Other policies and politics

Trends in crime

Data has the annoying habit of getting in the way of a good story.

So it is with data on crime. There are enough media stories on murders, assaults, car thefts and other crimes to sustain a belief that we are experiencing an unprecedented wave of crime.

To spoil these stories the ABS on Wednesday released its 2021-22 survey of Crime Victimisation. In most categories of crime, including assault and malicious property damage, the trend is downwards. The only category in which there has been an upward trend over the last ten years has been sexual assault. That is not necessarily a bad development, because it may be because of greater awareness of what constitutes sexual assault, or because victims are more willing to report sexual assault.

The ABS provides some breakdown on the victims of assault. Young people, the economically disadvantaged, and people living outside of capital cities are disproportionately represented among victims of physical assault.

Martyn Goddard, in his Policy Post, provides some detailed analysis of trends in crime and imprisonment in Tasmania and Australia generally: Crime levels sink. Prisoner numbers soar. What’s going on?. “Despite the hype from shock-jocks and tabloid newspapers, crime rates have been falling for decades”. But more people are being sent to prison and there are even more strident calls to lock up young offenders.

One of Goddard’s more confronting presentations is a chart of incarceration rates in the world’s 20 richest countries. There are no points for guessing who comes out in first place – the USA by a long shot. But we come out at second place, a little ahead of New Zealand and the UK, and well ahead of other European countries.

Goddard is no enthusiast for the “lock-em-up” approach to youth crime. He argues strongly for the use of youth justice supervision orders. Using the New South Wales system as an example of good practice, he provides strong evidence to support his case. And such interventions are much cheaper than imprisonment.

Trends in school education

There is a raging and polarized argument about teaching methods in schools: should children learn through explicit instruction, or through discovery?

Janet Clinton of the University of Melbourne, Geraldine Doogue’s guest on Saturday Extra, makes the sensible comment that both systems have their place depending on children’s needs. The session – why academic achievement is stagnating in schools – is mainly about the need to respect and reward good teachers, and to address the problems that are causing teachers to leave the profession. It isn’t just about money.

Clinton believes that governments, state and federal, distracted by other matters, have dropped the ball on Gonski reforms.

There is a widening gap between the academic progress of children of parents with a basic university degree and parents who haven’t completed Year 12: by Year 9 those children, on average, have a 4-year difference in education achievement. The path we are on could be one of worsening intergenerational ignorance and an education divide.

What does Britain’s demise mean for Australia?

“Australia hasn’t woken up to the decrepit state of the United Kingdom”.

That’s one of the issues Geraldine Doogue discusses with Stuart Ward, Professor of British Imperial History and author of Untied Kingdom: A Global History of the End of Britain on a Saturday Extra segment: What does 'the end of Britain' mean for Australia?.

It may not mean much actually. It is many years since Australians defined themselves by their “Britishness”. (Doogue and Ward might have acknowledged that many Australians of Irish descent never felt any “Britishness”.) When the UK joined the Common Market in 1973 some Australians saw it as an act of betrayal, but when the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 most Australians simply saw it as something happening a long way away, in a country that has some distant historical relationship to Australia.

Most of their discussion is about the fragmentation of the UK, and the enduring problem the once great and significant country has in dealing with the demise of the British Empire. The imperial symbols and myths are still hanging around, but by now they are quite detached from the reality of the UK in 2023.

Some of the discussion is about Australian constitutional matters, going beyond the specific anachronism of our Constitution specifying a foreign head of state, and into some peculiarly British aspects of our governance.   

Political polling – the gap has narrowed a little

William Bowe’s BludgerTrack, which by now has enough data points to give some hint of trends, suggests that Labor’s two-party-preferred lead is narrowing. The slightly-more-reliable trend in primary vote points to some fall in support for Labor, but no pickup for the Cooalition.

The graph below shows a snapshot of the latest Essential and Resolve Strategic polls, with last year’s election outcome as a reference point.

Both polls suggest that some of Albanese’s net approval has fallen, and the Resolve Strategic poll suggests that Dutton’s personal approval rating has improved, but the gap is still huge.

Adrian Beaumont, writing in The Conversation, notes that Labor’s lead drops in Resolve and Essential polls, but they are still far ahead. The wide gaps in approval and preferred prime minister ratings have likewise closed somewhat but they are still very much in Albanese’s favour.

Beaumont’s article has a few figures relating to polling in New South Wales and Victoria, but those figures do not include any update on polling for the coming New South Wales election. Of more interest about state politics is an article in The Age concerning a post-mortem on the Victorian election last November, conducted by the Liberal Party’s President Greg Mirabella. Like all post-mortems it blames the usual suspects – the losing party leader and the campaign organizers. But it also blames the party’s “relentlessly negative” campaign, and its emphasis on targeting Premier Andrews. Is the federal party, whose sole raison d’etre seems to have been to keep Labor out of office, listening?

David Crowe’s Sydney Morning Herald article on the Resolve Strategic Poll – Albanese’s honeymoon period is over, but Dutton still trails – draws attention to respondents’ views on how well the Coalition and Labor are able to perform in different aspects of public policy – economic management, national security and defence, healthcare and aged care, and education. Only in national security and defence does the Coalition have a lead (35 percent to 32 percent), which may partly explain Albanese’s enthusiasm for AUKUS and his wholehearted support for ASIO’s Mike Burgess in his concerns about foreign spies. Labor’s lead on economic management is slim (36 percent to 32 percent), but that is a huge turnaround on similar polls over recent years which have consistently put the Coalition well ahead on economic management (in the absence of any supporting evidence).

Crowe’s claim that Labor’s honeymoon is over is not really supported by the Resolve Strategic poll. It shows a slip in Labor’s vote from 42 percent to 40 percent, but that’s still way ahead of its election result.