(3 August 2011 11.42am, Parliament House Sydney)
The Graffiti Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 will force all young offenders charged with a graffiti offence to appear before the courts, removing the capacity for the Director of Public Prosecutions or police to refer them to a youth justice conference or issue a warning. The bill will also require courts to include graffiti cleaning in a community service order and introduces a number of driver licence-related penalties for graffiti offences.
Graffiti is unsightly and can make a neighbourhood look neglected and feel unsafe, and councils divert large resources to graffiti clean-up. The City of Sydney inspects graffiti hot spots every 24 hours and the remainder of the local government area every five days. When graffiti is found it is removed within 24 hours. Graffiti is a serious problem; however I am concerned that forcing young graffiti offenders into the court system will not be helpful. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the police should have discretion to divert children away from the court system. Many young graffiti offenders already resent authority and often a youth justice conference is a more productive way to make a child understand the seriousness of his or her offence.
I understand from the Law Society of New South Wales that agreements reached through a youth justice conference often involve a young offender cleaning up graffiti. A wide range of minor offences such as a person having a graffiti implement in their possession will now end up in court, burdening the court system. In 2009, when carrying a spray can first became an offence for persons under 18, I raised concerns in this House that young graffiti artists could be targeted. I hope that the regime proposed under this bill will not force legitimate young artists into the court system. We should provide opportunities for young people to direct their energy into something productive such as art, music, sport and science, and this should be the focus of graffiti prevention. I do not support the bill.