A New South Wales Court has said a 75-year-old man's protest sign referring to the then prime minister Tony Abbott as a "c∀nt" is not in breach of the state's Summary Offences Act (SOA).
Danny Lim, a well-known Sydney character, was spotted in Edgecliffe in August 2015 wearing a sandwich sign that said on the front:
PEOPLE CAN CHANGE
“TONY YOU C∀N’T..”
LIAR, HEARTLESS, CRUEL
PEACE BE WITH YOU
And on the back it said:
TONY YOU C∀N’T
HEALTH, JOBS &
The A in both instances was upside down. He was snapped by the Daily Telegraph wearing the sign as he talked to then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.
It was just weeks before Tony Abbott was ousted as prime minister by Turnbull.
For the sign, Lim was given a $500 fine for offensive manner in a public place under the SOA, a law used to target people using offensive language in public in New South Wales. A fund was soon set up to pay the fine, but Lim refused and fought the case in the court.
He lost the case in February 2016. The magistrate found it to be a "straightforward case" that a reasonable person would have been offended because the word was used in reference to the prime minister of the day, but did not say why a reasonable person would be offended by it.
On Tuesday the decision was overturned on appeal and Lim's conviction and penalty were set aside.
Judge Andrew Scotting found that the word, and how it was used by Lim, was not necessarily offensive. Scotting said Australians use the c-word more than people in other English-speaking countries.
"The prevalence of the impugned word in Australian language is evidence that it is considered less offensive in Australia than other English speaking countries, such as the United States," the judgement stated.
Scotting said that Abbott was also not immune from being called a cunt merely because of his job.
"Politicians and their views are often subject to criticism in public," he said. "This is an essential and accepted part of any democracy.
"That criticism can often extend to personal denigration or perhaps even ridicule, but still maintain its essential character as political comment. There is no reason to conclude that the Prime Minister, as the leader of the Federal Government should be treated any differently to any other person who holds or seeks political office."
Even so, Scotting said it wasn't clear that the board even said what everyone said it said.
"The appellant did not unequivocally use the impugned word. The front of the sandwich board presented a depiction of the word 'can’t' that could be read as 'cunt', but it was not the only logical conclusion to draw."
It also wouldn't be in breach of the narrower offensive language provision of the same law, the judge stated, because it was on a sandwich board, and Lim didn't say it.
Overall, the sandwich board was only "marginally offensive" if at all, Scotting said.
And it was all just for political comment against the government.
In overturning the decision, Scotting said Lim "has demonstrated a reasonable excuse for his actions that in the course of expressing a political comment he published a play on words that was capable of being construed as offensive."
So there you go. It's okay to use words that appear to call Tony Abbott a cunt if you are doing it as an expression of political comment.
This follows a similar case where protesters fought a fine they received for telling anti-LGBT crusader Fred Nile to "fuck off".
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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