Page 1805 - Week 06 - Wednesday, 4 May 2005

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MR HARGREAVES: It is your policy, mate. Your policy on this is going to be, “Please turn over on both sides of the paper.” You will keep yourself busy for a fortnight reading it.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.02): I do not support this motion as it is currently stated, and I have quite a few reservations about the amendments. Firstly, I do not think graffiti gives this city a shabby, Third World look, and I do not believe it is the Third World that has a problem with graffiti. I feel I can pretty confidently say it is likely to be cities like New York, London and Sydney that have more of a problem with graffiti than, say, Darfur, Mandalay or Kabul.

I feel sure that Mr Pratt has been to a number of Third World cities and is probably going to agree that a rising degree of homelessness is more a characteristic of Third World cities than graffiti. Sadly, he has rejected the opportunity to do something about this particular Third World problem today in our own city. Our federal government’s aid program also is not too good about approaching the problem of homelessness in the Third World.

Mr Pratt’s motion represents an attitude commonly expressed in the Canberra Times letters pages over the past few weeks that is based on negative assumptions about graffiti and its writers but has the unfortunate tendency of polarizing the community into “us and them”. A leading researcher from the University of Sydney, Dr Kurt Iveson, says:

Those wishing to regain control over urban surfaces tend to group together a vast and diverse array of textual and artistic practices as the “graffiti problem”. These different forms of graffiti may have very little in common, other than the fact that they are seen as a problem in need of a solution. A tag in a housing estate stairwell, a colourful mural on a railway line, a political slogan painted on an advertising billboard, a racist message on a shop window…

He says that all of these instances of graffiti are likely to have been written by very different people with very different purposes in mind, and that these various instances of graffiti are also likely to have quite different impacts on the quality of life of citizens.

Graffiti has been an important mechanism in political movements over the years. I do not know, but I am sure Mr Pratt is old enough, as I am, to remember the “buga up” campaign. That is spelt b-u-g-a—in case people think I am swearing.

The buga up campaign involved groups of concerned citizens in every capital city—I am not so sure about Canberra, but certainly Sydney and Melbourne—that used to protest about sexist billboards for smoking by going in and removing a few key letters, so that something that was promoting something would become something that was far from an advertisement for it. It was a very successful campaign. In retrospect, it has been hailed and there have been things on TV about it. So there you go—there is graffiti and there is graffiti. Nonetheless, it is not really for us to judge. I think graffiti is in the mind of the beholder, just like art and a number of other things.

Consultation with young people undertaken last year by the youth coalition found that graffiti is an important part of youth culture; that, in a way, it is a way young people

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