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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 10702

Senator MASON —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister inform the Senate of the latest crime statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology, and what do these statistics reveal about the causes of crime?

Senator VANSTONE (Justice and Customs) —I thank Senator Mason for his question. Yesterday the Australian Institute of Criminology did release its Facts and Figures 1999 booklet on Australian crime. Crime statistics are never entirely good news. But, unfortunately, yesterday the shadow minister for justice and customs could not help himself and threw himself further in the gutter than he has ever done before. He said in a press release that the crime figures show:

. . . a growing anti-social response by people who feel that they have been left out, left behind and are not a part of Australia's economic success.

So let us be clear and make no mistake about what Mr Kerr was saying. He was saying that under this government there is a widening gap between rich and poor and he was going further by saying that the poor are turning to crime.

It is a shameful exercise for the Labor Party to ever let one of its shadow ministers blame the poor for rising crime trends. It is a disgrace! This press release is a disgrace to the nation. It is a shameful thing for the Labor Party to be putting out a release saying, `Oh, well, it is more poor. Let's blame the poor.' You people should be sacking him. You should be marching off to Beazley's office, knocking on the door and saying, `Get rid of this bloke.' It is an outrageous claim to be making. But let me let the genie out of the bottle.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! The level of noise has become unacceptably high.

Senator VANSTONE —The GINI coefficient is the accepted measure of income inequality. Between 1982 and 1988, under Labor, the GINI coefficient, which measures the gap between rich and poor, grew dramatically. So the gap between rich and poor grew dramatically when you people were in government. However, between 1996 and 1997, under this government, the coefficient has increased by what? A half a per cent. So, yes, these people created the gap between rich and poor, and we have not been able to close it. But we certainly have not dramatically increased it, as they did.

What is true is that Australia is moving forward as a whole. The ABS income survey shows that the degree of inequality in income distribution remained almost unchanged between 1994-95 and 1997-98. So it is the Bureau of Statistics which says that the degree of inequality in income distribution has remained, relatively speaking, unchanged. So there is the story: those people created the gap; we have not closed it, but we certainly have not widened it. Under this government the economic growth rate is leading the developed world.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator VANSTONE —Madam President, I will have to go to a supplementary if I cannot get this out.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Labor senators will stop shouting. It is making it difficult to hear, certainly for those who are listening.

Senator VANSTONE —I can understand Labor wanting to shout about this. They would not want everybody to know that the gap between rich and poor was created under their government and that their shadow minister is blaming the poor for any increase in crime. I would be embarrassed about it too. I would try to shout it down. I would not want everybody to know that. Let us turn to the question of poverty and crime. Duncan Kerr wants to say that it is the poor people. Perhaps he has not recognised the dollar value of Alan Bond's one fraud—(Time expired)

Senator MASON —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister expand on the relationship between crime and poverty?

Senator VANSTONE (Justice and Customs) —You do not know how much I would like to expand on it. Just consider this: the dollar value of Alan Bond's one fraud is equal to all the household burglaries committed in Australia for 84 weeks. One big white-collar crime can add up to all the burglaries in Australia over 84 weeks. If Mr Kerr wants to do something about crime, he should stop blaming all the poor people in Australia and start focusing a bit on some white-collar crime. He should start getting it properly in perspective. He should start mentioning that drugs play a part in it. Why didn't he tell us that homicide has decreased over the last year? Why didn't he tell us some good news, such as that sexual assault and motor vehicle theft are not on the increase? Why didn't he tell us that armed robbery with firearms decreased by 12.6 per cent and that most of the increase in armed robberies was where? In New South Wales. Why does this man come out when the only thing he can do is blame the poor? It is a disgrace, and you should get rid of him.