Using the F-word in a public place can cost you $660 or 100 hours’ community service, which is cheap compared to the three months’ jail until the Summary Offences Reform Bill became law in 1994. It can cost you that only if police decide to charge you, and they will charge you only if they don’t like you. If they hold that the use of the word would offend a reasonable person they’ll charge you if they want to, and of course they’d argue if they had to that a reasonable person is one who is offended by the F-word. Police don’t have to establish that anyone was offended by your use of the F-word, by the way, and they don’t try to in the many cases of offensive language that go before the courts still.
No-one complained to the ABC or to the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the day this week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy issued his “f—in’ fantastic” to the National Press Club and across the national airwaves, and so far as I know no-one, not even police, has advocated that he be charged with using offensive language. We could assume that this is because he offended no-one, but, remember, the charge does not require anyone to be offended.
Of course the F-word is in such common use now that it could offend no reasonable person. It is used frequently on radio and television, and I hear it often enough on our national broadcaster, Radio National. It is in newspapers, and the — used in most newspapers hardly disguises the word. It is used in all its senses, as a challenge, as an adjective, as an expletive, as a term for the sex act, and I’m sure there are a few other senses.
It was always blatant hypocrisy when police charged anyone for using the F-word, but those charges are now something more sinister, a sham and a victimisation that our law and our courts have tolerated for too long. Has Senator Conroy shut the closet door behind the F-word? Can anyone who finds the F-word offensive be deemed to be reasonable?