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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1893

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition) —Pursuant to contingent notice of motion given by me I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate moving a motion relating to the order of business on the Notice Paper.

I speak to the motion so that the Senate is aware of what I am seeking. I will be seeking leave to move a motion in these terms:

That intervening General Business be postponed until after the consideration of General Business Notice of Motion No. 78 for the reference of a matter to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

The Senate will be aware of, because it has before it on the Notice Paper, a notice of motion by Senator Durack which he gave yesterday and which is No. 78 on the Notice Paper for today as shown on page 3812. That notice of motion is to refer certain regulations to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. I will not in the course of these remarks specify them but they relate to the disallowance motion which was moved, I think by Senator Mason, and which has had extensive debate in this place. In the broad, the regulations relate to the classification of publications and the very vexed question of, I suppose, censorship, to put it shortly. What the motion, notice of which has been given by Senator Durack, seeks is to have the various regulations which have been the subject of so much debate-I point out that the debate has yet to be concluded but it will have to be concluded when we return after the couple of weeks up-put to the Committee to examine whether the regulations and ordinance referred to:

(a) restrict unduly the Commonwealth's existing powers to prevent the importation of publications, including videotapes-

(i) promoting or encouraging violence,

(ii) promoting or encouraging the use of hard drugs, and

(iii) depicting hard-core pornography, sexual violence or other gross obscenities;

The proposal also asks the Committee to examine whether those regulations and ordinance restrict unduly the Commonwealth's existing powers to require videos not imported for public exhibition to be registered by the Film Censorship Board before release by Customs. The third point the Committee is asked to examine is whether those regulations and ordinance restrict unduly the power of the Commonwealth to protect children from exposure to publications previously referred to.

I do not think there is any doubt from the level of interest that there has been in the debate on this disallowance that this is a matter of very broad public interest. Over the last 24 hours I have had the chance to read some of the material which has recently come from an inquiry sponsored by the House of Lords on this subject and I can say only that I think there are genuine difficulties facing us in this area. I can see that the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) is getting very impatient. I am trying to restrict myself to explaining why I am seeking the suspension of Standing Orders and why I would like this matter to be dealt with today.

The PRESIDENT —The Leader of the Opposition will understand that we do not want a duplication of the debate.

Senator CHANEY —I understand that and I will try to be succinct. The simple point I am trying to make is that this is a matter of wide public interest and proper public and Senate concern. What we are seeking is that this motion, of which notice was given yesterday, should have an opportunity of being considered by the Senate--

Senator Chipp —Last night.

Senator CHANEY —Notice was given last night. We should have an opportunity of having it considered by the Senate today. The reason for that is that we will be returning to this debate when the sittings resume in a couple of weeks time and it is the desire of the Opposition to have an opportunity for that Committee consideration during the two weeks while the Parliament is not sitting. We believe that the Senate would be aided in its consideration of this important matter if it had a report from the Committee. If this matter is dealt with by simply postponing it to the next fortnight's sittings we will lose that possible advantage. The question must be decided today whether we are to have the opportunity of a relevant Committee examination. I have had a preliminary indication from the Australian Democrats that they are not inclined to support this motion. Having had that indication, I simply direct some comments to that point.

The PRESIDENT —Are you speaking about the motion to suspend the Standing Orders?

Senator CHANEY —Yes, Mr President. I hope that this will not need lengthy consideration. All that the Opposition is seeking is a committee examination of the questions I have mentioned. It does not seek a determination of this vexed and difficult issue. It does not seek to reopen the issues which have had extensive debate. It seeks the advantage of some committee consideration. I stress that that advantage can be obtained today. It cannot be obtained in a fortnight or three weeks' time. I specifically ask the Democrats to consider the general principle that the Senate's detailed consideration of this matter will be assisted by some committee consideration. I ask them to put aside any other concerns they might have and to give their support for the motion to suspend Standing Orders.