Monday, October 20, 2008

Who is really on your side?

I have been blogging here for several months about all sorts of things that generally contribute to our city looking rundown and the worse for wear.  Although I didn't set out at the beginning to run a lot of material on graffiti, that's the way it's worked out - because there is an awful lot of graffiti out there, and whilst some people are doing a lot about it, others are doing stuff all.

I did a simple Google search today and found two very interesting snippets from Hansard:

The first was an attempt back in 2003 to give Councils more power to order the removal of graffiti from the assets of public authorities, or to give them the power to do it themselves.  

Here is a quote lifted directly from that Hansard link:

To revisit the intent of the bill, the aim is to amend the Local Government Act 1993 in relation to the powers of local councils to remove graffiti on property owned or occupied by public authorities. It will amend the Act to enable a local council to recover from a public authority expenses incurred by the council for the removal of graffiti from property owned or occupied by a public authority; and to order the removal of graffiti from property owned or occupied by a public authority. The provisions of the bill will apply where graffiti is visible from a public place, the public authority does not agree to have the graffiti removed, and the graffiti removal work cannot be carried out from a public place. In addition, failure to comply with an order will be an offence.

Councils express great frustration about the time taken to remove graffiti from structures over which they have no power. Many substations, particularly the large green substations, and other public authority property, are covered with graffiti and this eyesore is present on the facilities for an extended time. Councils that have strict graffiti policies, as many do, want to have the offending graffiti removed. Such removal is not the core business of the authority. The authority may eventually remove it, but it is usually not a priority.

If you can be bothered to spend 15 minutes flicking through the history of my blog postings, you'll find post after post that expresses exactly the same sentiments.  Our Council has a good record on graffiti removal, but it is let down by the likes of Telstra, Australia Post, Energy Australia, Sydney Water and RailCorp.

Here is another quote:

I am also concerned that the bill undermines the strong partnerships between local councils, public authorities and the State Government that are already in place as a result of the Government's integrated approach to graffiti management and prevention.

Strong partnerships?  That is pure fantasy.

The Member for Strathfield, who is a government MP, had this to say:

It has been demonstrated that one of the most effective means of deterring graffiti is to remove it as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours of it appearing.

That's a fine sentiment - except that the authorities that the government controls, such as Energy Australia, RailCorp and Sydney Water don't share it.

Our local MP, Angela D'Amore, voted against the bill.

There was a more recent motion in Parliament earlier this year in relation to graffiti, led by our local MP, Angela D'Amore.

Ms ANGELA D'AMORE (Drummoyne) [3.34 p.m.]: I move:

            That this House:

(1) condemns the policy vandal, the shadow Attorney General, for his outrageous claims concerning graffiti;

(2) calls on the Leader of the Opposition to either endorse or sack his shadow Minister; and

(3) congratulates the Iemma Government on effective and considered initiatives to reduce graffiti.

Graffiti is a difficult crime to tackle. It is a clandestine activity committed in the dead of the night and in hidden-away places. Accordingly, although our hardworking police charged more than 12,000 people with property damage offences in 2006, identifying and tracking down offenders can be a difficult task. It is therefore necessary to use a range of different strategies. That is why the Government has a comprehensive plan for dealing with the problem, which includes putting in place tough laws to deter vandals; restricting access to spray-paint cans by requiring retailers to keep their stocks in locked display cabinets, with fines for sales to juveniles; and establishing an Anti-Graffiti Action Team comprising major government agencies, public utilities and industry representatives to lead the development and implementation of anti-graffiti policies.

To start with, those 12,000 people were charged with "malicious damage" offenses, which is not  the same as graffiti.  Scratching the paint on a car with a coin is malicious damage.  Throwing a brick through a window is malicious damage.  Snapping off car aerials is malicious damage.  Setting fire to a rubbish bin is malicious damage.  An awful lot of malicious damage goes on, and a lot of people are arrested for it.  But as I have blogged earlier, only a bit over 100 people per year actually end up in court charged with graffiti related offenses - not 12,000. 

Note that D'Amore said that "12,000 were charged with property damage offenses", which means that she can't be accused of misleading Parliament, for that is strictly true.  But it has little to do with busting people for graffiti.  She might as well have said that 50,000 people were charged with drink driving - which might be true, but it is also irrelevant.

She goes on:

Let us suppose for a minute that his scheme works. The costs of the scheme to offer rewards of up to $2,500 to whoever reports graffiti would blow out to monumental levels. In fact, last year there were 10,265 proven charges and on that figure we have costed a rewards scheme, paid by taxpayers, at $25.7 million. Instead that money could be applied to resourcing our police, councils and community groups. The member for Epping has suggested that we use $25.7 million of taxpayers' money to fund a program that may not work.

As I noted before, D'Amore has confused the charges for malicious damage with those for graffiti.  The proposal here was to pay for information that leads to vandals who apply graffiti being charged, not vandals who put a brick through a shopfront window.

Given that a bit over 100 people were charged with graffiti related offenses over the last 2 years, if the maximum of $2,500 was paid out per person charged, then my reading is that it would cost $250,000 to run this scheme per year, not $25 million - and $250,000 is less than our state government has spent on graffiti removal schemes.

Personally, I think that paying $2,500 is madness.  Many of the vandals appear to be high school kids.  I have one son in that age group, and he gives me the impression that he knows who the vandals are at his school.  I reckon he'd be dead chuffed to be paid $250 to cough up some information - even $100 at that age would probably do the trick.  At say $250 per piece of useful information, 1,000 vandals could be charged each year for a trivial outlay of $250,000 - which is a 10-fold increase on the numbers being charged today.

As I blogged yesterday, given that Angela D'Amore's office is surrounded by commercial premises that are hit repeatedly with graffiti, I don't think she has much idea of the scale of the problem or how to deal with it.  At the very least, I'd expect her to be doing what I am doing - encouraging business owners in her near vicinity to clean up their premises, and calling the Council to deal with graffiti on publicly owned assets - in other words, acting as a publicly spirited individual.

Ms ANGELA D'AMORE: The member for Castle Hill referred to my comments on graffiti. Any commander you speak to will tell you that one of the crime prevention strategies with graffiti is to actually report it and remove it within 24 hours. A number of councils around the State would support those comments. I am glad that he put those comments on the record again because many people would agree with them. I refer to the grants outlined by the member for Mulgoa for her local area. What this shows is that the State Government is looking at proactive strategies in providing grants to our local community via our councils to make sure that we are patrolling sites and removing graffiti quickly, and we are running education campaigns throughout our community showing when to report graffiti, how to report it, and to take pictures.

These are successful and extremely effective programs.

I beg to differ.  As I noted earlier, the worst offenders when it comes to removing graffiti in a timely fashion are government authorities, including state government authorities.  If the state government was to put its money where its mouth is, it would direct those authorities to remove graffiti within 24 hours, as suggested by our local MP.

As for patrolling sites, I don't think the Council needs to have staff out patrolling the length and breadth of the city area each day looking for graffiti.  Instead, citizens with a bit of public spirit should be phoning problems in as they see them.  Angela D'Amore has graffiti all around her office, yet I doubt she (or her staff) have ever phoned in a single instance of it.

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