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"Dealing with Graffiti"
First National Conference on Graffiti Control

Address by
Senator Ian Campbell
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment

All Seasons Freeway Hotel
South Perth
4th September, 1996


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am here today wearing two hats.

First and foremost, as many of you know, I am a West Australian Senator in Federal Parliament and take a great interest in West Australian initiatives.

Secondly, I am also here wearing my Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for the Environment hat.

In both of these capacities, I believe that Premier Court and his Government deserve recognition.

By forming and hosting this inaugural national conference on graffiti, Western Australia has taken a leading role against what is a national problem.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of the West Australian programs to date and the commitment that the Court Government has shown to addressing the problem of graffiti is of credit to the Government, the Steering Committee, the government agencies involved, and of course, most importantly the community.

What is Graffiti

Recently, a member of the public visited my Canberra office to claim that graffiti is an avenue of expression of social unrest and rather than attempting to remove graffiti, it should be left to serve as a political reminder of the existence of this unrest.

My reaction at the time was, and remains, 'what utter nonsense.'

In a country such as Australia which enjoys such high levels of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and a high political representation, there should be little need for social comment through the vandalism of other's property.

Perhaps in nations where such freedoms are not recognised, it could be argued that graffiti may be the only avenue for protest, but not in Australia.

There is a role for legal urban art, but I have also heard illegal graffiti referred to as "urban art." The vandalism of private, community or government property should never be considered 'artistic.'

In Western Australia, indeed across Australia, graffiti is and should be a crime. It is intentional damage to other peoples property and it should never be condoned.

Graffiti is a blight on our society.

I do agree, however that graffiti is often symptomatic of other problems. As we know, graffiti is usually committed by teenagers. Teenagers, just like the rest of us, do things for a reason.

To look back now at my own adolescent years, I remember that they were filled with countless personal, physical and emotional challenges.

Teenagers often need a hand to overcome these challenges and I am pleased to see that in Western Australia there are several government and community services which have now tailored their services to address this area of behaviour.

Graffiti is also nothing new to Australian society. Recently one of my advisers in Canberra complained that every bus shelter she has ever been in has been vandalised and is overrun by graffiti. The Canberra Times on this day in 1926 ran a story entitled 'Vandalism in shelter sheds.'

The articles reads, and I quote, "....the roof of the shelter in Adelaide Avenue had been broken apparently by stones. Disfigurement of the walls of the shed had completed the destructive efforts. In the opinion of the police children have been responsible for the damage."

After seventy years, little has changed.

Environmental Factors

In addition to the visual pollution caused by graffiti, there is another significant environmental factor to consider.

Many of the paints and substances used by graffitists is toxic, both to themselves and to our environment.

Even more damaging are the substances often used to remove graffiti. If these chemicals are not used carefully, considerable environmental degradation can be caused by chemical run-off into our waterways.

The National Problem

The attendance of our interstate guests here today indicates that graffiti is not unique to Western Australia. Indeed graffiti is not unique to Australia.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment, I have had the opportunity to consult widely and meet numerous groups across Australia.

This has involved travel to all states and territories, most capital cities, and dozens of regional centres and smaller settlements. I cannot recall visiting a single centre which did not suffer from graffiti.

Strangely enough however, there has been little research into the amount of graffiti in our society or into the financial costs of removing it.

This relates largely to the difficulty in calculating these statistics and I suspect the unwillingness of the various levels of government to realise the comprehensive nature of the problem.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics does not compile statistics. Figures compiled by the various State and Territory Bureau's of Crime Statistics present only a small part of the story.

Even the Federal Department of Administrative Services does not keep figures on graffiti damage to government buildings. At present, restoration works are carried out under individual department's minor capital works budgets.

The amount of graffiti on Federal Government Buildings and the cost to the Australian taxpayer to remove, remains a mystery.

It is a credit to the present Court Government that figures on graffiti are not only calculated in Western Australia, but made available to the community.

We have 'guesstimates' of the national cost of graffiti. Perhaps the most reliable figure is achieved by applying WA statistics on a per-capita basis across the nation.

This would indicate that the national cost of graffiti is in excess of $200 million per annum. This figure does not include the increased costs to law enforcement agencies.

Another figure available has been provided by the National Capital Planning Authority, which is primarily concerned with a number of structures within, what is called, the Parliamentary Triangle in Canberra.

Last financial year, the NCPA spent almost $100,000 on removing graffiti from national monuments.

To place this figure in perspective, the damage to Parliament House during the recent violent protests and the subsequent looting of the gift shop has been estimated at $90,000.

We spent $10,000 more last financial year removing graffiti from a handful of national monuments than the cost of covering the damages and the looting caused by the violent protest.

It is certainly not hard to think of things that this money could be better spent on.

These figures highlight the problem, but the financial impact falls hardest on many who cant afford it.

Graffiti on the back fence of a pensioners house makes them worried about their own safety, and has a major impact on a tight household budget.

Graffiti on the walls of small business also hit hard on a sector that would rather spend money on investing in growth and jobs than addressing these acts of vandalism.

The Future

It is not difficult to imagine what this conference could achieve.

It is clear that there is a desperate need for a national network to be established. A national network will provide an appropriate forum for the exchange of information, data and measure individual state and territories targets against each other.

With this sort of information flow, individual states and local governments will have access to up to date techniques for dealing with graffiti, graffiti removal and graffitists.

This inaugural conference should be exactly inaugural conference.

Other State and Territory Governments should consider following the West Australian Government's lead and hold annual conferences. This will raise the awareness of anti graffiti techniques across the nation.

A regular national newsletter should be published to help keep individual communities, local governments and interest groups abreast of the issue and the latest techniques.

Greater use of the internet also presents enormous opportunities to raise awareness and to provide a forum for greater information flow.

It is this community awareness which I believe separates the Western Australian Program from others.

I have heard on a number of occasions that the Western Australian Program is the most comprehensive and ambitious program being undertaken anywhere in the world.

This is a testament not only to the Court Government, but also to local government and the level of community involvement.

There is an acceptance that this is not just a government problem, a council problem, or a business problem but everyone's problem.

With this acceptance has followed a determination to deal with the problem.

The Commonwealth clearly has a role within the areas of codes of practice and best practices. The Commonwealth can certainly play a role by helping to provide a greater level of coordination between States and Territories through relevant Commonwealth agencies.

If I could leave you with one final thought regarding goals and targets.

As we all know, Australia is hosting the 2000 Olympics. This will provide an excellent opportunity to harness community pride to support anti-graffiti programs. The Olympics will not only bring an influx of tourism into Australia, but also will ensure that more people than ever before will see images of our beautiful nation.

The thought that visitors and international television viewers may be left with images of Australian graffiti is not terribly appealing.

Realistically, it will be extremely hard to eradicate graffiti. But there is however, every indication that we can do better as a community, a state and a nation.

Commonwealth of Australia