Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1839


Senator REID(12.07) —The Senate has before it notices of motion Nos 113 and 135. I wish to deal principally with notice of motion No. 135, which seeks to establish a Select Committee on Video Censorship.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Reid, I understand that if you wish to debate the notices cognately you will require leave of the Senate to do so.


Senator REID —I seek leave to debate the two matters cognately.

Leave not granted.


Senator REID —Dealing firstly with notice of motion No. 135, I move:

(1) That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on Video Censorship, be appointed to report on the operation of Regulation 4A of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations and the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983 in relation to videotapes and videodiscs and in particular:

(a) the effectiveness of such legislation to adequately control the importation , production, reproduction, sale and hire of violent, pornographic or otherwise obscene material;

(b) whether the present classification system, as applied by the Film Censorship Board, is adequate as a basis for import and point-of-sale controls;

(c) whether video retailers are observing the conditions of sale or hire attached to classified material, particularly in relation to children under 18 years;

(d) whether Regulation 4A of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations is adequate in identifying categories of prohibited material, and operating effectively in preventing the importation of videotapes/discs falling within the prohibited categories;

(e) examine the extent to which videotapes and videodiscs containing pornographic and violent material are available to the community in general;

(f) whether children under the age of 18 years are gaining access to videotapes /discs containing violent pornographic or otherwise obscene material;

(g) whether the ACT Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983 should be amended to make it an offence for persons purchasing or hiring 'X' classified videotapes/discs to allow, suffer or negligently permit children to view such material;

(h) whether cinemas should be permitted to screen for public exhibition 'X' classified material, subject to prohibition from entry of persons under the age of 18 years;

(i) whether films which merit an 'X' classification are being produced in Australia and, if so, whether Australian men and women are adequately protected by existing law from pressure to act in such films; and

(j) the likely effects upon people, especially children, of exposure to violent , pornographic or otherwise obscene material.

(2) That the Committee consist of 6 Senators, as follows:

(a) 3 to be nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate;

(b) 2 to be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; and

(c) 1 Independent Senator, to be nominated by the Independent Senator.

(3) That the Committee proceed to the despatch of business notwithstanding that all members have not been duly nominated and appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy.

(4) That the Committee elect as Chairman one of the members nominated by the Leader of the Government.

(5) That the Chairman of the Committee may, from time to time, appoint another member of the Committee to be the Deputy-Chairman of the Committee, and that the member so appointed act as Chairman of the Committee at any time when there is no Chairman or the Chairman is not present at a meeting of the Committee.

(6) That, in the event of an equality of voting, the Chairman, or the Deputy- Chairman when acting as Chairman, have a casting vote.

(7) That the quorum of the Committee be 3 members.

(8) The the Committee and any sub-committee have power to send for and examine persons, papers and records, to move from place to place, to sit in public or in private, notwithstanding any prorogation of the Parliament or dissolution of the House of Representatives, and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken and such interim recommendations as it may deem fit.

(9) That the Committee have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of 3 or more of its members, and to refer to any such sub-committee any of the matters which the Committee is empowered to consider, and that the quorum of a sub- committee be a majority of the Senators appointed to the sub-committee.

(10) That the Committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the Committee with the approval of the President.

(11) That the Committee be empowered to print from day to day such papers and evidence as may be ordered by it, and a daily Hansard be published of such proceedings as take place in public.

(12) That the Committee report to the Senate by 31 March 1985.

(13) That, if the Senate be not sitting when the Committee has completed its report, the Committee may send its report to the President of the Senate or, if the President is not available, to the Deputy-President, who is authorised to give directions for its printing and circulation and, in such event, the President or Deputy-President shall lay the report upon the Table at the next sitting of the Senate.

(14) That the foregoing provisions of this Resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.

I will not go through all the paragraphs of the motion but will refer to only some of them. The Committee will be asked to report on the effectiveness of the legislation and its ability to control adequately the importation, production, reproduction, sale and hire of violent, pornographic or otherwise obscene material; to look into the question of whether or not the present classification system, as applied by the Film Censorship Board, is adequate as a basis for import and point-of-sale controls; to check on whether or not video retailers are observing the conditions of sale or hire attached to classified material, particularly in relation to children under 18 years of age; to look at other aspects of the regulations and their ability to operate effectively; to examine the extent to which this material is available generally in the community, and the extent to which children under the age of 18 years are gaining access to it. There are, of course, a number of important aspects in the inquiry. We have also included in the motion the number of senators who shall be on the proposed Select Committee on Video Censorship, the manner in which it shall operate, and when it shall report, that is, 31 March 1985.

Amendments will be put forward by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and Senator Harradine which are acceptable to the Opposition. The Attorney will seek to effect a transfer in due course to a joint committee of the Parliament and to report as a joint committee. Perhaps that will happen; perhaps not. So far the record for establishment of a joint committee has not been a good one and it is for that reason we feel that a Senate select committee should be set up. At the last count the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette indicated that 948 films had been classified as X and 16 had been refused classification from 1 January 1984. I seriously wonder about the ability of a group of, I think, seven people to examine these films and many others and not become desensitised to the material. It may well be that that consideration and the classification of the material are aspects that will occupy the attention of the Committee.

It is unfortunate perhaps that the whole debate has come to this stage. I suggest that if the matter had been dealt with by way of a Bill right at the beginning, rather than by way of subordinate legislation in the form of regulations and an ordinance, a committee could have been set up in February of last year to look into the implications; but that time has passed. We had the opportunity to take action when on 7 June the Senate passed a motion to set up a joint committee. That motion went to the House of Representatives before it rose for the winter recess on 7 June, but many months have been lost. I think that community reaction to the legislation is such that a committee of the Senate must get under way as soon as possible.

I believe the Attorney-General misread public opinion when he stated earlier this year that community attitudes have changed to the point where people want the kind of X-rated material available for home use. I do not know what the Select Committee's findings will be. It may well find that the Attorney-General is right, but it is my observation, from representations made to me, that he is wrong. In fact, one might suggest almost that he has been a slow learner in getting round to considering this matter. It was not until 20 August that he agreed, publicly at least, that a joint committee should be set up. There have been many letters to honourable senators and members of the House of Representatives, many letters have been published in newspapers, and many petitions have been presented by constituents expressing their concern about the legislation. I believe they are entitled to have the matter reviewed. It is the advent of the video cassette recorder which has changed this issue so much, and perhaps many of us did not realise soon enough what the effect would be. I think we need to look into the matter. The community is entitled to have the opportunity of expressing its views. As the Senate is aware, a meeting was held in Canberra which 2,000 people attended. It was a very large public meeting and was held on a very cold night. Those people came to make known their views about the legislation. I cannot see that there has been any good reason for a delay in setting up the Committee. It just seems a pity that so much time has been lost.

The Australian Capital Territory has become an island in that New South Wales has not gone along with the classification. Most States seem to be either against it or very concerned about it. I would say that now is the time to get on with setting up the Committee. We should get it established and functioning this week so that it can place advertisements, call for submissions and, over the recess, start looking at the material which undoubtedly will be put before it. I am sorry that I will not be able to be a member of the Committee, as the Territory senators expire-perhaps that is the correct word-when the Parliament is dissolved and do not exist again until the Parliament resumes. Territory senators do not have the same status as the other 60 senators. Even though I would like to have been a member of the Committee, I think it is important that it gets under way and gets on with the job that needs to be done.