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Thursday, 11 June 1970

I revert to community standards: What is obscene to the community? A thoughtful book published last year in the United States of America - 'Obscenity and Public Morality' - suggests that the essence of obscenity lies in making public that which is private, in trading on intimate physical processes and acts or on physical-emotional states, thereby degrading the human dimension of life to a sub-human or merely physical level. The book goes further: It says that televised scenes of the suffering of wounded soldiers, or televised interviews which seek to exploit the reaction of victims of emotional crises for public titillation are obscenities as gross as any sexual display. Such scenes are not regarded per se as obscene - only when shown out of context. 1 recall the case of a book entitled 'Fabric of Terror' which was a factual account of atrocities committed by African against African. This book was initially prohibited in Australia because it contained photographs of the most revolting treatment of human beings. Mutilation, castration and other savagery were vividly pictured. On appeal to me as the Minister, the book was released because it seemed to me that within the context of the book the pictures could not be classed as obscene. I regard the censoring of facts as the most damaging potential of censorship control. Overwhelming reasons are needed for it to be justified.

Community standards are most difficult to define. In fact, one may ask whether community standards' exist at all. Are they representative of the standards of the entire adult population or are they a broad assessment of what people believe to be right? Let me quote a case of film censorship to illustrate my point. In a film entitled The Killing of Sister George' there was originally an explicit lesbian love scene which ran for about 5 minutes. In Australia - as in Britain and in New Zealand - some 3 minutes were censored. Most members of the Parliament saw those 3 minutes at the film night arranged some weeks ago. Had we been able lo restrict showings of that film to over-21 audiences, there would, I believe, still have been an overwhelming vote to censor those 3 minutes of film. Yet I have to ask: ls that a correct assessment of community standards? As far as films are concerned, who should establish the standards - those who regard motion pictures as an art form, those who regard them as entertainment, or those who have other interests in the medium? Could we reasonably suggest that those who have no interest :n films at all - non-moviegoers - should have no say in the establishment of community standards on film making? These are questions which must be answered if the community standards test is to mean anything, In the ensuing debate, I should like to hear the views of members on this specific point. 1 believe that community standards can be understood and defined only if there is continuing public discussion of censorship and only if a broad and representative section of the adult population makes its views known.

Effect of Sex and Violence in Films and Publications

An argument frequently offered against censorship is that sex and violence in films and books and in other forms of communication, artistic or otherwise, have no effect on people. Until recently there has been little evidence proffered to link crime, social misdemeanours or deviations with exposure to pornography, violence and so on. There have been suspicions of a link and a general idea that pornography and excessive violence are not good influences; but no strong scientific or analytical evidence has been forthcoming. The findings of the Eisenhower Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence are significant. Referring to violence in television programmes, the Commission states that it is reasonable to conclude that a constant diet of violence has an adverse effect on the human character and attitudes. Television violence is a contributing factor to violence in society. The Commission recommended that television stations reduce the amount of violence portrayed in their programmes and advocated more research by television networks in programme planning.

Two of the Commission's recommendations have a universal relevance and I commend them to the Australian public. Those recommendations are, firstly, that parents should make every effort to supervise the children's television and to assert basic responsibility for the moral development of their children; and secondly, that parents should encourage greater public expression of both their disapproval of objectionable programmes and support for those they like. Parents must not opt out of this fundamental responsibility with th? wish that governments will assume it for them.

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