Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A complete waste of money

National's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill passed its first reading last night and has been sent to committee. The committee should reject it entirely - because its clear from reading the bill's Regulatory Impact Statement that it is a complete waste of money.

Setting aside the fact that the bill unjustifiably violates fundamental human rights (and that's according to the Attorney-General, the government's own lawyer), we should start by asking "does it work"? And on that front, the RIS starts off by saying "we just can't tell":

There are some constraints on the analysis in this Regulatory Impact Statement. In particular, there is limited research evidence from other jurisdictions about the effectiveness of sex offender registers and the best practice for long term monitoring of high risk sex offenders in the community after theirsentences end. This has meant that an estimate of the value of the anticipated benefits has not been possible.
Despite this, they do give us their best estimate:
There is insufficient information to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal. We estimate that, over ten years, approximately 4 to 34 sex offences leading to conviction might be prevented through the operation of the proposed Register.
4 to 34 offences over ten years - 0r 0.4 to 3.4 offences per year. Its hard to translate this into victims saved, because they don't provide stats on it - but their problem scale (505 offenders convicted of 1819 offences per year) gives us an idea of what it means in terms of offender numbers: this law will prevent the offences of between one and ten offenders over ten years. Or, in annual terms, 0.1 to 1 offender a year (of five hundred - so, a decrease in the offending rate of between 0.02 and 0.2 percent). In other words, the margin of error of sweet fuck-all. And how much will we be paying for this massive reduction in crime?
The 10 year costs for this proposal are $146.054 million comprising the capital and operating costs of setting up and running the Register as well as the operating costs associated with managing those on the Register. This cost includes staff time.
So, the government is proposing to spend $14.6 million a year to prevent between 0.4 and 3.4 criminal offences (or, to prevent the actions of at most, a single offender). These are unquestionably serious offences, with a huge impact on people's lives. But even so, it is extremely difficult to believe that this represents value for money, or that they could not come up with other interventions which would achieve better results (and be less invasive of our human rights) more cheaply. But I guess that when the Minister wants a "tough on crime" headline, all the usual questions (such as "is this a good idea" or "would we do better by setting fire to wheelbarrows full of money in the street") go out the window.

Update: It gets worse. That $146 million in costs? Doesn't include $85 million in costs to be absorbed by agencies. So, they're really spending $231 million over ten years to prevent, at best, one offender a year.

But I guess this is what happens if you spend public money on headlines rather than policy.