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Dealing with Graffiti in New South Wales

Dealing with Graffiti in New South Wales

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 08/2002 by Rachel Callinan
This paper examines the occurrence and practice of graffiti in NSW and the ways in which it has been dealt with in recent years. It is the harm caused by graffiti to the community, in terms of property damage and fear of crime, that is the main focus for state and local government and community groups. Like other types of petty crime, its existence seems to be entrenched and government initiatives tend to focus on controlling graffiti, and minimising the harm caused by graffiti, rather than eradicating it.

The term 'graffiti' is generally used as an all-encompassing label for any illegal writing or drawing on buildings, trains, fences etc. There are various types of graffiti. The most prevalent is the practice of 'tagging' an identifying word, with spray paint or a wide felt tip pen, in a publicly visible place. Tagging is commonly described as being a derivative of the 'hip hop graffiti culture' originating in the USA in the 1970's. Other types of graffiti include, political/social, humorous, racist, malicious and gang graffiti. An understanding of the differences among the types of graffiti is useful for understanding the practice of graffiti and developing and undertaking strategies to deal with it. Section 2.

An understanding of various issues provides an overall picture of the practice and impact of graffiti in NSW, including: the incidences of graffiti; where graffiti occurs; who writes graffiti and why; the number of criminal charges for graffiti activity; and the cost of graffiti to the NSW community. Section 3.

There are some general approaches to dealing with graffiti that have been employed in various overseas and Australian jurisdictions. Initial efforts to deal with the proliferation of graffiti throughout the 70's and 80's, in NSW and elsewhere, centred on deterrence through criminal offences and law enforcement. However, the necessity for a more wholistic approach to graffiti soon became apparent. New approaches focus on: harm minimisation through the use of protective coatings; prevention through measures such as surveillance, urban design and restriction of the sale of spray paint; improved graffiti removal technology; and focusing on youth, their place in society and the promotion of legal graffiti initiatives. Section 4.

A concerted effort to tackle graffiti in NSW was commenced by the Carr Government in June 1997, with the launch of the Graffiti Solutions Program. The Program is described as a state-wide strategy aimed at building a broader understanding of graffiti issues in NSW to better coordinate responses to these issues at all levels of government and the community. Section 5.1. As well as the NSW State Government, local government and community groups in NSW also undertake anti graffiti initiatives. The various measures employed in NSW to deal with graffiti are include:
  • Initiatives to understand graffiti and to develop graffiti solutions, including the provision of information on graffiti and recent research. Section 5.2.
  • Several NSW property offences encompass graffiti and, in addition, there are specific graffiti offences in NSW. Section 5.3.
  • Various methods are used by NSW Police, transport agencies, etc to detect graffiti offenders. Section 5.4.
  • Prevention initiatives include: a Voluntary Industry Strategy for the responsible retailing of spray paint; the use of urban design to minimise the opportunity for graffiti; and community crime prevention. A bill currently before the NSW parliament proposes to prescribe the restriction of the display of spray paint for sale in NSW. Section 5.5.
  • Removal initiatives undertaken in NSW include: the Graffiti Clean-Up Community Service Orders Scheme; the provision of removal information and assistance to private property owners by local councils; the removal of graffiti by local councils; the Graffiti Blasters Program; and the development and promotion of graffiti removal and harm minimisation technology. A bill is currently before Parliament to increase the powers of local government to remove graffiti from private property. Section 5.6.
  • Legal graffiti projects, such as, graffiti walls, murals and exhibitions and graffiti art classes, are viewed as an important component of a successful graffiti strategy. Many legal graffiti projects have been undertaken in NSW, and, since 1999, the NSW Government's Beat Graffiti Grants Scheme provides financial assistance for legal graffiti projects. Section 5.7.
  • Several graffiti sites displaying NSW graffiti have surfaced in the last two years, presenting a new dimension to tackling the graffiti problem. Section 5.8.

    Some other Australian jurisdictions, such as South Australia, have well developed graffiti strategies, while in others, graffiti is dealt with on more of an ad hoc basis, by various state government agencies, local governments and community organisations. Some notable initiatives and strategies in other jurisdictions include: tough custodial penalties for graffiti offenders; restricting the display for sale of spray paint; and banning the sale of spray paint to minors. Section 6.1.

The USA is one of the most progressive countries when it comes to anti-graffiti initiatives. Some innovative approaches to dealing with graffiti in the USA include: providing incentives for citizens to use protective coatings to minimise the damage caused by graffiti; revoking graffiti offender's drivers licences; banning the sale of spray paint to minors; and banning the possession of spray paint in public places. Section 6.2.