'Annoying' World Youth Day Shirts for Sale

July 2, 2008

[with video]

T-shirt sellers are offering Sydneysiders the chance to flout controversial new laws aimed at World Youth Day protesters.

And they are doing so via the proud Aussie traditions of irreverence and satire.

"They're banning freedom of speech — nothing makes people more irate," Tim Boffa, owner of Bang-On T-Shirts in Bondi Junction, said.

Police yesterday were given new powers to arrest and fine people for "causing annoyance" to World Youth Day pilgrims, with offenders facing fines of $5500.

Critics say the new regulations are a direct affront to freedom of speech and existing laws governing large events are adequate.

Police have even refused to rule out prohibiting "annoying" T-shirts.

But the move has spawned a backlash, with affronted Australians already cooking up T-shirt slogans that satirise World Youth Day and T-shirt stores lining up to sell them.

"After I saw the news yesterday I put a blackboard in front of the store saying, 'Get your annoying World Youth Day shirts here'," Mr Boffa said.

"We've had a lot of interest with people coming in, saying they'll work on their ideas and come back to get shirts."

Mr Boffa said his store sold a lot of APEC-themed satirical T-shirts last November when police cracked down on protester freedoms.

"It's a flow-on effect," he said. "By banning it they've put it on people's minds."

Inner Sydney-based online store is holding a T-shirt design competition in which punters are encouraged to "create designs, both reverent and irreverent, treading that fine line between satire and sin ... and the NSW Police Department".

Entries include "$5,500, a small price to pay for annoying Catholics" and "I survived a Christian Brothers education".

Customers can vote on their favourite design.

"We don't really judge whether they're offensive or not," Remo's Surry Hills store manager, Mel Reardon, said.

"You can call some of them controversial. We allow people to design them on the internet and most popular T-shirt wins".

GetUp executive director Brett Solomon said the "tongue-in-cheek" response was part of a wider backlash against the new police powers.

"Our membership was never really too bothered about World Youth Day," he said. "But since these laws have been announced there has been a huge debate and response.

"Australians feel rightly aggrieved that their rights have been taken away. When did it become unlawful to be annoying or offensive?"


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