Well, that took a long time. Spot on six months after getting elected, the new Liberal government has gone back to its Menziesian schoolmaster roots, and decided to ban swearing in Victoria. Swearing.
Let me get this on the record now: You have got to be fucking kidding me.
Anyone who follows Heathen Scripture with any degree of regularity will know that I’m not averse to the odd bit of profanity. You will have encountered the occasional c-bomb, followed by a strafing from an f-cannon and a shower of miscellaneous blasphemy shrapnel. While swearing is often deemed a sign of a lack of English proficiency, I strongly disagree. Swearing shows a lack of proficiency if that is all you do, just as any other dozen random words would if they made up eighty percent of your speech. But swearing in and of itself is like chilli in cooking: it’s not right for every dish, it’s not essential for the main purpose of nutrition, and it kills off all the other flavour if you use too much, but the right touch at the right time adds a delicious and inimitable piquancy. Once you start cooking with it, you can’t abide the idea of a kitchen without it.
But aside from the personal debate about whether swearing is good, appropriate, funny, useful, or any of the other ten or twelve adjectives I’ve learned in my years as a book scholar, what’s actually worrying is the state of mind of the government behind this shite. If you want to talk puerility, this kind of policy-making is as infantile as they come.
I’ll admit that I hoped their years in exile might have seen some evolution among the Vic Libs. Brumby’s team of Labor turd-merchants had played the heavy-handed over-regulators for so long – think curfews, bar lockouts, noise controls, constant fear-stirring about street violence – that there was a chance Baillieu might have emerged as a kind of Turnbull-lite, investing a touch of the socially progressive to act as a point of difference. No such luck. In fact it was Labor who came up with the swear-banning idea, but unlike most other old Labor policy, the Libs have embraced this one. While they’ve left Kennett’s Gordon Gecko style to the side, at least for now, they’ve fallen back to the safety-first option that their roots dictate: namely, channelling every boarding school housemaster who said that boys just need a good bit of discipline. So, no naughty words. Next on the list: eating in class, talking to the kid next to you, and woe betide those who try to skip chapel.
In doing so, they’re invoking yet another incarnation of what Doug Stanhope called the ‘old fucks vote’ policy. “The problem with this country is that old fucks vote. We got shit to do, old folks don’t, the only thing they have to do is sit around, and judge you, and vote.” To that I’d add suburban parents, for whom the time demanded by their children insulates against a detailed following of news and social politics. Ten minutes of talkback radio in the car is probably as good as it gets. (Excuse me while I swill my latte. They get cold by the time I climb back up my ivory tower.)
We all know the technique. Talk up stuff that is going to worry and/or reassure people who disapprove of society’s apparent direction. (Society has been going to hell in a handbasket for about three thousand consecutive years.) Violent crime is up, drug users are crazed criminals, teenagers have no respect for their elders, kids are planking on the Arts Centre spire. But it’s ok, because we’ll have bar lockouts and more police and noise restrictions in all the areas that you never go, at the times of night that you never go there. Because it’s all about keeping our kids safe, right?
Hot tip: if your kids are on King Street at 2 in the morning, you are a shithouse parent. And I would like to be able to go to a pub and watch a band. Thanks.
So we have to protect the kids, who quickly become the teenagers who have no respect and are tearing society apart. We need hundreds of station guards to complement the MetCops who replaced all the conductors so we could…cut jobs? Maybe the station guards can stop the MetCops beating up commuters.
And a crackdown on public loutishness and bad language is just the sort of thing that fits firmly into the think-of-the-children/old-fucks-vote campaign strategy. As one commenter on the article had it, “you can’t go anywhere these days without being subjected to foul language. As for movies, my wife refuses to watch them because of the coarse language, so much for classifications.”
My advice: rent Mary Poppins, then buy a choctop and a big cardboard cup of harden the fuck up. People swear. I’d rather watch movies with some semblance of reality about them.
For clarity’s sake, an anti-swearing law has been on Victoria’s books since the ’60s. But it was a dead law, left unenforced. A law, like a treaty, has to be actively ratified to actually have effect. Abortion was only ‘legalised’ in Victoria two years ago, but had been effectively legal since 1969, when the last attempted prosecution was dismissed by a court. Police knew they couldn’t get convictions under that law, so they stopped enforcing it.
The new laws that would replace the original law’s provision for jailing foul-mouthed crooks with Baillieu’s favourite thing in the world, an infringement fine. $240, issuable on the spot by any police officer.
Fuck that. It means that swearing (doing something that might make someone else a bit uncomfortable) is penalised at a similar rate as speeding (something that might kill someone). And these same politicians who like to mumble a whole lot of stuff about ANZAC values, what did they think the average Australian serviceman’s attitude was toward blue language? I’m pretty sure they were famous for it.
“Attorney-General Robert Clark said the idea was to lower the police workload by allowing them to issue fines instead of tackling bad language using the court system,” said the paper. Crap. One, how many people are currently being taken to court? The numbers would be similar to Dennis Napthine’s peak popularity percentage. The proposed laws, though, will mean anyone in any kind of dispute with police (and honestly, who isn’t going to let at least one cuss slip into that interaction) immediately has a way to be charged. Police already have disproportionate amount of power. An officer can tell you to lie down in the wet street with your arms behind your back. If you refuse, you’re resisting arrest. If they try to cuff you, or pull a baton, and you defend yourself, you get done for assaulting an officer. If you pull the wrong move at the wrong time, you can wind up shot. And if you are, the force will always, always back its man. The suspect had a Kmart brochure, Your Honour. He was threatening us with menswear.
In any case, it’s an impossible law. Who defines what is offensive? In an old illustration of the point, a dog turd in the park is not obscene. A dog turd served to you on a plate in a restaurant is. Obscenity is entirely dependent on context, and entirely subjective in its designation. I know people who call me ‘a good cunt’, in all sincerity and affection. One of the stories we’re publishing in the upcoming Going Down Swinging is all about the various uses and nuances of the word amongst work-release prisoners. What about religious blasphemy? Can I be fined for saying ‘damn’ if the cop is a Catholic?
The personal debate mentioned earlier is, as you might have divined, entirely personal. What I call offensive you might call reasonable. I find a lot of things offensive. I find Joe Hockey’s face offensive. I find Hawthorn Football Club’s colours offensive. I find the publishing industry’s reliance on celebrity cookbooks offensive. Yesterday I made the poor choice of following a friend’s Herald-Sun link, to a piece on whether you should carry women’s bags, by some douche-cannon named Baz. “A woman’s sense of self-reliance decreases exponentially to the number of children tugging on her skirt. If she has four or more kids, then carry her bags, lift prams. Any more than six, she’s on her own. She didn’t think ahead,” he wrote. Then, “Those women who went on the Slutwalk at the weekend? You’re completely on your own here. Good luck with those girls.” Oh, how the internet LOLed at his perspicacity and wit.
And yes, I found that offensive. Does he have the right to say it? Yeah, he does. Do I have the right to put the boot into him for it? Absofuckinglutely. That’s part of the exchange of ideas (though in this case, the exchange is akin to trading fifty dollars for a turd on a plate). Your offensive is my pleasant afternoon in. My offensive is your strong border protection policy.
And this is before we get to the issue of wasting police energy on trivial shit like this. I don’t even need to rhetorically ask whether the police have better things to do. They have plenty to do, and plenty of need to do it better. Simon Overland, the Victorian commissioner, is the biggest cock-up since they shot a rooster into space. Apparently he was known in the force as The Lantern – not because of any superhero crime-fighting prowess, but because he’s not all that bright and has to be carried. Now that he’s in charge, perhaps opinions are kept quieter. But there’s serious, deep rot within the force, and whether it’s by negligence or collaboration, it starts at the top.
If you think that’s hysteria, just consider that you’re living in a state (or I am, anyway) where the key witness in nearly twenty years of investigation into organised crime, and the biggest conviction in decades, was beaten to death with the seat-pole of an exercise bike by another inmate in a maximum-security prison.
If you’ve considered it, consider again. Few people shed any tears for Carl Williams himself. But it defies any logical belief that this could have happened by misfortune. Why was he even in the same building as other prisoners, when he had so much information on other cases, and when criminal networks clearly extend to the inside of jails? Why was this even the faintest possibility? He was always, always an obvious target for a hit. And even in that prison, how did another prisoner magically get into his cell, and happen to know there would be a murder weapon there that he could use? Let’s stress again, maximum security. Remotely locked doors every three feet, video feeds from every corner. An ‘accident’ was flat-out impossible.
Clearly it was an inside job, and police corruption couldn’t be any more obvious. Then a couple of weeks ago, Overland sacks his deputy, the Englishman Sir Ken Jones, the one senior cop who comes from outside the Victoria Police boys’ club. Jones’ sins included objecting to Williams being moved to the jail where he was ultimately killed.
If the Libs were really so keen on law and order, as all their campaigning indicated, they’d be shoulder-deep in the fetid carcass of Victoria Police trying to rip out the stinkiest bits. Instead we get this bubble-gum-banning, wrist-slapping, revenue-raising shit. It should be roundly and obscenely shouted down.
It is our right (and yes, I know Australia has no bill of rights, but I am fucking well asserting one) to say whatever we want. It is the right of other people to disapprove, to voice that disapproval, to engage us on any issue related to that. It is our right to think they are dickwads, and to say so. They’re welcome to tell me I shouldn’t swear, and all the reasons why. They just can’t actually stop me doing it.
Let’s get this straight: this is a state where Robert Doyle is allowed to wipe grease on your babies during his election campaigns, but you won’t be allowed to tell him to fuck off and die.
To protest this state of affairs… well, I won’t be swearing any more than usual. That would be pushing it to the too-much-chilli side of the equation. But maybe I’ll target it more directly at Parliament. No, I’ve got it. I’m going to do all my swearing while planking. Is it possible to plank on Ted Baillieu’s lack of credibility?
Ultimately, governments should be pilloried for trying to get traction out of absolute non-issues. Why I should really care if someone called me a shitty cunting cunt? I’d be happier if I didn’t have a bunch of crooks supposedly in charge of public safety. I’d be happier if I had a public transport system that didn’t need two hours to get me anywhere. I’d be happier if they didn’t pay rejected security guards to bash up on kids who don’t pay for the privilege of being made late.
And I’d be much more offended if someone called me Ted Baillieu.