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What Australians think about crime and justice: results from the 2007 Survey of Social Attitudes

Crime Australia
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This report explores the differences between the public view and the reality of how much recorded crime there is and of what happens to offenders after they are charged. The results are valuable as a measure of public attitudes and perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system.

The report provides an analysis of the responses in the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA) on crime and justice. The AuSSA is a biennial mail-out survey that provides data on key questions relating to Australians’ social attitudes and behaviours over time (Gibson et al. 2005). AuSSA 2007 consisted of a cross sectional mail-out survey completed by 8,133 adults from all Australian states and territories. Three versions of the survey were fielded with final response rates ranging from 39 to 42 percent. To produce Australian estimates the data have been weighted by education level to correct for differences in education level between survey respondents and the general population.


Key findings from the survey on perceptions of crime were:

  • Approximately one in eight adult Australians (12.9%) views crime, drugs or terrorism as themost important issue facing Australia today.
  • Broadcast and tabloid media provide the major source of information for most members of the public about crime and justice. Almost 80 percent of respondents rate TV, radio and newspapers as fairly or very important sources of information.
  • A large majority of the public have inaccurate views about the occurrence of crime and the severity of sentencing. Consistent with previous Australian and international research, the Australian public perceives crime to be increasing when it isn’t, overestimates the proportion of crime that involves violence and underestimates the proportion of charged persons who go on
    to be convicted and imprisoned.
  • Approximately three-quarters of Australians thought a terrorist attack in South East Asia in the 12 post-survey months was likely, with one-third thinking a terrorist attack likely in Australia.
  • The majority of survey respondents support the government having the right to tap telephone conversations (76.7%), stop and search people in the street at random (54.2%) and to detain indefinitely without trial (56.1%) where terrorism is suspected, but do not support the torture
    of prisoners (59.6%).


Fear of crime
Key findings from the survey on fear of crime were:

  • The majority of Australians rate incivilities as ‘not a very big problem’, or ‘not a problem at all’ in their local area.
  • The majority of Australians are not very worried about being a victim of a range of crimes. However, this still leaves a large minority who are ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ worried.
  • On average, females reported higher rates of fear than males, with fear increasing as perceptions
  • of incivilities increased.
  • A major new fear is worry about identity theft and credit card fraud.
  • Fear of crime is associated with decreased confidence in the criminal justice system and more punitive attitudes.
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