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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 49

Senator LUDWIG (12:43 PM) —Labor clearly supports the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2004, which will make minor amendments to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. Under the national classification scheme, the Classification Board is responsible for the classification, on application, of films, computer games and certain publications. The Classification Review Board makes fresh classification decisions in response to an application for review of a decision of the board. The national classification scheme plays an important role in providing guidance for consumers of film, computer games and literature but it also has a very important role to play in classifying material provided to it by Commonwealth, state and territory law enforcement agencies who are seeking information upon which to base prosecutions, particularly for the sale, distribution and use of pornographic material and child pornography.

These amendments will remove any doubt about the validity of decisions made by the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board where there have been minor technical deficiencies in the application process. The changes do not go to the substantive decisions of the board and, it is important to note, only apply to applications for classification made by law enforcement authorities. Applications are made by police for unclassified material to be classified by the board with the classification then being used as part of any prosecution process.

The amendments will have the effect on applications by law enforcement agencies made both before and after commencement of this bill. The provisions do not operate to validate classification decisions that might be defective for reasons other than minor technical deficiencies related to the application, nor do they prevent any challenges to a board or review board decision based on some defect in the decision-making process. Remember also that these changes have no impact on applications made by industry for classification and any defects that might be found in their applications. The classification decision-making process will remain rigorous, and interested parties under the act will continue to have the right to appeal.

We understand that the government is of the view that all decisions made by the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board remain valid, even where there has been a procedural error in the application process. Nevertheless, Labor agree with the government that it is important that the parliament make this abundantly clear in this bill. While there is an element of retrospectivity in the operation of these amendments, Labor consider the government's arguments—that is, that the changes are appropriate and will not result in any substantive injustice—to be sound.

Labor have been briefed and, whilst it is not appropriate to discuss details of law enforcement applications publicly, we are satisfied that the government amendments are appropriate. It is important to note that no act which was legal prior to the introduction of this bill will become illegal following its commencement This parliament has an undeniable obligation to support our law enforcement agencies in their continuing effort to fight against the production, transfer and possession of child pornographic material. This includes removing even the most minor or technical legal uncertainty wherever it may exist.

Under these circumstances Labor will support the bill because we believe that all governments must be clear and unequivocal in their intent to prosecute serious child pornography offences and take action to ensure their laws and procedures are appropriate and permit this. The production, trade and possession of child pornography is abhorrent. There can be no qualification on our condemnation of this. This parliament would be derelict in its duty if it did not take every available step to ensure that the trade does not continue.

The recent arrests of those found in possession of child pornography by state and territory law enforcement agencies is a vital part in a worldwide effort to stamp out production, distribution and use of child pornography. This parliament must do all it can to ensure that this heinous practice is stopped and that those involved are fully prosecuted. Labor is happy to add its support to the measures in this bill that ensure a rigorous classification regime and a strong system of prosecution based on it.

Also, given that the classification bill is before us, it is a relevant time to mention that when adults make decisions about presents for children they should take the opportunity to read classification labels to ensure that the films they might send their children to are appropriate for the age of the children. Adults should also take the opportunity, when purchasing games for children, to read classification labels and ensure they are appropriate for the age of the children whom the games target.