THE LAWYER NICHOLAS COWDERY
GENERALLY, no, I don't think so - and there are real limits to what we can do about them, anyway. The Attorney-General says that graffitists are at war with the community and that they should go to prison - but prison has not stopped any wars so far and it is not the best remedy in most cases.
Rather than being soft or hard, light or heavy after the event, we need to be smarter in dealing with the causes and effects. People who are (understandably) offended by graffiti or whose property is damaged by it should still not expect their feelings to dictate the way the offenders are dealt with. The world and its inhabitants are more complicated than that, as the criminal justice system recognises.
If graffiti is done without the consent of the property-owner, then (artistic or not) it is intentional damage to property and ''graffiti vandal'' is an apt description. But we are still not at the jailing point. Imprisonment is the punishment of last resort, not first reaction.
Who are the graffitists? By and large they are juveniles and young adults. Their brains have not matured. They undertake this criminal conduct for a wide range of reasons: a desire to be known, identified and approved by their peers; competition with or other pressure from peers; lack of legitimate purpose leading to the thrill of offending and escape; resentment of property owned by others; an attitude that state-owned property is fair game and nobody really suffers; maybe just because they can.
Most of the offenders are unlikely to be caught and most are unlikely to offend again. Even the vast majority (70 per cent) of juvenile offenders who are prosecuted never reappear in a children's court - another 15 per cent appear twice. So why should any heavier outcome be required for the small percentage who are caught? Reoffending rates for juveniles are not affected by imprisonment - it has no deterrent effect - so what would a heavier response achieve?
Prevention is best. Keep the possible offenders lawfully occupied and protect the property - by lights, barriers, CCTV, police and security patrols, surface coatings - whatever it takes. And promptly remove graffiti when it happens - by using offenders, if that can be arranged.
Nicholas Cowdery is the former NSW director of public prosecutions.
THE DIRECTOR TAMARA WINIKOFF
I AM not going into bat for every kid with an aerosol can who wants to leave a souvenir of their existence in places where mere mortals would fear to tread, climb, dangle, squeeze or levitate, as much as I might admire their gymnastic prowess and fearlessness in the face of potential imminent death. But skilful street art is another matter.
Broadly speaking, street art falls into these categories: art for art's sake; and social and political observations; or both.
Some of it is simply playful or beautiful; the other is perpetuating the legacy of political commentary that we know has appeared in the street at least from the time of the Roman Empire. Either can be challenging and push the boundaries of our collective certainties.
It is not necessarily going to give everyone instant gratification and may be asking us to excavate under the surface of meaning. But what a delight it is to spot the sly little cartoon down at ground level or a witty, irreverent visual pun as you round an unexpected corner. It can add delight and zest to one's day. If it sparks a good, juicy debate, it's doing us an intellectual service.
Art in public should be part of everyone's experience of a lively, cosmopolitan city. Who does not savour the pleasure of travelling to old cities in other parts of the world to get an insight into their culture, past and present, through the legacy of art and architecture? The public space that we all share is of our own making and a reflection of the power structures that determine the expression of who we think we are. The palette of the urban environment is as diverse as are humans, and thus is at times hotly contested.
What seems to get up the noses of some of the city fathers is that street art has not gone through the exhaustive process of climbing up and down the bureaucracy for sign-off at every level. It has not been authorised and possibly sanitised. But we need to remember that mostly it is ephemeral and self-regulated for quality by the local street artist communities.
It is interesting that the state's nannies are usually much more protective of our collective sensibilities than the community itself.
Graphic marking of ceremonial sites is part of many ancient cultures, including our own indigenous rock art.
Street art is a great Australian democratic tradition and we should be encouraging and supporting the best it has to offer.
THE MAYOR IAN CROSS
LOCAL councils are left with the task of removing most of the visual pollution caused by graffiti vandals.
Ku-ring-gai Council spends about $120,000 a year cleaning up graffiti and fixing other vandalism, a cost we can ill afford with so many other demands on our budgets.
This ugly and often offensive graffiti is appearing on an ever-increasing array of community assets, from toilet blocks and playground equipment to street signs and buildings.
Our staff aim to remove graffiti soon after it appears to deprive offenders of the misguided pleasure of seeing their crimes on display. The hope is that this will stop more attacks but all too often the graffiti quickly returns.
Ku-ring-gai Council has an innovative partnership with local Rotary clubs targeting graffiti on private property, such as shops and billboards. We give them equipment such as paint and high-pressure water-blasters which they use to remove the graffiti.
Although the program has been a great success, the time local Rotarians spend removing graffiti means less time for other community work.
Tougher penalties are clearly needed. Rather then being let off with cautions or diverted into youth conferencing programs, offenders should face court. Appearing before a magistrate sends the message that graffiti is a significant crime.
All offenders should be given community service orders to clean up their mess. This is a valid and effective form of punishment with a direct link to the crime.
Cancelling offenders' drivers' licences and making them pay compensation to the victims of their crimes are also worthwhile ideas.
Jail should be used only as a last resort for repeat offenders who have not been deterred by other types of punishment. As a general principle, jailing young people for such crimes exposes them to the criminal element and is often a starting point for a career in crime.
With two-thirds of offenders aged under 18, there is a clear need for better parental supervision. Most graffiti attacks occur at night, often by children as young as 13 or 14 who should be at home rather than roaming the streets.
Many offenders seem to view graffiti as a victimless crime, but it's really a crime against the whole community. Our legal system needs to better reflect this in the way offenders are punished.
Ian Cross is the mayor of Ku-ring-gai Council.
THE BUSINESSMAN THOMAS CANN
I OPERATE a small business in north-west Sydney delivering landscape and building materials, using a fleet of 11 trucks, each displaying my company's distinctive colour scheme and signage. We employ 17 people, as well as casuals and weekend staff.
My first exposure to graffiti vandalism came in September 2005 and involved three adolescents who entered our property. The whole episode was captured on a newly installed CCTV system, but police told us no arrests could be made as we had not displayed a sign warning that ''Video surveillance is operating on the premises''. Three days later, we installed numerous warning signs.
The second incident happened on a cold Saturday night in 2009 when a number of our trucks were ''tagged''. Fortunately, the sides of the trucks were still wet with dew and removing the graffiti from the aluminium surfaces was relatively straightforward. Again, I contacted the police. They knew who was responsible for the ''tag'' and were able to act on it. One of my big, burly truck drivers was moved to tears when he saw his truck had been tagged and suggested the offenders, if caught, should have to remove the tags. Ultimately I had to repaint and sign-write two trucks, which cost my business about $30,000 in downtime, lost productivity and other direct costs. The most recent incident, last November, affected the exterior walls of our premises.
From my previous encounters, I had learnt that we needed to remove the tags as soon as possible to deny the perpetrators the satisfaction and bragging rights. With the help of the Rotary Club at Rouse Hill, which operates a graffiti removal program, we reported and removed all tags within 48 hours.
Whether it's talkback radio hosts or the Attorney-General [Greg Smith] himself, plenty of people say we're too soft on graffiti vandals. But it doesn't matter whether we threaten to send them to prison or to confiscate their cars. I believe the best deterrent is to make sure they can be tracked, identified and prosecuted. In the same way that victim impact statements are read before a criminal, graffiti vandals might change their ways if they could be made to understand how much damage they do. One way to do this is to make them clean up their mess.
Thomas Cann is the owner of Baulkham Hills Landscape Supplies.