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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1015


Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. In view of widespread misunderstanding evident in some States about the implications of the Federal Government's actions in relation to the control of the sale of video material, will the Minister outline the present position and the progress made in negotiations with the States?


Senator GARETH EVANS —As was reported in some places, the Ministers responsible for censorship met in Melbourne last Friday to consider where we were at in relation to the whole question, in particular, of the censorship of X-rated videos, the standards appropriate to be applied to those and to some lesser categories as well, and to see what recommendations it might be possible to agree upon to our respective governments. I can say only that no final decisions were reached but that a considerable amount of progress was made. I think that progress is best recorded by indicating to the Senate the terms of the resolution arising out of the meeting that was agreed upon. It is as follows:

MINISTERS AND GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES

1. Noted the widespread concern that has been expressed about the existing 'X' category as presently administered by the Film Censorship Board, and the present unwillingness of a majority of State Governments to legislate to allow the commercial distribution of such material under any conditions;

2. Noted further widespread concerns expressed about the extent of permissible violence in existing 'M' and 'R', as well as 'X', classified films, and the case advanced for stricter guidelines being formulated in relation to violence of gratuitous or exploitative character.

3. Noted the views of the Chief Censor that the largest proportion of the 'X' material was straightforward sexual erotica not involving violence in any form and that, on the basis of overseas experience, a very large black market could be expected to develop in relation to such material were it to be banned outright.

4. Agreed that further consideration should be given to whether the concept of an acceptable category of non-violent erotica be developed, going beyond the existing 'R' category but excluding such limited depictions of violence as depicted under the present 'X' category.

I interpolate that the concept of such a category which has been described in some cases as a possible E category-for erotica, not effort and efficiency as some others have suggested-has come forward from the national women's advisers body or the group of women's advisers to particular governments. It is clearly a proposition that is deserving of further consideration, particularly since there is so much misunderstanding, most of it wilfully generated by people like Senator Walters, about the actual content of the present X category. I return to the Ministerial Council resolution. It went on as follows:

5. Directed the Commonwealth in consultation with the Chief Censor and State and Territory officers, to prepare a detailed paper for subsequent Ministerial meeting:-

(i) outlining the possible contents of, and arguments for, such an 'RT' category , and

(ii) formulating stricter guidelines in relation to violence in the 'M' and 'R' categories.

Finally, the Ministers agreed to meet again in approximately a month's time to consider the above material and to formulate recommendations for respective governments and parliaments.

So progress is being made on this matter. It is a matter for regret by the Government that there continues to be so much misunderstanding about what is and what is not banned at the Customs barrier and in accordance with the existing classification administered by the Film Censorship Board. But the reality is that there is some unwillingness on the part of a number of governments to go down the track of the uniform legislation agreed to a year ago.

It does become necessary, accordingly, to have another look at what sorts of areas of compromise and unanimous agreement might be possible, and that is where we are at the moment. I would hope that as this process continues we cease to have some of the neanderthal contributions to what should be a civilised debate in an area that not only has considerable implications for the protection of the community from unwanted and inappropriate material but also has a great deal of implication for the freedom of the subject and liberty of expression in this country.