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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2076

Senator WALTERS(10.34) —Last time we debated this subject in this chamber I attempted to discuss a report of an inquiry into video violence and children. That report was sponsored by a committee of the House of Lords, the House of Commons and some churches. At that time the Government was so opposed to my mentioning that report or referring to it in any way that many points of order were taken. I was allowed to mention the report but I was not allowed to describe it in any detail. Senator Gareth Evans, when he got to his feet, was responsible for what I believe was a completely unpardonable act. He attempted to discredit that report from some newspaper comments about which, according to him, his Department had given him information. I can only presume that they were newspaper reports to which he referred. He certainly did not ring the chairman of the working party, Lord Swinfen. I rang Lord Swinfen during the two-week break in order to find out whether Senator Evans was speaking the truth or just discrediting the report so that he would be able to use it to his own advantage.

Lord Swinfen said that what Senator Evans alluded to was completely wrong. Senator Evans is not even bothering to listen. Mr President, I wonder whether we could have the attention of the Minister as he is in charge of this legislation. I am accusing him of grossly distorting the report of the inquiry that I have been referring to. He is completely unaware of what is going on in the chamber.

Senator Durack —He could not care less.

Senator WALTERS —As the shadow Attorney-General said, he could not care less. How true that is. He could not care less. He does not care. He is a great libertarian; he wears it on his sleeve, but he does not carry it through to any extent in relation to the individual rights of members of the Australian community.

However, I spoke to Lord Swinfen. He said that part one of the report had come under some criticism, particularly by the industry. He said that the industry had attempted to take legal proceedings against him. It had tried it but it did not get anywhere. He said that he had continued with the report. He said that the criticism levied by the church group to which Senator Evans referred had been levied because the church group did not understand that the first report contained purely raw data. It was never suggested that the first report was anything else but a report containing raw data. The criticism levied against that report was levied purely because some people drew certain inferences from the raw data that the report did not attempt to draw. There has been no criticism at all of the second report, which substantiates the figures, the raw data, of the first report. Lord Swinfen went on to say that if there was any need to substantiate the report further, we had only to look at the report that had been brought out by the European Community, which substantiates everything in the United Kingdom report. A third report is to be brought down in about September. It is hoped it will be finalised by then.

The main reason for the preparation of the report being undertaken in the beginning was that there had been a large increase in violent crimes. There had been an increase of 27 per cent in four years, mainly among young children on other children, on the young and on women. Because of this gross increase in violent crime, the committee holding this inquiry decided to look at all the variables that may have had some input concerning that violence. The factor that was outstanding was the tremendous increase in the number of home videos in that four-year period. The inquiry then started to look at the viewing habits of young children and what they were viewing on videos in their homes. They considered the habits of over 6,000 children. They found that 51.6 per cent of the 13-year-old and 14-year-old children had seen at least one video film which we would class as an X-rated video film. They were mainly horror films, but included films containing acts of cruelty and acts of pornography associated with that cruelty. While we do not have the third report, which will attempt to find out whether there has been any long term influence on those children who have been viewing this pornography and violence, the second report points out that there has been a short term influence. The children are considerably concerned by it. They can have nightmares and they are not able to get the more violent scenes out of their minds.

I asked the Attorney-General whether he had looked at the report. He said yes, of course he had, but it was discredited. That is not true. It is a pity that the Attorney is really the worst sort of person. He is not prepared to face facts and thus is keen to murder the messenger because he does not like what the messenger brings him. The Attorney-General is the first law officer of this country. He has set himself an extremely low standard and one that he is finding very difficult to maintain. Today he assured us that the community supports what he is doing. In the original debate in this place he assured us that I, Senator Harradine and the Festival of Light were the only people who would object to this sort of pornography, this sort of violence, these X-rated videos, being allowed into the country. He has learnt from the petitions that have come into this place-I do not know how many there are but probably thousands of them by now in the very short time-

Senator Harradine —There were 4,000 in this morning.

Senator WALTERS —Yes, I have brought in several petitions on this matter. I do not know how many thousands of signatures we have had come to this place on such petitions. The Attorney will at least know that it is not just Senator Harradine , me and the Festival of Light who object very strongly to what he is doing to this country. Senator Lewis said that a Victorian psychologist wrote to Senator Evans pointing out that in South Australia the rape figures went up considerably . Certainly this was the case during the Dunstan years when we know very well that there was a great relaxation of all sorts of pornography and violence depicted in all sorts of ways. If we compare those figures with the figures in Queensland, we see that there was a marked difference between the two States. The psychologist believed that this issue should be looked at very carefully. He does not say that his findings are conclusive, that the trends ought to be looked at and that the Attorney-General should be aware of them.

At the moment there is not even a Minister in the chamber. We have only one Labor senator present in this place. I object very strongly to the Minister's method of handling this. (Quorum formed) I object very strongly to the Attorney- General walking out of the chamber when he is meant to be in charge of this matter. He pays such little regard to the debate in this place that he does not believe it necessary for him even to be here. He knows he has the votes of the Australian Democrats. He knows, in his own words, that he has bought their lousy votes. He did it last time and he has done it again. He has bought, in his own words, the lousy votes of the Democrats. So why does he have to worry? He can go out of this chamber in such a cynical way and leave the Senate to debate this. In the way he carries on he really pays very little regard to being the first law officer in Australia. I am thoroughly disgusted with his attitude.

As I have already said, the Attorney, in his cowardly fashion, tried to discredit the report to which I referred. He goes much further than that. What he has done, and done very successfully in these last few days, is to hoodwink Senator Mason. Senator Mason is, I feel so sorry to say, just so naive and so brainless that Senator Evans can twist him around his little finger whever he likes. He has done it again this time. He has, as he says, bought his lousy vote .

I will explain to Senator Mason, if I possibly can, just where he has gone wrong. There may be some people outside this place wondering why the Democrats did not take up the option of having a member on the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances because a position was made available for them on that Committee. If anybody wonders why they did not take it up, we have the answer here in black and white. We have before us a news release put out by Senator Mason. The Democrats did not want to be on that Committee and to be a part of the obvious response of the majority. The whole Committee came down with a decision. If the Democrats had been represented on that Committee maybe they would have understood this issue. But they would have been locked into the position that the lack of these new words in the new law in relation to hard core pornography-to use the term that the Committee was happy to use-is restrictive. That does not mean that it is restrictive to the people. It means that it is restrictive to the Government's being able to use its powers. I am quite sure that Senator Mason was so confused that he thought it wa restrictive to the legislation. The report also states:

The draft amendments propose to vary the description to be ''explicit and gratuitous depictions . . . of sexual violence against non-consenting persons'' which is a restriction when compared with the new law.

So I say to Senator Mason that the proposed draft law is even more restrictive. That was the decision of the whole Committee. If the Democrats had decided to appoint a representative to that Committee, and had taken up the position that was made for them, perhaps they would have understood this issue and would not have made such fools of themselves as they have done tonight. There is no doubt that the Democrats have made absolute fools of themselves. They have been hoodwinked by the Attorney-General and have been played once again for what they are. We know what has happened before. Honourable senators will remember the situtation some time ago when Senator Haines claimed she had made great progress with Dr Blewett and had got all sorts of amendments to Medicare. What she had got from Dr Blewett was permission for the funds to accept patients' benefit claims. She got permission from Dr Blewett that the funds could forward patients ' benefits claims to Medicare. That was very nice. But her next door neighbour, I or anybody else, could have done so. Senator Haines made great play of the fact that she had wrung this out of Dr Blewett. The fund had to put a stamp on the claim to send it off. Now we have Senator Mason being hoodwinked in exactly the same fashion by the Attorney-General.

Senator Withers —That wouldn't be hard.

Senator WALTERS —Frankly, as has just been said, it would not be hard. Why do the Democrats not think for themselves? Why are they always just an appendix of the Australian Labor Party? They are never anything else. They vote with the Labor Party on every single issue. In the news release Senator Mason has put out , he says it is a highly complex but important matter. Who is he kidding? It is not complex. Does he think that by putting in his news release that it is highly complex he is going to diddle the people of Australia into thinking that maybe they do not understand it all, and why the Democrats are now going to vote against the disallowance motion they moved. It is certainly not in any way a complex matter. It is a very simple matter and should be said to be such.

Mr President, you may remember that on 4 April, after having made a speech, I said that I wished to correct a few words. I said that it was obvious that the Democrats would not support their disallowance motion. After I said that, there was a great fuss. Senator Mason and Senator Jack Evans both carried on. On 5 April Senator Evans got up and abused me for having dared to say that they were going to vote against their own disallowance motion. He said:

That is an absolute distortion of our position.

Senator Mason —So it was, at the time.

Senator WALTERS —'So it was, at the time', Senator Mason says. Senator Evans continued:

Not at any stage have the Australian Democrats announced or indicated that they were not going to support the motion of disallowance put forward by Senator Mason. Not at any stage has it been said inside or outside the chamber. So I refute absolutely the claim made by Senator Walters.

I said that we would wait and see. Well, we have waited and we do see that the Democrats are voting against their own disallowance motion. It was on 4 April that I understood that they would, that they had backed off.

Let us look at the sort of rubbish we are not going to allow. First of all I will read the original legislation. Senator Gareth Evans keeps on saying that there would be a hiatus, a gap, with nothing in its place. Let me say what will be in its place, because this is the legislation that, should this disallowance go through, will still apply. All he will have to do is implement it. It says:

Subject to the next succeeding sub-regulation, a film shall not be registered and advertising matter shall not be passed, under this Part if, in the opinion of the Board-

(a) the film or advertising matter is blasphemous, indecent or obscene;

The Attorney says no police officer can make that decision. It is very simple; the court makes the decision as to what is obscene. The criterion is whether or not the film or advertising matter is likely to be injurious to morality or to encourage or incite crime. There is not a hiatus; there is not a gap. There is nothing except legislation already in place if this disallowance goes through. This is what we have in its place:

Subject to this section, where the Censorship Board decides that a film-

(a) depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in a manner that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable person . . .

It sounds to me, from that, as though we will not have that material but no, if all those descriptions apply and it is material containing revolting or abhorrent phenonema in a manner that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult person, we allow it in and call it R- or X-rated material. We have proof in the report I have mentioned tonight that once it is allowed into the country, once it is allowed into homes, children will see it. There is no doubt about that. It is not just one report I quote; I refer also to a report from the European Economic Community. This argument has been substantiated by several reports, and yet this Attorney-General cares so little about the opinion of the population generally that he is willing to run the risk because he says we must not attempt to act as parents and if parents want their kids to see this material, so what? It is not up to him to say they must not. He will just pass regulations and say that it cannot be sold or hired to children. If we want to know about what cannot be sold or hired to children, the front page of today's Canberra Times underlines particularly what can be and what is hired by children . We are told of a 14-year old teenager who went to quite a number of video shops around Canberra and was able to take exactly what she liked, including X- rated stuff. The Attorney says that this is a problem that has been overcome by his regulations. Senator Mason sits there and says: 'I don't understand it all but I am sure it will be all right if the Attorney says so'. Let us consider what we are not allowed to see. The Ordinance says:

The Censorship Board shall refuse to approve the classification of a film where the Board is satisfied that the film depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a manner that it offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adult persons to the extent that it should not be classified.

Can anyone in this place tell me the difference? I defy anyone to do so.

Senator Archer —It is Evans-talk.

Senator WALTERS —Exactly; as Senator Archer says, it is Evans-talk. Nobody else could possibly tell the difference. It seems quite ironical that, while we are moving to allow all this rubbish in, with Senator Evans as the sole arbitrator for the Australian Capital Territory, I should get a memo from the Swedish Embassy. I asked for information regarding new laws and, in reply, the memo says :

. . . pornographic shows were forbidden by means of an amendment to the laws on Public Order.

That decision was taken in 1982. We know that Sweden was the first country to open the doors to pornographic, violent and similar sorts of material. Sweden said that at that time it realised that the standard was very low but because the industry had to keep the appetites of the viewers whetted the standards continued going down until now Sweden is moving to prohibit the shows, and our Attorney-General is moving to bring them in. It seems to me in view of the letters from the Victorian group of psychiatrists and the petitions that have been brought both before this place and the other place to be an incredible indictment of the Attorney-General that he is so insensitive to the wishes of the Australian people that not only does he not attend to debate in this chamber but when he is in the chamber he talks to other people throughout the debate. He has no intention of changing his mind. He has bought the Democrats' vote. He has , as he said himself, said 'All right, if it takes that to buy your lousy vote' and he bought their lousy vote. That is all he is interested in. It is the same old saying: 'If you have the numbers you do not have to worry'. The Attorney- General knows that he has really diddled Senator Mason over this. Senator Mason is completely unaware of what he has done. He has not the brains to understand what he has done, but the Attorney-General has--

Senator Gareth Evans —That is offensive.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will withdraw the reference in respect of Senator Mason.

Senator WALTERS —Mr President, have it your own way. He has the brains to understand what he has done. I think personally, Mr President, that it is a bigger insult for me to say that he has the brains to understand what he has done tonight, but if that is your will so be it. I believe it is a higher insult and I ask the Attorney-General to--

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walters should withdraw that remark in respect of the honourable senator.

Senator WALTERS —Which one? That he has the brains or that he has not?

The PRESIDENT —The one that I earlier asked Senator Walters to withdraw.

Senator WALTERS —I have withdrawn my remark that he has not the brains. I have said that he has the brains, but it seems to me an incredible situation that he has now changed his side and is going to vote against it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.