The Sun-Herald today revealed the shocking fact that the number of Australian tourists being arrested for crimes overseas has doubled in the past decade.
This plays into well-worn stereotypes about cashed-up bogans misbehaving drunkenly on football team trips to Bali, and a handful of recent, high-profile cases of Aussies charged with drug dealing, murder and espionage. Clearly we are meant to believe that our fellow countrypersons are going overseas and behaving badly — indeed much worse than ever before — or that foreign police increasingly putting Australians in the slammer at the slightest provocation.
Except. Has the number of Australians travelling overseas remained fairly static over the past 10 years? If so, this is a clear indication of growing boganisation of, or foreign law enforcement hostility to, Aussies. But if, say, the number of Australians going on overseas trips also doubled over the same period, then this statistic would be wholly unremarkable.
Let’s say 10 years ago, 100 Aussies went overseas and one was arrested. Then last year, 200 intrepid travellers boarded a Qantas jet for foreign shores and two were arrested. Whoop-de-fucking-do, you would have to say.
But for an overworked journalist writing a scare piece about how you’re twice as likely to end up being sodomised in Kerobokan Prison the instant you leave our fair shores, that’s all a bit of hard work.
If you Googled, say, ‘number of Australians travelling overseas‘ and clicked on the top link, you’d come to the Australian Bureau of Statistics publication 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010 : Holidaying Abroad. Scroll down to the last chart on the page, ‘Total short-term arrivals and departures’, which I have copied here.
What this looks like to me is that in 2003, the number of Australians going overseas was a bit above 3 million, and in 2010 it was pretty close to 7 million. And thanks to a strong Aussie dollar, outbound tourism surged in 2011. So at least double. Probably quite a bit more.
So. Number of Australians being arrested overseas: double. Number of Australians going overseas: more than double. In other words, Australians are LESS LIKELY to be arrested overseas than they were a decade ago. Not more. Less.
Australian journalists make this kind of error all the time. They state a scary-sounding statistic without taking into account the population growth, inflation or a dozen other factors that provide context and usually rob the number of its shock power, because it actually shows that things are about the same or getting better.
That makes them either sensationalist or stupid. Either way, they’re doing a shit job.