Local Issues

2011 NOV 21 – Private MembersÕ Business: Crime and Incarceration Rates

PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS: CRIME AND INCARCERATION RATES

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (11:01): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:
   (a) the Australian incarceration rate has risen from 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 1991 to 172 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2010;
   (b) since the Indigenous Deaths in Custody Report was released in 1991, the Indigenous incarceration rate has risen from 1739 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 2303 prisoners per 100,000 adults; and
   (c) an increasing number of Australian children have a parent behind bars; and

(2) encourages governments at all levels to pursue innovative policies to reduce crime and incarceration rates, including: 
   (a) investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime;
  (b) where appropriate, considering alternatives to incarceration such as weekend detention, periodic detention, restorative justice and drug courts;
   (c) employing smart policing strategies, such as using real-time crime statistics to identify and target crime hotspots;
   (d) establishing in-prison education, training and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving family relationships for prisoners with children; and
   (e) implementing randomised policy trials (akin to the 1999 NSW Drug Court randomised trial) to rigorously evaluate the impact of criminal justice interventions.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:37): In debating the motion before the House I want to direct my comments towards one of the key points raised by the member for Fraser—that is, the issue of investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime. As I am sure the member would acknowledge, the motion itself is very broad and is worthy of perhaps a much longer debate in this place. I do commend the member for bringing these issues to the attention of the House and I also acknowledge the previous speaker, who raised some of the complex issues in relation to education, substance abuse and mental health. It is a very complex problem that we are talking about and it would do the House well to revisit it in the weeks and months ahead.

When it comes to crime, obviously prevention is much better than cure, and our efforts to tackle incarceration rates must start before the crime has been committed. Before we even start worrying about some of those other issues in relation to the alternatives to incarceration, we need to do better at preventing the crime from occurring in the first place. Many times in the past I have stood in this place and talked about the issue of street violence and antisocial behaviour and the need for a national approach and more resources to combat the problem.

While policing is primarily a state based issue, we do have a national epidemic of violence and drunkenness which demands a national approach. Across every jurisdiction in Australia there are different regulations around issues such as liquor licensing, different policing methods to combat crime and different penalties for offenders. While I am not standing here advocating a one-size-fits-all approach, I am supportive of a more national strategy to combat the emerging culture of disrespect and the lack of empathy which allows some people—and, I stress, a minority of people—to attack others without any thought of the potentially fatal consequences.

It seems almost fashionable these days to find someone else to blame, but the answer, I believe, to many of the crime problems we face can be found in the home environment. I believe that, as parents, we must take more responsibility for the example we set our children and the boundaries we impose on them. It is very hard for an adult to have a serious conversation with your son or daughter about the responsible consumption of alcohol if suffering from a hangover yourself. Like many people, I enjoy a drink, but we need to break this culture of excessive consumption of alcohol, which I believe is the root cause of the violence, the road trauma and the antisocial behaviour which has become such a blight on our community.

Change is needed in our homes, as I have mentioned, but also at our sporting clubs and at community functions, where we need to demonstrate to young people that you can have a good time without getting rolling drunk. Programs that have been very successful at a local level include the Good Sports initiative, which focuses on responsible consumption of alcohol in a team sport environment, and I think they are very worthy of continued funding support by both state and federal governments. I am a huge supporter of sporting clubs, and I believe that they really do provide the opportunity to help shape our young people through active participation in organised activities such as our surf lifesaving movement, football, netball, basketball, tennis and cricket.

Where this motion talks about investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime, my first thought was to encourage more young people through their involvement in community life through sport and other organised activities. An old friend of mine who passed away a few years ago was a senior sergeant of police in Lakes Entrance: a fellow by the name of Adrian Lalor. He once remarked to me that he had never had any trouble from and never had to arrest any of the kids from the surf lifesaving club. Apart from the fact that the kids, having spent all day volunteering on patrol, were probably too tired to get up to any trouble on the weekend, it also reinforced the point that these young people are being taught how to be part of the community—how they fit in, how they could play a responsible role in community life and how they belong to something which is much bigger than just themselves. I think it is an interesting point in terms of the opportunities for adults in the community, through a sporting club or other community organisation, to provide that mentoring and leadership role to young people and to give them the opportunity to develop their self-esteem, develop their skills and become a responsible part of the community.

Finally, one other point I would like to make in relation to this motion is on the issue of prevention. I want to highlight again the government’s failure to fund more of the closed circuit television cameras in high-risk areas, particularly in my electorate. There have been plenty of applications put forward by communities in my electorate, particularly by the Traralgon community, through the central business district there, which has a high incidence of community crime and antisocial behaviour. The funding applications have been unsuccessful at this stage. Our police do a tremendous job but they cannot be everywhere at once. Although I acknowledge nothing will replace an officer on the beat in terms of that strong visual presence, the closed circuit television cameras can assist in preventing antisocial behaviour and they can also provide strong evidence to assist in securing a conviction when crimes do occur.

I have repeatedly urged the government to provide additional funding for supporting community-based anticrime initiatives and to improve the safety on our streets. I believe that at a local community level we need to work together to encourage people to get actively involved in a range of worthwhile pursuits so they can develop a respect for others and also recognise the importance of taking responsibility for their actions. There is no doubt that the government has an important time to play in building that respect—

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