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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1944


Senator WALTERS(3.23) —The motion moved by the shadow Attorney- General, Senator Durack, states in part:

2. That the Committee examine whether the aforementioned Regulations and Ordinance, individually or severally . . .

The motion-and I wholeheartedly concur with the amendment by the Australian Democrats-continues:

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

I am particularly interested in paragraph (c); that is, that the Committee examine whether the aforementioned regulations and ordinance, individually or severally, and I quote:

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

I do not know whether the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) is aware of the reports coming from both England and Wales. I would like an indication as to whether he is aware of them.


Senator Gareth Evans —Yes, I am indeed.


Senator WALTERS —Then it surprises me further that he should press ahead with this particular regulation, since he has been made aware of what is occurring and of the report that has been issued in England and Wales. I have asked the attendants to distribute to honourable senators a copy of that report, because I believe it is relevant to the matter we are discussing.


Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. It might be relevant to the general subject matter but it is hardly relevant to the timing of the debate which is now before us on the question of a reference of a matter to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances which, on the view of the Opposition, is not supposed to go to policy questions.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Senator Walters, perhaps you could explain the reason for wanting to pursue this line of debate.


Senator WALTERS —I thought I had, Mr Acting Deputy President. I read to you and to the Senate the reason for this line of debate. It fits in entirely with the section of the motion that I read, which states:

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

I believe that that fits in entirely with the debate. I do not doubt for one minute that Senator Evans does not want me to refer to it, but I am afraid it is very relevant.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Have you just circulated this report?


Senator WALTERS —Yes, you will find a copy on your table.


Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, is it in order for an individual senator to circulate something without leave, requiring the attendants to devote their time and energy to lumping these things around? Are we to bring armloads of pamphlets into the chamber and distribute them in the future? I do not make a great issue of it, but it seems to me to be a little extraordinary.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is a little unusual, but the material has been distributed, so we will leave it at that. I ask Senator Walters to continue with her remarks.


Senator WALTERS —I am quite sure that it was distributed at no great cost to the attendants. I draw the attention of honourable senators to the report that is before them. I note that Senator Evans refused a copy.


Senator Gareth Evans —Because I already have it on the file.


Senator WALTERS —I am not sure whether Senator Evans has a copy in front of him. We have before us two parts of a report which some British Lords have brought down as a result of wide concern in the community at the rise in violent crimes. They noted that there was a rise of 27.4 per cent-


Senator Coates —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. One is usually very tolerant when Senator Walters speaks outside the terms of a motion, but she has started to debate the issues which the Opposition wants the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances to look at. She is now debating the contents of a report from another country. I think it is totally irrelevant to this reference and she ought to be brought back to the terms of the debate.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Coates, I uphold your point of order. Senator Walters, the question before the chair is whether certain matters should be referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. That is the matter which you should be debating. You should not be debating the matters that may be discussed by the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. I ask you to confine your remarks to the question that is before the chair, namely, whether these matters should be referred to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.


Senator WALTERS —Mr Acting Deputy President, my reason for debating this report is that it bears very heavily on whether this reference should go to a Senate committee, the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. Indeed, in my opinion, the report relates so succinctly to the recommendation put forward by Senator Durack that the words I have now read twice to honourable senators explain why fully. The Senate is debating whether certain regulations and an ordinance should be referred to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee in order that that Committee may examine whether they restrict the power of the Commonwealth to protect children from exposure to publications. If I cannot debate whether the regulations and the ordinance should be referred to the Committee for legal opinion, as I believe they should, and if I cannot cite evidence which says that evidence is available in the rest of the world that such restriction could be the case, and that therefore, the Senate should move that legal opinion be sought on the regulations and the ordinance--


Senator Grimes —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. The Acting Deputy President, who preceded you, made a ruling on this subject. I suggest that what Senator Walters is doing is canvassing that ruling. I know she wants to indulge in prurient nonsense, but if we are going to have sensible debate, we have to obey some rules of debate.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I uphold Senator Grimes's point of order. I support the ruling given earlier by Senator Colston. I support the ruling of Senator Colston on this matter, which is that this is a very narrow debate on the matter of the referral to a committee of particular terms of reference. The honourable senator must not pre-empt the debate, either in the Committee or when the Committee reports. The honourable senator must confine herself, if she speaks at all, merely to the terms of reference. That was the ruling given by Senator Colston and I support that ruling.


Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I rise not to canvass your ruling, but to seek the withdrawal of a comment made by the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. He used the word 'prurient' and some other word, I think, relating to the interest that was being shown by the honourable senator. I think that is offensive and should be withdrawn.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Grimes will withdraw the remark.


Senator Grimes —Mr Deputy President, I withdraw. We are rapidly running out of words in this place.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Walters, within those limits you may continue.


Senator WALTERS —Mr Deputy President, can you tell me whether there is any way I can refer to evidence that is available--


Senator Gareth Evans —You can in the debate when we resume.


Senator WALTERS —I am asking the Deputy President. I am not asking the Attorney- General. Mr Deputy President, I would like the answer to come from you, rather than from the Attorney-General.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am perfectly happy to give you the ultimate answer, Senator Walters. What you may do-and what would be perfectly appropriate for you to do if you wish to do so-would be to write to the Committee drawing its attention to this evidence. You have publicly drawn the Senate's attention to it . Any remarks arising out of it would be very relevant in the debate which will follow the Committee's report. However, they are not relevant at this moment.


Senator WALTERS —Mr Deputy President, that clarifies the matter considerably because, as far as I was aware, it was indicated that public evidence to the Committee would not be permissible, that only legal evidence would be permitted. If that is the case, and I am entitled to approach the Committee, it throws a totally different light on the matter and I will take your advice. However, I do need clarification.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think I must limit the advice I am giving you, Senator Walters. What evidence the Committee receives is in the hands of the Committee and its Chairman. I am merely saying that you are perfectly entitled to write to the Committee drawing its attention to the existence of this document. What action the Committee then takes will be up to the Committee.


Senator WALTERS —Mr Deputy President, as I understand it, you have ruled me out of order for debating or even referring to the report that is available.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —No, Senator Walters, I said that you were in order in referring to the existence of the report but not to its content. You have referred to the existence of the report. I think that is all that is appropriate at the moment. To discuss the content of the report would be pre-empting the discussions in the Committee and the debate we will have when the Committee has reported.


Senator WALTERS —Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President. The Senate is now aware that a report exists-despite honourable senators opposite-and I think honourable senators would do well to read it. I think they would be surprised. To give Senator Tate his due, I believe that he would be appalled at what comes out of that report. As a member of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, I suggest that he does read it. I will send a copy of the report to the Committee. But obviously, from what the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, has already indicated, he will not allow it to come before the Committee.


Senator Tate —I am not going to be intimidated by the Attorney-General.


Senator WALTERS —The Committee is master of its own destiny. Senator Tate assures this chamber that he will not be intimidated by the Attorney-General, and quite frankly, I believe that he is speaking the truth. I have seen Senator Tate in action on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee and he will not be intimidated by anyone on it. I note that the Government objects very strongly to this reference going to any committee at all. I wonder why. I wonder why it is so concerned about the information that may come out of a committee looking, no matter how narrowly, into this matter, looking into the legal side of whether the regulations and the ordinance brought down by the Attorney-General:

restrict . . . the Commonwealth's existing powers to require videos not imported for public exhibition . . .

or

restrict unduly the power of the Commonwealth to protect children from exposure to publications . . .

That is, publications of explicit pornography. Let us not forget that, in a departmental memorandum, the Attorney-General said that the barriers to pornography have been lifted. He then made his couple of exceptions. His departmental memorandum states:

Barriers to the importation of hard-core pornography-other than child pornography, publications which incite terrorism and publications containing extreme violence and/or sexual violence-have been lifted.

I have great pleasure in supporting the view that this reference should go to a committee. I am very disappointed that I am unable to go further in bringing the attention of the Senate to this very up-to-date report. Indeed, Part II of the report was made available only in March this year. Part III is yet to come and is due this month, May 1984. I hope that Part III will be available before the Regulations and Ordinances Committee comes down with any decision on this matter . While the reading of this report is not a legal interpretation, I ask members of that Committee to read the report in full because I believe that there is a lot in it about which they should give some sort of opinion.