For some Australians swearing is a natural part of their colloquial speech.
However, under new measures announced by Barry O’Farrell, the use of such language in public will be met with even harsher penalties. Police officers will soon be able to issue on-the-spot fines of up to $500 to anyone who uses “offensive language” in public. The new fine is triple the previous penalty and is the highest on-the-spot penalty for swearing in Australia.
The move has rightly been met with criticism with some pointing out that words are not intrinsically offensive and are subject to social norms. As Melissa Mohr author of Holy Sh*t a Brief History of Swearing explains:
Curse words tend to based on whatever societies find most taboo, and most scary, and most interesting…when they lose power, it’s just those taboos getting weaker, and new ones come in to replace them.
Mohr’s correctly points out that the sensitivities of the public are subject to constant change. A couple hundred years ago there were street names which are pretty offensive by today’s norms.
The O’Farrell government argues that such stringent measures are necessary. But the government has apparently ignored the 10% fall in incidences of offensive language.
Furthermore, the move is also contrary to common sense recommendations of the NSW Law Reform Commission:
[Given] community attitudes towards the use of language, especially swear words, have changed substantially… we are most strongly inclined towards the abolition of the offence of offensive language.