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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3260

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(3.16) —The Government will not act to pre-empt the report of the Joint Select Committee on Video Material, which Committee was established in the aftermath of the Senate Select Committee on Video Material to which Senator Harradine's motion refers. The Joint Select Committee report will deal with further recommendations made by the Senate Committee report. The report of the Joint Committee is expected early in the new year. The Government has taken a steady and deliberate course on this matter which we believe is a responsible course given the conflicting arguments and principles that are involved in this whole sensitive subject area.

The recommendations of the Senate Committee were that there be a moratorium on the sale or hire of X-rated videos in the Australian Capital Territory as an interim measure and the importation of X-rated tapes and similar material be prohibited. The report of the Senate Committee was not unanimous but those were the recommendations and they have been taken seriously by the Government. They have been referred to the Joint Select Committee and that Committee is taking evidence upon them and considering them very seriously. We also ensured that the report of the Senate Select Committee, with those recommendations, was examined closely not only by the Government but also by the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly. It was referred to that body for comment in accordance with the usual practice and that body, which had conducted an examination of the Australian Capital Territory Ordinance via its standing committee on education and community affairs, did not support the implementation of a moratorium. So the community most immediately affected by the alleged problems associated with X-rated videos was not, through its elected representatives at the time, prepared to act in the way that Senator Harradine urges that we now should.

As I said, the Government acted responsibly by further ensuring that the matter would be investigated through the Joint Select Committee which is now in operation with essentially the same terms of reference. That Committee has taken quite a deal of further evidence on this subject. Some of that evidence which has been taken, as I understand it, puts Senator Harradine's motion in an interesting and, I think, rather less heated perspective than he is seeking to generate here in this chamber today.

Senator Harradine —What do you mean by that?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I will explain.

Senator Harradine —I was not heated; I was trying to get through in the 10 minutes.

Senator GARETH EVANS —To the extent that Senator Harradine was talking about the need to act urgently to stop a phenomenon which has got out of hand, which is generating anxiety, which is causing concern and which is wrong in principle and so on, I draw the Senate's attention to some of the evidence before that Committee which is on the public record. I mention first of all that the hiring rate of X-rated videos has dropped away quite dramatically. There is impressionist evidence to that effect from the Australian Capital Territory but quite specific arithmetic or numerical evidence from the Northern Territory, where these things are the subject of computerised records by a number of retailers. As I understand it, figures in the Northern Territory which were put to the Committee show that there has been a falling away in the hire rate of X-rated material from 11 or 12 per cent of total video hirings in 1984-85 to something around 5 per cent now-in other words, over a 50 per cent drop. That would suggest a significant falling away in that jurisdiction. I understand that similar impressions are abroad about the rate of utilisation and hiring of such material in the Australian Capital Territory.

The other point that is worth mentioning from the evidence that has been put before the Joint Committee is, as I understand it, that the number of complaints made about X-rated videos has fallen away quite dramatically. Of course, having said that, it will, no doubt, result in a flood of complaints specially produced to prove to the contrary what I am now asserting. I refer to the evidence of Mrs Hocking from the Family Life Movement of Australia before the Committee on 27 November. At page 2672 of the evidence she talked about the last six months having resulted in a very significant falling away of complaints. Again, at page 2670 of that evidence, Mr Doyle, who although an Australian Labor Party member is known to have conservative views on a number of social issues, talks about the number of complaints falling away very significantly over the last six to eight months. So we have a situation--

Senator Zakharov —The Federal Police also.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am indebted to Senator Zakharov for that interjection. She would be closer to the detail than I am by virtue of her membership of and involvement with these committees. So the notion that there is some sort of increasing level of community concern about this, I think, is not made out. It may be, as Mrs Hocking said in her evidence, that one of the reasons for the fewer complaints is that a parliamentary committee is known to be looking at the issue. If that is right and if that is the reason it simply adds weight to my basic point that there is no need for any of us to take precipitate action until we have a considered, further and substantial report from the Joint Select Committee.

Of course, what seems to have set Senator Harradine's concern racing again in this matter is an advertisement-a rather tacky advertisement, I readily acknowledge-in the magazine People published in Australia on 8 September, of which Senator Harradine gave us all copies, which lists a number of titles of pornographic videos as being available from a New South Wales address but refers to this material as having been dispatched from the Australian Capital Territory. It also refers to the material as being Commonwealth classified material. I guess that that has given rise again to the terms of Senator Harradine's motion which is directed to implementing a moratorium on the further sale of X-rated videos in the Australian Capital Territory and doing something about the classification standards that are presently applied. But when we focus on this material it is not at all obvious that the problem is on the scale which it might at first sight appear. The advertisement has been forwarded to the Film Censorship Board and officers of the Attorney-General's Department for investigation and they are now co-operating fully with the Victorian and New South Wales governments to identify which tapes the trader in question is offering for sale and to establish whether any offence has been committed.

The basic problem that has shown up in that investigation is that, while the advertisement provides story lines, it does not in fact provide titles, and identification of the video tapes in question has thus been very difficult. One finds in the advertisement that the material is gathered into groupings, for example: `Boobs', `Oriental', `Fat Mammas', `Nurses', and so on. There are storyline descriptions-I will not burden the Senate with more than just one example-such as `Rolls and Rolls and Rolls of Gross Sensuality', which demonstrate the sort of thing we are talking about. Those storylines are not titles; they are simply descriptions, although who on earth would be moved by such descriptions to buy the material in question I hesitate to contemplate. Identification of the video tapes has proved difficult.

Although the investigation is incomplete as a result, it appears that certainly some of the tapes offered have not been submitted for classification and some have been submitted but have been refused classification. Under those circumstances, real questions arise about criminal liability for the material and that aspect of it is being very closely looked at. The question of whether offences under the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance and the New South Wales Film and Video Tape Classification Act have been committed is, as I have said, being examined. Turning to more specific matters in these tapes, as far as it can be ascertained at this stage, it appears that the tapes concerned do not involve child pornography at all. I qualify everything that I say by reference--

Senator Harradine —Who suggested they did? You did not mention incest.

Senator GARETH EVANS —There is no reference to children but there has been--

Senator Harradine —Of course there isn't. Why did you bring it in?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Because I had rather assumed that that had come up in the public debate. But if it did not--

Senator Harradine —You didn't mention incest, did you?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Okay! I am getting to incest right now. I know that the honourable senator is panting to get to the incest question and I am only too happy to accommodate him. But I am making the point that, to the extent that people might be concerned that the incest category might involve children-and most people think of incest as involving children-there is no evidence of child pornography as such, nor is the existence of child porn- ography overtly suggested by any of the titles except perhaps one of the incest storyline titles: `The kids teach dad a lesson he'll never forget'. There are no children whom we are aware of involved in any of this material that has at least so far been seen and identified by the Australian Federal Police.

As to incest more generally, to the extent that it can be distinguished from child pornography, I am advised that of the titles so far identified by the Film Censorship Board from the catalogue submitted by this organisation going by the name of Golden International-I give that information in case someone is contemplating a boycott of it-only one involves a so-called incestuous relationship. The Film Censorship Board report of this video tape-it has been looked at and dealt with by the Board-includes the following:

The Board considered that the depiction of the `incestuous relationship' was totally unconvincing with the so called mother and son being played by unrelated and familiar `porno' actors, both being (and depicted as) consenting adults.

I simply make the point under those circum- stances that, as with so many other things in this area, the titles of the tapes do not appear to live up to their descriptions and people clearly are being ripped off by the organisation in question to the extent that they think they are getting something even more sordid than that which they are. Of course, one has very little sympathy for people in those circumstances. I am simply making all these points in order to put on the record that the situation in practice would appear, on the basis of all the evidence that is to hand and such investigation as has been done and completed to date, to be nothing like as serious as Senator Harradine and others, who understandably react with some concern when they see advertisements like this, would believe.

I conclude by saying that the powers available to deal with a matter that is utterly beyond the pale, in terms which we have previously debated in this place, are ample at the moment. The Film Censorship Board, in classifying all video tapes, has regard to section 25 (3) of the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance, which requires that it refuse classification to a film:

. . . where the Board is satisfied that the film depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a manner that it offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adult persons to the extent that it should not be classified.

That is what the Board is obliged to have regard to at the moment in relation to the Australian Capital Territory. It is not as if all bets are off and that anything goes in the X category. The Board must have regard to those considerations. It has the capacity and it exercises that capacity to refuse classification altogether.

There is the further consideration about child pornography which is relevant to this debate, even though it might not have been specifically brought into issue by Senator Harradine, that any video materials containing child porn- ography are unequivocally prohibited under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations and, of course, are also refused classification under the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance. Moreover, under the Australian Capital Territory legislation, the keeping of such material for the purpose of selling or otherwise publishing it is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment of up to 12 months. So anyone who wishes to argue that the situation is somehow totally libertarian, laissez-faire, where anything goes, where there are no rules and no constraints, is quite profoundly misreading the situation.