WA Premier Colin Barnett.
When it comes to crime in WA, that time is probably right now. We hear a lot of bravado from the Barnett Government about how tough it is on crime. But is any of it really any more than political spin? Is there any evidence the Government can point to which might support the draconian anti-crime measures introduced over the past seven years? The answer is, an emphatic no. You only need to look as far as the WA Police Service website of monthly crime statistics. These aren’t brought to our attention very often by members of the Barnett ministry. And it is little wonder. Despite all the rhetoric about how tough we are on assaults and other offences against the person, including sexual assault and robbery, in the 2013-14 financial year there were still 36,670 recorded offences of that type in WA. And it comes against a background of a raft of new laws including “One Punch” and mandatory sentencing for some assaults which have been filtering through the system since the Barnett Government was elected. If their thinking is correct, that is that increasing penalties (as they have done) would lead to a graphic decrease in the rate of crime, they were sadly mistaken. The 2014-15 figure has now jumped to 39,250 cases of offences against a person. While homicide is reasonably steady (88 this financial year compared to 86 last year) these figures are hardly anything to be proud of. And the notorious three-strikes mandatory sentencing rule for burglaries has hardly done anything. Offending is up from 35,530 to 35,806 this financial year. Property damage, excluding graffiti, has also increased from 34,109 last year to 35,378 despite increased penalties. New arson laws introduced a few years back are hardly making a dent with the 2013-14 figure of 1085 rising to 1200 this year. Theft has also grown from 79,150 in 2013-14 to 87,740 in the latest figures. And then we get to drugs. For more than a decade now in WA we have had the most severe drug laws and sentences of anywhere in Australia. If this was working at any level, you would be expecting to see a significant and regular decrease in the number of drug offences here. The figures in this regard are quite enlightening, particularly against that background. In 2013-14 total detected drug offences were 16,436, which is massive for a State this size (and they are only the offenders we catch). And how did we do in 2014-15? No too well, actually. The official figures show that drug offences were up by some 14,000 to 30,347. Close to an 85 per cent increase. For decades now, criminologists and criminal lawyers have been advocating an approach to crime other than simply increasing penalties. Even a cursory examination of the past few years’ crime figures in WA shows beyond question that they were right. Reducing crime was a key mantra of the Barnett Government when it came to power in 2008. If fulfilling that promise was a key performance indicator of the Government’s success and is any way to be measured by the crime figures since that election, Barnett should probably resign now. — Tom Percy is a Perth QC. Follow him on Twitter @percyqc