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Incivility and crime in Australia

Media Release

25 February 1998

The Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar called today for a national stated commitment to decency and civility in our public and private lives as a step towards the reduction of crime in Australia. International research has shown that there is a link between disorder and crime.

"As Australia moves into a new millennium we should recast our public attitudes towards the enhancement of respect and civility" said Dr Graycar. "We had a constitutional convention less than a fortnight ago which could reshape our written governance arrangements. Consistent with that should be steps to develop a national focus on the unwritten behaviours".

"We have a great deal to learn from our Asian neighbours who commit and reaffirm, through public and private behaviour, tenets and practices of civility and respect. Apart from the benefits of a more respectful society, a renewed focus on respect and civility may be one of the most significant steps towards reducing petty crime"

Dr Graycar made his comments in an address to the national Partnerships in Crime Prevention conference in Hobart.

Noting the balance of rights and responsibilities, and autonomy and independence on the one hand, and community cohesion on the other, Adam Graycar wants a set of discussions to put civility firmly on the agenda. The Australian Institute of Criminology will consult widely to develop a research agenda for the enhancement of civility.

Dr Graycar outlined a range of private behaviours, each of which can turn into disorderly behaviour, which in turn can develop into criminal behaviour.

These private behaviours must be complemented by public policies and behaviours.

  1. Swearing

    Use of obscenities - obscenity towards teachers obscenities towards parents and other family members, obscenity towards strangers

  2. Impatience

    Generating anger because things aren't working smoothly, or somebody doesn't do things the way one would expect. Road rage is a prime example of harm here.

  3. Intolerance

    Slurs stemming from intolerance and stereotyping are often hurled around. These may relate to racial issues, sexuality, ethnicity, size, age.

  4. Consideration of space

    Lack of consideration of other people's space can irritate and lead to violent reactions - a group of people taking up the footpath, sitting with one's legs outstretched on public transport or at some crowd event, thus making people trip/ climb over, behaviour at a crowded beach or sport event.

    Noise is another issue relating to space - excessive noise at inappropriate times and locations may be annoying, and at times threatening.

  5. Sexual communication

    Accepting that no means no.

  6. Safe use of alcohol

    A great deal of disorder and a disproportionate number of crimes flows from inappropriate consumption of alcohol

  7. Litter, graffiti and vandalism

    Things like broken windows, bullet holes in road signs etc. Constitute a visual affront, and also create the impression that no one cares, or no one is in charge. Unlike some behavioural forms of incivility, these physical examples may impact on a larger number of people over a considerable length of time.

All of these forms of incivility can be addressed head on, and a public commitment to their reduction is a major crime prevention strategy.