The OECD Factbook compares crime rates across OECD countries. They use measures of crime victimisation from household surveys in 17 countries not official records on crime. The latter involve differences in policy toward registering ‘trivial crime’ between judicial systems and differences in willingness-to-report crimes. The OECD report seems to be based on a UN study – the International Crime Victims Survey - carried out in 2000.
This cross-country study finds Australia to be a high crime country but conclusions are based on data for 2000 when crime rates peaked in Australia. Since that time – partly due to the heroin drought in 2001 - crime rates have fallen strongly. Other indicators too – such as the relatively low homicide rate in Australia suggest that Australia cannot be simply categorised as a ‘high crime country’.
Main OECD results
Australia, England and Wales and the Netherlands had the highest proportion (over 25%) of respondents reporting themselves as having been crime victims in 2000. Rates for Japan, Northern Ireland and Portugal barely exceeded 15%.
High rates of people reporting themselves as victims largely reflect high rates of vehicle-related crimes – particularly vandalism. Thefts from cars are a common source of crime also.
People are particularly fearful of contact crime (robbery, assault and sexual assault). Such crimes are least common in Japan and Portugal. Over 6% of the population experience assaults and threats in Australia and the Great Britain. Australia has one of the highest rates of contact crimes. The incidence of specifically sexual incidents is highest in Australia, Austria and the Netherlands.
Australia also had the second highest proportion of burglaries, and high rates of robberies, car thefts and thefts from cars. The US, which recorded a fall in victimisation rates, was mid-range.
In the Herald Sun, NSW Police Minister Carl Scully labelled the report irrelevant and outdated. He noted: ‘ When I think of the Los Angeles Police Department with 500 murders (a year) and we have 70 and I think of Chicago police with 550 murders a year….I start to raise my eyebrows about how accurate that report is’. ‘And I see it's in the year 2000. It is completely and utterly out of date and irrelevant’.
Don Weatherburn, the Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, also rejects the OECD findings here.
He claimed the report out-of-date and misleading.’Property and violent predatory crime in Australia reached a peak in 2000, due to an epidemic of heroin use that began in the mid-1990s. Since that time, heroin use and heroin-related crime in Australia have fallen sharply. ABS figures show that between 2000 and 2004, the recorded rate of homicide fell 25%, the recorded rate of robbery fell 33%, the recorded rate of burglary fell 33%, the recorded rate of motor vehicle theft fell 40% and the recorded rate of general theft offences fell 23%.”
According to Weatherburn, at present there is no way of knowing how Australia compares with other countries in terms of most categories of crime because the results of the most recent international crime survey have not yet been publicly released. “If the OECD wants to make a practice of comparing crime rates across countries, it should do so on the basis of reliable and up-to-date information. Basing claims about crime in Australia in 2006 on information gathered in 2000 unfairly tarnishes Australia’s reputation.”
I agree. The OECD report does not demonstrate that Australia is a high crime country.