In recent years most states in Australia have introduced new ‘anti-graffiti’ laws. Western Australia followed suit on January 1 with state wide legislation that threatens graffiti artists with up to two years jail or fines of $24,000.
Retailers in WA will also risk fines of $6,000 for selling spray cans or markers to people under the age of 18. In Victoria, where similar laws exist, police have used the legislation to charge more than 120 young people with 1310 offences in the past year.
Governments argue that graffiti is a type of anti-social behaviour and costs millions of dollars a year to clean up. According to the big parties, and their big business allies, graffiti makes people feel unsafe and ‘undermines our social fabric’.
Apparently it is not the profit system or the policies of privatisation and cuts that makes people feel alienated but instead it is a little bit of paint sprayed on a wall! While moral outrage is aimed at young people, attention is diverted away from those who are actually undermining our standards of living.
But diverting peoples attention away from the problems associated with the system is not the only reason for the introduction of the laws. NSW Attorney General, John Hatzistergos, for example, has described graffiti as “serious acts of violence against property”.
While the NSW government claims it is unnecessary to jail negligent employers for industrial manslaughter, young people can be locked up for merely scribbling on a wall. Anti-graffiti laws should not be supported because they discriminate against people on the basis of age and class.
Already in most states it has been reported that young people have faced increased harassment and have been continually stopped by the police purely on the basis of their age and appearance.
It seems that while private advertising covers every corner, graffiti is banned unless there are profits to be made. For example big business is happy to use graffiti to sell everything from music to energy drinks. In recent years we have also seen graffiti art sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in some of the worlds most exclusive galleries.
Graffiti in Melbourne’s laneways is also used by the tourism industry to generate profits by attracting thousands of tourists every year. In fact a poll by Lonely Planet found that Melbourne’s street art was the most popular cultural attraction in the nation!
Socialists don’t support the idea of people being able to paint all over individual personal property. While we are opposed to anti-graffiti laws we also call for local councils to provide public places where graffiti and other forms of street art can be legally displayed.
These laws will do nothing to improve public safety or strengthen the fabric of society. They will more than likely lead to further alienation as more young people are jailed unnecessarily and fines are issued to people who are not in a position to pay them.