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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 399

Senator DURACK(3.50) —The Opposition is happy to support the proposal put forward by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans). He has moved for the establishment of a Joint Select Committee on Video Materials with the modified terms of reference which he has circulated and to which he referred in the remarks that he has just made. It seems to me that the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) must have taken into the House of Representatives one of the earlier drafts relating to this Committee. In fact, I think it might have been the first draft that was ever conceived by the Government on this matter and which was well and truly out of date some time ago. It seems to have been just a mistake. This particular draft is in line with the considerable amount of discussion which took place between the Government and the Opposition in this place last year in order to get terms of reference which were agreeable to everyone in the Senate. It is just a matter of surprise to me that the Special Minister of State should have been so out of date or so negligent when he moved this motion in the House of Representatives.

As I have said, the present terms of reference are in line with the terms of reference of the Senate Select Committee on Video Censorship which was established in this place just prior to the calling of the election last year. Fortunately, the Senate did insist on the establishment of that Committee because at long last some consideration was able to be given by a parliamentary committee to problems which had been created by the major changes in censorship laws in this country which came into operation more than 12 months ago, on 1 February last year. I do not want to have a rerun of the many debates that we had in the Senate last year on this matter, but the fact is that the Opposition had first proposed a joint committee to investigate the way in which those new regulations were working. There was nothing short of public outrage all around Australia about the way they were working and the effect that they were apparently having on the video industry. There was particular outrage about the flood of pornographic material, the likes of which had never before been generally available in Australia, even though it may have been available in certain places. The whole of the Australian market was suddenly aware that this material had caused most grave public disquiet, even outrage.

The Opposition has been seeking since June last year to have an adequate joint parliamentary inquiry into this matter. Therefore, we are pleased that at long last the Government has taken these steps. Despite indications that it would do so at various times last year, it failed to do so and the Senate was obliged to set up its own Committee. As that now has progressed, it is perhaps unfortunate that that Committee is being wound up and is not able to finish the job. The Senate had to fill the breach, the Committee had been working very hard and, as Senator Gareth Evans said, it is about to report. We will certainly look at that report with great interest.

It may well have been better if the Government, having delayed so long in this matter, had waited until the Senate Committee had reported and Parliament itself could have seen whether it would leave the job more satisfactorily to that Committee or whether it still wanted to set up a joint committee. However, the Opposition has always supported the principle of a joint select committee to look at this matter. The Government, although terribly tardy and almost duplicitous in many ways in the way it has approached this question of a joint committee, has at long last decided to set it up and this motion before us now is one which the Opposition will, of course, support because it has been our proposal from the very beginning.

As matters have progressed, the work may well have been done. We do not know that until we see the Senate Committee's report. The Senate Committee has been working very hard and I think it is rather strange that the Government should now, at this point, just before the Senate Committee reports, move to set up this joint committee. However, for all those reasons and in all the circumstances, the Opposition will support the establishment of this Committee on the modified terms that Senator Evans had proposed. Perhaps in future the Government might take a little more care before it proposes in the House of Representatives matters which, if the Senate agrees to them, might mean that it gets its act together a little more efficiently that it has done here.

Senator Walters —That is most unlikely.

Senator DURACK —Yes, I agree that that is most unlikely, given the number of mistakes that seem to be emerging in the Government's proposals for the various committees in the Parliament. There seem to be mistakes all over the place and this is just another example of that.