My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 8 January 2019

by ray goodlass

Billions wasted on false Law and Order policies that make us less safe

As 2019 gets under way the reaction of some of our politicians to proposals to prevent music festival deaths through the very sensible introduction of harm minimisation practices such as pill testing reminds me that the Law and Order brigade, colloquially known as our old friend ‘Laura Norder’, is still with us in the new year. Indeed, and regrettably, she is alive and well.

That thought brought to mind a NSW government report released last December that for most of us was probably lost in the lead up to Christmas, or buried by tales of errant National Party MP Andrew Broad’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ affair and the scurrilous tweets he was foolish enough to send boasting of his sexual prowess while at the same time championing traditional family values. Or perhaps it got lost in news of the verdict in the case of a prominent cleric’s child sexual abuse case that we aren’t allowed to know about, but that everybody did, and most couldn’t resist talking about, even though they were told not to.

It was the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report on Trends in Violent and Property Crimes. It showed that despite scare mongering reports to the contrary, the crime rate was again lower, but, as Greens NSW Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge MP sensibly commented “Crime is down again, but we’re still throwing billions more at law and order policies”.

Let’s look at the facts (real ones, not Trump-like ‘alternative’ ones) before checking to see if the Liberal/National state coalition government is indeed wasting our tax payer dollars on the false but electorally advantageous premise of being tough on crime.

The report shows that the long-term trend has been going down since 2003. It shows that certain crimes, such as murder, domestic violence assault and sexual assault as being ‘stable’. So are robbery and fraud.

However, some crime statistics have actually fallen. Down are breaking and entering, motor vehicle thefts, and stealing from a person. That one is down by a massive 8.4%

Yet despite the evidence that all major criminal offences are falling or stable across NSW the NSW Liberal/Nationals coalition government, together with the support of the Labor “opposition” continue to throw billions of dollars of public money into funding a failed and flawed law and order agenda.

As David Shoebridge said, “When the data shows that crime is going down we must reassess money this Government has committed to funding their flawed law and order agenda”.

Indeed, given such clear evidence that the crime rate is falling, it makes no sense that our prison population continues to grow and that we’re spending $3.8 billion on new prisons and paying for 1500 new police.

Yet for decades public policy and the evidence on crime have drifted apart in NSW.

As Mr Shoebridge commented, “This money would better be spent helping children in need by providing early intervention in our child protection system, funding community programs and protecting our environment”.

Indeed, this data should is cause for a radical rethink in the billions of dollars we spend every year on more police, longer court lists and more prison cells.

Why is there this disconnect between the clear as daylight evidence and the government and opposition’s policy?

Most likely because announcing more jails or police plays well in the tabloids, on the evening television news, and in commercial radio shock-jock interviews. And with a state election looming in March being seen to be ‘tough on crime’ is judged to be electorally advantageous – the old Law and Order policy that is trotted out every time an election comes around.

The problem is that all this is actually making us less safe because it’s diverting funds from justice reinvestment projects that we know make communities stronger and safer.

So rather than reintroduce us to their friend Laura Norder yet again it is high time the NSW Government immediately reassessed its funding priorities, given this data. Use the money instead to treat the causes of anti-social behaviour rather than put increasingly heavily militarised band aids on a steadily diminishing problem. But with state and federal elections due soon unfortunately that may be a forlorn hope.