A Port Kembla man who was denied a tattoo license on character grounds says he is considering moving interstate or to New Zealand to get free of the laws that have caused him to shut up shop.
Pete Jones has permanently closed the doors to his year-old Wentworth Street studio, Steel City Tattoo, since his appeal in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal failed on Friday.
His situation has drawn sympathy from Mercury readers and a fellow Wentworth Street trader, who says the popular studio’s closure is bad for business in the historically problem-plagued shopping precinct.
Jones, 29, admits he ran the studio without approval for six months, believing this was allowable while his application with NSW Fair Trading was pending. He also admits to twice allowing an unlicensed artist to work, and to re-touching a customer after Fair Trading rejected his application.
“I did 20 minutes of tattooing after they told me not to. I had a friend travelling from Germany and I let her do two tattoos so she could afford to go through to Melbourne. They were mistakes I made, but I wasn’t hurting anyone, I just helped out a friend.”
In refusing Jones’ application for a tattoo parlour operator’s license, the tribunal found he was “not a fit and proper person” to hold the authority given his disregard for the licensing regime and his criminal past, which includes convictions for property damage, hindering police, drink-driving and drug possession.
The father-of-two says he’s had a clean criminal history for three or four years. He says the tribunal’s ruling has left him devastated and deep in debt.
“I’ve completely turned my life around. I’ve worked hard, I’ve saved up and started the profession I wanted to do – the profession that gave me more time with my children, that had me striving to be a better person,” he said.
“I was expecting a ‘yes – go back to work. Don’t make these mistakes again’. Conditional licensing or something.
“But everything’s been stripped away from me for silly mistakes I’ve done in the past.
“My daughter asked me, ‘why don’t the government like you, daddy?’. I didn’t really have anything to say. I sort of teared up and had to leave.”
Jones said he could still apply for non-operator’s license that would allow him to work for someone else, but that this could take six months, cost $800, and his application could again be rejected.
“I’ve put all this effort into tattooing. I can’t just give it up, so we might have to relocate. They don’t have these laws in New Zealand, or Melbourne. South Australia’s a lot more easy-going. I think even Queensland is working towards reviewing their laws.”
Stu Shannon, who owns a supplements store near Jones’ studio, said Wentworth Street business owners were concerned about the effect of the studio’s closure.
Mr Shannon says he has seen a decline in the number of parked cars and people in the northern end of the street in the short time since the business closed.
“Since he opened, the amount of foot traffic up here was just phenomenal,” he said. “It’s really devastating to see that go.”
Mr Shannon was among those who provided character references for Jones during the court process. He said his friend had been “condemned for life” by the mistakes of his past and questions whether he has been held to laws that weren’t intended for his situation.
“It’s important for these criminal checks to happen - I think the primary reason why is to try and stomp out bikies owning these studios and using them as a front for other activities,” he said.
“But Pete is far from a bikie. He spends his weekends in the surf. He’s just an Aussie guy who made some mistakes. You have one conversation with Pete and you know straight away he’s a good guy.”
Several Mercury readers have expressed sympathy for Smith’s situation.
“The guy wants to work so let him!” wrote one, Alison Guevara, on the paper’s Facebook page. “Soooooo many people out there able to work yet refuse to. Go figure!”
Wrote another, Ben Hider: “What a joke. No wonder we have re-offenders when they cant even catch a break trying to do the right thing. Taxpayer money hard at work yet again.”