SMH: NSW records second lowest per capita spend on police in Australia

NSW had the second lowest per capita expenditure on police of any Australian state or territory last financial year, spending $468 per capita compared to Victoria’s $549 and a national average of $518.

Australia’s most populous state spent $3.8 billion on policing for its 8.2 million residents in 2019-20, according to the latest report on government spending from the Productivity Commission.

Almost $2.67 billion of the money paid the salaries of 21,000 employees of NSW Police, including over 17,000 sworn officers.

The per capita spending in NSW has fluctuated significantly over the last decade, dipping to $410 in 2016-17 and reaching $480 the year before.

Victoria spent $3.65 billion on its police force in 2019-20, a higher spending level for its smaller population of 6.7 million. Victoria Police has 16,000 officers in a overall workforce of 21,500.

The lowest spending per capita on police was $433 in the ACT and the highest was $1582 in the Northern Territory. Queensland spent $481 and Western Australia spent $589.

In 2018, the NSW government announced it would inject $583 million to pay for an additional 1500 police officers, with child and elder abuse singled out as priorities.

The recent state budget also revealed $60 million for an upgrade of the NSW Police Force Academy in Goulburn.

The last year has presented major and unprecedented demands for NSW Police, who were called in to lead the state’s response to COVID-19, overseeing the border closure with Victoria, hotel quarantine, and enforcement of public health orders.

The new Productivity Commission figures revealed NSW spent $1.45 billion on prisons in 2019-20, including operational and capital costs. The money went to 32 government-run prisons and two privately operated facilities, housing an average of 13,500 prisoners on any given day.

The imprisonment rate in NSW was 213 per 100,000 people, near the national average of 216. The ACT recorded the lowest rate, with 134 per 100,000. Victoria recorded 152 and the Northern Territory was the highest at 944.

Indigenous people continue to be disproportionately represented in prisons. While only 3.5 per cent of people in NSW identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, they accounted for about a quarter of the state’s prisoners. On any given day, 3500 prisoners in NSW were Indigenous.

Advocates have previously called for reforms to decriminalise public drunkenness, change bail laws and end mandatory sentencing in order to reduce Indigenous imprisonment.

According to the Productivity Commission report, the proportion of prisoners undertaking education in NSW custody was the second lowest in the country. Twenty-three per cent of eligible prisoners were enrolled in secondary or tertiary education. Victoria, Queensland and WA recorded rates above 30 per cent while South Australia and the ACT were above 70 per cent.

The percentage of prisoners in employment in NSW was among the highest, with 86 per cent working. Only Victoria had a higher level, with 93 per cent in employment.

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