Skateboarders defy council ban

August 13, 1997

By Sunny Wignall

HOBART — The lack of youth rights has been highlighted by the city council's decision to ban skateboarding in the central business district.

On July 8, the Mercury reported that skateboarding would be banned within the CBD. Darlene Haigh, councillor and chairperson of a community police liaison group, was quoted as saying that the ban was proposed in response to "public safety complaints by retailers and pedestrians".

In response, skateboarders organised a protest rally on August 2. Around 100 people skated down Elizabeth Street and through the mall to Franklin Square to show that skateboarders will not accept council laws that do not recognise that skateboarding is a legitimate mode of transport.

The protesters also want council to allocate resources to recreational skating facilities.

Haigh tried to persuade the protesters to walk down the street, saying that this would result in the rest of the community taking the rally seriously. This was rejected by the skaters.

Haigh said that the council believes that "skateboarders and pedestrians don't mix". Regarding a skating facility, she said that councillors have been looking, but refused to give more details.

The council has a responsibility to provide facilities for the wider community, not just respond to complaints by individual retailers and pedestrians. People who skate anywhere in public regularly receive on-the-spot fines of $20. This is despite the lack of adequate facilities for safe recreational skateboarding.

The rally ended up at Salamanca Lawns, where a heated discussion between the skaters and Haigh took place. Haigh suggested that a youth committee be set up to meet with the council.

The young people agreed, but the majority saw this as a limited response. Some threatened to skate down Elizabeth Street every week until the ban was rejected.

Anthony, a protester, said, "Skateboarding should be recognised as a form of transport, the same as bikes and cars. Some people have a fear of them, but they're a hell of a lot more safe than most transport. The only time I've had a problem is when I got hit by a car on a zebra crossing."

Regarding the council's plans, Anthony said, "I'm not getting my hopes up. We've been trying to make skating legal and gain respect for skaters for ages."

In 1996, a group of young skaters, sponsored by surf shop Red Herring, built a skate park named "Fear of Children". Hobart City Council refused to purchase the facility, and it was sold to Ulverstone Council.

"There are definitely no facilities for young people, and they're not happy with what's happening", Anthony said. "There needs to be a youth skating venue designed by someone who has a clue — not like the Glenorchy one, which is useless."

The details of the proposed ban are unclear. It is likely, however, that the law will allow the police to impose heftier fines and confiscate boards.

Resistance member Carol Mitchell, who attended the rally, told Green Left Weekly, "This proposed ban on skateboarding is too similar to other laws to be seen in isolation. In Perth, Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide, crackdowns on youth have alienated young people from urban centres. It represents a conservative shift by state governments and councils, which give priority to economic interests over the needs of young people.

"There is a general lack of youth control over youth affairs. Instead, politicians and councillors decide what is and isn't important for young people. Resistance believes it is vital that young people are involved in making the decisions that affect them."

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