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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Page: 12


Mr BEVIS (9:49 AM) —I note, first of all, that Labor is supportive of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Terrorist Material) Bill 2007. We will be voting for it in the House of Representatives and also in the Senate, but we will be moving some amendments consistent with the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1)   notes that the existence of PG-rated terrorist material came to light in April of 2005, and condemns the Attorney-General for taking more than two years to act to protect Australian children from this material, and notes that this Bill could have been advanced two years ago;

(2)   notes that it is completely unacceptable for the Attorney-General to sit on his hands for two years while material which exists to brainwash children into acts of terrorism is freely and lawfully distributed in Australia; and

(3)   notes that, under the government’s hand-picked Classification Board and Classification Review Board, a situation has evolved where material that openly praises and advocates terrorist acts can be given a rating as low as ‘PG’”.

The aim of the legislation is to provide greater clarity as to whether or not terrorist material must be refused classification by the Classification Board of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The bill will insert a new section 9A into the act, which provides that material which advocates terrorist acts must be banned. The new section also provides the criteria that will be used to determine whether or not material advocates the doing of a terrorist act, specifically, whether it: (a) directly or indirectly counsels or urges the doing of a terrorist act; (b) directly or indirectly provides instruction on the doing of a terrorist act; and (c) directly praises the doing of a terrorist act in circumstances where there is a risk that such praise might have the effect of leading a person, regardless of his or her age or any mental impairment—within the meaning of section 7.3 of the Criminal Code—that the person might suffer, to engage in a terrorist act.

The report of the Senate committee recommended that changes be made to paragraph (c) to remove the phrase ‘regardless of his or her age or any mental impairment (within the meaning of section 7.3 of the Criminal Code) that the person may suffer’. This is an amendment that Labor will move, and I will return to those Senate committee recommendations shortly.

Proposed new section 9A(3) provides clarification of this. It provides that the section does not apply if the depiction or description could reasonably be considered to be done merely as part of a public discussion or debate or is entertainment or satire. So material which is produced genuinely for public debate or is produced for entertainment and satire will not fall under the aegis of proposed section 9A.

The bill originates from revelations earlier this year that films advocating terrorist acts of martyrdom and jihad had in fact been rated PG by the Office of Film and Literature Classification after referral of the material by the Australian Federal Police. In response to this, the Attorney-General firstly called on the states and territories to amend the classification laws and subsequently released a discussion paper on material that advocates terrorist acts, which has resulted in this bill.

Labor’s response was to call on the minister to immediately refer the films to the Classification Review Board on the grounds that the material promoted and incited matters of crime or violence. However, I do note that the Sydney Morning Herald had revealed the existence of these movies two years ago. At that time, the Attorney-General promised that he would act but then did nothing for a year until he wrote to the states to request action on the National Classification Code. Surprisingly enough, the Attorney-General has now decided that it is time to act, three months out from an election—indeed, perhaps less than three months out from an election.

Rather than bringing forward this legislation when the situation became public knowledge two years ago, and rather than acting to protect Australians from this material at that time, the government and the Attorney have instead chosen to debate this legislation in the final sitting weeks before an election. I say to the Attorney and the government that they should not try to point the finger of blame at the states for this delay, for not agreeing to the proposals which were taken to the SCAG meetings earlier this year. The Attorney knew about the problem for a year before he wrote to the states, so it is a bit rich to sit on the issue for a year and then foist it upon the states and expect them suddenly to agree. Once again, the government is a picture of panic in slow motion. The government has known of the existence of this material for the past two years and until the introduction of this legislation had done precious little in an attempt to remove it.

At this point I want to take a moment to say something about the Classification Review Board. The chief problem facing Australia’s classification regime these days is simply the fact that the government has spent the past 11 years making sure that, instead of community representation, Liberal Party mates are more than well represented on that Classification Review Board. We have now reached the stage where four out of seven members of the review board have either direct or very close links to the Liberal Party. In other words, we have a board that, in large part, is representative not of the community at large but of a narrow political ideology represented in the Liberal Party. How can the Australian community have confidence in the classification watchdog when more than half of its members are representative of such a narrow constituency? The government, as it has done with so many other Public Service institutions that it has had its hands on, has transformed the Classification Review Board into a source of jobs for Liberal Party mates.

I note that in the community there are many who have expressed opposition to this bill. I want to make a couple of comments in the hope of allaying some of those concerns. It is Labor’s opinion that the bill will not improperly or unfairly impact on the legitimate right of the community to debate these issues. I note that there are moves underway at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General that will allow for much greater freedom for academics to access the material that has been refused classification. As we understand that many in the community have legitimate concerns regarding the legislation, there are a number of points that need to be made in response to those concerns.

The first point is that the concerns of many in the community opposed to this bill have to be weighed against competing interests, which include the right of the community to protect itself from material which openly advocates violent attacks upon it. The unfortunate and unacceptable situation at the moment is that we have material which openly advocates for young children to become terrorists and which racially vilifies groups, particularly Jewish people, being given a rating of PG. As Australia’s alternative government, Labor takes the threat of terrorism seriously. We will not allow a situation to evolve where material, such as Hamas’s infamous Mickey Mouse and Jihad bee characters, indoctrinates young Islamic children into committing acts of violence.

I point out that this bill belatedly arose out of a situation in which a DVD urged young children to become terrorists and martyrs yet had been given the same rating as The Neverending Story or Star Wars. There is a serious and legitimate concern about freely allowing material which openly purports to turn children into holy warriors or terrorists to circulate. While there is a general presumption in our society and in the Classification Code that adults should be able to see and read what they wish, there have always been limits on that right, and our society has endorsed those restrictions over time. On balance, we believe that this legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the competing desires of public safety and the rights of adults to see and read what they wish.

The second point I would like to make is that there are legitimate uses of this material—for academic, security and intelligence purposes. I note that some have called for an exemption for academics from the provisions of this new bill. However, I am advised this cannot be achieved for technical reasons. While it is the Commonwealth which classifies the material, it is the states or territories which provide penalties for its distribution. So this is not something which we can achieve directly here, through federal legislation.

However, I would note that there are currently proposals before the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General looking at ways to allow academics and others with a legitimate interest to legally access material that has been rated RC. I hope that the Attorney at some point will be able to provide some further insights into that matter. It is clearly an important issue that needs to be properly addressed. In federal Labor’s view, this is an appropriate way to progress the issue. We support the SCAG process. I understand that the proposals before SCAG do go a long way towards eliminating many of the concerns that have been raised in this area.

The third point I would like to make is that this legislation in many respects only clarifies what could be fairly regarded as the existing position. The National Classification Code, as it stands, already provides that material that counsels, praises, urges or instructs in matters of crime or violence must be refused classification. As advocating terrorism and terrorist acts are already offences under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, the effect of the legislation is largely to clarify the situation of material that promotes and incites terrorism. The effect of the scheme would be to streamline the process for police investigations of this material. If the police believed that material advocated a terrorist act—again, already an offence under the Criminal Code—they would be able to refer it to the Office of Film and Literature Classification for their consideration and subsequent classification.

Finally, I make the point that the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has recommended a change to the legislation to make it easier for the material to be classified. I have touched on this briefly before. But a problem arises in clause 9A(2)(c), which provides that material must be banned if ‘it directly praises the doing of a terrorist act in circumstances where there is a risk that such praise might have the effect of leading a person—regardless of his or her age or any mental impairment (within the meaning of section 7.3 of the Criminal Code) that the person might suffer—to engage in a terrorist act’. The Senate made this recommendation after receiving submissions, including from the Classification Review Board, that this clause would be difficult to enforce. They said:

It is difficult to envisage circumstances where the review board might objectively assess how a teenager, for example, or a person with some mental impairment might react to praise of a terrorist act.

The committee ultimately recommended the removal of this clause from the bill. Labor supports that view and will be moving amendments in the Senate in an effort to achieve that outcome.

I again remind the House that for the last two years the current government has allowed material of this kind to be freely circulated within Australia. That is a concern. Action on these matters could have and should have been taken much earlier. However, the legislation that is before the House is appropriately adapted to the twin tasks of providing proper guidelines for the classification of terrorist material and ensuring that the principle that adults should prima facie be able to read and view what they want is also upheld.

When the bill is before the Senate, we will be moving the amendment to which I have referred. I would encourage the government and the Attorney-General—who I am pleased to say is in the chamber, for which I thank him—to give consideration to the adoption of Labor’s amendment, which addresses a concern noted by the committee, including a number of senators from his own party. Labor, as I said, will be supporting the bill.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the amendment seconded?


Dr Emerson —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.