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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 947

Senator JONES(11.50) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

On 20 August 1984 the Government decided to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Video Classification. That proposal passed the House of Representatives, but was not further dealt with in the Senate. The Select Committee on Video Material was established by the Senate on 17 October 1984 to commence work on the issue of videos, until a Joint Committee could be set up. On the day that the Senate Committee was established, the Senate passed a motion calling for a moratorium on the availability of X-rated videos. The Committee was conscious of this motion during its inquiry, and wrote to the new Attorney-General, Mr Lionel Bowen, on 2 January 1985, drawing it to his attention. As all honourable senators know, a joint committee was established last week, enabling this Committee to report and hand over. I now take that action.

The Senate Committee advertised widely in mid-November asking for submissions from interested people and organisations. It made a point of allowing as many individuals as possible to put a point of view. As of now approximately 1,500 submissions have been received. Because an election was held during the Committee's inquiry, limits were placed on the amount of work it could do. However, it decided early on to hear as many witnesses from the Commonwealth as possible. In three days of public hearings it heard evidence from the Attorney-General's Department, the Australian Customs Service, the Film Censorship Board, the Films Board of Review, the Australian Federal Police and the Customs Officers Association of Australia. The Committee also paid a visit to an operating video library and the Film Censorship Board to view some videos.

The report and its observations and conclusions are basically limited to that evidence. It is probably worth mentioning now that one of the problems the Committee was immediately faced with, and which it has not yet resolved, is what is meant by the words 'pornography', 'obscene', 'violent', et cetera. These words have a different meaning for almost everyone who uses them. One would expect that the Film Censorship Board and the Attorney-General's Department would have working definitions, but it was quite obvious from the evidence given to the Committee that they do not.

The Committee's report is designed to be informative to the Senate, to advise governments on some interim measures to cope with current problems in the law, and to provide a basis for further work by the incoming joint committee. Included in the report is a background paper which outlines some of the issues that will form part of the joint committee's inquiry. The major recommendation in the report is that a moratorium be placed on the sale and hire of X-rated videos in the Australian Capital Territory. The central paragraphs read as follows:

3.8 During its deliberations the Committee:

(a) Noted that the overwhelming majority of written submissions opposed the availability of the X-rated category of videos:

(b) Identified a number of serious inadequacies in the Commonwealth law purporting to regulate videos; and

(c) Noted the initial lack of uniformity between the Commonwealth and State laws, and the later decisions by all States to ban X-rated videos.

3.9 During its deliberations the Committee was also conscious of the Senate's resolution of 17 October 1984 calling for a moratorium on the availability of X-rated videos in the Australian Capital Territory.

3.10 Because of the preceding points the Committee, especially because of the serious inadequacies in the present law, considers that interim measures are required to regulate videos throughout Australia until the Joint Committee investigates and formulates considered recommendations on the subject, and the Parliament and Government consider those recommendations.

3.15 . . ., because of the State's actions in banning 'X'-rated videos and the inconsistent state of the Commonwealth law, and without prejudice to the considered findings of the Joint Select Committee, the Committee recommends that the following interim measures be taken:

(1) A moratorium be placed on the sale and hire of 'X'-rated videos in the ACT consistent with the Resolution of the Senate of 17 October 1984 as the most practical interim measure to facilitate regulation of videos throughout Australia until the Joint Committee reports.

(2) That the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations be amended, and administrative guidelines issued to Customs officers be revised, to stop the importation of material that would be refused classification under the Committee's proposal for a moratorium of 'X'-rated and similar material.

3.16 The Committee recommends that in drawing up interim measures, the Government have regard to the many problems with the state, application and administration of the law identified in Chapter 4 of this Report, and in the public evidence taken by the Committee.

It will be seen, and it is emphasised again and again in the Report that the recommendation is made because of the unsatisfactory state of the law. The Report does not canvass the longer-term question as to what is the best way of regulating, classifying and censoring videos. This will remain a job for the Joint Committee.

This will operate when this Committee ceases-

The Report also argues that there is a need for more resources to be made available to the Film Censorship Board. The Committee's recommendation reads as follows:

Resources of the Film Censorship Board

3.17 During the public hearing at which the Film Censorship Board gave evidence, and as a result of the Committee's visit to the Board, it has become clear that the Film Censorship Board lacks the resources to undertake the work it is required to carry out on behalf of the Commonwealth and the States. The problem was highlighted through information received during the Committee's examination in public hearing of evidence from the Australian Federal Police. In the ACT an estimated forty per cent of videos for sale or hire have not been classified by the Film Censorship Board as required by the ACT Ordinance.

3.20 The Committee is of the opinion that insufficient resources are allocated to the Film Censorship Board. This is contributing to a situation in which the law purporting to govern the regulation of videos is being brought into disrepute, particularly in the Australian Capital Territory.

3.21 Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Government, as a matter of urgency, provide the Film Censorship Board with adequate resources to fulfil its statutory and other responsibilities.

The censoring and classification of TV and videos for home viewing, where children may be exposed to potentially offensive material, is a difficult task requiring time and care. The Committee believes the Board should be given high quality Board members, staff and resources to undertake this job.

New developments in high technology in the entertainment and information industries are going to make the regulation of videos very difficult. Videos are easily made, easily copied and cheap. There are going to be great problems for the Joint Committee in coming up with workable proposals to deal with the question. The Williams Committee which reported on Film Censorship and Obscenity in Britain in 1979 overlooked the development of videos themselves. Developments will have to be continuously monitored if the law is to keep pace with technical developments.

I hope this report will be of interest to the Senate and of some help to the Joint Committee in carrying out further investigation and making recommendations to the Government on the control of video material. In conclusion, I thank the members of the Committee-Senator Elstob, Senator Zakharov, Senator Walters and Senator Harradine-for the tasks they have undertaken and the work they have put into the Committee, for the time they have spent on public hearings and the number of hours they have put into the report that I am now bringing down. A minority report will be brought down by Senator Zakharov. I believe that this further illustrates the difficulty under which the Committee worked and the difficult question the Committee was dealing with. Her contrary view to the Committee's view shows very clearly that it is a difficult question and that it will take some time for the Committee to resolve it and to bring down recommendations on the control of videos in Australia.

I also take the opportunity at this stage to extend my gratitude to the staff of the Senate Committee on Video Materials-Ron Wiber, the Secretary, Mary Louise Willheim, the Research Officer, and other members of the staff who worked extremely hard in providing the material to allow us to report to the Senate by 31 March. If it had not been for the work carried out by the staff it would have been very difficult-taking into consideration the election-for this Committee to prepare the report and present it to the Senate, and for Senator Zakharov to present the minority report. I extend my thanks to the members of the Committee for the work they carried out. I am sure that they will be a very great acquisition to the Joint Committee when it meets to bring down its deliberations on this very complex question.