Graffiti is not just a stain on our city – it’s pervading Melbourne’s suburbs, regional cities and towns. It’s a plague that disfigures our buildings, statues, trains, bridges, fences and even our cemeteries. Simply put, there’s no space safe from spray can scribble!
While street art with artistic merit draws tourists to Melbourne’s laneways and enhances planned community streetscapes; graffiti tagging is just a mish mash of ugliness – a signature calling card of illegible scrawls. It’s time to crack down on delinquents who mark their territory by damaging public spaces and destroying our suburbs.
This defacement under the guise of ‘artistic expression’ is not just an eyesore – graffiti removal costs Melbourne’s rail system about $5 million annually while costs across Victoria are in the hundreds of millions. Real estate values are affected in targeted areas and businesses lose trade. People see this destruction of property as a crime and feel unsafe in the vicinity.
Most local councils have developed Graffiti Management Plans for reporting and removal, but property owners must be given 10 days notice before graffiti can be removed, and 28 days notice if entry to the property is required. If the property owner refuses permission, the council cannot remove the graffiti. This interval allows offenders a period of prominence amongst peers and encourages other taggers to share the same canvas. We need to collaborate and streamline the balance between owners’ rights and bureaucracy to get on with the job and improve removal outcomes.
The majority of perpetrators are teenagers, but police have no power to search suspects under the age of 14 for spray cans. Even though hefty penalties are available, offenders get a slap on the wrist then go back to the streets again. We must adopt a zero tolerance approach to these offenders, no matter their age. They should pay the costs for restoration and physically remove the damage they cause.
There’s often confusion over who cleans up what, on the rail network and surrounding infrastructure. The Exhibition Street flyover is controlled by VicRoads but its pillars sit within the rail corridor. The Rail Authority points to Public Transport Victoria for graffiti removal, who point to VicTrack, who point to VicRoads and the City of Melbourne. So who will clean up Daniel Andrews’ problematic SkyRail when it comes? – kilometres of raised rail on pylons providing a gallery for graffiti crime! It’s up to the government of the day to direct the authorities and make sure the job gets done.
Graffiti crime has disfigured Melbourne’s streetscapes. We need a sharp shift from Labor’s conciliatory treatment of scribblers who deface all possible surfaces – we need a Liberals’ policy of prevention, deterrence, ownership and timely removal.