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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 4


Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:22 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Terrorist Material) Bill 2007 improves the ability of our laws to prevent the circulation of material which advocates the doing of terrorist acts.

This is a serious issue. Currently there is too much uncertainty around whether the existing classification laws adequately capture such material. This material should not be legally available in Australia.

The bill introduces new provisions to the classification act, which will expressly require that publications, films or computer games that advocate the doing of a terrorist act must be classified as ‘refused classification’.

I would prefer to see these provisions in the National Classification Code and guidelines, not in the classification act, but that requires the states’ and territories’ agreement.

As the classification scheme is a cooperative national scheme, the state and territory censorship ministers and I must agree to the provisions of the code and guidelines.

I first sought state and territory agreement to changes to classification laws in July 2006. To date, they have been reluctant to respond positively to my proposals. I am not prepared to wait indefinitely to address this problem.

Following public consultation on a discussion paper, I recently wrote to censorship ministers seeking their agreement to amend the code and guidelines to require the Classification Board to refuse classification of material that advocates terrorist acts.

I am hopeful that my state and territory colleagues will agree to these amendments at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General meeting in July. If they do, the amendments in this bill will not be needed. But, I might say, any evidence of bona fides is hard to find. When officers are instructed not to agree to the proposals, it is unlikely that an agreed set of proposals would be submitted to the ministers’ meeting in July. Ministers would be very unlikely in a meeting to conclude that agreement and would again refer it off to officers. That has been the standard practice.

If states and territories do not agree in July, we must be in a position to ensure that material that advocates the doing of terrorist acts is not legally available in Australia. This bill ensures that this can be done expeditiously through an amendment to the classification act.

The bill introduces the same provisions as the proposed amendments to the code and guidelines. It requires the Classification Board to refuse classification of material that advocates terrorist acts. The provisions take into account submissions received following public consultation on the discussion paper. The submissions were carefully considered and, consequently, the proposal has been refined, so that the new provisions will operate effectively against unacceptable material but will not impinge on freedom of speech or mainstream popular culture.

The requirement in this bill for material to be classified as ‘refused classification’ is not intended to restrict the genuine and legitimate exercise of freedom of speech or to prevent filmmakers, authors or publishers from dealing with contentious subject matter in an informative, educational, entertaining, ironical or controversial way.

As the bill clearly sets out, where the treatment of a terrorist act could reasonably be considered to be done merely as part of public discussion or debate or as entertainment or satire, it is not to be refused classification.

This protects material such as investigative journalists’ work, historical analyses, material that might appear to glorify war or battle (including ‘factional’ or fictional accounts of war, insurgency or resistance), satirical pieces, and popular culture movies.

On the other hand, material which goes further and advocates the doing of terrorist acts—for example, by directly praising terrorist acts in circumstances where this runs the risk of inspiring someone to commit a terrorist act—would and should be required to be classified ‘refused classification’.

Striking the right balance is important. Freedom of expression is an important part of our society’s values. However, there is another right which must be protected—the right to be protected from the pernicious influence of material that advocates the naive and impressionable to go out and commit terrorist acts against other human beings.

The bill adopts the meanings of ‘advocate’ and ‘terrorist acts’ from the Criminal Code Act 1995 by adaptation of language or direct reference. It is intended that the meanings of these terms in the classification act remain consistent with their meaning in the Criminal Code.

‘Advocate’ covers direct or indirect advocacy, in the form of counselling, urging or providing instruction on the doing of a terrorist act. It also covers direct praise of a terrorist act where there is a risk that such praise might lead a person (regardless of his or her age or any mental impairment) to engage in a terrorist act.

However, the advocacy would need to be about doing a terrorist act, not merely expressing generalised support of a cause.

The term ‘terrorist act’ is given the same meaning as in section 100.1 of the Criminal Code. Any amendments made to that section will automatically apply to the definition of ‘terrorist act’ for the purposes of the classification act.

‘Terrorist act’ is tightly defined. The action or threat must be made with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause and coercing or intimidating an Australian or foreign government or the public. It includes actions or threats involving serious harm to people, damage to property, endangerment of life, serious risk to the public’s health or safety, or seriously interfering with an electronic system including telecommunications, financial and essential government services systems, essential public utilities and transport providers.

Action which is advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action, not intended to cause serious harm, death, endangerment of life, or serious risk to the health or safety of the public, is expressly excluded from being a ‘terrorist act’.

This bill will improve the ability of our laws to prevent the circulation of material which advocates the doing of terrorist acts. Classification laws need to be better able to ensure that such material is not available in Australia.

Whether that happens through amendments to the National Classification Code and guidelines with the agreement of the states and territories or through amendments to the classification act that I introduce today is not yet clear. But let me make it clear to those who may want to read these remarks: this bill will not proceed if the Classification Code is amended by agreement with the states and territories in a satisfactory way. Its introduction now is to ensure that we can deal with these matters in an appropriate time frame. In other words, it is a bill proposed for more abundant caution. I might say to the states and territories that I would expect that if they do not agree, this bill would secure passage through both houses of parliament, given the comments of the opposition about what they allege has been delay on my part in proceeding with these matters. Let me make it very clear: I have been pressing the states and territories to deal with this issue for more than 12 months, and I think they have had more than enough time to come to an agreement. I suspect their behaviour has been designed to frustrate these amendments, and that is why this bill is important in terms of ensuring that we have sufficient options to be able to deal with this issue in an appropriate time frame. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Snowdon) adjourned.