Graffiti Control Amendment Bill 2013

Graffiti Control Amendment Bill 2013

(Debate, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I speak on the Graffiti Control Amendment Bill 2013. Racist, homophobic or obscene graffiti and unsightly tags reduce amenity, create a sense of neglect and urban decay, make people feel unsafe in their neighbourhood and incur large clean-up costs for councils and property occupiers and owners. I agree that Parliament should act to reduce this problem, but I do not support all parts of this bill. 

The Graffiti Control Amendment Bill creates a two-tiered approach that merges existing graffiti offences for marking property without the owner or occupier's permission. Temporary markings such as chalkings will form the base offence and markings that cannot be readily removed or are made with a graffiti implement will be an aggravating factor. The penalties have not changed but temporary marking offences will apply regardless of whether or not the markings can be viewed from a public place. I am concerned that temporary markings are considered a graffiti offence. Earlier this year the Minister for Roads and Ports used emergency powers to rip up the rainbow crossing at Taylor Square late at night.

ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gareth Ward): Order! The House will come to order. That sort of outburst is inappropriate. I call the member for Murray Darling to order for the first time.

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: The rainbow crossing was public art recognising the area's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex history and was a popular tourist attraction. In response to its removal a grassroots movement emerged known as the DIY Rainbow movement. People from across Sydney chalked small rainbow crossings along footpaths, at crossings and at entries to buildings. What began as a non-violent symbolic protest against what many saw as a heavy-handed and wrong government decision—

ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gareth Ward): Order! I can hear the member for Keira quite clearly.

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: —turned into a global movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex pride, acceptance and support. Rainbow chalking appeared across Australia and the globe, as far away as Vietnam, Spain, the United States of America, Canada and Turkey. As of today, the DIY Rainbow Facebook page has more than 23,000 likes. Under State law anyone rainbow chalking a road in New South Wales without council or State Government approval, depending which road they are chalking, is committing an offence. In fact, it is not even clear if children who chalk hopscotch squares on the footpath are in breach of the Graffiti Control Act. Is playing a reasonable excuse?

The Graffiti Control Act 2008 can criminalise graffiti artists and force young offenders into the court system. Graffiti art is an established visual art form which has its roots on the street and which can provide meaningful social commentary. Many street artists live in my electorate and many of my constituents appreciate the contribution street art makes to their neighbourhood. Temporary art markings in the community could be considered as a way to foster good street art without the impact of spray cans and permanent markers, but our laws make temporary art markings an offence. This bill makes me wonder where the libertarians in the Liberal Party have gone.

One Liberal Party member who does value individual freedoms is Michael Tiyce, president of the East Sydney branch of the Liberal Party. Today he reminded me of the iconic "Eternity" inscription that appeared across Sydney from the 1940s. Those inscriptions would be illegal under the Graffiti Control Act but they are celebrated widely across the State for their contribution to arts and culture. The word "Eternity" was illuminated on the Harbour Bridge for the 2000 New Year's celebrations and during the Sydney Olympic Games. We must differentiate art and chalking from unsightly, violent and obscene graffiti. As a previous speaker stated, the most effective solution to unsightly graffiti is instant removal. Taggers usually will not re-tag a location if their graffiti is removed quickly. Graffiti is a massive problem in housing estates in my electorate, but despite my ongoing calls for action Housing NSW will not remove it quickly unless it is offensive.

ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gareth Ward): Order! I call the member for Wollondilly to order for the first time.

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: That is in stark contrast to what happens on adjacent land where the City of Sydney has a proactive approach to removing graffiti quickly after it is identified. If the Government wants to take problematic graffiti seriously it should increase funding to Housing NSW for graffiti removal. I agree that ugly tags aimed at nothing but marking territory on park benches and public walls is a problem that must be addressed. However, we should also be assessing what temporary markings and graffiti are supported by the community and make them lawful. The recent statutory review of the Graffiti Control Act 2008 should have looked at these issues and assessed whether criminalising young people early in life, with dangerous costly consequences to them and society, is a useful approach.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!