Victoria’s Offensive Language Law Changes Are Bollocks

In the fine tradition of politicians looking like they’re doing something, the new Baillieu government in Victoria has decided to fine people swearing in public on the spot. Which, let’s be honest, is different to actually being offensive.

This is instead of charging people with offensive language and hauling them into court only to have the charges dismissed by the magistrate in what is obviously a waste of the court’s time. Offensive language laws are long past their use-by date as the community has become more tolerant (this is different to accepting) of people swearing in public. It’s part of the social fabric and unless the surrounding language is intended to be threatening, most people just brush it off.

Many on Twitter, as usual, are blaming the moral conservatives and the evangelicals but I find it hard to see either of these groups explicitly supporting the new legislation. Basically, the new legislation is more about clearing the matter in one hit, in the same way councils do with parking fines, rather than let magistrates let the ‘offender’ off. These groups might drink a dry sherry in honour of the new laws, but unless my Aunty Betty has been writing letters (and she does), nobody is going to be all that impressed.

I think you’ll find the Victoria Police are behind it.

Baillieu wants to give Police the excuse to grab people on what is effectively a technicality. If a Police officer directs someone to do something and gets the predictable response that goes along the lines of ‘Get f***ed, pig,’ then the Police now have a marvellous excuse for grabbing the offender, fining them a couple of hundred bucks and sending them on their way after what will no doubt be a thorough search. That’s what this is all about, it’s the twenty-first century clip over the ear with added rights infringements.

If you want to blame the evangelicals (I’m not exactly sure who people think these evangelicals are) or the moral conservatives (a marvellous social caricature used as a scapegoat. Again, who are these people? Apart from Aunty Betty, I mean), go right ahead. But I think you’re missing the point. If the Police fine a hundred people on an average Saturday night in Melbourne, that’s twenty grand for the state’s coffers, or a millions bucks for a year’s worth of Saturdays. How many of those hundred people will want to take this to court? Not many. No doubt the process will be as tortuous as contesting a parking fine and that’s the point.

Worse, and far more insidious than the ad hominem argument of evangelicals/moral conservatives, is the fact that it is giving the Police a fantastic excuse to decide to search you where they previously wouldn’t bother. Police probably don’t bother with offensive language charges on their own because it sends them to court, causes endless paperwork and rarely gets past the magistrate. Those are the sorts of shenanigans nobody needs for somebody dropping an f-bomb in public. Now the Police know they’re more likely to make it stick, they’ll fine you and search you because, hey, why not while you’re already writing a ticket?

See where this is going? With a bit of luck, someone they really want to talk to will go for a bit of biffo and they’ve got them in the cells, nice and handy for assessing whether they can get them for something else.

I’m not dismissing ‘moral conservatism’ or evangelicals as a factor, but they’re not the driving force. I can’t say there’s much evidence to support the argument but it is the sort of thing Aunty Betty would do. She once rang my father early on a Sunday morning asking him to preach against a Pizza Hut slogan that went, ‘Get Stuffed.’ He told her to get stuffed, but reasonably politely, as I recall. For the record, swearing doesn’t offend me, despite my membership of the Christian church. There’s rather more going on in society to worry about people saying words to which we have attached weight for strange reasons.

Fining somebody for offensive language is remarkably stupid and is massively inconsistent. People like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones are wilfully offensive in their on-air and written ramblings yet they never, ever swear at or to their audience. Baillieu isn’t interested in keeping the peace, he’s interested in raking in a few bucks, playing hard ball on law and order and giving Police a new motivation for collaring somebody they normally wouldn’t – or couldn’t.

I reckon that’s far worse.

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