Country Energy engages graffiti artists to beautify its transformer boxes in the Byron Shire.
Country Energy engages graffiti artists to beautify its transformer boxes in the Byron Shire.

Jail for carrying spray-can

TEENAGERS could be jailed for up to six months for simply carrying a spray-can under tough new anti-graffiti laws coming into force earlier this week.

And anyone caught in the act of defacing property with graffiti faces the prospect of one year in jail.

The new laws are part of the NSW Government’s hard-line approach to graffiti vandalism announced last month.

State Attorney General John Hatzistergos said juveniles caught carrying a spray-can in a public place would now have to prove they were using it for ‘school, work or legal art, or face the six month sentence or a $1100 fine’.

The Byron Youth Service’s Deborah Pearce, who has been involved in many legal graffiti projects for local youth, described the laws as draconian and questioned the government’s hard-line approach.

Ms Pearce suggested it was far more effective to educate kids about the negative effects of illegal tagging and to provide the space for aerosol artists to practice.

“It is absolutely ludicrous to send kids to jail for graffiti, especially young boys,” she said.

“There’s got to be a better way. Many ‘graffitists’ are legitimate artists who feel marginalised and persecuted.

“We all know what can happen to young people in jail. They can be seriously damaged for life. They don’t get a separate wing for graffiti offenders, they’re put in with rapists and murderers and drug dealers.

“Is this how we really want to deal with it? Are we trying to create criminals? Some of the most renowned and respected aerosol artists in the country are struggling with legal issues.”

Over the years Ms Pearce has organised public aerosol art projects at Mullumbimby Skate Park, Mullumbimby High School and the building site behind the Great Northern Hotel

“Our programs are designed to spread the message that tagging is unacceptable and self-defeating,” she said. “I tell them if they tagged my house or letterbox I’d be upset.

“What we’ve found is if you give them the space and opportunity to practice their art they don’t go out tagging.”

Lismore City Council, which spends $18,200 per annum removing graffiti from council property, welcomed the new laws. Richmond Valley Council was also happy with the legislation estimating its graffiti removal expenditure was costing it between $4000 and $6000 a year while Ballina Shire Council said it was mostly a small issue. Byron Shire Council did not return The Northern Star’s phone calls.

The Byron Youth Service is currently coordinating an aerosol art program beautifying pad-mounted sub-stations around the region in conjunction with Byron United and Country Energy.

Country Energy’s community relations manager Mike Hely described the program as a great success and a win-win situation for artists and the community.

“The boxes used to be an eyesore so we got together with Byron Youth Service, the chamber of commerce and put up some dollars to employ the artists,” he said.

“It is actually saving us money as no one is re-tagging them.”

The artists involved declined to be interviewed or photographed for this story for fear of been labelled as graffiti vandals.

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