Australians have never shied away from profanities – a television advertisement for a Toyota pick-up truck a few years ago featured only one word, repeated numerous times: "Bugger."
But now people who swear "obnoxiously" in the state of Victoria face being fined nearly A$240 (£155). The move, initiated by the new conservative government, has been likened to the establishment of a state-wide "swear jar". The government is introducing legislation this week that will enable police to issue on-the-spot fines for swearing, similar to parking or speeding notices.
The Attorney-General, Robert Clark, confessed to a bit of colourful language himself yesterday. "Occasionally I mutter things under my breath, as probably everyone does," he told ABC radio. "But this law is not targeted at that. It's targeted at the sort of obnoxious, offensive behaviour in public that makes life unpleasant for everybody else."
Swearing – even in private – has been a crime in Victoria for decades, and perpetrators can be jailed for up to two years. However, it is not clear how many people have been prosecuted. Mr Clark said on-the-spot fines would prevent such cases clogging the courts. "It frees up police time for other law enforcement activities... and [sends] a strong signal that people who engage in criminal behaviour can expect to be dealt with under the law," he said.
The Melbourne newspaper, The Age, reported the move with characteristic Australian directness, declaring: "To put it bluntly, we're all f***ed."