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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1943

Senator DURACK(3.18) —I seek leave to amend notice of motion No. 78 which has been circulated in my name, as foreshadowed by Senator Chaney.

Leave granted.

Senator DURACK —I move:

(1) That the following Regulations and Ordinance be referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances:

(a) Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations (Amendment), as contained in Statutory Rules 1983 No. 331 and made under the Customs Act 1901;

(b) Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations (Amendment), as contained in Statutory Rules 1983 No. 332 and made under the Customs Act 1901;

(c) Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983, as contained in Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 59 of 1983 and made under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910; and

(d) Classification of Publications Regulations, as contained in Australian Capital Territory Regulations 1984 No. 2 and made under the Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983.

(2) That the Committee examine whether the aforementioned Regulations and Ordinance, individually or severally:

(a) restrict 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;

(b) restrict 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; and

(c) restrict the power of the Commonwealth to protect children from exposure to publications in (a) (i), (ii) and (iii).

(3) That the Committee advise the Senate whether, in light of this examination, the Regulations or Ordinance contain matter more appropriate for Parliamentary enactment or revised delegated legislation.

(4) That, notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders, for the purpose of the inquiry, the membership of the Committee be increased to nine members.

(5) That one of the two additional members be nominated by the Leader of the Government and the other be nominated by the Independent senator.

(6) That the Committee report to the Senate on or before 29 May 1984.

I do not propose to canvass the arguments to any extent in support of this motion. I think they have been dealt with on the procedural motion and Senator Chaney and Senator Mason have referred to them. However, I simply say that this reference to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances is not seeking a policy consideration by that Committee or policy recommendations from it. It is asking, in effect, for guidance from the Committee as to the effect of the ordinances in a legal sense on the Commonwealth's powers in relation to the importation of publications.

The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) said that this could be literally interpreted to confine it to the question of the Commonwealth's constitutional powers. That would be a very slick and unworthy way for the Committee to operate . I am sure that it would not operate in that way. Perhaps the motion could be further amended to make perfectly clear what it is about, but to any reasonable layman looking at the matter, without trying to take smart legal nit-picking points, it is quite clear what the exercise is about. I am sure that Senator Mason and Senator Harradine know quite clearly what is required of the Committee . The Regulations and Ordinances Committee is very familiar with dealing with matters in a short time frame. It has a legal adviser, and it will not have to hold any extensive hearings on this reference. It is simply a matter of getting advice, having a meeting to discuss that advice, and making a short report to the Senate. The Committee is well adapted to and experienced in this type of exercise, and I do not have any doubt that it can achieve this purpose.

Another possible argument is that the reference is outside the charter of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. It is not outside the general charter of the Committee under the Standing Orders. It is true that over the years it has adopted a charter which limits its consideration of regulations and ordinances to certain questions. I do not maintain that this reference is specifically within those parameters, except in relation to paragraph 3, which asks the Committee to advise whether the regulations would be more appropriate for parliamentary enactment rather than by subordinate legislation. The main limitation on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee's role is that it does not deal with policy. This reference does not ask it for policy advice. It asks simply for legal advice as to the effect of the regulations.

The Senate has debated the regulations. That debate was adjourned after there had been a great deal of debate, during which certain doubts were raised as to what was the effect and the meaning of certain provisions of the regulations and ordinances. I believe it will greatly assist the Senate when the debate is resumed to have a report of this kind from the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, which has a tradition of independence and competence. It is for those reasons that I have moved this motion, and I seek the support of the Senate for it.