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Do terrorists deserve the same rights as other criminals?

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), April 2005–March 2006 (n=22,270 and April 2014–March 2015 (n=15,913). Thumbnail image: copyright Freedom House (Flickr Creative Commons)

As anyone who’s watched or listened to a news program, read a newspaper or used social media recently would be aware, terrorism is a topic that’s impossible to avoid in the Australian media. With events such as the proposed citizenship changes for dual nationals involved in terrorism and Zaky Mallah’s Q&A appearance igniting widespread debate this week, we take a look at Australian attitudes to the rights of terrorists… and find that very little has changed in the last 10 years.

Ten years ago, 31.3% of Australians 14+ agreed with the attitude statement: “Terrorists deserve the same rights as other criminals”. As of March 2015, that figure sits at 30.3% of the population.

What change there has been is due to a slight decline (from 31.7% to 29.4%) in the proportion of Australian men who agree with the statement. The proportion of Australian women who agree terrorists deserve the same rights as other criminals has remained stable over the last decade.

How Australians feel about the rights of terrorists

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), April 2005–March 2006 (n=22,270 and April 2014–March 2015 (n=15,913).

Of course, a person’s gender is just one of many factors that influence their attitude towards the treatment of terrorists.

Young Australians are much more likely than older generations to believe that terrorists deserve the same rights as other criminals. The difference between the under-25 and 50+ age brackets is a case in point: while 41.8% of Aussies under 25 agree with the statement, this drops to 22.8% of those aged 50 and older.

It almost goes without saying that education and political persuasion can also affect how someone feels about the subject. For example, 36.8% of Australians with a diploma or degree believe terrorists should be treated the same as other criminals (compared with 19.5% of people educated to year 10 level). Meanwhile, 56% of voters whose first Federal preference is the Greens agree with the statement, well ahead of those who prefer the Coalition (17.4%) or the ALP (30.9%).

In light of his comments about the ABC following this week’s episode of Q & A, the Prime Minister might be surprised to learn that the proportion of ABC viewers who agree that terrorists deserve the same treatment as other criminals is almost bang on average (31.3%).

Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“This week has been even more eventful than usual in terms of national debate over terrorism and how people involved in terrorist activity should be treated. But while media coverage of the topic has been in overdrive lately, the proportion of the Australian population in favour of terrorists receiving the same treatment as other criminals has hovered around the 31% mark for the last 10 years.

“Of course, the corollary of this is that some two-thirds of the population disagree that terrorists deserve the same rights as other criminals: a resounding majority. And naturally, some people are more likely than others to feel this way. For example, our data shows that nearly 75% of people who believe the fundamental values of our society are under serious threat disagree with the statement.

“Adding another dimension to this already complex issue, a phone survey conducted by Roy Morgan Research in April this year revealed that only 3% of the population saw Terrorism/Wars/Security as the most important set of problems facing Australia (well behind Economic and Financial problems).”

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About Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices throughout Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate


25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%