Australia a 'nation of dobbers': report

Australians have increasingly been dobbing their neighbours in to police since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, dispelling the notion Australia is a nation of easy-going larrikins.

Instead, new research detailing the number of Crime Stopper reports since 2019 found Australia may have become a nation of dobbers.

Then-NSW Police Minister David Elliott revived the phrase in 2021 during Sydney's COVID lockdown, after over 6000 reports were sent to Crime Stoppers following an anti-lockdown protest attended by just 3500 people.

"What we see, looking at the Crime Stopper data, is that when the government creates a state of emergency, it really starts to be enthusiastically policed, including by regular people," the report's author Catherine Bond said.

Over the course of the pandemic, Crime Stoppers reports jumped almost 90 per cent, from 313,000 in 2019 to 584,000 in 2021.

"This spike in the number of reports is really significant and is just huge when you think about it," Ms Bond said.

The research found that during an emergency, legal frameworks create an environment that encourages regular Australians to report each other to authorities for a perceived public interest.

"Under normal circumstances police would not expect members of the public to dob in others," Mr Elliott said last year.

The minister cautioned against Australia becoming a nation of dobbers, contradicting NSW Police and the government, who encouraged citizens to snitch on people they knew were breaking COVID restrictions.

But he rationalised calls for reporting of COVID breaches by invoking the need for collective action to overcome the pandemic.

Ms Bond said Australians felt a sense of duty to report on one another, similar to the heightened self-surveillance seen during wartime.

"Like our ancestors in World War I, we think we're doing the right thing and are taking the moral high ground," she said.

UNSW sociologist Melanie White said a person's decision to dob or not depends on the context of the situation and whether or not they feel there is a social imperative that outweighs the negative stigma of being labelled a dobber.

"Dobbing can certainly work to undermine social trust, and the social fallout for the dobber can be more consequential than any kind of institutional sanctions for the wrongdoer," Ms White said.

"But dobbing can be an important mechanism for social change by pushing values and norms in a new direction ... if others see it as a positive contribution to the group's health."