Crime in Australia

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Crime in Australia is managed by various law enforcement bodies (federal and state-based police forces and local councils), the federal and state-based criminal justice systems and state-based correctional services.

Law enforcement in Australia is one of the three major components of the country's justice system, along with courts and corrections. There are law enforcement officers employed by all three levels of government – federal, state / territory, and local.

Judiciary of Australia

The judiciary of Australia comprises judges who sit in federal courts and courts of the States and Territories of Australia. The High Court of Australia sits at the apex of the Australian court hierarchy as the ultimate court of appeal on matters of both federal and State law.

Punishment in Australia

Punishment in Australia arises when an individual has been convicted of breaking the law through the Australian criminal justice system. Australia uses prisons, as well as community corrections. The death penalty has been abolished, and corporal punishment is no longer used. Before the colonisation of Australia by Europeans, Indigenous Australians had their own traditional punishments, some of which are still practised.


The Department of Home Affairs oversees federal law enforcement, national security (including cyber security, transport security, criminal justice, emergency management, multicultural affairs, immigration and border-related functions). It comprises the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre and the Australian Institute of Criminology as of February 2019. [1] Each state and territory runs its own police service.

The Department of Home Affairs is the Australian Government interior ministry with responsibilities for national security, law enforcement, emergency management, border control, immigration, refugees, citizenship, and multicultural affairs. The portfolio also includes federal agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The Home Affairs portfolio reports to the Minister for Home Affairs The Hon. Peter Dutton MP and is led by Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo.

National security defense and maintenance of a state through use of all powers at the states disposal

National security refers to the security of a nation state, including its citizens, economy, and institutions, and is regarded as a duty of government.

Transit police are a specialized police agency or unit employed by a common carrier, which could be a transit district, railroad, bus line, other transport carrier, or the state. Their mandate is to prevent and investigate crimes committed against the carrier or by or against passengers or other customers of the carrier, or those committed on the carrier's property.

The national justice system is overseen by the Attorney-General's Department (Australia), with each state and territory having its own equivalent.

Attorney-Generals Department (Australia) Australian government department

The Attorney-General's Department is a department of the federal government of Australia responsible for law and justice.

Prison services are run independently by correctional services department in each state and territory.

Crime statistics are collected on a state basis and then collated and further analysed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Between 2008–09 and 2017–18 the national victimisation rate decreased for personal crime in all categories except sexual assault (which remained steady), and also all household crimes selected in the national statistics. Approximately 5.0% (966,600) of Australians aged 15 years and over experienced personal crime. [2]

There are several methods for the measuring of crime. Public surveys are occasionally conducted to estimate the amount of crime that has not been reported to police. Such surveys are usually more reliable for assessing trends. However, they also have their limitations and generally don't procure statistics useful for local crime prevention, often ignore offenses against children and do not count offenders brought before the criminal justice system.

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australias principal government institution in charge of statistics and census data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is the independent statistical agency of the Government of Australia. The ABS provides key statistics on a wide range of economic, population, environmental and social issues, to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community.

Law enforcement

Law enforcement in Australia is served by law enforcement officers under the control of federal government, states and territories and local agencies. A number of state, territory and federal agencies also administer a wide variety of legislation related to white-collar crime. Police are responsible for the administration of criminal law. Sheriffs and bailiffs in each state and territory are responsible for the enforcement of the judgments of the courts exercising civil law (common law) jurisdictions. The various state police forces are responsible for enforcing state law within their own states, while the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are responsible for the enforcement of and investigation of crimes against Commonwealth law which applies across the whole country.[ citation needed ]

Government of Australia federal democratic administrative authority of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.

States and territories of Australia first-level subdivision of Australia

The states and territories are the first-level administrative divisions of the Commonwealth of Australia. They are the second level of government in Australia, located between the federal and local government tiers.

Local government in Australia is the third tier of government in Australia administered by the states and territories, which in turn are beneath the federal tier. Local government is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia and two referenda in the 1970s and 1980s to alter the Constitution relating to local government were unsuccessful. Every state government recognises local government in their respective constitutions. Unlike Canada or the United States, there is only one level of local government in each state, with no distinction such as cities and counties.


Prison services

Immigration detention centres

In addition to the standard prisons run by the states (and not included in prisoner statistics), the Department of Home Affairs also operates a separate system of Australian immigration detention facilities to detain non-citizens who have breached the terms of or lack a visa. [3] Some of these immigration detention centres are used to indefinitely detain [4] asylum seekers and refugees, often without trial and in many cases for several years. [4]

Crime and crime prevention since colonisation


During the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, large numbers of convicts were transported to the various Australian penal colonies by the UK Government. [5] One of the primary reasons for the British settlement of Australia was the establishment of a penal colony to alleviate pressure on their overburdened correctional facilities. Over a period of eighty years, more than 165,000 British convicts were transported to Australia. [6] Discipline was poor among the early convicts, with high rates of theft, physical and sexual assault. Law enforcement was initially the preserve of the New South Wales Marine Corps, which accompanied the First Fleet. Australia's first civilian crime prevention force was established in August 1789, comprising a twelve-man nightwatch authorised to patrol the settlement at Sydney Cove and with powers "for the apprehending and securing for examination" anyone suspected of "felony, trespass or misdemeanour." [7]

Aboriginal massacres

From the earliest days of settlement at Sydney Cove, settlers clashed with the indigenous peoples. Governor Arthur Phillip himself gave ex-convicts muskets which were utilised to shoot at Aborigines in the area, and also deployed soldiers to their allotted areas, who "dispersed" about 50 Aborigines. [8] Hidden or sanctioned massacres continued through to the 20th century, the last recorded being in 1928 at Coniston massacre in Western Australia.

Bushrangers (1788-1820s)

Bushrangers were originally escaped convicts in the early years of the British settlement of Australia who used the Australian bush as a refuge to hide from the authorities. By the 1820s, the term "bushranger" had evolved to refer to those who took up "robbery under arms" as a way of life, using the bush as their base.

Bushranging thrived during the gold rush years of the 1850s and 1860s when the likes of Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and John Gilbert led notorious gangs in the country districts of New South Wales. These "Wild Colonial Boys", mostly Australian-born sons of convicts, were roughly analogous to British "highwaymen" and outlaws of the American Old West, and their crimes typically included robbing small-town banks and coach services. In other infamous cases, such as that of Dan Morgan, the Clarke brothers, and Australia's best-known bushranger, Ned Kelly, numerous policemen were murdered. The number of bushrangers declined due to better policing and improvements in rail transport and communication technology, such as telegraphy. Although bushrangers appeared sporadically into the early 20th century, most historians regard Kelly's capture and execution in 1880 as effectively representing the end of the bushranging era.


Civil disturbances and prison riots, have occurred throughout the history of European settlement in Australia, a selection of which follows:

21st century statistics

The Australian Institute of Criminology hosts an interactive gateway to statistics and information on Australian crime and justice issues, called Crime Statistics Australia. This provides the easiest public access to statistics showing all aspects of crime in Australia, including death in custody, offender and victim statistics, types of crime, drug use, prisons and criminal courts. [9]

Crime rates


The number of offenders proceeded against by police during 2016–2017 increased by 1% from the previous year to approximately 414,000. [10]

In 2016–2017, the offender rate, which is the number of offenders in the population of Australia, increased slightly from 1.98% to 2%. The youth offender rate decreased for the seventh consecutive year in 2016–17; between 2009–10 and 2016–17, the rate fell from 3,339 to 2,330 offenders per 100,000 persons aged 10 to 17. [11]

The most common type of offence in 2016-17 was illicit drug offences (20%), with sexual assault and related offences increasing by 3%, being the sixth successive annual increase and a total increase of 40%. [10]


Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that during the 2009/10 year police took action against 375,259 people, [12] up by 4.8 percent from 2008/09 figures. [12] Young offenders aged 10 to 19 comprised about 29 percent of the total offender population across Australia. [12] In the 2009/10 financial year, 84,100 women had police action taken against them across Australia, up by six percent compared with the previous year. [12] 290,400 men had police action taken against them in 2009/10, an annual increase of 4 percent. [12] About 30 percent of the women were accused of theft, whereas the most common principal offence for men was intention to cause injury and matters related to public order. [12]

Declining homicide rate

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of homicide victims across Australia decreased from 453 victims to 414 victims (down 39 victims or 9%). The murder victimisation rate was 0.8%. [13]

Between the 1989-1990 and 2013-2014 statistical years, the national homicide rate decreased from 1.8 per 100,000 people to 1 per 100,000. [14] There were 238 homicide incidents in Australia in 2013-14 compared with 307 in 1989-90. [15] From the National Australian Homicide Monitoring program report 2012: "The homicide rate has continued to decrease each year, since 1989-90. The periods 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 are the lowest homicide rate since data collection began in 1989". [16]

Prison statistics

Prisoner statistics 2000-present can be found on the Australian Bureau of Statistics page for 4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia. [17]


Between 2017 and 2018 the national imprisonment rate increased by 3% from 216 to 221 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. [17]

In 2018, adult prisoner numbers were up by 4% on the previous year, with female prisoner numbers increasing at a faster rate than male prisoners and with drug offences responsible for the highest rise by category. There were rises in all states except for South Australia. The breakdown was: acts intended to cause injury (9,659 prisoners or 22%); illicit drug offences (6,779 prisoners or 16%); and sexual assault and related offences (5,283 prisoners or 12%). Males accounted for 92% of all prisoners. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners accounted for over a quarter of the total Australian prisoner population. [17]

Deaths in custody

Research from the Australian Institute of Criminology showed that from 1990 until the middle of 2011, 40 percent of people who were fatally shot by police were suffering from a mental illness. In NSW, the fatalities included Adam Salter (shot dead in Sydney in 2009); Elijah Holcombe (shot dead in Armidale in 2009); and Roni Levi (shot dead on Bondi Beach in 1997). In Victoria, the fatalities included the 2008 shooting death of Tyler Cassidy. At age 15, Cassidy is believed to be the youngest person ever shot dead by police in Australia. [18]

Gun control laws

The gun buy-back program which was implemented in 1996, purchased and destroyed mostly semi-automatic and pump action firearms. [19] Relatively frequent mass murders committed in the United States serve to re-ignite the debate on gun control laws from time to time, and Australia's gun control laws have been held up as an example of a workable solution for the safer management of guns and gun licensing by citizens of the United States and some members of Congress. [20]

Crime statistics before and after the implementation of gun laws have shown a decrease of the use of guns in crime. According to the national homicide monitoring program, the number of homicide incidents involving a firearm decreased by 57% between 1989-90 and 2013-14, from 75 to 32. Firearms were used in 13% of homicide incidents in 2013-14, compared with 24% in 1989-90. [21] During the years following the 1996 ban, the overall crime rate in both Australia and New Zealand declined at about the same rate, and violent crime and in particular gun crime are lower overall in New Zealand. This has led some to question how much of Australia's reduction in violent crime is due to the ban.[ citation needed ]

Civic organisations

See also

Related Research Articles

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Carjacking is a robbery in which the item taken over is a motor vehicle.

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The relationship between race and crime in the United States has been a topic of public controversy and scholarly debate for more than a century. The crime rate varies between racial groups. Most homicides in the United States are intraracial—the perpetrator and victim are of the same race. Research shows that the overrepresentation of some minorities in the criminal justice system can be explained by socioeconomic factors as well as racial discrimination by law enforcement and the judicial system.

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Crime in Western Australia

Crime in Western Australia is tackled by the Western Australia Police and the Western Australian legal system.

Crime in the Northern Territory

Crime in the Northern Territory is managed by the Northern Territory Police, the territory government's Department of the Attorney-General and Justice and Northern Territory Families.

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