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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2066

Senator MASON(9.29) —The Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations (Amendment) and the Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983 concern the vexed and important issues of the control of X rated videotapes in our community. In this area there is a tremendous divergence of view as to what is pornography, what is right and proper, what people should be exposed to, what they should not be exposed to, and the general associated issue of the extent to which the community itself intrudes and imposes its own standards perhaps on what ordinary citizens may do, particularly in the privacy of their own homes. The matter is justly regarded as important. I do not derogate those who express that concern genuinely and for real reasons. I will deal with that a little later in my remarks. I think that most citizens see this issue as important because of their children. They feel that their children should not be exposed to influences which are dangerous, bad or corrosive. Is there a community consensus on this matter?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Senator Mason, I must interrupt you. The motion before the Chair at the moment is that the Senate take note of the report. It is a cognate debate. Because that motion is in front of the Chair it is not in order for you to move your motion at this stage. You will be able to move it formally later on.

Senator MASON —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I withdraw the motion. I will move it at the appropriate time. However, I have given notice of it. I believe that is important at this stage. It is reasonable enough to consider, as indeed it has been considered in this place-I think that everybody in the community, except those very perverse people, would agree-that violence and cruelty are the worst parts of pornography. I think there is a genuine community feeling about that. I must say that since this very vexed issue was raised, the feedback which I have received by way of many letters from people, including clergymen, has been along those lines. As far as the Canberra ordinance is concerned, what the Australian Democrats have wanted all along-I want to make this quite plain, as I have made it plain before throughout this debate from when we first raised this matter, which was at least six months ago-was a change in the situation regarding classification. Throughout this time we have said, as have other people, that classification should be compulsory and not voluntary. It is a cause of concern to us that for a variety of reasons the proposed amendments that would make this ordinance compulsory, which have been circulated and which everybody knows about-I think that at present the amendments are before the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly-are not in place.

The dilemma of the Democrats is this: Should we vote for disallowance on that basis in a kind of punitive way? Because the Government has not got the regulations in place should we say: 'You have not done what we wanted you to do. Therefore, we will put you down'? That would be the effect of it. We have thought: 'What would be the consequences of that action?' This is the core of this debate. That is what our debate this evening should be about. It should not be about the issues which Senator Lewis has raised, although they are important, but rather what would be the consequences of our disallowing these regulations and this ordinance tonight? That is what has concerned us. As a result, we have been very troublesome again today to the Government and we have applied certain conditions again. If Senator Walters wants to call it a deal she can do so. It has resulted in something of which I doubt she would disapprove; that is, we have a definite undertaking from the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), which I have no doubt he will confirm, that by early Thursday morning that compulsory provision will be in place. This whole issue has been discussed by the State and Federal Attorneys-General. That was as a result of our raising it earlier in this place.

Senator Harradine —The States agreed to that a month ago or more.

Senator MASON —We raised this matter nearly six months ago. As a result of raising the matter here and our earlier debate on it, prior to the meeting of State and Federal Attorneys-General, this matter has come to the fore. I believe the Federal and State officers have by now clearly understood that the Australian people want compulsory classification. It is essential that the firmest control possible be kept over X-rated videotapes. I do not think that because of this the community wants to be taken back to the 1890s with ankle- length swimsuits or perhaps no nudity whatsoever. I believe there is a tolerance , possibly even a need, in the community for what is called pornography, although I do not understand it. The whole point about pornography is that it is a much abused, ill-defined word, for its interpretation is very much in the eye, the mind and often the prejudices of the beholder. It is that which makes this a difficult debate. It is that which makes it a difficult debate in the community as well as in this place. I think it is necessary that there should be a community consensus over these matters. I believe it is important that those of us who have certain standards and opinions should not seek to impose those automatically on other people who may not have them. I believe that is a principle of freedom which all honourable senators ought to respect. Certainly I and the Australian Democrats respect it. To us that is quite basic.

I repeat that we set ourselves two things through this debate: Firstly, the mandatory classification and, secondly, the total exclusion of violent and cruel material. The Democrats' struggle-it has been a battle-has been against the entry to this country of violent, sadistic, gratuitous material. I repeat that we have won that battle. Those types of videotapes are not now permitted, in terms of the regulations, into this country. On this basis we will not support any of the three motions. They were machinery devices to get what we wanted and we have got what we wanted. Why not withdraw them? I believe that is a question worth putting in here. If the question is not put and voted on tonight the effect will be that the regulations and the ordinance will be disallowed. That is not the situation we want to see occur. I will deal with that in a few minutes.

We are motivated strongly by the effect that would arise if the ordinance and the regulations were disallowed. We believe it would be irresponsible to contribute to their disallowance. This is a matter which, in fact, motivated the Press release. I am delighted to see that members of the Liberal Party have taken it to heart. It was pitched perhaps in strong terms, but reasonably so, as I will outline later. What would happen if these regulations and the ordinance were disallowed? It would mean a reversion to the previous legislation which is out-moded, inadequate, retrogressive and unworkable. It has been proven to be unworkable. I would think that would have quite the opposite effect to what is required. I do not think that this is completely understood. For instance, the 1958 Australian Capital Territory ordinance would create a situation in which there was no control at the point of sale, no special provision to protect young people, and a general system which would not work and which, as I say, has not worked in the past. The fact that it has not worked was the reason for the present new mechanisms being introduced.

I think that the Australian Democrats can claim with some pride to have been absolutely consistent in this matter throughout its history in this place, unlike some other people. We can also claim to have achieved a great deal in the interests of Australians. Indeed, the feedback which I have had from the community, which has been considerable, has acknowledged this. I deeply resent the attempt by a few people, a few troglodytes, to misrepresent the issue and to try to perpetrate a kind of general smear, an unpleasant carping attitude which has not indicated clearly what else might be done and which has not achieved anything. That has been the effect of the actions of certain people in the Senate. There has been a great deal of noise, a great deal of malice, irresponsible mischief and a general wrecking instinct which takes no account whatsoever of the consequences of that wrecking process.

The Australian Democrats have pushed the Government hard over this matter and, we believe, with good reason. I do not say that these regulations cannot be improved. That is not the point at this stage. I reiterate that the point at this stage is what would happen if these regulations were disallowed at this time. Can we ever say that any regulation, any law, that we make in this place is perfect? Of course we cannot. Do we say that legislation is to be suspended or held up for years or months on end and not have any effect because of that? Of course we do not say that. Nor do we say that any matter is totally ended. This matter is not ended. I have no doubt that it will be a matter of debate for a long time to come. But I believe that is not the point. I stress again to honourable senators that the issue is what would happen if the regulations were disallowed at this stage. That is the question which must engage our attention.

I make this point very firmly to the Liberal Party: What would be the consequences if the regulations were disallowed? I am speaking mainly of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, which, as honourable senators know, achieved the situation whereby violent and cruel material cannot now be imported into this country. They very effectively prevent the importation into Australia of violent and cruel material with gratuitous sexual aspects. The most important part of that legislation is the second part of regulation 4A (1) (iii), which puts a complete and effective curb on the importation of X-rated material depicting rape or any other violent sexual assault.

If that is not something of value, what is? What else has emerged so far from this debate that is of value other than a blind striking out and a desire to wreck and destroy? It is axiomatic that material came into the country before the change was made in that regulation, and that is to be regretted. However, I think it stresses the importance of controlling material which gratuitously depicts rape. Such material in the possession of some person with a sick mind who would use it in private is indeed an incitement to rape in real life. This places women and children at risk. I resent deeply the imputations made by honourable senators to my right that we have not achieved something of value with that regulation. I wonder where their morals and their integrity are when they take that stance. Disallowance of these regulations would indeed open the floodgates to more of this material, because there would be a reversion to the outmoded and, indeed, unworkable previous machinery. I am concerned that this would create the very situation we are trying to avoid and play right into the hands of those who promote this vicious and cruel trade. If the members of the Liberal Party do not like my Press release, let them deny that they are going to vote for the disallowance of this regulation.

Senator Walters —We are going to vote against it and you said that you were, too .

Senator MASON —I have never said at any stage that I would vote against it. I have made it plain that these were mechanisms to achieve what we wanted, and we have got what we wanted. I repeat: If this regulation is disallowed it will indeed open the floodgates to more of this material because there would be a reversion to the outmoded and unworkable previous machinery. I have not yet found any member of the public who has read carefully through that regulation and who does not realise that it is an improvement on what was there before. I state to honourable senators that there is no reason in the world to suppose that debate on this matter is at its end. Of course it is not at its end.

I have made it plain over the months since I first raised this matter, and I will repeat it because it seems to need some stressing, that the Democrats wanted two things: The prohibition of the importation of material which gratuitously depicts violence and cruelty with sexual aspects, which we have achieved, and also the compulsory classification, in fact censorship, of X-rated material coming into the country. As I have said, we have an undertaking from the Attorney-General that that will be achieved by 8.45 on Thursday morning. If that does not happen, we will be after some sensitive part of his anatomy.

We have achieved those objectives. Where the regulation is concerned, we do not intend to pursue the Government. However, I make it plain that the Australian Democrats believe it is disgraceful that the Government forced us to move this disallowance motion as a lever because the Government was too intractable to agree earlier to the reasonable community-supported changes we wanted, which in the end it was forced to do. This matter must proceed today. If it is not voted on before we adjourn tonight, the regulations will be disallowed. The Democrats will not support disallowance of the Customs regulations, because we have achieved the important and worthy objective we have sought all along. However, as I said in my Press release, those who do vote for disallowance will be casting their votes on the side of the purveyors of violent and cruel pornography. I cannot believe that the members of the Liberal Party do not understand this. Of course they do. Why have they sunk to the degree of political cynicism that they want to destroy something that has been painfully and difficultly achieved? I know Senator Harradine is sincere in his own way in this matter, although misguided. Liberal senators, especially Senator Durack, know full well that what I say is true. But they have persisted in an operation in which they do not believe and which they know to be perverse. They are trading on the complexity of this matter and on the highly charged emotionalism with which it is rightly regarded in the community. We have evidence that publicity has been given in a completely cynical way to churches and other groups in Australia of a misleading campaign and those who gave it knew full well that it was not true and that to support disallowance of these regulations would indeed open the floodgates and expose the community to a further flood of pornography.

My colleague in the New South Wales Legislative Council, the Hon. Elizabeth Kirkby, was shown clips of such material earlier this year. I will quote some of the milder details in a letter to me on the subject to make it plain to honourable senators that it is very important that violent and cruel material should be kept out of this country and that not another day should pass in which it is not kept out. Some of the milder material in her letter referred to:

A woman being scalped and the blood running down her face and the scalp being drawn off the skull in close-up.

. . . .

Men and women being whipped, razor slashed, disembowelled and finally decapitated.

That is the kind of material that we ought to look out for, yet Opposition senators come in here and have the impudence to object to the fact that I have said to them that if they disallow this regulation they will let such material in again. I say to those honourable senators that they should consult their consciences and think carefully about it because the regulation as it stands now absolutely forbids such situations. I exhort the Attorney-General and any of the people concerned, such as censors and classifiers, to make sure that the regulation is imposed in this country to the limit, without exception, without any kind of mercy for anybody who attempts otherwise. I suggest to honourable senators that if that is done we will have achieved something of great value in this country, because it is wrong, I agree, that children should see that kind of vile material or that there should be the faintest prospect of it. We do not want it in this country for any reason whatsoever and there is no excuse for its being here.

To take an extension from that statement and say that any kind of erotic or pornographic material has to be banned because Opposition senators think it should be banned is taking an extension which is not justified. I have no wish to impose any ideas of mine on the community. I suggest to honourable senators that they ought to think very carefully before they propose such things. Perhaps Senator Durack and other members of his Party have never seen that kind of material and do not believe it exists. I wonder whether that is the case. I suppose that could be one reason for their voting in favour of the disallowance of this useful regulation in its amended form. But I can assure honourable senators that such material does exist and could well become freely available again if they allow the old regulations to come back in place. I urge the Opposition to reconsider its view and to vote against the disallowance of this amended regulation, because the original reasons for its disallowance have disappeared and because of the risk engaged if they do.