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Australia has no national hate crime database, but here’s how to build one

A student paying his respects at a park outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. Source: AAP Image/AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Various databases tracking hate crimes exist in Australia, but they are not yet cross-referenced to track such crimes or their perpetrators across the country.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack, many in Australia have raised the concern that effective precautions against the emergence of extreme right-wing violence had not been taken, and called for the establishment of a national hate crime database.

Nick Kaldas, the former Deputy Commissioner of New South Wales Police, has called for the creation of a centralised database for hate crime. It is a resource that the eight Australian state and federal police forces do not currently share. His position was also backed by opposition leader Bill Shorten.

However, a group of researchers from Deakin University in Melbourne have been working on this database for some time. Senior Lecturer Matteo Vergani is working alongside Prof. Greg Barton and Prof. Michele Grossman on the project and told SBS Italian of their project.

"I totally agree with Nick Kaldas, but it goes beyond that," says Vergani. "It's not just about sharing data between police forces. It is about sharing data among all the stakeholders that in Australia collect data about hate crime... Communities have data that public institutions don't have and vice-versa."

A memorial to the victims of the Christchurch attack.
A memorial to the victims of the Christchurch attack.
AAP

Databases exist but they are not shared - yet

According to Vergani, data on hate crime violence and intolerance are already being gathered by many parties in Australia. That is not only state and national law enforcement agencies, but also public and non-public organizations, including the likes of the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissions, and private or community-related groups, such as Jewish organisations or the Islamic councils.

"All these organisations collect data independently and do not talk to each other."

Moreover, institutions' databases suffer from under-reporting of hate crimes as community members sometimes do not entirely trust state institutions and instead of reporting these episodes to the police they solely report them to their community organisations, says Vergani.

Data are inconsistent and not always verified

A second problem to overcome in the creation of a unified national database is the fact that the data collected by different subjects vary in origin and nature. They do not necessarily follow the same criteria for identifying and verifying facts and therefore can hardly be aggregated in a single database.

Above all, the veracity of much of the information collected often is not verified.

In addition, what constitutes a 'hate crime' in one state may not in another. Various Australian states and territories define 'hate crime' differently and there is no common framework. 

"I worked for more than a year systematically reviewing the international 'good practices' used to identify, collect, verify, categorise, encode, analyse and share data on hate-crime," says Vergani.

How will states and organisations work together?

The ultimate goal is the creation of a unified national database, but before getting there, Vergani says there is a need to develop a "shared culture" on what  defines hate crime, as well as how to collect, verify and process the data.

For that reason, Vergani and his colleagues are working on the creation of training and educational tools for all stakeholders, including members of government agencies, police and security forces and private and community organisations.

But this is not enough to effectively create a national database for the whole of Australia, according to Vergani.

The first step would be the creation of state-based databases, as there are different legislative frameworks between different states for the definition of what a crime is and what is not. Once these are compiled, a nationwide shared database can be created.

According to Matteo Vergani, collecting data on what the law defines as a crime is not sufficient to have a complete and effective tool.

"We must also include and categorise episodes that are not always considered as crimes such as certain forms of harassment and hate speech," he says.

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