Since the 2012 election, the LNP has introduced a raft of new legislation aimed at combating criminal gangs across the state.
Premier Campbell Newman has made the Government’s record a key plank of his re-election campaign and says the new laws are working.
“Crime has gone down very very significantly… because of a stance by a Government that was determined to make the community safer,” he said during a press conference while campaigning on the Gold Coast.
Mr Newman has continued to highlight lower crime rates throughout the campaign as proof that the LNP’s policies are working.
ABC Fact Check takes a look at whether or not Queensland’s crime statistics reflect the Premier’s claim that crime has gone down because of new legislation.
Talking about the decrease, Mr Newman cited some specific offences in his press conference.
They were robbery, down 27 per cent, unlawful entry, down 20 per cent, and motor vehicle theft, down 19 per cent.
Those statistics matched up with an LNP press release issued on January 5. The release said the Government had considered offences recorded between July and November 2014.
Crime has gone down very very significantly… because of a stance by a government that was determined to make the community saferCampbell Newman
Fact Check asked the Premier’s office about his claim, and were referred to comments provided to another ABC journalist for a news story.
In that response, the Government referred to a comparison between 2011 (the last full year of the Bligh Labor government) and 2014. The drop recorded for the same three crimes is very similar.
Fact Check also asked if the Government could provide any evidence that linked falling crime rates with the criminal gangs legislation, and a spokesman for Police Minister Jack Dempsey provided this response: “Our stronger laws, along with the extra 800 police we’ve put on the beat and better technology for officers, have led to significant falls in reported crime”.
“We have various ways of measuring the impact of our criminal gang laws, including analysis of crime statistics and feedback from frontline police officers.”
What are the new laws?
In October 2013, the Newman Government introduced a raft of new legislation aimed at disrupting criminal gangs across the state.
The laws included tough bail rules, stronger penalties for offenders associated with criminal gangs and rules tightening the laws around who is permitted to own and work at tattoo parlours.
They also increased police powers in a range of areas.
Is it the right comparison?
Kerrie Carrington, a criminologist and head of the School of Justice at the Queensland University of Technology, told Fact Check the Government was selectively presenting crime data that supported its claim.
“The generic claim that crime has gone down is wrong. It’s based on them cherrypicking a few offences that have gone down, and gone down by quite considerable proportions.”
Professor Carrington said the Premier had correctly cited the statistics he had chosen.
“Robbery was down, extortion was down, unlawful entry was down and unlawful use of a motor vehicle was down – which does confirm the LNP’s data that those are all down,” she said.
But she said looking at different offences would return a different outcome. The data also shows increases in crimes including assault, kidnapping and shop stealing. Professor Carrington said that demonstrates that the data can be used very selectively.
She told Fact Check that such a short time-frame comparison was unusual, and that long term trend data was a more reliable measure. She said the Government’s selective use of the data was “deeply problematic”.
“Queensland desperately needs an independent crime statistics unit to prevent (data) from being misused, particularly during election campaigns. This is an abominable misuse of crime data.
“I’ve done a 12 year trend pattern and on that trend pattern there’s been a 22.5 per cent drop in reported crime in Queensland and it’s been steadily declining. It was steadily declining for the last 12 years regardless of who is in government,” she said.
Professor Carrington’s analysis shows that per head of population, the number of offences reported each financial year since 2001 has been steadily decreasing.
Labor was in government from the before the start of this assessment period, and the Newman Government’s first full financial year was 2012-13, having won office in March 2012.
This analysis is backed up by Bond University’s Terry Goldsworthy, a former Queensland Police Detective Inspector, and assistant professor of criminology, who referred Fact Check to an article he posted on Linked In, written in December 2014.
“The crime rate in Queensland has been steadily reducing for the last 10 years if you look at the overall crime, except for an aberration in 2011-12, this trend has been consistent,” he said.
The University of Queensland’s Rebecca Wickes, a senior lecturer in criminology, said her own research had found exactly the same downward trend in crime.
“(The crime rate has) been going down and it has been going down for quite some time,” she said.
Are the new laws responsible?
Writing for The Conversation in September 2014, Assistant Professor Goldsworthy said Queensland’s crime statistics don’t support the Newman Government’s claim that the criminal gang laws are responsible for the drop in crime.
“Police data shows that crime was already decreasing in Queensland in the 12 months prior to the introduction of the bikie laws,” the article said.
It’s a view that is repeated in Assistant Professor Goldsworthy’s December analysis.
“In reality an ongoing trend and the employment of an extra 1000 police are more likely to be the elements responsible for Queensland’s overall crime reduction than laws that have only been used minimally, on a single group, that commits a limited amount of crime.”
Professor Carrington agrees that the crime statistics don’t support the Government’s claim.
“What we had in 2014, when you compare that to 2013 when the bikie legislation was introduced, you had a 12.5 percent increase in other offences. Those other offences include extortion, weapons offences, and they include the offences under the bikie legislation,” she told Fact Check.
Crime has been on the decline in many western countries for some time now and it’s due to a whole range of other features, not just policies about bikiesRebecca Wickes, University of Queensland
She said the increase in reported offences could be an indication that the laws were working,
“It’s an indication that perhaps the crackdown on bikies has brought many more of these offences to the attention of authorities and so perhaps what these increases are is in fact an indication of what this legislation is doing.”
Dr Wickes told Fact Check there was “little evidence to suggest that Liberal party policies are associated with decreasing crime”.
“One of the difficulties with being able to say a policy is working is to be able to demonstrate that a trend has changed as a result of a policy,” she said.
“Crime rates are incredibly stable. For the most part crime rates across Brisbane haven’t changed from what we would expect based on 15 years of data. There is very slight movement.
“What we know from the literature is that crime has been on the decline in many western countries for some time now and it’s due to a whole range of other features, not just policies about bikies,” Dr Wickes said.
She said that it was too soon to know whether the criminal gangs legislation was affecting crime rates.
“You need substantial time to go by, because one of the things that we know from studying crime rates is that you can have incredible fluctuations in a given year and it can look like crime has significantly gone up in that year or gone down in that year… but you’ve got to look over a long period of time.”
The experts Fact Check spoke to said Queensland crime rates have been dropping steadily for over 10 years, and the most recent data does not show a significant change in that trend. Mr Newman’s claim that “crime has gone down very very significantly… because of a stance by a Government that was determined to make the community safer”, and the individual statistics cited by the Premier don’t tell the full story. The claim is exaggerated.