Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Liveability: human well-being (continued)

Social and economic well-being (continued)

Crime and victimisation

  • Property crime
  • Violent crime
  • -->

    One of the unfortunate negative aspects of life in Australia, particularly in large urban centres, seems to be the perceived increasing incidence of crime in society. A recent report from the Australian Institute of Criminology (Mukherjee et al. 1997) indicated that certain types of crime seem to be more prominent in particular locations (Figure 47).

    Figure 47: Locations of various criminal offences, 1995. [HS Indicator 3.9], [HS Indicator 3.10]

    Locations of various criminal offences, 1995

    Source: Mukherjee et al. (1997)

    Property crime

    Two out of three breaking and entering offences and attempts in Australia occur in residential locations, and a vast majority of these occur in private dwellings. Retail outlets are the most frequent targets of breaking and entering among non-residential locations. Some households are more at risk of being victims of burglaries than others. Based on an analysis of survey data, the ABS (1998f) estimates that there is a higher risk of being a victim of burglary in the following cases:

    • one-parent households,
    • households with dwellings where there were large amounts of motor vehicle traffic in the street,
    • households with dwellings next to laneways and bicycle paths,
    • households in areas with 10% or more unemployed persons,
    • households in areas with 9% or more of males aged 15-24 years, and
    • households in cities and towns with a population of 8000 or more.

    More than one in three stolen motor vehicles are taken from streets and footpaths, and carparks are the second most frequent targets. There appears some marked differences in this pattern across states and territories. Residential locations are the most favoured targets for stealing motor vehicles in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In New South Wales, more than three out of four stolen motor vehicles are taken from community locations such as streets, footpaths and carparks. Other thefts (excluding breaking entering and stealing, and motor vehicle thefts) occur in all types of locations, although a quarter of these take place in retail outlets. Some differences across states and territories are notable. About a third of these thefts in Western Australia take place in private dwellings, and a quarter of other thefts in New South Wales occur on the street/footpath.

    Violent crime

    Two in three homicides in Australia take place in residential locations, and a majority of these occur in private dwellings (diverging from this trend is the Northern Territory, where approximately 46% of homicides take place in community locations such as streets). Assaults, both common and serious (excluding sexual assaults), take place in all types of locations, but about one in three take place in private dwellings and one in four occur in open areas such as streets. More than half of the assaults in the Australian Capital Territory take place in community locations. Victims of assault are more likely to be young males or females. Young females (18 and 19 years of age) reported much higher rates of sexual assault than other groups (ABS 1998f).

    Victoria recorded the lowest rates of burglaries and personal assaults. High burglary rates occurred in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT. High rates of personal assaults occurred in the ACT and the Northern Territory.

    The most common place for the crime of robbery is the street or footpath, but this pattern varies between states and territories. In WA and Tasmania, for example, retail outlets are the most common targets of robbery. More than 60% of sexual assaults in Australia take place in residential locations, mostly in private homes.

    Attempts to address these problems are many and varied, ranging from those which view the problem as one of social inequality in distribution of assets, to law enforcement (e.g. the 'three strikes and you're out' policy operating in places as different as New York City and the Northern Territory), Neighbourhood Watch type programs, and attempts to improve personal security through intruder alarm systems and gated communities.

    The Indigenous socio-economic environment

    The micro-economy of Indigenous settlements is markedly different because of the considerable economic disadvantage endured by the Indigenous population. Unemployment among Indigenous people in 1996 was 25%, and it is estimated to rise to as high as 28% by 2006. Unemployment among non-Indigenous Australians is estimated to remain around the 1996 level of 8.5% into the near future (Altman and Hunter 1998). Other aspects of the Indigenous socio-economic environment also show considerable disadvantages, they are discussed in the Environmental Health and the Indigenous Housing sections of this report.


    This section has identified several aspects of human well-being for which socio-economic divides appear to have been intensifying between both people and places. This goes to the heart of the 'equity' component of sustainable development.

    In this context, then, we may look at elements of federal policies and programs that address this issue. Here, a trend impacting directly on the distribution of incomes is the increasing reliance of certain groups on government transfer payments. This may not be surprising given an ageing society, the continuing relatively high levels of unemployment, and the recent big increase in the incidence of people on disability support programs.

    The Commonwealth Government's safety net programs have done much to slow the growth in the earnings gap, and without these interventions the social problems associated with uneven income distribution could be worse. But over time the reliance on this safety net has increased. Between 1965 and 1998, the proportion of the population receiving income support increased from 4% (200 000 people) to 18% (2.6 million people). This amounted to a total welfare bill of $38.9 billion in 1998, representing approximately 7% of GDP (FACS 2000). The growth in welfare dependency has been the direct result of changing economic and social conditions that have seen weakening labour force prospects and social supports for many individuals and communities in late 20th century Australian society.

    The knock-on environmental effects of economically vulnerable households, neighbourhoods and regions are also evident in the quality of housing, access to services and general physical and social amenity of area of residence.