Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1228


Senator HARRADINE(3.58) — Today we are discussing a matter of major public importance, a matter which has so stirred the community that petitions in their thousands have been presented to this Parliament. Those in a position of responsibility have not adequately responded to those petitions which express serious concern about the actions of this Government, which legalised for the first time the general importation of hard core pornography, violent and obscene material, including videos. Their commercial exploitation was brought about for the first time in Australia, using the Australian Capital Territory as a model for the States.

Today I reveal for the first time to the Senate the information that I have received from the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, which was previously the Department of Customs and Excise, under the freedom of information legislation. These documents, which I have obtained officially under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that there has been a calculated and secretive attempt to change community attitudes radically and undermine Commonwealth and State laws on pornography, violence and obscene material. The documents contain departmental advice in 1973 to the then Attorney-General and the Minister for Customs and Excise, Senator Murphy, now Mr Justice Murphy after he had told his public servants that the policy should be:

Adults be entitled to read, hear and view what they wish in private or public and that persons (and those in their care) be not exposed to unsolicited material offensive to them.

Of course honourable senators will realise that this policy is a libertine rather than liberal policy. It contains fundamental contradictions, is now irrelevant given the advances in video and copying technology and, whilst espoused by the current Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), is in fact denied by his action of banning videos depicting child pornography, certain types of sado-masochism and, to use his term, offensive bestiality which are, in his words, beyond the pale. So even he does not believe the philosophy.

The documents I now have and will table in the Senate are dated 30 May 1973. They advised Senator Lionel Murphy that for the policy to become law, amendments would be required to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, the Customs ( Cinematograph Films) Regulations and a new law would need to be drafted to cover the distribution, sale, advertising and display of offensive materials to adults in the Australian Captital Territory. However, the departmental advice warned the Attorney that such steps could lead to the negation of the Federal Government's policy. I quote that advice:

It is considered that almost all the States would be hostile to a policy which could lead to the circulation of so-called hard-core pornography and material dealing with hard drugs and extreme violence, anarchy and sedition.

Furthermore, with advice that raises real questions about our system of federalism, responsible government and parliamentary democracy, the documents indicate that the Minister 'may wish to consider whether the policy should be brought fully and immediately into effect, or by stages'. After noting that 'the Australian public is notoriously conservative, whatever its political affiliations', the key public servant advised the Attorney:

. . . the Government's policy might best be achieved by a strategy of hastening slowly.

The public servant warned the Minister:

. . . the greatest hindrance to radical change would be the Senate which may disallow any amending regulations.

History shows that the then Attorney-General, Senator Murphy, chose not to pilot the Government's policy through the democratic parliamentary processes but rather imposed his policy upon the public by the simple device of a ministerial directive which, according to evidence given to the Mahony Review of Customs Administration and Procedures, was 'tantamount to asking Customs officers to turn a blind eye to blatant breaches of relevant Customs regulations concerning films and prohibited imports'.

The rot then set in and the trickle of obscenity has become a flood, aided by advances in technology and copying techniques. Not until 11 years later, in February of this year, did the Parliament see any of those amendments which the Public Service and the Minister in 1973 recognised would be necessary for the legal expression of the Government's policy. In February of this year the Attorney-General did amend the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations and the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations and he introduced an Australian Capital Territory ordinance which legalised for the first time the general importation into Australia of hardcore pornography and other grossly obscene or violent publications, including videos, and their commercial exploitation in the Australian Capital Territory as a model for the States to follow. His reasons for doing so include his assertion that previous regulations were virtually unenforceable-we heard him say that again today-that he was implementing recommendations contained in the report of the Review of Customs Administration and Procedures, and that he was doing so at the behest and with the agreement of the States. All of those reasons are absolutely specious. Let us take the first one, that the law was virtually unenforceable. Of course it was virtually unenforceable, because of directions that it be not enforced, including directions made under his authority. The second point, concerning the implementation of the decisions of Mahony, is false. It is absolutely untrue. Mahony did not recommend that the law be changed; he said that there was a conflict between the law and the practice and that that conflict should be resolved. He did not say it ought to be resolved by the law being changed. In fact, he even referred to Willett, who said:

If the law was to be observed then the practice ought to be brought into line with the law.

The other reason that the Attorney-General then gave was that the proposal had the agreement and consent of the States. Of course we know subsequently that that is a lot of nonsense. What is the current situation? Five out of six States have said they want to ban X-rated videos. So the whole thrust of this Government's package is in a shambles.

There is massive concern amongst the people, as evidenced by the mass of material that honourable senators and members of the House of Representatives have received. Even experts have come out and expressed concern. I was at a public meeting in Hobart where two of those experts expressed serious concern about what was going on and the fact that hard core pornographic material could get into homes and be available to children. The facts of technological life are that it is impossible to keep this material from children. I quote what Dr John Court said at that meeting:

Bringing videoporn into the home goes a long way to sexualising the home environment in a manner likely to multiply our existing problems of incest and sexual abuse.

He then quoted a news report of 17 September 1984 to the effect that one in seven Australian children will be sexually abused before reaching the age of 12 years. That is a devastating situation. It can only be exacerbated by the bringing in of the type of video porn now available thanks to the Attorney- General and the Government allowing it into the home and sexualising the home environment in a manner that is likely to multiply our existing problems of incest and sexual abuse.

We now hear the Government say: 'Five out of six States want to ban X-rated videos. No worries. We will set up a new classification and shove almost all, around 97 per cent, of the material now in the X-rated category into this new classification and call it erotica'. What a shame the word 'erotic' can be so debased to describe the type of material that the Attorney-General would now place into this category called erotica. There is a vast difference between erotic material-erotica-and hard core pornography.


Senator Gareth Evans —What is the difference, whether you have got your clothes on or off?


Senator HARRADINE —If Senator Evans wants to know the difference let me read to him what was stated in the leaflet that went out to people calling them to the meeting in Canberra. It said:

Pornography is not art. The dividing line between pornography and art is not always easy to draw. Pornography is made and used solely to stir up sexual feelings. Art is made and used to stir up aesthetic feelings . . .

Pornography focuses on the pleasure of one's own body. It is selfish. Art draws one beyond and outside self, to wonder at the mysteries of creation, including human beauty and sexual love.

I remind Senator Evans that one of the most wonderful erotic poems ever written is in the Song of Songs. To lower the word 'erotic' to include the types of material that are included, such as depiction of sexual acts involving adults, including explicit penetration, masturbation, ejaculation, fellatio, cunnilingus , insertion of objects in orifices, et cetera, is a grave travesty of the English language. It is a deceit on the people of Australia. They are being deceived by the Government's refusal to establish a committee. The Government has refused, now that its policy is in a shambles, to place a moratorium on the material that is so offensive that it is not able to stand up to the reasonable adult person test. I point out that this call has been made not only by people such as myself and the last speaker, Senator Reid, but also by Senator Tate and Mrs Darling. I hope-


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sibraa) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.