Conservative Queensland faces naked fury

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NATURISTS IN Queensland are threatening a nudist uprising unless antiquated public decency laws in the Sunshine State are repealed. Nudist, or clothing-optional, beaches were legalised in Australia decades ago, but remain banned in Queensland, often called the Deep North because of its ultra-conservative policies.

Now campaigners fear changes in the law will usher in an even stricter regime, with maximum penalties for "wilful exposure" to be raised to a pounds 1,245 fine or a year in prison, under a bill now before parliament. Anita Grigg, vice-president of Free Beaches Australia, said: "I'm hoping nudists will go out there and fight these laws in court. The courts don't want their time tied up with all this trivia, and nor do the police."

In Queensland, despite 15 years of being ruled mainly by Labour governments, public nudity remains an offence under the Vagrants, Gaming and Other Offences Act of 1931.

Tourism officials say the ban deters international visitors, who are astonished to find they cannot bare all on any of the state's numerous beaches. But the acting police minister, Robert Schwarten, said yesterday that "legislation for nude sunbathing is not under consideration".

The law is patchily enforced. On certain beaches, nudity is tacitly condoned. Police conduct periodic crackdowns. In 2000, 40 people were arrested, some by scantily clad officers acting as agents provocateurs. On the popular Gold Coast, police on motorised tricycles plough through sand dunes eyes peeled for unauthorised displays of naked flesh.

Campaigners want local authorities to designate sections of beaches where people may legally swim and sunbathe naked. To get around the law, private clubs allow snorkelling and hiking in the nude.