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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2842

Senator TATE (Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs) (5.31 p.m.) —I thank Opposition senators and Senator Schacht—who sometimes in this debate and in earlier stages of the Copyright Amendment Bill 1991 has cast himself in that role without quite realising it—for their support for the Government's position as the Committee considers the return of certain matters from the House of Representatives in relation to this copyright reform. I believe that this Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation which will enable Australians to have access to the best material produced by book publishers around the world, without that old colonial legacy whereby we were prevented by the various agencies of overseas interests from having ready and, I would hope, cheap access to the reading material to which we are all entitled.

  We belong to a world community and we are entitled to access, at the earliest possible opportunity, to world literature whether one is talking in terms of cultural, social and recreational reading, or access to textbooks and major publications of intellectual, academic and scientific significance which would help Australia to become a cleverer and more competitive country internationally. In that context I find it absolutely extraordinary that the Democrats—who pride themselves on their commitment to freedom of information, and the circulation of all the material which forms part of our cultural inheritance so that it is open to as many inhabitants of this country as possible—should persist in indicating that they would prefer to see a situation where, merely because overseas book publishers indicate that they are minded to bring out an Australian version of their books, they can prevent the ordinary operation of this Bill which would require them to ensure that books were available within 30 days of overseas publication, or somebody else could bring in the books under a different arrangement without their authority.

  I find that quite remarkable and very disappointing on the part of the Democrats, but I am pleased that the Opposition has seen fit to change its view on this matter. We will now be in a position where those Australians—whether they are students, teachers, academics, researchers or anybody else—who want to have access to a title, will be able to do so within 30 days of the first overseas release.

  The other matter which is of some importance is Senator Schacht's request that the review by the Prices Surveillance Authority be brought forward from the end of 1994, which I think was the indication given by the Government. I understand that the Attorney-General (Mr Duffy) will be writing to Senator Schacht today in terms which will indicate that, whilst the Government retains 1994 as the formal deadline for report by the PSA on the operation of this particular new regime in relation to access by Australians to the world body of publishing, nevertheless, if it becomes apparent that the regime we are instituting does not provide the beneficial consequences which we all hope for and, in particular, if it leads to any difficulty or any undesirable consequence when the actual operation gets under way, then there would be an opportunity for consideration of what ought to be done without awaiting that formal Prices Surveillance Authority review.

  I have no doubt that Senator Schacht and others will keep the Government alerted as to the actual operation and implementation of this important piece of legislation. I regard it as a most important social reform being undertaken by this Government on behalf of all Australians. Those of us who enjoy reading books for recreational, cultural or intellectual reasons, and those who need access to the world body of literature in the various fields and disciplines, will have every reason to thank the Senate for its action this afternoon in finally agreeing to this very important Bill.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Resolution reported; report adopted.