Voters in key inner-city Victorian seats up for grabs in next month’s state election couldn’t care less about law and order despite the crimewave apparently engulfing their backyards, research commissioned exclusively for Crikey has revealed.

A compilation of state-wide Roy Morgan Research data between July 2008 and July 2010 shows just 2.4% of voters in the knife-edge seats of Richmond, 6.7% in Melbourne and 9.4% in Brunswick rate reducing crime and maintaining law and order an important issue.

But criminals remain a hot topic in some suburban marginals, suggesting the major parties are playing up fears of gangs and thugs to win seats. In the teetering Liberal district of Hastings, 32% of voters rate crime as a concern and significant minorities of voters in Gembrook (21.9%), held by Labor’s Tammy Lobato by 0.6%, and Mordialloc (19.6%), held by Janice Munt by 3.62%, were also riled.

The Brumby government and the Baillieu opposition have struggled to outdo each other in the crackdown stakes, with ministers citing greater search powers, Tasers in the country and the rollout of semi-automatic weapons as reasons to re-elect it. The Liberals want armed guards on suburban railway stations and both sides have promised to ban knife sales to minors.

The Herald Sun has also waged a war on “lenient” suspended sentences given to “s-x offenders, armed robbers, drug traffickers and vicious thugs”. Star columnist Andrew Bolt has called on Victoria Police to tell the truth on ethnic crime, while his editors have urged a crackdown on CBD revellers, which they say are increasingly stabbing each other.

Melbourne has recorded the lowest per-capita violent crime rate of any Australian capital city. In 2009-10, according to official statistics, state-wide crime declined 6.4% per 100,000 head of population year-on-year. Crime against persons outside a family context decreased by 1% from 2008-2009 and the rate has fallen 0.6% since 2000-2001.

Polling impresario Gary Morgan told Crikey that while the inner-city figures were somewhat difficult to explain, “the presence of increased police surveillance in the inner city could make more people feel safer”.

By contrast, Morgan said the issue of open and honest government straddled the city/suburban divide. It was rated at least twice as highly in affogato-belt seats under threat from the Greens, with 20.3% of electors in Brunswick and 13.7% in Melbourne crying foul. But a quarter of denizens in the ultra-marginal ALP electorate of Mount Waverley also said it was important, as did 23.1% in Burwood, 21.9% in South Barwon, 18.4% in Frankston and 16.1% in Jacinta Allan’s squeaker seat of Bendigo East.

Many electors in the marginal Liberal-held electorates of Bayswater (25.0%), Bass (23.2%), South-West Coast (20.9%) and Hastings (18.3%) similarly deemed a lack of corruption a hot button issue.

In June, the Brumby government introduced the Victorian Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission in response to the Proust report, but the body has been criticised as a powerless patchwork of existing organisations that lacks the capacity to root out entrenched patronage.

Morgan, who is currently engaged in a brawl with authorities over the future of the historic MCG hotel, said “there was corruption everywhere in Victoria in every aspect of state and local government”.

Peter Fray

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