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Regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising

CHAIR —Good afternoon. I now welcome representatives from 2020women and Collective Shout to give evidence. Please note that these meetings are formal proceedings of parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest—like we do in parliament—and it can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. This hearing is open to the public and is being broadcast live, and a transcript of what is said will be placed on the committee’s website.

I advise that we will be holding a public forum later on today. Any interested individual is welcome to make a statement to the inquiry detailing their views or their experiences regarding outdoor advertising. Anyone wanting further information or wishing to make a statement should make themselves known to a member of the secretariat, who will be sitting patiently in the corner.

Would either of you like to make a brief statement before we proceed to questions?

Ms Colwill —I have a few notes prepared, so I might commence.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Colwill.

Ms Colwill —Obviously you have read the submission, so I will try not to duplicate what is in there. I just want to emphasise that 2020women sees outdoor billboard advertising as a key area of exposure for advertisers, which is why it is the fastest growing segment of the advertising industry at the moment. We are concerned because outdoor advertising is exposed to the entire population and therefore defines social norms to a very high degree. Prime time television advertising is the other type of advertising that has a high exposure level, and all other forms of advertising have a selected audience. Prime time television advertising complies with a classification standard rating of G—

CHAIR —Sorry, prime time?

Ms Colwill —Prime time television.

CHAIR —It has to be G, does it?

Ms Colwill —Advertising, yes.

CHAIR —Advertising, I beg your pardon.

Ms Colwill —I think programs too, but I am not 100 per cent certain of that. The G classification says that violence, language and themes must be mild, and references to sexual activity and drugs are not permitted.

We believe that outdoor advertising requires stronger controls than prime time television because it is unavoidable to the public and the physical size of the advertisement increases its impact. All forms of advertising are influential in creating women’s aspirations to enter male dominated roles. The stereotyping that you see in advertising—and I am speaking more generally here, given that we believe outdoor advertising has greater impact; all advertising achieves the same thing—promotes stereotyped self-assessment of ability and therefore achievement. There is some research that is being conducted by various organisations to support that, including the research of Paul Davies, who demonstrated in 2005 that sexist advertisements influence career aspirations for women. Women who were exposed to gender stereotype commercials were more likely to choose non-leadership roles, in his research.

We recognise that the government is seeking ways of reducing the role of the Office of Film and Literature Classification overall, and we believe that by better targeting activities to key areas of exposure this can be achieved. We submit that outdoor and billboard advertising is a key area of exposure for advertising. We also believe that self-regulation is insufficient, for the reasons detailed in our submission.

In summary, it is the growth area of advertising. Advertising creates demand for products through the creation of imagery and unrealistic aspirations. ‘Sex sells’ is basically where advertisers are coming from, and increasingly advertisers are targeting young girls who are unencumbered by bills and who shop on average about 54 times per year. In the advertising business this is called ‘age compression’, so there is actually recognition by advertisers that if they compress the age to younger women they will be more successful in promoting their material.

We have been supported in our application by some significant women’s organisations, including WEL Australia and the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance. We regret that they were unable to attend the hearing, but they have supported our submission. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Colwill.

Ms Tankard Reist —Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation is a one-year-old grassroots campaigning movement that seeks to address the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in the media and popular culture. Could I table those brochures and also table a copy of my book, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, because that book brings together much of the domestic and global research that has been referred to in the course of this particular inquiry.

Collective Shout began because so many people were saying, ‘Okay, we know what the research says globally; we understand the harms caused by objectification and sexualisation of girls,’ and we had by then the Corporate paedophilia report of the Australia Institute and the American Psychological Association’s report. There have been subsequent inquiries into the issue—we had the Senate inquiry in 2008. My book came out at the end of 2009. People were saying: ‘What can we do about it? We know what the research says. Now, how can we act, how can we get mobilised, to make a difference?’ That is why Collective Shout started.

We are very deeply concerned about the proliferation of sexualised and globalised pornographic imagery in mainstream popular culture in billboards, music video clips, toys, games et cetera. We have sought to identify how the mainstreaming and normalisation of pornographic imagery and sex industry messages cause harm to women and girls especially. You would know, of course, that, if any of you were to put up a sexualised naked or seminaked image of a woman in your workplace, that would constitute sexual harassment; it is against the law and rightly so. But, if our advertisers and marketers want to put up giant pinups, essentially, on billboards in the public domain that we all have to inhabit, that is given a protection—it is allowed; it is permissible—and so we have a double standard here, for what would be illegal in one setting is okay in another setting. We think that is deeply problematic.

In our view, self-regulation means the industry gets to do what it wants. The industry has had its way for so long. My colleague Julie Gale and I have been talking about these same issues year in, year out. Nothing has changed. It is time that the industry came under some proper scrutiny and accountability and did not continue to get whatever it wants. The system does not work. It is broken. There are no teeth. There are no penalties for noncompliance.

You will see in paragraph 3 of our submission we identified a range of inadequacies in the current system, including a weak code of ethics, the voluntary nature of the code, lack of prevetting, the ASB’s lack of power to order removal of advertisements, inadequate monitoring, de-sensitisation of panel members, little to no consultation with child development experts, and no meaningful penalties to provide any real incentive for advertisers to change their behaviour. There is little public knowledge about complaints processes and how to go about making a complaint, with the result that, if few complaints are received because people are unaware of how to complain and to whom, it is difficult to ascertain so-called community standards. So in our view the public domain is being colonised with these pornographic, sexualised representations of women and girls. To conclude, we argue that equality and freedom from harm should outweigh commercial interests.

CHAIR —Thank you. I was wondering if both of you could touch on your contacts with the ASB and what the process has been like. You certainly mentioned it in your opening remarks. If we could go back to you, Ms Reist, in terms of what that interaction was like?

Ms Tankard Reist —Certainly. As I said, we are only a year old, but in that time we have made significant complaints to the Advertising Standards Board. We have helped our members to navigate the complaint processes.

CHAIR —Significant in number, do you mean?

Ms Tankard Reist —Yes. In fact, one of the reasons we started was that many people were saying to us: ‘How do you complain? How do we navigate this process?’ The process is not well known. So we made it easy. Collective Shout has become a one-stop shop for people wanting to make a complaint, not only about billboards but about many other examples of objectifying and sexualised imagery in the public domain. We wanted to make it easy for people, because the public regulatory bodies do not do that. It is a maze. It is difficult for people to know where to go. So we have made a number of complaints and, interestingly, we had a significant win at the end of last year with the Calvin Klein billboards. The Calvin Klein billboards that showed images of simulated gang rape were up in a number of our cities.

CHAIR —Is this the one you are referring to?

Ms Tankard Reist —Correct. That is it, yes. In fact, that brochure shows a number of our wins, but we have had many more since then. Those billboards were removed.

CHAIR —Sorry, is it that one?

Ms Tankard Reist —That one there—that is correct.

CHAIR —Sorry.

Ms Tankard Reist —I could not see it from here. That is probably another one.

CHAIR —They are both Calvin Klein.

Ms Tankard Reist —That is a Diesel jeans ad, which you could say also has a simulated sex act right there. Those ads are at a child’s eye level, including in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. But with the Calvin Klein billboards, what was significant at that time was this. I am a blogger as well and I ran a piece by a sexual assault counsellor with 20 years experience and she said it is these billboards that make her work harder. It is these billboards that contribute to a dangerous climate for women and girls because they normalise depictions of violence against women. Her piece got coverage globally, and so I wonder if the ASB would have acted had it not been for the media attention our campaign got.

I will give you another example, and this is pre Collective Shout. Many of us were involved in these issues before Collective Shout started. Collective Shout just mobilised more people. Julie Gale can give the example of a Kittens Car Wash bus ad which was here in Melbourne. There were complaints for five years. The first complaint was dismissed. Five years later, it was upheld—and this was a naked image on a bus. Correct?

CHAIR —This is the lady lying on her back?

Ms Tankard Reist —Yes. Five years later, the Advertising Standards Board ruled in our favour, but we had to keep up those complaints for five years. This is hard work. We are all volunteers. We are not paid to do this. Again, this is a great flaw in the system because it relies on consumer complaints.

Going back to Calvin Klein, I want to make the point that APN Outdoor told your committee—I think it was in the last hearing—that they have their own internal prevetting system.

CHAIR —I think it was the Outdoor Media Association. Is that what you mean? I don’t think APN have appeared individually.

Ms Tankard Reist —We might need to check that.

CHAIR —It might have been their peak body, perhaps.

Ms Tankard Reist —I have a reference here. I will try and find it. The outdoor advertising body said that they have their own prevetting system. If so, it is completely hopeless because they prevetted the Calvin Klein ad. If you could approve a billboard that depicts the gang rape of a woman, how good is your system?

CHAIR —With respect—

Ms Tankard Reist —With respect, the ASB upheld our complaints and said it violated the code.

CHAIR —And you think that is a depiction of a gang rape of a woman?

Ms Tankard Reist —It can be read as a simulated sexual assault scene. That is certainly how the sexual assault psychologists and counsellors whom we work very closely with interpreted it. That is how they saw it. You are normalising images of sexual assault. We have a major problem with sexual assault in our culture and globally. One in three women and girls in this country will be sexually assaulted, and we do not need to see that glamorised and glorified on our billboards. It is very confronting for women to have to look at this, particularly for sexual assault survivors—again, we have many as our members. They talk about the triggering impact that billboards like that have on them when they have to see such scenes normalised in the public domain that they have to inhabit.

Ms Colwill —We have not lodged complaints because we have no faith in the system, to tell you the truth.

CHAIR —Based on experience?

Ms Colwill —No, based on the experience of other organisations. We have seen what happens and we are aware that there is very little redress for these sorts of things. Like Collective Shout, 2020women is a voluntary organisation. We target our activities at those areas where we think we can have some impact; hence, we are here. Having said that, I think it is not only the extreme advertisements that cause us concern; it is actually the stereotype depiction of women in roles that work to their disadvantage. It really is an endemic cultural issue. We may be more successful in applying redress to the extreme examples. In relation to lower grade images, when I walked here this morning I saw a real estate poster over the road. It shows a house and in front of it there is a young woman. Every image like that is sort of—

CHAIR —I think young women do buy houses.

Ms Colwill —Yes, I think they do, but I do not think you need to advertise canned peas with young women lying on top of a bed of peas—it is stuff like that.

CHAIR —I was being flippant. Just to take it back to that area: as you said, we do have a classification system which does provide that boundary between the G and the PG. I am no expert on it, but in terms of the images inside your brochure, I would presume that none of those images—

Ms Colwill —Comply with the G.

CHAIR —are G rated.

Ms Colwill —I would doubt it, without being a classifier myself.

CHAIR —Because of the subjective nature between the G and the PG, how would we determine this for outdoor advertising and by whom? What would be your suggestion?

Ms Tankard Reist —We are not so much focused on a rating system. We are focused on the issue of harm to women and girls. All of these images are depicting hyper sexualised images of women and girls, suggesting that they are available and that their whole role is to provide male sexual gratification. We have not explored this rating system. What we are calling for is an independent body, separate from the advertisers. The advertisers clearly have vested interests. They are there to protect their interests. That is what they are there for. We want to see something that is completely separate, that addresses the widespread concerns and that has teeth. Of course, we have made our recommendations and hopefully you have seen the prevetting of outdoor advertising, media monitoring, public awareness campaigns, reformed guidelines and penalties for offenders. They know they can get away with it. If I can give you another example. A complaint that we made against a boating company was upheld by the Advertising Standards Board. The boating company said, ‘Yes, we accept that we violated the code and we will withdraw our campaign at the end of summer.’ Obviously, they will not need to sell as many boats at the end of summer so it suited them anyway. One of our big problems is that often they will withdraw but, by the time the complaints process is finalised, they have finished their campaigns anyway. It does not hurt them to withdraw, because they were going to finish up anyway. That has not really answered your question about the ratings but we argue harm—and not just to children. We argue harm to women as well.

CHAIR —A rating is one mechanism to prevent harm. You have also suggested the Sex Discrimination Act. Would you like to tease that out a bit more?

Ms Tankard Reist —We think these ads violate the Sex Discrimination Act. They are also violating international conventions about the status of women and the protection of children. There are conventions for violence against women and girls. Much of the advertising and representation of women and girls in the media and popular culture that we address violates multiple conventions around the world. So I think this perhaps should come under the purview of the sex discrimination regulations as well.

We have a little bit of a problem with suggesting the Classification Board, because we are doing another submission about the incredible failings in that domain as well. We would not automatically say it should go to another failed system. It needs a complete overhaul. We need to start from ground zero, from scratch. It has failed and some of us are a little tired of arguing the same thing.

CHAIR —I just want to tease that out. Our focus is on outdoor advertising, but were you suggesting that the system has failed in terms of television and movies?

Ms Tankard Reist —Absolutely everywhere. Julie Gale is my colleague from Kids Free 2B Kids and our focus has been on pornography in the corner stores, milk bars and 7-Elevens that promotes rape, sex with little girls and incest. How do we know that? Because we actually look at this stuff. We do not talk about things we actually have not looked at. We have exposed the fact that much of this pornography is illegal and it is completely bypassing our classification system. Again, there are no penalties. This will hopefully come out in the current inquiry.

Donald McDonald, who heads up the Classification Board, has issued hundreds of call-in notices to porn distributors asking them to explain why they have pornography that promotes rape and incest and suggests that little girls want to be penetrated multiple ways by multiple men. They have not given one response. Not one pornography distributor in this country has responded to one call-in notice and there is nothing that can be done. There is nothing in the system that addresses that. They just keep on doing it.

One of those who were importing it is David Watt, a past secretary of Eros. He had two companies—Namda and Windsor Wholesale—which brought in some of the most offensive and disturbing titles imaginable. You may not want to hear what they are.

CHAIR —It is probably best we do not name them.

Ms Tankard Reist —I have named them elsewhere publicly and I am happy to wear that. I can refer you to where I have done that publicly. We are talking about not just one billboard or ad here or there; we are talking about the cumulative impact of these messages on women and girls and also what they teach boys. They are socialising boys to see women and girls only in terms of their orifices and what they can offer sexually. That is harmful. Global research supports our position that this is harmful.

Mr NEUMANN —In paragraph 13 of your report you talk about the consolidation project and said:

The … Sex Discrimination Act should be used to control the use of advertising on the basis of sex by including a general prohibition …

Can you give me your vision of the consolidation project?

Ms Colwill —Well, I must say the consolidation project is disappointingly obscure to the women’s organisations. We are not aware—I am not aware—that there has been any consultation on the consolidation of these very important acts. It was raised in the review of the EOWW act that there was a need for consolidation with the Racial Discrimination Act—I do not have the references with me, but I am sure they would be easy for you to find—and that there would be a consolidation project looking at the different forms of discrimination legislation available in Australia and identifying how best to frame those types of legislation. We had hoped that there would be consultation on this consolidation because we see it as very important. It is extremely important.

We do have faith in the legislative basis to ultimately protect society from the problems that we face. That is obviously all we have to rely on, and so making the legislation as effective as possible and targeting it towards the areas of key concern is, I think, very important. So we agree with Ms Tankard Reist about the need for the Sex Discrimination Act to address the issue of the impact of advertising on people. But that cannot be the only mechanism to control it, because that is after the event; it is after the fact.

We would prefer to also see a classification system or a review process for key areas of advertising to ensure that the gender-culture messages being conveyed are those that Australians want and that do reflect Australian culture and where leaders want to take us. We know that there is a lot of concern amongst parliament’s members about the slow progress towards equality for women in Australia. We very strongly believe that that is a cultural issue. We have put in place some of the mechanisms to promote gender equality, but we have not really successfully addressed culture. I think that is the next stage of feminism in Australia, and I think that is where we have to go if we are going to succeed in making women truly equal to men in this country.

The importance of advertising in forming cultural attitudes cannot be understated. It is absolutely essential. That is a real problem not only at the extreme end but also right down to the depiction of women as housewives and as employed in only a narrow range of occupations that we see in advertisements. All of those depictions actually influence people’s behaviour, and not just the behaviour of women but also the behaviour of young boys and then of men. I believe, and so do my colleagues, that advertising is an area of absolutely major concern in Australia and that we have not got it right yet. We have a long way to go.

Mr NEUMANN —You say in your submission, in paragraph 14.4.2:

Women’s safety can also be compromised by images that are violent and/or sexually explicit.

And you talk about billboard advertisements being placed in public places such as railway stations and bus terminals. You make those comments but you do not provide us with any evidence or research in relation to it. We would be grateful if you could provide us with the information that you are referring to, because you are obviously referring to something here.

Ms Colwill —I do refer to the Victorian review of outdoor and billboard advertising some years ago. There were statements in a submission from—was it WEL? I cannot remember. One of the submissions to that review cited some experiences of their members. I do not have direct access to that research. However, it impacts, I believe, not only on safety; it impacts, I know, on women’s sense of safety. And I think that is an equally important point, because if you are in one of those places at night and you are walking underneath the Calvin Klein advertisement, or whatever, and you are there with three others—young men—on the platform, you do not feel safe. And those images are so large that they cannot be avoided. You cannot pretend that they are not there.

Ms Tankard Reist —I could also reference the piece I mentioned before by Alison Grundy, who is the sexual assault psychologist, Sydney based, with 20 years experience. I could provide the link to that, which I think would go part of the way to answering your question.

CHAIR —That would be good. And I appreciate you giving us this book.

Ms Tankard Reist —It is a pleasure.

CHAIR —I just wanted to touch on something—and I think it might have been mentioned in The Gruen Transfer. I have noticed that a lot of the males who are represented in ads seem to be idiots.

Ms Tankard Reist —They are usually dressed idiots, though.

CHAIR —Yes, that is true.

Ms Tankard Reist —That is the significant difference: the men are mostly depicted clothed and women mostly not.

CHAIR —Or they are taking the micky, like in the Old Spice ad or whatever; it is a deliberate play on—self-representative, almost—how stupid some of those ads are. Could you comment on that? I know it is outside your brief, but—

Mr NEUMANN —You cannot have stereotyping of men.

CHAIR —Well, it is almost like it is a safe target now, because of the sensitivities around so many other things. So it is almost like you can just attack middle-class, Anglo-Saxon males and present them as idiots because the power base is with—

Ms Tankard Reist —I appreciate that we are seeing a little more of that but it is not comparative; it is just the level of it globally is not comparative. That does not mean we justify it. We are opposed to any advertisements that are demeaning and degrading of any sex, but the fact is that the proliferation and globalisation of sexual imagery primarily involves women and girls. That is just a small sample right there. We have many on our Collective Shout website. They are up there every day. We cannot even manage all of the issues that get put to us that our members want us to engage on. We just have to pick a handful at any one time. It is a constant barrage.

Ms Colwill —I also think that the psychology behind being powerful enough that you can laugh at yourself is quite different.

CHAIR —It is not going to make you feel scared on a platform—

Ms Colwill —That is right. Self-deprecation and humour—I would not be here complaining if those were the only sorts of images being shown of women.

Mr NEUMANN —No. I was not taking away from that at all; it is just my memory of The Gruen Transfer.

Ms ROWLAND —The first recommendation in Collective Shout’s submission is that an independent body or authority be established for the prevetting, and we have heard this from a couple of the other people who have appeared today as well. Where do you think that independent body should be placed? Do you see this as a new statutory body which should be established? Could it be an arm of, say, the Australian Communications and Media Authority or a branch of the ACCC, as one of the people has suggested today? I am just trying to get down to the mechanics of where you think this should sit.

Ms Tankard Reist —We have not got a specific recommendation that one would be better than the other. The main thing that we want to see is independence, something with some teeth, something completely separate from an industry that has as its main brief to make money for its industry members. I think it would be really good for the committee to examine international models and see which ones have worked best. What we can say unequivocally is that self-regulation is a completely failed system and needs serious review. What shape or form that takes I think requires a little bit more work, and as I said we would be cynical about it going to a classification board. I think ACMA we are slightly less cynical about, but we do not have an instant answer apart from saying it has got to be separate, and it has got to be independent.

Ms ROWLAND —In recommendation number five, we have heard other submitters about rules governing the placement of billboards and limitations. Do you again see this as a Commonwealth law which then would be implemented by the states and in turn councils controlling where they could be placed? I just know that from an analogous example that is about to go before the parliament requiring all new housing estates to be geared up with fibre rather than copper for communication services and that actually raised a myriad of issues about whether the Commonwealth have planning powers in these particular areas. Have you thought about how that would be implemented? Do you see this as a topic that would need to go to COAG, for example?

Ms Tankard Reist —I think it does need to go to COAG definitely. You would not want to have a situation where you had, say, New South Wales allowing explicit representation, pornified images of women and girls, and Victoria doing the opposite. It would defeat the whole purpose and it would mean that women in one state were given a higher status than women in another state. So it would have to be consistent, I think it would have to go to COAG and I do not think it should be a piecemeal approach where one state does something completely different than another state; it has to be done in a unified way.

Ms Colwill —The issues you have raised are why we have gone down the path of selecting the system that is already in place. We know that the classification system is imperfect. However, we also know that there has been a lot of work with state governments to make it work better. We would prefer to see a better use of the classification system and introducing better penalty regimes, et cetera, and targeting key areas of exposure. 

We cannot emphasis strongly enough that a high-impact form of advertising that is accessible to all members of the public must be considered a key area of exposure. If there is one single message I want to get through today it is that you cannot ignore that this is a relatively unregulated form of advertising, yet it is the most highly exposed form that there is. And that contradiction sits very badly.

CHAIR —You have suggested prevetting before the billboard went out and you also suggested—sorry, this is Collective Shout—that clear rules should be set out governing the placement of billboards and limitations imposed on where the billboards can be placed. Could you talk about the interplay of the prevetting and which billboards could go where?

Ms Tankard Reist —Sure. First of all, I refer to paragraphs 2 and 3 on page 3 of our submission, talking about the inconsistency in regulation regimes as applied to outdoor advertising. This extract from APN Outdoors website is quite significant:

Outdoor is the only advertising medium that is virtually immune to consumer avoidance. It can’t be turned off, flipped to the next page or thrown away. And it is free to view.

Outdoor truly is the last of the mass media.

They are saying this to promote outdoor advertising. So they acknowledge the special position they hold.

CHAIR —That is from APN Outdoor’s website?

Ms Tankard Reist —That is from them: ‘virtually immune to consumer avoidance’. As to placement, to me placement actually comes way down the track. If you had billboards in the first place that were not sexualising girls and objectifying women, were not creating a harmful climate for women and girls, and were not contributing to the second-class status of women and girls, and which were about equality and freedom for women the placement would not matter too much. The placement comes way down the track.

CHAIR —You are not suggesting different rules for Kings Cross at 10 o’clock at night versus—

Ms Tankard Reist —No, not really. The other things need to be done first. While they are not done, yes, we probably do need to look at placement but I would rather the emphasis being on fixing the problem first rather than some sort of token gesture where you do not put it near a school but you put it somewhere else. The foolishness of that argument about not having it near schools—kids only walk around the school, they spend their whole day walking around that area? Kids inhabit every public space and I think this argument is a bit foolish, that we should not have it near churches, schools, youth groups or sporting venues. Kids are everywhere.

CHAIR —It should be safe everywhere.

Ms Colwill —It has to be—correct.

Mr NEUMANN —Would you elaborate on what you would like to see in relation to what you described as the penalty regime?

Ms Colwill —You would have to look at what forms of penalties have worked in other organisations. My guess is you are talking about the hip pocket, product placement—

Ms Tankard Reist —It has got to mean something.

Ms Colwill —The penalties have to fit the crime. Advertising is about promoting product. Naming and shaming products is one way of going—

CHAIR —In terms of the people you could go after, you have the manufacturer of the product, the advertising company, the billboard company and the local government, the state government and the federal government?

Ms Colwill —Yes. All have a responsibility to ensure that the advertising complies with a standard, once that standard has been set. We would argue for a G standard rather than a PG standard because kids are not with their parents all the time. That is just not the case.

CHAIR —With the public interest, if there were an advertising campaign on suicide or drink driving, something like that, they might not necessarily be able to be carried out in a G rating?

Ms Colwill —There are ways of advertising those messages.

CHAIR —You would be comfortable with the public interest exclusion for certain campaigns?

Ms Colwill —To a certain extent, but even there I think that the advertisers’ imagination can be severely lacking at times in getting around some of those problems without using graphically gory images or whatever.

CHAIR —Okay, so the rule of thumb would be G, but perhaps some flexibility with public interest?

Ms Colwill —Absolutely.

Mr NEUMANN —Are we talking about injunctive relief? Are we talking about fines? Are we talking about the capacity for people to bring actions that use public interest tests for damages?

Ms Colwill —You need legislation that allows for complaint and facilitates complaint. You need penalties in place so that when complaints are found to be meaningful then some reason for not doing it again applies.

CHAIR —And the hip pocket?

Ms Colwill —I think hip pocket and public campaigns about the nature of advertisements, and who is placing those advertisements, are very important.

Ms Tankard Reist —What we need are penalties that encourage corporate social responsibility because that is what is missing here. They do not seem to understand corporate social responsibility and the significant harm that they are causing. Collective Shout helps remind them of corporate social responsibility. You mentioned possible civil claims, but I think that is too onerous. I do not think people should have to go through that. It could take years and require significant resources and money. The corporations have to recognise. We forced them to do it with smoking. It took a long time. I see this as similar—this might take a while too.

Mr NEUMANN —So you think a body like the ACCC with the power to do everything—

Ms Tankard Reist —At the moment there is no consumer protection provided by the self-regulatory scheme—it is as simple as that. The consumer is not protected.

Mr NEUMANN —It is complaint driven now.

Ms Tankard Reist —It is complaint driven; it is all on us. If we had not complained about—

Mr NEUMANN —So you need a regulatory body that takes the action and places sanctions?

Ms Tankard Reist —Correct: an independent regulatory body that is separate from the system that has the vested interest.

Ms Colwill —Once it is resourced to do it. If you are talking about the ACCC it is probably one of those things that would become a very low priority. If you are talking about an organisation that is in the business of classifying public information then it might be a bit different. I would strongly argue that it should not be with an organisation like the ACCC, which has multiple responsibilities in a wide range of areas.

Mr NEUMANN —The trouble with putting it in an organisation that does the censorship as well as the prosecution is that you have a dual role. There is a problem there, isn’t there?

Ms Colwill —It depends on the legislation.

CHAIR —Ms Reist, you said you were less cynical about ACMA but quite cynical about the Australian Classification Board. Would you like to comment on Ms Colwill’s comment?

Ms Tankard Reist —We had a little bit of success with ACMA on another issue and that gave me some hope, I suppose. I made a complaint about a rape simulation game called ‘Rape Play’. These rape simulation games are becoming extremely popular around the world; many of them are produced in Japan. In this game the aim was to rape a mother and her two daughters, who were aged eight and 10. The game came with a multiplayer function in which the boys could participate in the gang rape scenes together. This will be documented in a new book I have coming out shortly on the harms of pornography.

CHAIR —Surely it would be refused classification in Australia?

Ms Tankard Reist —I made a complaint to ACMA online. It took 10 minutes and ACMA responded. You cannot play that game now in Australia; you can play it just about everywhere else.

CHAIR —But it had been classified by the Classification Board beforehand?

Ms Tankard Reist —It was downloadable and that is where it gets difficult. It was a downloadable interactive game.

CHAIR —So downloadable rather than purchased? You would be purchasing it offshore?

Ms Tankard Reist —At this stage, yes. It is possibly here; it would not surprise me. It is one of many; this is only one game. So ACMA was responsive to that and acted very quickly.

CHAIR —So they went to the internet service provider to—

Ms Tankard Reist —They made it so that you could not download that game. I argued that it was a violation of our broadcasting act that incited crimes of violence against women and girls, and they agreed. Again, I cannot judge the whole body by this one example, but this was a big one to me. This was one of the worst things I had come across and I was glad that they recognised the dangers of a game like that.

CHAIR —My understanding of the current legislation is that we cannot have R-rated games—

Ms Tankard Reist —That is under review at the moment also.

CHAIR —Mr Neumann or Ms Rowland, do you have further questions? No?

Ms Tankard Reist —For a lot of bodies like ours, we do not necessary have the perfect regulatory regime to put to you. We are all volunteers. None of us are paid. But we know we need something different to what we have now. It has completely failed.

CHAIR —Could I put it to you in these terms. We are bound to have a pretty constrained budget in the next year or two, I would suggest. In your initial opening statement, Ms Reist, you talked about changing the culture of Australia, which would need a massive advertising campaign, re-education and many things. Possibly in a constrained budget that might be outside the government’s agenda. What are some of the practical things you would do? I do not confine you to low-cost options, but what would be some of the practical things you would do?

Ms Tankard Reist —The first thing I would like to say in response to that is this: look at the cost already of a hypersexualised culture for our children. We are talking about an extraordinary rise in eating disorders—anorexia, bulimia and other forms of disordered eating. We are talking about one in 100 girls being anorexic, one in 10 bulimic. We are talking about an incredible rise in self-harming behaviours. An estimated one in four girls wants to have cosmetic surgery. There are massive mental health problems in our young people—depression, anxiety and other problems. This is being mirrored around the globe and our expert bodies say that one of the contributing factors is the proliferation of sexual imagery that young people are being exposed to prematurely. So let’s look at the cost of that.

CHAIR —I understand that, but a practical, low-cost—

Ms Tankard Reist —We are all doing practical low-cost things every day. We are speaking in schools. I would speak to thousands of girls a year. We are involved in providing positive body image programs to girls. We are involved in helping develop critical media literacy skills so that young people can distinguish good messages from bad. I wrote this book and I am writing another one. Many of us are putting resources out there, with no public funding. We are trying to do a job that our governments and our regulatory bodies have failed to do, because we are committed to the cause. We are committed to the wellbeing of women and girls—and boys and men. We could actually really use some funding to do some of this work, which we do not get. They are some of the practical things we are doing every day, quietly, in the background.

CHAIR —Ms Colwill, if we give you the magic wand? It is a very cheap magic wand.

Ms Colwill —I know what I would do. I would include outdoor advertising under the aegis of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. I would remove from them the requirement to scrutinise R-rated and other forms of material. I would put the onus for self-regulation in those arenas and I would make their role scrutinising the G and PG material and ensuring that material that is rated G and PG truly is G and PG.

I would also introduce legislation that provides penalties. I would address the classification legislation, make amendments to that, and insert penalties into that legislation so that you have a meaningful complaints process and a meaningful penalty process available to people who currently regulate. Hopefully that would lead to some form of cultural change and then, when we have got a better budget, I would put into government’s agenda more strategic approaches to cultural change for women. I would also like to see the consolidation project being carried through. A lot can be achieved. A lot of savings can be achieved by government by making the existing discrimination legislation work more effectively. Regarding many of the things that Ms Tankard Reist mentioned, in terms of the costs of discrimination, you would see savings down the track. That is a project that currently is underway and needs to be looked at very carefully. It also needs to be opened up for consultation.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for coming in today.

Resolved (on motion by Ms Rowland):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 2.13 pm