Australia’s tattoo community is harnessing the power of social media to mobilise tens of thousands of people to push back against a proposed Queensland law that they say is almost impossible to comply with and could kill the industry.
The Australian Tattooists Guild is spearheading a campaign to call on the Queensland government to change or drop an amendment about tattoo ink included as part of the Debt Reductions and Saving Bill 2021 currently before the Parliament.
The amendment would change the Medicines and Poisons Act 2019 to require tattoo ink suppliers and manufacturers to comply with a Queensland Health Department standard. The standard mandates that each batch of tattoo ink must have a compliant analysis certificate in an effort to crack down on dodgy and potentially harmful tattoo inks.
However, there are no Australian tattoo ink manufacturers, and overseas manufacturers do not produce such a document. (Manufacturers already publish material safety data sheets which are similar in purpose, but would not fulfil the requirements of the standard.)
The guild’s vice-president Tashi Edwards says the industry is frustrated by bureaucratic measures that won’t help with safety but will make it harder for responsible, ethical practitioners to do their jobs.
“It’s not about the standard, it’s about the compliance of the standard. People know they can’t get these certificates,” she said.
“[Officials] haven’t consulted with foreign manufacturers of inks. There’s already requirements for the manufacturers and they haven’t even spoken with them.”
The guild’s Change.org petition about its concerns has garnered an incredible amount of support since it was launched on Monday.
The Save The Inks petition was the fastest growing Australian petition on the platform this month. More than 40,000 people have signed it, with 30,000 of those coming in the first 48 hours. These signatures mostly came through the petition organiser’s own networks, according to Change.org Australian campaigns director Nic Holas.
A staff member for a Queensland state MP told Crikey that politicians’ offices had started getting calls about the amendment since the petition went live.
So how did a little-known amendment get so much attention all of a sudden?
Tattoo artists have built large followings on platforms like Instagram and Facebook that they’ve been able to speak to about their concerns.
The combination of having visually interesting content and the intimate nature of the practice makes tattooing a perfect industry for social media. It’s common for Australian tattoo artists to have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people following them.
Sydney-based artist and owner of Lighthouse Tattoo Alex Rusty said that the industry uses social media to promote their work and to build relationships with their audience.
The Change.org petition has more than 2100 Facebook reactions, comments and shares, including from tattoo studios, fan groups, political parties and motorcycle clubs, according to social media analysis tool CrowdTangle.
It’s been particularly widely shared on Instagram, where tattoo artists thrive. An Instagram reel posted on Monday by Garage Ink’s Teneile Napoli about the changes has been viewed more than 60,000 times.
In a departure from her usual content showcasing her artistry, Napoli tells viewers that the proposed changes will hurt the industry and implores them to sign the petition.
Rusty thinks the reason that the industry has been able to gather so much support is because their audiences have been surprised to see artists make a call-to-action.
“You’ve got a huge amount of the industry really only using [social media] for posting their work. So when they turn around and talk about something different, people go ‘Oh, that’s different. What’s this about? It must be different to diverge from usual programming,’” he said.
“People are saying, ‘Shit, what’s that?’ And you’re seeing that replicated across a huge part of the industry. I’m seeing this from all these people who usually just post their work.”
While Edwards acknowledges there’s an issue with an influx of “eBay inks” — what she calls lower quality tattoo inks sourced from ecommerce retailers that are often used by amateurs — she said that these compliance measures won’t fix the practices of underground tattoo artists but they will hamper legitimate practitioners.
“Their hope is that the standard will roll out nationally. To be an effective standard, it needs to be national. But we won’t see it have any effect on dangerous inks,” Edwards said.
The Queensland State Economics and Governance Committee published its report on the Debt Reductions and Savings Bill on Friday, recommending Queensland Health “engage closely with stakeholders” about whether the changes will improve industry safety prior to passing the bill.