You might not believe it, but Australia is safer now than a decade ago

By David Donaldson

February 15, 2019

Key points:

  • Large declines for physical assault over the last decade
  • Sexual assault remains steady, the only crime category in the survey not falling

You could be forgiven for thinking Australia is becoming more dangerous.

Some parts of the media — and certain politicians — are happy to give the impression Australia is quickly spinning out of control.

But many personal and property crimes are in significant decline.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ tenth annual Crime Victimisation Survey, released this week, shows rates of certain personal and household crimes in Australia were lower in 2017-18 than 2008-09.

Some of the declines have been quite large — there’s been a national decrease of 23% for physical assault, 33% for threatened assault, and 50% for robbery over the last decade.

The number of survey respondents who said they’d been the victim of physical assault in the previous 12 months dropped from 6.3% to 4.8%. For robberies it fell from 0.6% to 0.3%.

Break-ins have fallen from 3.3% to 2.5%, and motor vehicle theft from 1.1% to 0.6%.

Sexual assault is the only crime included in the survey that has not fallen, having remained steady, with 0.3% of respondents saying they had been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months. The survey also shows that while 50-60% of robberies and physical assaults were reported to police, only around 20% of sexual assaults were.

Alcohol and other substances continue to play a role in assaults, though this has decreased in recent years. The proportion of adults who believed alcohol or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident of physical assault has fallen from 64% to 55% since 2010, when data on that question was first collected. For face-to-face threatened assault, the proportion fell from 57% to 49%. Australians’ consumption of alcohol has been in long-term decline since the 1980s.

A similar proportion of men (2.4%) and women (2.5%) experienced physical assault. Men comprised a significant majority of perpetrators in both cases.

Physical assaults and threatened assaults have fallen for every state and territory over the past decade. The jurisdictions with the highest rates of physical assaults are Northern Territory (3.7%) and Queensland (3.1%). Sitting on 2% was the lowest, Victoria, where the Coalition opposition recently lost a state election campaign based on law and order.

Most types of property crimes have fallen when broken down by state and territory.

The ABS did not break down sexual assault numbers by state, however, as the number of respondents meant the figures would not be statistically robust.

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