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Monday, 24 May 1999
Page: 5213

Senator BROWN (8:34 PM) —The opposition of the Greens to the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999 comes not just as a result of the provisions in the legislation but more particularly as a result of the failure of the process. The extraordinary diversity of community views about not only content on the Internet and elsewhere available to the public but how restriction—if any at all—should be levied was not able to express itself in the short time available. There is a failure of political process here. I think the government, particularly Senator Alston, believed that bringing on the inquiry and this piece of legislation and giving it precedence over a whole range of major pieces of legislation would garner the support of the independent senators in the run-up to the debate about the GST package and the sale of Telstra. I have said as much in this chamber before. Interestingly, Senator Harradine has pointed out that, if that was the government's aim, they were going about it the wrong way. I note that he is apparently, up until now, not contributing to the second reading debate. He is indicating that the bill does not meet his requirements.

So we have a failure of political motive in rushing this legislation—poorly prepared, poorly canvassed as far as the Australian public is concerned—into the chamber for the wrong reasons. It is a failure of political process. We ought to stand against that sort of failure and political expediency, particularly where it does not work—and it manifestly has not worked in this situation. I join with earlier speakers in saying that the Greens have got concerns about the invasion of particularly the minds of youngsters with untoward material, in particular gratuitous and repeated violence. In this country we are under an appalling avalanche of violent material not least from the United States, which has a different culture to Australia. If we could do something about that repetitive, unrelenting and gratuitous violence dished up as entertainment, we would be advancing the interests of this society far better than in this poor quality attempt to censor in particular sexual licentiousness.

That is the motivating force behind the government's move and Senator Alston's move to trammel the Internet. As you will know, Mr Acting Deputy President, a similar hasty and poorly thought-out effort in Canada is now on the rocks because it does not work adequately. Australia ought to take the lead in innovation in this area and reflect the views of the wider community instead of trying to repeat mistakes that have been made elsewhere.

Tomorrow I will be bringing in a motion for the Senate's consideration on what to do about Internet gambling. I want to make sure that we get the process right here and that there is time for the public to have input into this matter. If we are to have adequate input, we need to have adequate information going in front of it. I am hoping that the Senate will weigh very carefully my proposal for an inquiry which will not be truncated or limited by political expediency but which will go out and get maximum return from the public to see what we can do about limiting the deleterious effects of gambling.

I am not talking here about banning gambling on the Internet. I am talking about making sure that it does not create undue damage and hardship to individuals and to families in the Australian community. I want to make sure that we have a full and open debate about the potential for overseas gambling enterprises, legal and illegal—which are being blocked from establishing themselves in the United States, for example—to set up in Australia where we have no control on Internet gambling services and, de facto, are giving a message of encouragement to gambling houses in the United States to come here and set up. That circumstance requires that we take action, but it also requires that we get it right, that it be an agenda of its own, set because we are concerned to contain the damage from Internet gambling which effectively brings casino facilities to the living rooms of Australians with computer facilities. We want to ameliorate the damage and not allow it to go willy-nilly without a community consensus on how it might best be controlled.

Let me come back to the legislation before us. Because I am speaking late in this second reading debate, I will not repeat the list of concerns that other speakers on this side of the house have. As senators will have heard, they are many and they are matters of great importance. I suppose I could sum it up by saying that this process, because it has not been well thought out, opens up the ability of some people in our society to quite unwarrantedly intrude on the rights of other people in our society—I am talking about adults here—to see, hear, read and watch what they wish. My attention has been drawn to a story on page 21 of today's Daily Telegraph headed `Lesbian soap plot ill-timed'. The story says:

A lesbian relationship on the TV soap Breakers is under investigation after an MP complained to the Australian Broadcasting Authority.

As you will know, the Australian Broadcasting Authority is intimately involved—

Senator Quirke —No pun intended!

Senator BROWN —That is right. The ABA is intimately involved in matters to do with this legislation that we are now dealing with. The article goes on:

Liberal Senator Karen Synon—

from Victoria—

wrote to the ABA querying the screening of the locally produced Network Ten drama at 3.30 weekday afternoons when young children may be switching over from Play School.

Senator Synon was concerned the depiction of a lesbian relationship as normal during children's viewing times was inappropriate. She asked the ABA to provide her with information on its guidelines for children's timeslots.

And so on. Horror of horrors, this article also says:

Apart from Lucy and Kelly's lesbian affair, another regular Breakers character, Vince, is gay.

Here we have the opinion of somebody on the other side of the house that lesbian and gay relationships are not part of what our society should see as normal. I take the totally contrary point of view and say that such relationships are an absolutely normal part of the spectrum of our society, and a very important contributing part of Australian society as it is. It adds a great deal through the wonder of the variety of life that such relationships bring to society—and, of course, it involves freedom for those individuals who are in lesbian or gay relationships.

To want to censor such relationships as part of the spectrum being depicted on television programs—we are not talking here about licentious or lascivious presentations but ordinary presentations of people going about loving relationships—is to confuse the whole issue of what censorship is about. That intrudes on the right of other people to see the spectrum of society as they would want to, which is usual, and censors the very make-up of people. I cannot help but feel that part of the government motivation behind this bill is to move in and censor what other people may consider as their right, as part of their life, as part of their freedom and liberty as Australians. It is being done in a ham-fisted way for all the reasons that are being presented in this debate.

It would have been much better had the Select Committee on Information Technologies had time to get a full input from the full range of Australians interested in this matter and to have come up with a much better formulation which enabled those people in society who want censorship to have it but which left those people who want to be free of censorship to be free of it. In so many ways this legislation intrudes upon the rights of the latter group to service the intrusive impulses of the former group. That is why I do not support it.

There is something to be learnt from this faulty process. I hope that when we move to look at online gambling there will be a much better process. The perils for our community in not holding back the enormous impulse by big gambling houses—legal and illegal—to take people for a ride through Internet gambling is a problem of greater urgency for our community and a problem of great importance for our parliament to be taking up. All these matters should of course be dealt with. I think the priorities are wrong here and the outcome is not adequate in this situation.

I know there are amendments to be put forward. The Greens will be taking each of those amendments and evaluating them to see what we can do to improve on this unacceptable legislation.

I finish by saying that this process of Senate scrutiny has not been becoming and has not been adequate. That is simply because it was not given adequate time to take in what the public, the experts and the overseas experience could have given to a committee to come up with a much better resolution than the one put forward here in this legislation by the government. I will be entering into the committee stage of this debate. I do not know what the outcome will be. I hope the Senate turns this legislation down, frankly, and that we get it right before we deal with it. Failing that, we will be doing everything we can to remove the more deleterious aspects of this legislation in the ensuing debate.