productivity Commission’s mega report continues next week with comparisons on health, childcare and education.
Expect to hear a lot (too much) in the next few days about Australia. The truth is that we are a collection of states, some of which do things well and others badly. It is only by examining the textures of what we’ve tried, the successes and failures, that we can make use of what we’ve done and do better.
In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald