One of Victoria’s most senior judges has warned the current media reporting and political rhetoric around crime committed by people from South Sudanese backgrounds in Melbourne is “dangerous” and “skewed”.
Interviewed by ABC Four Corners as part of an investigation into the issue, County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd said there had been an inaccurate portrayal of how much crime is committed by people from the community.
Kidd told reporter Sophie McNeill:
If you are an African offender, and certainly if you’re an African youth of South Sudanese background from the western suburbs of Melbourne, rest assured your case will be reported upon.
The media choose to report upon those cases. That creates an impression that we, that our work, a very significant proportion of our work is taken up with African youths from the western suburbs of Melbourne. That’s a false impression.
I can say that in general terms, most of our work, the vast, vast majority of our work does not involve Africans.
Earlier this year, then-Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane made the point that while Sudanese Australians were over-represented in criminal offending in Victoria, they were “not the only group”.
We have Australian born and New Zealand born offenders over-represented in crime statistics in Victoria, too.
Here are some statistics.
What does it mean to be ‘over-represented’ in crime statistics?
The term “over-represented” is used when the level of offending by a particular group is greater than the group’s representation in the general population.
In this case, to determine whether a group is over-represented, we can cross reference general population numbers and country of birth data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and unique alleged offender data provided by the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency (CSA).
A “unique alleged offender” is one person who is alleged to have committed a crime. One unique alleged offender may be involved in more than one alleged incident during the reference period. But in the unique alleged offender data, no matter how many incidents a person may have been involved in, they are counted once.
Which groups are over-represented, and to what degree?
At the time of the last Census (2016), Victoria’s population was 5.9 million. CSA unique alleged offenders data from April 2015 to March 2018 show that on average over those three years:
People born in Australia accounted for 64.90% of the Victorian population, and 72.57% of unique alleged offenders (a unique offender rate to population share of 1.1)
People born in New Zealand accounted for 1.57% of the Victorian population, and 2.23% of unique alleged offenders (a unique offender rate to population share of 1.4), and
While people born in Australia and New Zealand were over-represented in the alleged offender population of Victoria, people born in Sudan were over-represented to higher levels.
The two charts below show the numbers of unique alleged offenders by country of birth for the period April 2017 to March 2018, and the principal offences committed.
The CSA notes that crime “seems to be committed at different rates at different stages of life”, and that therefore, “if a particular group of people are much younger or older than the general population, comparisons may not be as valid”.
According to Dr Mark Wood of Melbourne University, the South Sudanese population in Victoria is “very young”, with 42% of the community under the age of 25, compared to one-third of the Australian general population.
The chart below shows Sudanese born alleged offenders tend to be younger than those born in Australia or New Zealand.
The bigger picture about crime in Victoria
The latest federal Report on Government Services (2018) does highlight a significant drop in perceptions of public safety in Victoria. But it’s often the case that public perceptions do not match the reality.
The number and rate of all criminal incidents in Victoria have been at higher levels in recent years than they were in the period before the Andrews Labor government came to power in 2014. However, crime has declined in the last 12 months.
Authors: Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor in Criminology, Bond University