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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1237


Senator JACK EVANS(4.42) —I am entering this debate for the first time. I hope that Australian Democrat senators who are not participating in this debate will not be accused, as the previous speaker just did, of ducking the issue. I wish to make it very clear at the outset that I am averse to censorship in any form. I believe that people should have material available to them. They should be free to read, see and hear that material. They also should be free to visit other countries or have visits from people of other countries so that a world-wide range of information is available to them. They should be able to do so-there is a caveat-provided that no real harm is done either to individuals or to the society at large.

We have a problem because films, and videotapes in particular, are capable of causing harm. This is particularly so of videotapes which can be kept in a home for some time and which, therefore, may be accessible to children. To children in particular. There is the potential for lasting psychological damage to children. There is also a risk with videotapes of damage to mentally or psychologically unbalanced adults, particularly in terms of those people learning about different kinds of violence and different kinds of weapons. There is also danger to society at large because there is the potential for a degeneration of standards of the whole community which could lead to the acceptance of brutality, rape, et cetera as a norm, as an acceptable thing.

The debate in this Parliament has been valuable despite its high and low spots. At times there has been a debasement of the debate. However, I believe that many honourable senators have made a very worthwhile contribution to a subject which is novel to the people of Australia. We need to have full and open debate about this matter so that the community can let us know the standards that it wants for Australia and Australians. However, the debate in this Parliament, and particularly in this Senate, which I have found valuable, has not been conveyed to the community at large. Regrettably, the community has not read all of the Hansards. The sad concomitant to that is that certain parliamentarians have purveyed deliberately false and misleading information to the public, particularly-I stress this-to community and church leaders. It is very sad that only one point of view has been purveyed to those leaders in our community by these parliamentarians because the alternative points of view-there are many-may have caused them to modify their stance, look again at the debate and consider much more carefully the advice that they give to people for whom they are responsible for counselling on matters of morals and in other areas.

The classification of video material in this country is probably one of the most widely misunderstood subjects in the community. I would just like to outline briefly the recent changes to the relevant regulations simply to put them on record. A new regulation was proposed by the Government in March this year to tighten up the Customs regulations governing prohibited imports. Until then, banned material was anything which was 'blasphemous, indecent or obscene or which unduly emphasised matters of sex, horror, violence or crime or was likely to encourage depravity'. It is obvious that this description is very vague and must have led to a great deal of confusion in a lot of areas, but in particular in the key area of Customs because Customs officers found it almost impossible to apply in a regulated and consistent manner as a result of which this country was flooded with pornographic material.

In April this year my colleague Senator Mason moved to disallow the new regulation and also the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance No. 59 of 1983. The reason for this was that the new regulation, while giving much more detailed guidelines as to the material which would not be allowed into Australia, could have been construed as allowing in scenes of extreme violence or cruelty, especially when combined with a sexual element if they were considered by Customs officers not to be gratuitous within the story line. After a lot of negotiation with the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) the regulation was changed so that all explicit depictions of sexual violence against non-consenting persons would be banned. The Australian Capital Territory Ordinance, which was to act as the model for classification of publications, including videotapes and discs, in all States and territories, was deficient, we felt, in that censorship of material was voluntary rather than mandatory. Again, the Attorney-General agreed with our objection and the Ordinance was duly altered. Having achieved what we set out to do, having further tightened up the regulations, which were a decided improvement on the old regulations, we then allowed the new improved regulations to be put into force because we then had something. It has to be recognised that until that point Australia had nothing with which to protect our young people in particular .


Senator Harradine —That is not so.


Senator JACK EVANS —That was absolutely so in the application of the previous regulations, Senator.


Senator Harradine —It is not so.


Senator JACK EVANS —I will provide Senator Harradine with the evidence to prove that it is so. Members of the Opposition, and Senator Harradine in particular, obviously did not understand the implications of what had happened because then, as now, they maintained that the new regulations opened the flood gates of the Australian Customs Service to an inundation of hard core pornographic video material. Let us recognise what happened. Before the new regulations were gazetted, there was no specific mention of video material in the Customs regulations. Hard core pornographic material was most certainly entering this country and being sold under State regulations which also did not specifically mention these products.

I want Senator Harradine and Senator Walters in particular to hear and understand the accusation that I now make. I notice that Senator Walters is not listening. She is obviously not interested in hearing an alternative point of view and that is evident from the one point of view that she puts out in the community. I make the accusation that the State laws were chaotic if they existed at all. The dear little 11-year-old whom Senator Walters described this afternoon as having viewed pornographic videotapes was probably seeing a videotape purchased or imported under the previous laws. I am certain of that and I am equally certain that a great injustice was done to this Parliament by the fraud which was wrought on us by the lady who had her daughter purchase or hire a videotape in Canberra. The videotape would have undoubtedly been introduced to Canberra under the old regulations. I am glad that I have Senator Walters's attention for a change. Therefore, Senator Walters should blame herself and the previous Government, of which she was a member, and not the existing Parliament and this Senate. It might be worth while if she looked at the background, because she seemed to have been very proud to have been able to produce evidence, but it was evidence which shot down her own argument.


Senator Mason —Senator Harradine was involved in that, too.


Senator JACK EVANS —It was undoubtedly a put-up, and it was a put-up which caught them out absolutely. The problems of videotapes and discs being kept in the home are obvious. Adults who buy or hire these videos are not the only ones who are exposed to them. A recent British study determined that 60 per cent of children had seen a pornographic videotape or disc and these children obviously did not buy them themselves. They were watching tapes which had been bought by their parents. Let us make this quite clear because what is being put forward by the Opposition in this debate is that we should force underground the distribution of pornographic videotapes, X-rated videotapes, which otherwise would be rigidly controlled, so that they cannot be hired for an overnight viewing. But under such circumstances parents have a very high degree of control of a hired tape. The tape must be returned the next morning. It is hired for one night only. Obviously, if the parents have hired that tape for themselves, they will be present in the home for that one night. The tape will be controlled in the home.


Senator Walters —Wake up.


Senator JACK EVANS —Senator Walters has not heard. She should stop rambling and listen to the argument. The tapes will be forced underground so that the only way in which people have access to them is to purchase them, because the underground does not hire; it sells. When they are purchased--


Senator Walters —What about heroin underground?


Senator JACK EVANS —Is the honourable senator saying that heroin is hired? Listen to the argument: X-rated videos would be able to be hired only under the regulations that are now in force. If we force them underground, they will be purchasable and they will sit in the home so that kids are given access to them. Not only on the night of hire, but also at any time in the distant future those children will have access. If Senator Walters has not realised that fact she is living in Disneyland; she is living out of the world of reality. Perhaps she has never hired a tape. Perhaps she does not know that they have to be returned the next morning. Perhaps she does not know what happens when one buys a tape. It sits in the home in a place which is accessible, as are the Penthouse magazines, which the kids inevitably get hold of.

We need to recognise that this measure provides a degree of protection for our children. It is not total and it cannot be total. But it is a damn sight better than having that tape lying around the house forever. What we need in addition is a degree of uniformity throughout Australia. I believe we are likely to achieve that. We have headed in that direction and, with a bit of give and take on both sides, there is the potential for the States and the Federal Government to agree on the rules, regulations, ordinances and laws which will control the importation and the distribution-and the distribution is the key-throughout Australia. It must be uniform. If only one State opts out of that system, it makes X-rated material available without control in that one State. Through the underground it can be imported from another State and then, as I said a moment ago, once it is imported it sits in the home and it is accessible to kids.

I hope we get a degree of commonsense in this debate from now on. The tragedy in my State is that people have not recognised that those who will be most harmed if we do not have this control system will be the very children who all of us want to protect. I believe that Senator Walters and Senator Harradine are absolutely genuine in their endeavours to protect the children, as is Senator Gareth Evans and as are all honourable senators who have spoken. But let us recognise that the way to protect the children is to control videotapes, not to pretend that they are not there by trying to legislate them out of existence. One cannot do that because of the fact that there are probably already hundreds of thousands of them distributed around Australia at the moment. The new ordinance already provides better controls. Let us hope that the new committee will get the agreement to give even better controls than we have now. I believe that with good will we can achieve that. But we will not achieve it if we do not face up to the arguments realistically and honestly.