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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1060


Senator O'CHEE (1.22 p.m.) —In my maiden speech in the Senate I spoke of the need for all of us to keep first and foremost in mind the wellbeing of young Australians. I come today with a number of matters that relate directly to the wellbeing of young Australians.

  Prior to parliament resuming for the budget I was in Toowoomba, where I was presented with an open letter from the parents and friends of Our Lady of Lourdes School, Toowoomba, and a covering letter from Mr Mike Horan, MLA, and Mr Graham Healy, MLA, who are the members for Toowoomba South and Toowoomba North respectively. The letter from the parents and friends of Our Lady of Lourdes School, Toowoomba, is quite interesting—not just because it is supported by 208 signatures from a very small primary school in Toowoomba but, more importantly, because of the matter it raises.

  The matter that these parents raise is very simply this: there has come to be a process by which the television stations, which have been forced to put more explicit or more violent movies on later in the evening, are running promos for those programs earlier in the day. The consequence, the parents say, is that it is very difficult for them to shield their young children from violence or sexually explicit scenes. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Senator O'Chee,

We have become extremely concerned of late about two aspects of Australian Television Broadcasting that is becoming harder for us parents to police during the periods allocated to children's and family viewing.

1.Firstly—the insistence of Television Stations to Promote programs of a sexually explicit or violent nature during time allocated to viewing by children and families.

2.The increase in the number of Television commercials using explicit or suggestive themes to promote a product.

During this International Year of the Family, we urge you and your House of Representatives and Senate Colleagues to address our concerns and raise them in the appropriate forum.

We as parents and guardians are able to control what programs our children can or cannot watch. We cannot control when these promos and advertisements are telecast.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned,

Parents & Friends of

Our Lady of Lourdes School,

Toowoomba

The point these people make is very real. It is quite possible for a television station to run a promo—I understand that this letter was prompted by a promo for the movie Basic Instinct—for a movie at 8.30 in a 6.30 or 7 o'clock television slot. In some cases there are complaints that explicit or violent promos are being run at 5.30 in the afternoon.

  I know there has been a big debate, and rightly so, about the regulation of the television industry, freedom of speech and so on, but the television stations themselves have recognised that it is appropriate that certain programs be put into a later hour of the evening. Why then the necessity to run these sorts of advertisements or promos earlier in the day? It is interesting that these promos are sometimes called teasers. They are called teasers for a very simple reason—the stations take the juiciest bits of a television program, splice them into a 30-second advertisement and tease the audience into wanting to watch it. That is why they are run.

  If they have that effect on adults, it is not unreasonable for us to expect that they will have the same effect on children. What the parents who have written this letter have said to me is very simply that they do not mind these programs being put on at that hour, because they can control when their children go to bed, but they do object to the promos for these programs being shown at this hour.

  In the case of the promo for the movie Basic Instinct, they said there was no point in watching the movie if one wanted to see something juicy, because all the best and juiciest bits had already been in the promo. They said that if the children had actually watched the movie itself it would have made no difference at all, because the most explicit and violent bits of the movie had all been spliced into 30 seconds.


Senator Sherry —It must have been a long promo.


Senator O'CHEE —We could have a movie critique later, but I think Senator Sherry appreciates the point.


Senator Sherry —I do. I agree with you.


Senator O'CHEE —I note the honourable senator's agreement that it is unacceptable. What I say is simply that the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations must take a tough line. I know there is a guideline that says that promos should not contain this material. I understand that it is the case—I could be wrong here—that stations are not required to submit promos which are made in-house to FACTS, for understandable reasons. But it is important that these standards are adhered to. Our commercial broadcasters have a big community responsibility, as does the ABC and as does SBS, to the parents whose children are in front of the television set; and the parents are saying that what is happening is not acceptable. I will just return to the letter that has been signed by Messrs Horan and Healey. They make a couple of very good points. They have asked me to stress that `unless family values are given the highest regard and protection then our country will continue a slow downward slide.'

  I think it is appropriate that this matter be dealt with. If the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations is unwilling—as a result of this speech and the concern of these parents, which must be mirrored by parents all around the country—to deal with the matter, then obviously it will be necessary to raise it with the minister, Mr Lee, for whom I have a quite high personal regard. I am sure that he would share the views that Senator Sherry and I have aired in the chamber today. I do not believe it is acceptable. I believe that—with just a modicum of effort—this unfortunate situation, which has probably arisen by way of oversight, can be addressed and everybody can be satisfied. That is the first matter I seek to raise. I seek the leave of the Senate to table this document.

  Leave granted.


Senator O'CHEE —I thank the Senate. The other matter I wish to raise is about a youth forum which I attended and facilitated in Alice Springs a number of weeks ago. That was very interesting, because there are many people in this country who say that young Australians are layabouts, that young Australians have no set of values, and that young Australians do not contribute anything to our community. It was very interesting to find that in a town like Alice Springs we had something like 40 young people turn up, of their own volition, to discuss topics that were of importance to them. It might be very interesting for honourable senators to know that one of the subjects which was raised by the people who attended the youth forum was the question of the legalisation of marijuana—a very topical subject in the Australian parliament at this point in time.

  There were people clearly in favour of it and people clearly were against it, just as there are in this parliament, I am led to believe, and just as there are outside. After a long period of discussion, one of the clear recommendations of everybody present was that there should be better research into the long-term effects of marijuana use. Many of the people there were under the belief that marijuana was less harmful than tobacco. It is my understanding that that is not correct. Certainly, Dr Brendan Nelson, who is the President of the AMA, has argued the opposite: that there are long-term psychological damages which may result from the use of marijuana over a prolonged period of time.

  But what they all said at the end of the day, whether they were for it or against it, was, `So that we can have an informed debate, what we need is more research.' Clearly we do need to do research on this topic, but there is also research which has been done—and I think it is incumbent on the government to make people aware of what that research says. We need to ascertain whether Dr Nelson is correct or not. I happen to be one of the people—and I have said it publicly before—who are opposed to the legalisation of marijuana. But if I am wrong, if the medical evidence is against me, then I want to know so that I can make an informed decision. The young people of Alice Springs said exactly the same thing. They said, `We do not know enough to make a decision here and now. Please ensure that there is more research done, and that the research which is done is publicised so that everybody knows about it.'

  If we are to have an intelligent debate on these matters, rather than just the usual run-of-the-mill newspaper surveys which do not ultimately shed any light on the real issues—they are interesting from a statistical point of view but nothing else—then I believe it is in the interests of all Australians and in the interests of our community that we have informed debate, and that this research is better publicised and made available in a form that Australians can understand. That is because, ultimately, a lot of this medical and scientific research is just mumbo jumbo to ordinary people like you and me, Mr Acting Deputy President, who do not have any medical qualifications. Highly intelligent as you are and wise in your judgments, we still have this problem that we do have difficulty at times in understanding some of the research.

  The other matter that was discussed at the youth forum was also of interest. It was the issue of vandalism and juvenile delinquency; it was the issue of young people roaming the streets late at night; it was the issue of youth crime. It is frequently argued, Mr Acting Deputy President, and I am sure you have heard it as well, that youth crime occurs because young people have nothing to do. Of course, what happens is that governments go out and they spend large sums of money putting up facilities. The facilities are utilised for six months, 12 months or 18 months and then they fall into disuse and are never really utilised again. Then 12 months, two, three or four years later, the problem re-emerges and people say, `We need to spend more money on providing facilities for young people.'

  So we provide more money again and again. They have a short-term palliative effect but, ultimately, little is done. I am not saying that there is not a problem in some regional centres in terms of facilities, because there very clearly is. In Cairns we addressed that problem recently, through our own community, by erecting a police citizens youth centre. It has surpassed all expectations and is something of which I am very proud to have been a supporter. Many people on both sides of politics in Cairns are very proud to have been the supporters of that.

  Ultimately, after about an hour and a half of debate on the issue, the young people arrived at a very interesting conclusion. It was that talk of needing more facilities often hides an essential truth, which is that people themselves must have the motivation to utilise their time productively. That means that we have to do a lot more at schools. This is what they were saying, that we have to do a lot more at schools to teach people how to be productive with their time—how to be good citizens.

  One of the criticisms that I have, and one of the criticisms that many people have, about so-called citizenship education is that too frequently we tell people what are their rights as citizens, but we do not explain to them what are their obligations as citizens. Ultimately this truth must prevail: that if rights are to exist in this society, then responsibilities must be beside them and, in many cases, must take priority over them. Only by all individuals in our society observing their responsibilities can we ultimately protect the rights of other people. What the people at the youth forum in Alice Springs said is, `We believe that more needs to be done to educate young people as they go through school on how to be productive, on how to make a contribution to society, on what their responsibilities are, so that we can produce better young people and, ultimately, better Australians.' The future of this country is not in our hands. It will be, in a very short number of years, in the hands of other people who are at schools and universities now. We must make this investment in them because it is an investment in their future and ours.