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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7265

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:29): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I present the committee's report entitled Reclaiming Public Space: inquiry into the regulation of outdoor and billboard advertising, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Mr Speaker, I remember that you were sitting in that chair when I first raised this issue in the parliament quite a while ago. I raised concerns about the fact that no-one can avoid outdoor advertising. That is what makes outdoor advertising appealing to advertisers—it cannot be turned off or put away if a consumer wishes to ignore it. People can often put passing images out of their mind, but not when they are on a billboard, on the back of the bus in front of them in traffic, on the bus stop that they use every day or inside the train that they take to work.

Having seen the dominance of outdoor advertising in my own electorate and being concerned about the images my own children were being exposed to—thank you, Stanley!—I was pleased to lead this inquiry investigating community concerns about the regulation and monitoring of outdoor advertising content. Other members of the committee had similar reservations about the impact of outdoor advertising on all members of society, be they children or adults, women or men, conservative or liberal, or of faith or no faith. The report is presented unanimously by the committee.

We found that there are many community concerns about the impact of increasing, cumulative and sustained exposure to advert­isements that contain sexual, discriminatory or violent material. Those responsible for children had particular concerns about children's exposure to outdoor advertise­ments for alcohol and overwhelmingly unhealthy foods and beverages. The committee considers that outdoor advertising constitutes a specific category of advertising because of the way that it occupies public spaces, dominates civic landscape and targets captive, unrestricted audiences. As such, the committee concluded that industry self-regulation of advertising standards must incorporate a specific code of practice for outdoor advertising. This code of practice should reflect the particular nature of outdoor advertising, recognising that all members of society are exposed to it and do not have a choice about viewing it.

Community sentiment strongly supported the committee's opinion that there is a need to reclaim public space from the interests of commercial advertising. The definition of community standards is a contentious issue given the wide range of views held by all members of society. Sometimes a single squeaky wheel gets all the grease. More research into community attitudes about outdoor advertising standards should be conducted to increase the public's confidence in decisions about advertising that purport to reflect community norms.

Furthermore, the self-regulatory system for advertising as a whole requires streng­thening. The committee recommends that the advertising self-regulatory system adopt international best practice measures, including the provision of a prevetting service or independent advice to advertisers on their advertising content prior to publication and a monitoring role for the Advertising Standards Bureau to promote high levels of compliance with the voluntary advertising codes. These measures should prevent inappropriate outdoor advertising from being displayed in the first instance. This will address some of the concerns about the high visibility of inappropriate outdoor advertising prior to being found to breach the advertising codes.

Monitoring of outdoor advertisements will also remove some of the onus on the public to submit complaints. There is no doubt that complaints will still be made, and the committee recognises the role of the ASB in making decisions on these complaints. However, as the current regulatory system is a complaint based one, it is vital that the complaint process is robust and as easy to access as possible.

This report contains many recomm­endations to advertising industry bodies. The committee expects the recommendations to be adopted and implemented by the relevant bodies, as the industry has demonstrated that it is keen to preserve the system of self-regulation. However, the committee recom­mends that if the industry does not demonstrate over the next few years that self-regulation can appropriately operate within the bounds of community expect­ations for appropriate outdoor advertising then the Australian government should institute regulatory measures—carrot first, stick later if required.

I particularly thank the committee's deputy chair, Judi Moylan, the member for Pearce, for her contribution, and I thank all the members who are in the chamber at the moment and who supported this process so much. Public spaces are for the use of all members of the community—men, women, children, young and old. The right to enjoy the amenity of a space should not be compromised by an advertiser's array of inappropriate images. We have listened to the Australian community during the course of our inquiry. On their behalf, our report says: enough is enough. It is time to reclaim our public spaces.