Legislation passed in the Queensland parliament on February 14 could mean that Wicked Campers’ vehicles with misogynist slogans that vilify women and promote rape culture are taken off the road from March 31.
The legislation says operators who refuse to remove “inappropriate” words or pictures within 14 days will have their vehicles deregistered. The Advertising Standards Board (ASB) will be responsible for determining if a slogan is inappropriate on receipt of a citizen’s complaint.
The legislation represents a partial victory after nearly three years of campaigning by feminist activist group Wicked Pickets, directed at the Queensland-based campervan hire company Wicked Campers.
Wicked Pickets, RACQ, ASB and the Australian Association of National Advertisers welcomed the legislation when it was tabled in July last year.
The Attorney-General had consulted with the ASB and the RACQ during the drafting phase but, despite consistent campaigning by Wicked Pickets, she refused to consult more widely.
The Wicked Pickets campaign drew the link between the vilification of women inherent in Wicked Campers slogans and violence against women. It called for changes to the Queensland anti-discrimination law to include vilification on the basis of sex.
The campaign involved stalls at local markets, community forums, letter writing and petitions to the Queensland and federal governments, rallies and marches, actions outside Wicked Camper bases in Brisbane and Cairns, as well as approaches to local councils, festivals, and tourist operators to bar Wicked Campers from their sites. Links were made with activists in other states and New Zealand.
Wicked Pickets activist Anna McCormack told Green Left Weekly: “The move to de-register those commercial vehicles that do not comply with the ASB’s findings is clearly aimed at Wicked Campers.
“It is a positive move. Dozens of complaints about Wicked Campers van slogans have been upheld by the ASB but Wicked Campers has ignored requests to remove the slogans. Now they will not be able to ignore those requests.
“Once the law comes in, people need to start all over again by lodging individual complaints with the ASB and only if the ASB upholds the complaints will the government require that particular slogan to be removed.
“We had hoped that all the slogans against which the ASB has upheld complaints over the last decade would automatically have to go but it seems not.”
McCormack said the legislation still does not go far enough. “While it may deal with Wicked Campers,” she said, “it allows other commercial companies that advertise via newspapers, magazines and billboards to continue to denigrate and ridicule women and girls. It allows these companies to continue to use rape culture to sell their products. The ASB frequently fails to uphold complaints on the basis of misogyny.
“We believe the Queensland government was looking for a solution to the Wicked Campers problem that did not ‘open the floodgates’, that is, that did not allow women to make complaints about any other company. They have achieved this, but the solution will not challenge the advertising of companies like Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci. The presentation of dead women, women without heads and women about to be raped as ‘sexy’ and appealing will go unchallenged.”
Current Queensland anti-discrimination law outlaws vilification on the grounds of race, religion, sexuality and gender identity. McCormack said it needs to be extended to include “gender” so women and girls are also protected.
“The Queensland Anti Discrimination Act should be reviewed to ensure it provides protection to all disempowered groups,” she said. “Tasmania is the only Australian state that outlaws conduct that insults, intimidates or ridicules on the grounds of gender, as well as a range of other attributes.
“Tasmanian women have recently begun to lodge complaints about Wicked Campers vans with Equal Opportunity Tasmania. Wicked Campers has already started painting over their misogynist slogans. This needs to happen elsewhere.”
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: “We have essentially put Wicked Campers on notice that they are to remove these offensive slogans and, if they don’t, then their vehicles will be deregistered here in Queensland.”
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad conceded the legislation extended only to vehicles registered in Queensland. “Clearly if there are vehicles coming from interstate into Queensland, our reach is limited in terms of deregistration,” she said. “But we are very, very determined that we make sure that these slogans that demean people, that demean particularly women, that do celebrate a rape culture, are not on our roads.”
McCormack said: “The Queensland government is negotiating with other states for them to introduce similar legislation. The ACT and NT administrations have already responded positively so that deregistered vehicles cannot be re-registered in their jurisdictions. In Victoria, legislation is proposed to go further and outlaw all misogynist advertising, not just on campervans.”
NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi indicated on February 15 her intention to introduce a similar bill to NSW parliament, saying there is no way, within existing laws, to enforce the removal of such messages.
“People have had very legitimate concerns about the derogatory and appalling messages on these vans for years and yet they are still on the streets,” she said. “Some local councils have had to take measures to ban them from their land but we need to see this rolled out statewide. We have to send out a strong message that NSW is not going to tolerate this disgusting objectification of women, and legislation is the way to do it.
“There is no reason why Wicked Campers can’t provide campervans that don’t demean and degrade women and other groups. I hope this sets a precedent that commodifying, vilification and sexism simply is not acceptable.”