Fucking hell, the Victorian Liberal Party, in their grand “law and order” plan, have decided that instead of having people who are charged with using:
language deemed to be indecent, disorderly, offensive or threatening. (The Age)
go to court, a process which is time consuming and rarely successful (on the point of the prosecutors), that police will now be able to issue an on-the-spot fine of up to $240.
The Age article continues:
The crackdown — which extends the Baillieu government’s ever-growing law-and-order agenda — means police will be able to issue infringement notices for offensive behaviour and indecent language similar to parking and speeding fines.
Attorney-General Robert Clark said the idea was to lower the police workload by allowing them to issue fines instead of tackling bad language using the court system.
“It frees up police time for other law enforcement activities and enables them to more readily issue penalties against those offenders who deserve them,” Mr Clark said.
“By providing police with as many enforcement tools as possible, Parliament is sending a strong signal that people who engage in criminal behaviour can expect to be dealt with under the law.”
Offensive language has been an offence in Victoria since 1966. Swearing — if it is deemed serious enough — can carry a penalty of up to two years’ jail, and is even considered an offence if no one is present to hear it.
In truth, they’ve all been out of bounds since the Act was introduced in 1966, but until 2008 anyone thus charged had to have their case heard in court. That took time and effort and got in the way of more pressing cases. Frankly, who could blame the legal system if it collectively decided it really couldn’t be arsed to hear such matters – matters that Ross Garnaut might feasibly have described as “pissant”? (The Age -another article)
Because saying “FUCK” (and other swears) is clearly criminal behaviour. I didn’t know, until now, that “offensive language” was actually a real offence, and only had been since 1966. I’d also like to know what “offensive language” actually means. Sure it’s almost described with “indecent, disorderly, offensive or threatening” language, but what does that really mean?
How will police define “indecent, disorderly, offensive or threatening” language? Will some groups, as I suspect they will, receive far more leniency from police in relation to swearing than others? Will some groups who have threatening language used towards them (those who are not white, the homeless, the LBGTIQ community, etc) really have an effective response from the police if they report the language used against them?
It has been suggested that this is just an attempt at revenue raising by the Victorian State Government, and I’m inclined to agree. Instead of ensuring that minority groups who already have existing issues with police are protected adequately, this will be further power for some police to put the boot in even more.
Then there is the cultural impact – the fact that people can (and probably will) be fined for swearing at sporting events, live music concerts (Yeah, how is Cee-Lo (warning for NSFW swears) ever going to perform his song in Victoria?), comedy, or the theatre? The Melbourne International Comedy Festival (one of the biggest comedy festivals in Australia -possibly the third biggest in the English speaking world), is worried that the new laws will impact on the festival next year.
Comedian Wil Anderson yesterday tweeted in response to the news. “Victoria announced on-the-spot fines of $240 for indecent language. Suddenly my [comedy festival] show is going to cost me a lot more next year.”
Melbourne International Comedy Festival director Susan Provan said she was taking a wait-and-see approach. “We at the Comedy Festival will be waiting with bated breath for news on what does and does not constitute swearing,” she said. However, she added that the festival may need to consider hiring people “with bleepers in all areas of our activity”.
The Baillieu government is pitching this as part of its ever-expanding law-and-order agenda, but the cynically inclined might wonder if it is not also a blatant revenue-raising exercise. Given the difficulty of successfully prosecuting someone for swearing (or, more broadly, offensive language) in court, this is by and large money the government would not otherwise have had. (The Age)
The Age article the excerpt above is from also defines all the places in which it will be illegal to swear – and about the only place you will be able to swear will be in the privacy of your own home – provided that the public is not gathering there – so not when you’re having a party probably.
In fact, there is little agreement even on what constitutes “offensive” language in 2011, as distinct from 1966. One man’s meat is another man’s cruelly harvested animal flesh, as it were.
In a much-noted ruling in 2002, NSW magistrate David Heilpern observed of the F word that “one would have to live an excessively cloistered existence not to come into regular contact with the word, and not to have become somewhat immune to its suggested previously legally offensive status”. (The Age)
With no fucking clue as to what constitutes offensive language, the potential for this new police power to be massively misused is very high. Personally I’d take the fine to court and ask that the 2002 NSW ruling be taken into account, if I was fined by the police for swearing. I have that luxury and privilege. Those who have minimal incomes, minimal support, and/or an unfamiliarity with the Australian Justice System are going to struggle to have the fine waived, and in many cases struggle to pay the fine.
This is not a law which does anyone any favours if all the attention is put on “offensive” and none on “threatening”. I’d like to see “threatening” strengthened, and a real discussion about whether or not we need to be protected from swears when we’re out in public these days.