Crikey work experience kid Ruby Krupka writes: Teenagers aren’t generally very political people, and I know this because I am one. I like to think I’m worldly, but in reality I am incredibly self-absorbed. However, politics have recently started having an impact on my world and I’ve found myself swept up in all things political.
Premier Ted Baillieu is the face of our current Liberal government here in Melbourne, a government I consider to be incredibly controversial. In just six months, Baillieu has introduced a number of reforms to laws that had been left resolute for years. While some of these modifications may indeed be beneficial, the speed at which Baillieu is implementing them is quite alarming.
Shortly after his defeat of the Brumby-led Labor Party, Baillieu pushed to reintroduce the ability for faith-based groups — such as Catholic schools and charity organisations — to be allowed to discriminate against others on the grounds of their religion, gender and sexuality. This is also legal in NSW and WA. Despite attempts by the Opposition and human rights groups to smother Baillieu’s efforts, the bill was passed by the Upper House on June 15.
This law gives religious employers grounds to fire homosexual employees, or refuse to hire people with different spiritual beliefs. Religious schools are permitted to expel openly gay students, or sack a teacher who happens to be a single mother. People who are defended by this bill will face no consequences for their actions, but the victims of this will suffer enough for everyone.
Not that that’s the only change Baillieu has implemented. Previously the law on indecent language — i.e. swearing — in public was that any citizen found to be using indecent or offensive language in a public place would be issued a warning and more serious cases would go through the court system.
Now Victoria Police have permission to issue an on-the-spot fine to any citizen they witness employing indecent language in a public area (although to be fair, it was the Labor government who first ran a trial of on-the-spot swearing fines back in 2008). Inevitably the latest law sparked public outrage, some of which was expressed in the form of a ‘Fuckwalk‘ (inspired by the recent Slutwalks). The fuckwalk was designed to challenge police, as they would be unable to fine citizens in a mass. It also was a way for participants to express the anger they felt over losing part of their freedom of speech. As a 15-year-old today, I can safely say that pretty much everything makes me angry, but I believe that the anger I feel towards the current government is indeed justified.
The on-the-spot fine isn’t just hypothetical. Recently a friend of mine was walking down Swanston St in Melbourne’s CBD, telling a story to her boyfriend. Unbeknownst to her, there were three policemen following in her wake (although I’m not sure that she would have refrained from swearing even if she had known that they were present, because most people I know don’t believe this law can even exist). So, she swore, and the police promptly presented her with a $200 fine and a solemn warning that if she ever swore in public again she would “pay the price”. I’m not sure what “pay the price” means in this context, because you’d assume that the fine she was given already suggested that she would literally ‘pay the price’ for swearing.
This would be a really good time to insert a story about how one of my many young rebellious teen friends was presented with a fine for swearing while being sworn at by a policeman, but unfortunately I don’t have a story like that to tell. Yet. But I have been sworn at by police on many occasions. Not just your everyday petty swearing either, the heavy duty stuff. Meaning stacked behind the words that are being spat at you by the ‘higher power’.
Another one of Baillieu’s initiatives is placing a pair of security officers armed with semi-automatic firearms at all regional train stations from 6pm until the departure of the last train, in a bid to improve public safety. These officers, or ‘armed guards’ as Baillieu calls them, will have extensive search powers, as well as a warrant to remove anyone suspected of loitering as far from the station as they deem necessary. Whether they can ‘arrest’ people is still to be decided by the courts, although it seems they will be allowed to conduct a ‘citizen’s arrest’, while awaiting police backup.
Any person, if suspected of carrying a weapon, tools for vandalism — think felt pens or spray cans for graffiti — or illegal substances, may be searched by these new guards. What does the word ‘suspect’ really mean in this context and in the context of every case that these ‘guards’ will be presented with? Since the law used to state that persons under 15 years of age could not be searched, this is a colossal change to the rights of young Victorians.
It’s not even police who will implement the changes. These guards will only have around eight weeks of training. In comparison, Queensland has security guards ride on 40% of night trains and police backup is available but they do not carry weapons. You can read more about it in this very informative article in The Age by well-known crime writer John Silvester.
I love swearing and graffiti and I don’t like what this government is doing to young people. This may just be because I’m a stupid teenager, but I’m not going to be 15 forever and these laws will affect me for the rest of my life.