President of Botanic Gardens
President of Botanic Gardens

Premier warns of tougher sentences for damaging statues

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned she will consider tougher penalties for damaging public statues and memorials to send a strong message to the community.

It comes as MPs backed a British proposal for 10-year jail terms for desecrating war memorials to be brought into effect in NSW.

Two women have been charged after a Captain Cook statue was defaced in Hyde Park, and tatues of former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard were also sprayed with red paint in Ballarat in Victoria.

 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has spoken of tougher penalties for those who deface statues. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has spoken of tougher penalties for those who deface statues. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

 

The statue of Captain Cook in Hyde Park which was vandalised at the weekend. Picture: Jonathan Ng
The statue of Captain Cook in Hyde Park which was vandalised at the weekend. Picture: Jonathan Ng

"Certainly if we need to tighten any laws to send a strong message to the community we would consider that," Ms Berejiklian told The Daily Telegraph's political editor Sharri Markson on Sky News.

"It's only a very small percentage of the population that is engaging in this activity, the vast majority of us don't condone it. These actions are unacceptable. They are very un-Australian and they are wrong."

In Britain ministers are considering a 10-year sentence for desecrating memorials after the cenotaph and a statue of Winston Churchill had to be boarded up to protect them from violent protesters.

"These trends globally are concerning," Ms Berejiklian said. "But Australia is different, we have a great community spirit."

In NSW the maximum penalty for damaging or desecrating a place such as a monument is $4400, however the maximum penalty for destroying or damaging property is five years in jail.

The Premier called for people to respect and not denigrate Australians from the past. In the same way she said she was "struggling" with moves to cancel or censor TV shows and movies from the past.

 

Council workers clean up the defaced statue of John Howard in Victoria. Picture: Rob Leeson
Council workers clean up the defaced statue of John Howard in Victoria. Picture: Rob Leeson


She said the shows may now be "cringe-worthy" but that "we also need to be able to take a healthy look at our society''.

Liberal backbencher Nathaniel Smith last night called for tougher penalties for statue vandals.

"We've seen some pretty insane things over the past couple of weeks. Parliament has to act quickly in response to emerging events, and particularly in protecting important public memorials," the Member for Wollondilly said.

Police Minister David Elliott said he expected the NSW Police to come down hard on vandals. "I refuse to stand by and allow a fringe, radical element in society to try and rewrite history and deny our heritage," Mr Elliott said.

"Vandalising our heritage is not going to change any mistakes of the past - we can't learn from history if we deny it. The primary role of a western police force is to protect all public property. I expect those engaged in history vandalism to be treated like every other common criminal."

Originally published as 'UnAustralian': Premier warns of tougher sentences for damaging statues