Give a shit about anti-swearing laws

Protest against the anti-swearing laws. Melbourne, June 3. Photo: Sue Bolton

In the first week of June, the Baillieu state government introduced new laws that give Victorian police the power to issue on-the-spot fines of up to $240 for using offensive language.

Victorian police already had the power to charge people with indecent language offences, but they had to do this through the court system. This meant that people had the opportunity to defend their behaviour through the judicial system and were more likely to get a fair hearing.

The opposition state Labor Party supported the bill. This is unsurprising since it had originally proposed it while still in office.

Labor was not going to be left behind in the law and order crusade to see who could create the most repressive nanny state in Australia.

A political demonstration named ‘Fuckwalk’ has been organised to oppose the introduction of these new powers.

Fuckwalk organiser Reubin Williams told Green Left Weekly: “I organised the event with a little push from my girlfriend Jasmine. I first joked about a ‘Fuckwalk’…within 24 hours I had 1000 people attending on Facebook and thought maybe it’s time to get serious.”

In response to why he initiated the rally, Williams said: “I am not saying they [Victorian police] will use the powers on a day-to-day basis, but the issue is that they can be misused at the whim of an officer.

“A police officer is now the judge of moral decency, public order and social conduct, I’m sure they have enough on their plate without having this responsibility,” Williams said.

Williams acknowledged that many current laws can be viewed in this way, but expressed serious concern over police misusing the powers to discriminate against groups they dislike.

“It seems like part of a greater plan to purify society and rid the Earth of undesirables. The day politicians realise that financially penalising people for their actions is not the answer will be a good day.

“If they truly wanted to change society they would educate those who have done wrong,” Williams said.

Resistance activists feel these powers are going to be abused by Victorian law enforcement because police can’t be relied on to hand out these fines appropriately and fairly.

This claim is not without substance: in 2008, the state government began a trial in which police were given the power to issue on-the-spot fines of up to $240 to any citizen deemed by police to have used offensive language in a public area.

Fuckwalk organisers said in a June 2 Indymedia article: “Since giving police these powers the number of offences related to public behavior shot up nearly 29% between 2009/2010 and 2008/2009 year with most of the 8266 offences committed on footpaths, streets and lanes.”

The arbitrary nature of what is deemed offensive leaves way too much discretion in the hands of the police force.

Liberty Victoria president Professor Spencer Zifcak said the move has serious civil liberty implications and that the problem lies in the degree of discretion the change gives to individual police officers to decipher what remains an ill-defined notion.

The Facebook group for ‘Fuckwalk’ now has more than 14,000 people attending: an indication that this event is seen as vital to suppressing the nanny-state mentality of the Baillieu government’s crackdown on crime.

The government is surely going to make an enormous amount of money from these new police powers.

An opinion piece by Karl Quinn in The Age said: “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.”

Fuckwalk will be held on June 25 at 2pm. Protesters will meet at the Flinders Street station steps and march to Bourke St Mall.


In the 1950's and 60's the US had among its comedic entertainers "The Great One", Lenny Bruce []. He was arrested many times for "obscenity"-- the charges being rationalized based on the lanugage he used in his performance. His lawyer and friend, after bailing him out on the latest of a few dozen charges grew testy and said, "Lenny, come on, 'Fuck' is free speech." The Great One's reply, "If you can't say 'Fuck', you can't say 'Fuck the government!'"
An amusing and insightful line. I'd find it more uplifting did it not remind me we already don't have the right to freedom of speech in our constitution or law and this signals another step away from something we should be moving toward. Seriously though, thanks for the post, this line illustrates the exact importance of this right. Here's hoping Saturday is multi-generational and omni-demographic, it is not about the right to swear. Peace.