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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1947


Senator HARRADINE(3.41) —I support the reference. I do so with a feeling that this is about the third fall-back position that I have. The Senate will appreciate that I have on the Notice Paper a notice of motion, which is now No. 53, referring certain regulations to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for investigation as to whether the regulations remove from existing Commonwealth law the power to prevent the importantation of hard-core pornography and publications which consistently incite the use of hard drugs, et cetera. I do not want to delay the Senate long on this matter, so I shall be very brief. However, my desire was to ensure the fullest possible parliamentary and public debate on this issue, which is a most sensitive and important issue to the people of Australia. Unfortunately, because the Government does not want to see that full parliamentary and public contribution to this important matter, we shall not have such a public opportunity, in the shape of that Standing Committee, and so we fall back to this situation.

I must admit that I was somewhat concerned about the fact that the long- standing traditions of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances may in some way be compromised by a reference of this nature. I agree with the deletion of the word 'unduly' and I think that, with the inclusion of that word in the proposal, it may well have been construed that the Regulations and Ordinances Committee was being asked by the Senate to make a decision as to policy questions. But as it now stands, it is de-gutted of any such suggestions. That is not to say that the Regulations an Ordinances Committee, as expanded, cannot consider the issues and, having considered them, then go to the question of whether they offend in some way the principles which have governed the operation of that Committee over the many years, as the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) has said, since 1932.

Suffice it to say that those are clearly set out in publications of the Committee. They are set out in the seventy-first report, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Committee, in March 1982. They are as follows:

The Committee scrutinises delegated legislation to ensure:

(a) that it is in accordance with the statute;

(b) that it does not trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties-

that is a matter which the Committee would need to consider in the light of everything that has come forward-

(c) that it does not unduly make the rights and liberties of citizens dependent upon administrative decisions which are not subject to review of their merits by judicial or other independent tribunal; and

(d) that it does not contain matter more appropriate for Parliamentary enactment.

The very first report of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, the very Committee to which we are sending this reference, was on a reference concerning the very issue about which we are now talking-the question of censorship of cinematograph films. Over 50 years ago it was the view of the Committee at that stage, and a resolution was thus recommended to the Senate, as follows:

That in the opinion of this Senate the time has arrived when public policy in regard to the censorship of imported cinematograph films should be set out in substantive legislation.

That was the Committee's decision at that stage. What the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Durack, is proposing now is nothing more nor less than to ensure that the principles that guide the consideration of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee are applied to the facts that will be before that Committee . It is important to make that point. I know that the Committee has already met and formally considered these matters. But that occurred before any of the debate took place in this chamber. I simply suggest that it is entirely correct for the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, having regard to the accumulated information that it will now have, to give consideration to the question whether the regulations and the ordinance restrict the Commonwealth's existing power to prevent the importation and publication of publications, including videotapes, promoting or encouraging violence, promoting or encouraging the use of hard drugs, and depicting hard-core pornography, sexual violence or other gross obscenities.

It is entirely proper for the Regulations and Ordinances Committee to do that. I wish that it could have been done in a manner in which we could have had more public input, and that there were more time to do it. The time factor is a matter that no doubt will be addressed by Senator Coates. We are being put in a jam over the time because of the Government. There is no other reason. The Government can release the pressure on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee by two acts. One would be to repeal the existing ordinance and the existing regulations that have been put before us and to bring down a composite amendment , if the Government wants to do it in its own way, to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations and the Australian Capital Territory (Classification of Publications) Ordinance. It could do that, and that would allow another 15 days to tick away, which would enable the Senate to give proper consideration to these issues. As we are now placed, we have only one sitting day left to deal with these regulations and the ordinance. Between now and then the Attorney-General-he has made this clear-is going to dribble in further amendments to these regulations and this Ordinance.

I put it to the Senate: Is it fair to ask the Senate to consider these issues in that totally unsatisfactory manner? I suggest that that is not fair. If the Government had regard to the need for proper consideration of these matters, it could repeal those regulations now and come back with a complete, compact set so that we know where we are, instead of dribbling in amendments here and there and doing us out of our rights as to time. I do not wish to canvass the issues and it is not appropriate for me to do so here and now, but I believe, in short, that this reference is entirely consistent with the honourable traditions of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. I believe also that that Committee, as expanded, will be able to address the most important issues involved and hopefully come up with some recommendation which will meet the approval of the Senate as a whole as to the procedures that we ought to follow so as to ensure a proper and full parliamentary and public debate of them.