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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1842

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.28) —As I foreshadowed earlier this morning, the Government will not oppose this motion which is consistent with what has always been our willingness to establish a parliamentary committee as soon as possible to take evidence and report on the kinds of matters set out in these terms of reference. It is unfortunate that the pressure of business in the House of Representatives was such that the motion for the establishment of a joint committee did not come to us sooner. But in any event it will be apparent to honourable senators that that motion would have been aborted with the forthcoming dissolution of the House of Representatives anyway. The establishment of a Senate committee certainly makes it possible for research to be done, inquiries to be set in train and submissions to be garnered over the whole period between now and when we resume. But it remains the Government's desire that the committee looking at this question be a joint select committee. It is with that in mind that I previously foreshadowed and will now move amendments to the terms of reference making it clear that, on the resumption of the Parliament, the work of the Senate Select Committee on Video Censorship will be subsumed into the work of a larger joint select committee.

Accordingly, I shall seek leave to move the five amendments circulated in my name, three of which are minor tidying-up amendments to make it clear that the X classification referred to in Senator Reid's terms of reference would be more appropriately described as a classification above R. More particularly, amendments No. 4 and No. 5 on the circulated list make it clear that it is the view of the Senate that the Senate Committee should have a relatively limited time span. I seek leave to move my amendments together.

Leave granted.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I move:

1. Paragraph 1 (g), leave out ' ''X'' classified videotapes/discs' insert ' videotapes/discs classified above ''R'' '.

2. Paragraph 1 (h), leave out ' ''X'' classified material', insert 'material classified above ''R'' '.

3. Paragraph 1 (i), leave out ' an ''X'' classifcation', insert ' a classification above ''R'' '.

4. After paragraph 8, insert the following new paragraphs:

'8A. That the Committee operate until such time as a Joint Select Committee with terms of reference similar to those proposed in Message No. 359 from the House of Representatives is appointed by both Houses of the Parliament.

8B. That on the establishment of such Joint Select Committee, the Committee be authorised to release to it transcript of evidence and other documents received by it relevant to the inquiry of the Joint Committee.'

5. Paragraph 12, after 'That', insert ', subject to paragraphs 8A and 8B,'.

Amendment No. 5 is that the reporting date of the Senate Select Committee be adjusted to reflect the probability that it may go out of existence when the joint committee is established. It would be the intention of the Government to establish the joint committee immediately upon the resumption of the Parliament, thus enabling matters subject to the terms of reference to be dealt with expeditiously. The existing motion, just passed in the House of Representatives, provides for a reporting date of 30 April. The motion now before us to establish the Senate Select Committee provides for a reporting date of 31 March. I suspect that the April date might be the more realistic date. But that matter can be discussed closer to that time.

These terms of reference moved by Senator Reid differ in some slight respects from those accepted in the House of Representatives. I do not seek in any way to quarrel with them nor, as has been apparent in the last few minutes, does the Government quarrel with the amendments moved by Senator Harradine which again vary the terms of reference in some essentially marginal respects and which have been the subject of discussion between the parties this morning.

The Government will seek to move quickly this week to establish the Senate Select Committee so that it might seek submissions and have a secretary working on commissioning research and doing all the other sorts of things that are necessary when a parliamentary inquiry is set in train. I do not want to be taken as accepting any of the more extravagant assertions that have been made from time to time about the state of crisis in which the nation is now plunged by virtue of the operation of the present system. I simply make the point, as I have all along, that this is a difficult area of social policy. It is one on which strongly held competing views are held. The Government is certainly willing that there be an objective consideration of how the new law has been operating. We think it has now been operating for long enough for some such objective assessment to be made. We wish first the Senate Committee and subsequently the joint select committee the best of luck in getting on with what will be a difficult job and hope, of course, that in the process it does not come back too slavering, depraved and corrupted by virtue of its exposure to the material which will be before it.

Amendments agreed to.