An 'Offensive' Discussion
It’s not often that a University event begins with a warning that there will be liberal use of the ‘f-word’ and the ‘c-word’ but that’s how UTS Faculty of Law academic, Dr Elyse Methven opened the recent panel discussion in the Moot Court.
Panel members were Federal Court Judge and Australian Law Reform Commissioner, Matthew Myers, Barrister, Felicity Graham and Principal Solicitor at Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, Jane Sanders.
The subject was ‘Should swearing in public be a crime’ and the audience was reminded that every Australian state and territory has laws which fine or even imprison people for using certain four-letter words in or near a public place.
In NSW, on the spot fines are $500 dollars but this can rise to $660 if the matter goes to Court.
Judge Myers told the audience that the majority of those fined have little or no capacity to pay.
Being really impoverished means the impact of receiving a fine is magnified … poverty is one of the main drivers which sees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders go to jail.
Offensive Language laws are meant to ‘regulate the civility of discourse’ but Jane Sanders said the laws are oppressive and police use them not to uphold the law but rather :
as a tool to control some of the most disadvantaged in the community.
Felicity Graham went further, describing offensive language laws as ‘constitutionally invalid’ in part because they restrict the ‘freedom of political communication’.
All three speakers were in agreement that the words covered in the offensive language laws have in fact become part of common, everyday usage and that the laws should be repealed.
Elyse Methven’s research in this area is ongoing.