In a media release last Friday, the Victorian government announced some new policy aimed at combatting offensive slogans on vehicles on state roads.
The policy is mainly targeted at Wicked Campers, a company that provides leases for recreational vehicles styled with punkish, graffiti-like artwork. Many of these vans, as it turns out, display some (gasp) offensive words and images.
The legislation calls for the de-registration of vehicles that display content that would breach the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics, at the discretion of the Ad Standards Community Panel.
This means no swear words or drug/sexual references etc. will be legally allowed to be displayed on Victorian vehicles. The government also seems to be particularly interested in slogans or artwork deemed to be sexist or misogynistic. Here is a Facebook post by Daniel Andrews himself.
According to the press statement, “The Labor Government has been working closely with other states and territories to develop a national approach to the issue.” They even admit that this is only the beginning.
What’s the next step? T-shirts are an effective medium for conveying messages. Should Dan introduce a fine for people that wear offensive slogans on their chest? After all, if we don’t want to expose children to sexist attitudes, swear words and drug references on the road, why should we do it on the street? Should we disconnect people from the NBN for homophobic Tweets from 2009? There is a myriad of directions in which this can go, and few of them look good.
The Labor Government, unfortunately, can’t see how their plan could backfire. Liberal Democrats MLC David Limbrick pointed out in this Facebook post that the laws won’t just magically disappear if another government gets in. “You must not only trust the current government, but every future government.” It wouldn’t surprise me if some social conservative types, citing this legislation, call for the de-registration of vehicles displaying LGBT pride slogans or the marijuana leaf (in support of drug reform), on the grounds that they might turn kids into transgender stoners or something.
De-registering offensive vehicles will have no tangible benefits to society. People don’t become sexists after seeing a slogan on a van. Very few people actually display these slogans, but those who do should be allowed to continue, even if only to make clear who the idiots are. You don’t have to like obscenity to support freedom of expression; Australians should be undivided on this issue.
We need to protect the sacred Australian right to be a dickhead.
Jack Johnstone is a research associate with the Australian Taxpayers Alliance.
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