I rise tonight to speak about an issue I am sure is of great interest and importance to all senators—that is, the prevention of crime, particularly crime committed by youth. The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates that crime costs the Australian community $32 billion a year. These costs include things such as goods stolen or damaged in the course of the crime being committed, lost productivity due to victims of crime being unable to work or businesses halting their trading, medical expenses for treating victims and the cost of policing, prisons and the security industry. These financial costs are monumental but they only represent part of the overall cost of crime. The other cost is the human cost to the victims, their families and loved ones but also to the perpetrators, who may end up serving time in prison when they could be more productive members of society.
Given the enormous cost of crime to our community, it should come as no surprise that even small amounts invested in crime prevention can have a huge pay-off. The best types of interventions to stop people from committing crimes are those aimed at children and young people. We know that intervening to stop a child from offending can dramatically reduce their chances of reoffending as an adult. Research shows that people who appear in court or are convicted of an offence as a child are more likely to appear in court or be convicted of an offence as an adult. This is the motivation behind some of the fantastic diversionary projects aimed at providing employment and life opportunities for at-risk youth across my home state of Tasmania. I want to focus particularly on those programs that received funding under the National Crime Prevention Fund because they are now at risk thanks to a recent decision of the Abbott government.
The National Crime Prevention Fund was funded from the proceeds of crime, money which had been confiscated from criminals, and has committed $40 million towards projects that provided community safety infrastructure and youth outreach services. In my home state of Tasmania, funding for eight crime prevention projects worth a total of $1.3 million was announced by the then Minister for Justice, Jason Clare. These eight projects sadly are now facing the Abbott axe. Last month, the government informed the proponents of these eight projects and the hundreds of other organisations across Australia that they were reviewing all grant programs and that the recipients should refrain from making any financial commitments. It was revealed later in Senate estimates by the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, that the government would axe the National Crime Prevention Fund.
I will mention briefly a few of the projects in my home state that were due to receive funding so that senators opposite can get an appreciation for what they have put at risk. The Youth Insearch program is a highly effective model which has been successfully employed in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales to support at-risk young people between the ages of 12 and 18, and divert them from engaging in antisocial behaviours. The program involves a three-stage approach, including weekend camps, support groups and the opportunity to take on leadership roles supported by leadership training. The Youth Insearch Foundation was awarded a $280,000 grant to deliver the program to over 200 young people in Tasmania. The design of the program is based on an extensive and sound research base and is backed up by evidence of its successes which include reduced drug use, reduced criminal behaviour and increased school attendance.
The Huon Valley PCYC was granted funding of $115,000 to implement Project Pathfinder. The Huon Valley is a rural area where there have always been high levels of youth unemployment and low educational attainment. Project Pathfinder assists young people in finding their pathways to employment through work experience placement and the opportunity to develop practical work skills. It would work particularly with young people aged from 10 to 17 who have offended or are at risk of offending and are disengaged from school or their families. As well as providing regular training one day a week at the PCYC, the centre had developed partnerships with local businesses and community organisations to allow participants to gain life skills and some real-world work experience. The Huon Valley PCYC have a track record of taking at-risk youth and engaging them in innovative ways to assist in their education and skills development. For this particular project, they had secured the support of 20 local businesses. I was pleased to have the opportunity to write a letter of support for the grant application to the then Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare, and I am bitterly disappointed that this funding is now under threat.
I would like to speak about Training Opportunities and Options for Learning, or TOOL, and their Youth Employment Challenge. TOOL is based on Hobart’s eastern shore and provides opportunities for young people to engage in training to improve their skills and employment prospects. TOOL works particularly with young people who are at risk of educational disengagement, long-term unemployment and criminal behaviour. They received a grant of $190,000 for their Youth Employment Challenge project, which would connect disengaged young people to after-school work, employment and traineeships in local businesses. The area the project would be delivered to includes almost half of Tasmania’s lowest income families. TOOL had designed the Youth Employment Challenge project to be self-sustaining, meaning the grant they would have received would have continued to provide life and career opportunities to young people into the future, not just over the two-year life of the project.
The flow-on benefits from these opportunities are enormous. It is not only about giving these young people a job. Once they are secure in employment, they are diverted from crime and other antisocial behaviour. Their families have greater financial security and, among families who experience generations of unemployment, a sense of pride that one of them has secured a job. They also feel a great sense of gratitude for the opportunities they have been provided, and generally give back to their community by engaging in community capacity-building activities. The point I am trying to make here is that it is not just the clients of these services who benefit, but the whole community around them.
The result of the Abbott government’s short-sighted decision on the National Crime Prevention Fund will be more crime on our streets, more victims of crime and more lives wasted because young people turn to a life of crime rather than finding positive and productive life opportunities. Clearly, the Abbott government fails to understand the importance of these grants in intervening in the lives of young people, to give them a positive outlook in life and turn them away from the criminal behaviour that can be so destructive to themselves and to others. A number of the participants in successful crime prevention programs, such as TOOL, have remarked that they were on track to end up in the Ashley Youth Detention Centre or Risdon Prison had it not been for these programs giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their potential, develop their skills and secure meaningful employment.
While the axing of the National Crime Prevention Fund may save the government a few dollars in the short term, the consequences of this decision will have costs for the budget in the long term, and a devastating impact on the Australian community. These grants were not funded from general revenue but from money confiscated from criminals. The grants were awarded through a competitive process and included among the selection criteria was a demonstration of community or stakeholder support for the project.
The projects I have just spoken about all have strong community support and involvement, so there is no good reason, as far as I or any other fair-minded person can see, for the Abbott government to axe these grants and put the future of hundreds of worthwhile crime prevention projects in doubt. It is a narrow-minded and mean-spirited decision that will throw into turmoil the futures of so many disadvantaged and disengaged young people. These grants were fully funded, fully costed and fairly awarded by the previous government. The projects they were going to fund have the potential to change lives.
I say to the Abbott Government, and in particular to Senator Brandis and the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan: for the sake of the youth of Australia and for the sake of victims of crime, reverse this mean, penny-pinching decision and give the recipients of the National Crime Prevention Fund the grants they were rightfully awarded.