Other States Must Buy-In To Queensland's Wicked New Legislation

Racism, sexism and homophobia really aren't cool.

29/07/2016 2:07 PM AEST | Updated 29/07/2016 3:31 PM AEST
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This isn't even the half of it.

Two years ago, the Greens tabled a petition signed by 10,000 people demanding the federal government take action against Wicked Campers for the slogans painted on its rental campervans.

If you haven't seen them yet, Wicked Campers' slogans are full of stock-standard bigotry. Some of them are blatantly racist. Others are homophobic. Most of them are sexist to the point of misogyny. While the rest of Australia is beginning to acknowledge the role of misogynistic attitudes in violence against women, Wicked Campers is openly trading on -- and profiting from -- those attitudes.

In response to that petition and the media interest it sparked, Wicked Campers apologised and promised to remove their slogans. But they're still there.

Two months ago, I wrote to the Victorian Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, asking her to act against Wicked Campers. It is her government that instituted the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and it is her government that has promised to implement all 227 of the Commission's recommendations -- in full.

In her response to my letter, Minister Richardson wrote that while she was "deeply concerned" about Wicked Campers' slogans, she could not address this issue except by writing to the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) and by developing a statewide Gender Equality Strategy. She also said she would review developments in other states and territories.

Part of the problem has been that the ASB -- a self-regulatory body -- is essentially a toothless tiger. Anyone can make complaints about corporate advertisements to the Board, which can then make determinations. But when the Board decides that a company has breached its standards -- as it has done multiple times in relation to Wicked Campers -- it has no enforcement power.

Now, the Queensland Government has shown the way forward with an ingenious solution. Any vehicle registered in Queensland that is the subject of an adverse ASB determination will be de-registered unless the offending slogan is removed.

But it's the kind of creative solution that depends on buy-in from other states: it's possible to imagine that Wicked Campers -- although a Brisbane-based company -- will simply ensure that its vehicles are registered interstate.

This is why it's so important that Victoria, and indeed all other states and territories, consider similar legislation.

There are other options as well. Most states have laws that prohibit obscene speech. While those laws have fallen into relative disuse as our definition of "obscenity" has changed, there is a good argument that a 21st century definition of the word includes racist, sexist and homophobic language. So, arguably, we could be expecting police to charge people who drive around in campervans propagating misogyny and bigotry.

Wicked Campers' founder and owner, John Webb, has tried to defend its slogans by invoking a right to freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is not, and has never been, absolute. There's no freedom to threaten violence, or to incite hatred. In a pluralistic, multicultural society that affords equal respect to men and women, there can be no argument for allowing the kind of speech in Wicked Campers' commercial slogans.

Wicked Campers' violent, sexist and bigoted slogans promote a culture which harms women and vulnerable groups. Kids see the slogans and repeat them in playgrounds. Parents field uncomfortable questions from their children who ask for explanations as to why blowjobs mean "five minutes of silence", or what a "little slut" is, why it's inside "every princess" and just what it wants to try "just once".

Governments who are serious about changing this culture must act against companies such as Wicked Campers which profit from it. Now that Queensland has shown the way, I firmly expect that the Victorian Government -- which has led the nation on getting serious about changing the culture that enables family violence and violence against women -- will act quickly, as will the other states and territories.

Nina Springle is the Victorian Greens spokesperson for women.

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