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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 135

Senator WALTERS —My question relates to the Attorney-General's about-face on the need for a parliamentary committee to investigate the problem of X-rated videos. Given that only 10 weeks ago Senator Evans dismissed the Opposition's move for such an inquiry as unnecessary and undesirable and given that the Prime Minister has a gun pointed at the heads of Ministers who rock the boat before the election, I ask: Firstly, what compelling evidence came forward in the last 10 weeks that was not advanced daily by the Opposition and the public in the previous 10 weeks when Senator Evans was obsessed with his attempts to convince us all that this X-rated stuff was good for Australia? Secondly, how will Senator Evans answer the tens of thousands of petitioners who say that his announcement was all about steadying the violently rocking boat and regaining lost votes and not one whit about his changing his libertarian attitude to video violence? Thirdly, will he at least acknowledge the sincerity of the public's protest, reconsider his answer to Senator Reid yesterday and declare an immediate moratorium on the sale and hire of X-rated material pending the committee's inquiry?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The essence of my response in the Senate at the end of last session to the yelps from Senator Walters and elsewhere demanding a Senate inquiry was not that such an inquiry was and would forever be inappropriate but that it was premature given the relative shortness of time in which the system had been in operation in the Australian Capital Territory and so far as Customs regulations are concerned. With the further passage of time I have readily accepted the argument that it is now possible to review with some sense and on the basis of some data the operation of the system in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Customs administration and with that in mind have quite cheerfully supported the proposal that a joint select committee should be set up with precise terms of reference, directing its attention both to the operation of the existing law and to the effects of pornography and violent and otherwise obscene material on people generally and in particular young children and to some other possible aspects of the way in which the present law might be improved. That course of action will take place.

As I said yesterday in answer to Senator Reid, I do not believe there is anything fundamentally misconceived in principle about the way in which the present system has been put together. One would have hoped that some other State jurisdictions around Australia had moved more quickly to put into effect the point of sale controls which are a necessary accompaniment to the new restrictions which apply at the import barrier if there is to be a rational system. But by and large I continue to adopt the view, and answer all my correspondents who put these oppositions to me to the same effect, that we have a rational and principled system now in force. Although there might always be a case for fine tuning of such legislation and although there are very important questions on which there is still a very great paucity of serious data about the effect of a certain kind of material on children, there is nothing at all to be defensive about in our present system.

I mention further, because the claim is made over and over again and reiterated by Senator Walters in the interstices of her question today, that violent and sexually violent material is prohibited outright now by the Customs regulations which have been endorsed in this place. Such material is also of a character that would be refused classification for domestic sale and hire and as such is ruled out in those jurisdictions where the Australian Capital Territory model legislation is in force. To that extent the so-called video nasties are not circulating pursuant to the authority of this or any other government's law in this country. I hope that Senator Walters and all her friends out there who insist on making this an issue will be just a little more honest in the way in which they present the reality of the present law.