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Minister comments on new television violence ratings

PETER THOMPSON: As we mentioned earlier, the Communications Minister, Bob Collins, announced the changes in the Senate last night. Senator Collins joins us this morning to talk to our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew.

MAXINE McKEW: Senator, good morning. I understand in spite of what Bob Campbell has just said, that Channel Nine in particular, is pretty feral about this decision.

BOB COLLINS: Well, I don't think any of the networks are exactly doing handsprings, and you can understand that because any shift in programming time of the major interest of the evening, and that is normally the movie, is not going to be done without some cost.

MAXINE McKEW: How did you get them to agree in the end? Did Mr Keating offer any trade-offs?

BOB COLLINS: I think the prime ministerial authority was very handy in advancing this debate. I mean, I am personally very pleased indeed with the framework that has been established because the difficulty - and this is the problem with the poll that was done, of course - the difficulty with simply shifting an AO category a full hour or half an hour is that the category was simply too broad. And that has been the problem for years with the M category and most people agree on that. The M category, for example, contains movies such as Steel Magnolias, a wonderful movie; and Pretty Woman; some of the Chevy Chase comedies; Batman. It also contains the same category movies such as Full Metal Jacket, Silence of the Lambs, a great movie, but very violent movie. It is far too broad and the real trade-off has not been on the commercial end of this.

The real trade-off has been to get an agreement to have a consistent classification with some modifications for television, and that is contained in the motion I moved last night, but a reasonably consistent classification across all media and to split that M category into a far more realistic category; so that we are giving the real censors, at the end of the day, that is the parents, the maximum amount of information about what they are likely to see, and I would stress that. Whatever governments do at the end of the day, the people that are ultimately in charge of what their kids see and hear, are the parents. And the two options available to them, no matter what we do, are the channel selector switch, and if that doesn't work, the off switch.

MAXINE McKEW: What do you see then as having been wrong with what was proposed by the Liberal Senator, Senator Shirley Walters, last night in the Senate, for the 9.30 limit? Surely that is more in line with the Newspoll today which shows that a lot of people really believe that that 9.30 one is more appropriate.

BOB COLLINS: I think that that poll - I mean, the issue is a simple solution or attempted simple solution to what is in fact a complex problem and the poll was far too simple, as polls often tend to be. The category was the problem. I mean, there are many movies such as Pretty Woman, for example, which are classified M because the main character in the movie was a prostitute and so on, but a basically harmless and feel-good movie with a happy ending and all the rest. I like Pretty Woman, it is a great movie. But there is no objection I think, with most reasonable people, that movies like that could start at half past eight. The problem with the solution being proposed in the Senate was that it was just too crude, that I don't think at the end of the day, it would have satisfied the majority of the viewers. And what we have now done and we will be filling the detail in between now and next week, is to provide a far more sensible classification system so that parents will have a much better idea about what they are actually going to view, and what their children are going to view.

MAXINE McKEW: And the fact though that at one stage in the Senate last night, both the Opposition and the Democrats were keen on that 9.30 limit - did that get you moving on the compromise?

BOB COLLINS: The Democrats, I am delighted to say, expressed very strong support for this proposal when it was tabled in the Senate last night. There is one other important element to this proposal on which Shirley Walters is flatly wrong, as she is on most things, and that is that the Government will not permit under any of these classifications, material to be broadcast on television which is currently not permitted to be broadcast. I am meeting later today with the Chief Censor, John Dickie, and with Brian Johns, the Chairman of the ABA, and those details will be worked out and hopefully, brought back to the Senate no later than next week.

MAXINE McKEW: What does it mean for pay TV?

BOB COLLINS: Pay TV is of necessity, a totally different ball game. Pay TV is the video shop on the corner, in your home, and it is pretty silly even proposing that you have got a regime for pay television which doesn't apply to videos which are now almost on every street corner in Australia. Pay TV is a twenty-four hour service; it is an optional service; if you don't want it, you don't subscribe; and we are of course, proposing access to adults-only movies only able to be got by the use of a smart-card and a pin number, in other words, at the same level of security as you have got on your bank card.

MAXINE McKEW: Plenty of kids can access pin numbers, can't they?

BOB COLLINS: Well I mean, have your kids robbed your bank account lately? Let's be a bit reasonable about this. I mean, they will only access things like that if the parents allow them to, and at the end of the day, there are limits to what governments can do. The primary responsibility for what kids watch is with the adults that have got the responsibility for looking after them. The responsibility for government, in my view, is to provide the best framework for those adults to make informed decisions about what their kids are watching.

MAXINE McKEW: And what about the new classifications in terms of the ABC and SBS? Will they apply to the public broadcasters?

BOB COLLINS: Yes, they will, and of course that was one of the problems. There were many technical flaws in Senator Walters' amendment last night, which I enumerated in the Senate and haven't got time to go over now, but it is this simple solution. I mean, it is very easy for Senators who only have to face elections once every six years and spend most of the year locked up inside the Senate - we're at the beginning now of a four-week consecutive stint. They get out of touch with the real world. I mean, at the end of the day, we have got to provide a framework which I think most reasonable people will support. I believe that the Prime Minister has got that.

MAXINE McKEW: Well, you were locked up in the Senate for a lot of last night. Do you mind the fact that Mr Keating appears to be playing de facto Communications Minister?

BOB COLLINS: On the contrary. When I was engaged in a very heavy job on the waterfront, on occasions, as long as you don't degrade the currency, I was very grateful for the authority of the Prime Minister when it was needed, to move things along. I think most portfolio Ministers in terms of advancing things they want to see advanced, and I certainly wanted to see this matter advanced, are very grateful for the intervention from time to time, of the Prime Minister and the authority he is able to stamp on things.

MAXINE McKEW: And Senator, this proposal I gather, has yet to be drafted. Are you going to be moving on it quickly today?

BOB COLLINS: Yes. Well, as I say, we have already set up meetings with the Chief Censor, with John Dickie, and with the Chairman of the ABA, and I have to be able to come back to the Senate with more detail. You know, one of the things that is of real concern and Senator Harradine sensibly asked the question last night, is that under these new classifications will, as Senator Walters is asserting wrongly, material be able to be broadcast on television that is currently not able to be broadcast? And the answer to that question is categorically no.

MAXINE McKEW: Senator, thank you.