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Wednesday, 4 April 1984
Page: 1221

Senator WALTERS(5.21) —This is the continuation of a debate commenced this morning when Senator Mason and Senator Harradine moved for the disallowance of regulations and ordinances concerned with the new Commonwealth censorship procedures adopted in relation to publications. The regulations and ordinances brought down by the Government have created a complete shemozzle in the States. A meeting of Attorneys-General last year agreed that there ought to be some uniformity throughout Australia in the application of censorship procedures to pornographic material. However, the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) in his usual fashion brought down regulations and ordinances that were meant to be substantiated by the States. Of course, that has not occurred. The States have not yet put in place regulations and ordinances; they have not yet passed the necessary legislation to make the censorship procedures uniform throughout Australia. The Attorney-General thought it a good idea at the time-he could not resist it-to put in place the legislation enacting those regulations and ordinances even though the States have not yet put in place complementary legislation. The situation now is that the States find it difficult to do anything about dealing with the literature and publications-that includes videotapes-entering those States. The Attorney-General, in a paper in which he sought to explain the new procedures, said:

The barriers to the importation of hardcore pornography have been lifted. There are some exceptions other than child pornography-publications which incite terrorism and publications containing extreme violence and/or sexual violence.

The Attorney-General said that, apart from those sorts of publications, the barriers to the importation of pornography have been lifted. He went on to assure us that this step is being taken because the Government believes that adult persons are entitled to read and view what they wish. The Attorney-General assured the Senate today that, apart from Senator Harradine and me and a few other extreme people, all Australians support the action he has taken. I ask the Attorney-General whether he has any evidence at all that suggests that the Australian people support the expansion of the range of hardcore pornography available in this country. The range has been expanded to include X rated or Category 2 material. The guidelines laid down by the Attorney-General-I will come to this matter later-are extreme from anyone's viewpoint.

Senator Gietzelt —The biggest obscenity of all is war and you never say anything about that.

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Senator WALTERS —I pay Senator Gietzelt the compliment of believing that he would not be very interested in Category 2 stuff. No matter how extreme Senator Gietzelt is, I do not really believe that he would relish watching that sort of stuff. Senator Gietzelt may not have even looked at the guidelines and therefore may not even know what they contain. We are told that the Commonwealth, which up to date has supposedly had complete legislative control over the sort of pornography imported into Australia, will now wash its hands of that control and the the Film Censorship Board is to be told that all it can do is say whether material should be prohibited from import. The guidelines are very explicit. Indeed, Senator Evans says very clearly that publications prohibited from importation will include child pornography involving minors under 16 years of age, publications that promote, incite or encourage terrorism, and those that gratuitously depict extreme cruelty, particularly when combined with a sexual element. He makes it clear that the Film Censorship Board and those who censor publications will be able to prohibit the importation of material that comes into those three categories only. All other material will be able to be registered. The States must make their own arrangements. Of course, he ignores the fact that the States have not yet made their own arrangements.

The Attorney-General has said that at the State level distributors will not be compelled to seek to have videotapes classified, that the seeking of a classification will be completely voluntary. It will be up to the distributors whether they have classified the video tapes they send out. I have received many complaints from people who live in the Australian Capital Territory. Yet the Territory has the necessary legislation in place. Residents of the Australian Capital Territory have complained that when they have gone to a video shop to find something for young family viewing over the weekend they have found that the videotapes available contain no classification. The tapes do not show whether they are suitable for general viewing or whether parental guidance is recommended. People do not know what sort of video they might be buying. They are obliged to ask the proprietor whether a particular video will be suitable for viewing by 7 and 8-year-olds.

Senator Robertson —You would be pretty dim, wouldn't you?

Senator WALTERS —Senator Robertson can laugh but he should look at the situation in the Australian Capital Territory.

Senator Robertson —I have. You are talking a lot of nonsense.

Senator WALTERS —If Senator Robertson questions what I am saying, obviously he has not looked at the situation in the Australian Capital Territory. He is interested only in the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth Government enacts legislation that affects the Australian Capital Territory. The situation is that parents in the Australian Capital Territory have no indication at all whether the videotapes are suitable for viewing by 7 or 8-year-olds. They are obliged to ask the individual proprietor whether he believes a particular videotape is suitable for a 7-year-old to look at. Obviously a system under which the distributors are able to seek a classification on a voluntary basis will not work. Belatedly the Attorney-General has said that he can see some sense in such a suggestion and that perhaps such a system will not work. Perhaps the system of seeking classification has to be a compulsory one. Perhaps the distributors will have to be made to go through the censorship procedures and have video tapes classified.

Clause 19 of the ordinance sets out in quite a bit of detail the classifications for printed work. The Attorney-General's Department has laid down quite clear guidelines as to what material is likely to be contained in Category 1 and Category 2 publications, those being the restricted publications. Category 2, which is the new classification, is quite incredible. I ask the Attorney whether he has brought to the attention of honourable senators opposite the guidelines that he has set down, because when I read them through I did not know what they meant. I got out a dictionary and could not find all the words in the guidelines in it. Honourable senators opposite might be very sophisticated in this area, but I have not found one member of our side of the Parliament who knows what all of them mean. Perhaps honourable senators opposite deal more with this sort of thing and know about it in some detail, because through interjections they claim that there is something wrong with me that I do not understand all the words. Perhaps they are more au fait with the subject.

I invite the Attorney-General to tell me, by way of interjection, whether there are similar guidelines for videotapes as there are for printed publications with pictorial material. I am very keen to find out whether that is the case. I did ask the Attorney-General's office whether it could ascertain for me whether there were clear guidelines regarding videotapes. I was told that there might be ; the office did not know but it would try to find out for me. I have applied several times and have been told that the office still does not know and, up to this time, it is still trying to find out for me. I ask the Attorney-General again whether there are any set guidelines.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —The honourable senator should direct her questions through the Chair.

Senator WALTERS —Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask the Attorney- General whether there are similar guidelines for videos. Have similar guidelines been put out in relation to the classification of videos as there have been in relation to categories 1 and 2 of printed material with pictorial matter?

Senator Gareth Evans —Yes. As I told you through my staff, there are draft guidelines in existence prepared by the Chief Censor which are to be debated and discussed by the ministerial council on Friday.

Senator WALTERS —Are we entitled to see them?

Senator Gareth Evans —No more than you are entitled to see the first lot.

Senator WALTERS —I am not quite sure why. I was told by the Attorney-General's Department that they could be confidential. This really worries me. We are being asked to consider and vote on whether the Attorney-General's guidelines should be brought down and I have been told that I am not entitled to see them. What sort of a position are we put in? I have in my hand the guidelines relating to printed publications with pictorials. I do not have the guidelines concerning videos. I asked the Attorney whether he would give me the guidelines for the videos and he told me that they are confidential and that there is no way I am entitled to see them. Senator Harradine has just given me a copy. Yes, I see that they are the same as those applying to printed material.

Senator Chipp —Read them out.

Senator WALTERS —Senator Chipp has asked me to read them out. There is no way I will read them out. He can read them himself. The Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly has already had second thoughts about these regulations and ordinances. It passed them but on 27 March it unanimously decided to have a rethink. The House of Assembly sent the whole lot to its Standing Committee on Education and Community Affairs. The amendment that was unanimously agreed to by the House of Assembly stated that the Standing Committee on Education and Community Affairs should urgently consider the implications of the changed Customs regulations and their relation to the Classification of Publications Ordinance. Mrs Cains said she moved the amendment because she believed the Committee had not understood the situation previously. Obviously she was correct because Ms Walmsley joined her-those women do not usually see eye to eye-and said:

I share her concern that the current regulations to the Customs Ordinance do enable material to come into Australia which clearly are exploitation of women.

So it went on. Everyone who took part in the debate agreed and the motion was passed unanimously. The House of Assembly is certainly having second thoughts and is taking action to overcome the problem. I fail to understand one thing: The feminists opposite would normally join me on this issue, I should have thought, yet there is complete silence from the Labor women opposite. Normally they would say they believed the exploitation of women was abhorrent. I do not believe any women in Australia would be party to passing this sort or rubbish. I do not believe any women would agree with it. Yet Labor women opposite kowtow, do not put up a fight and pass this sort of stuff. Perhaps at the meeting on Friday the Attorneys-General will be more aware of the feelings in this place. Senator Evans has said that he wants us to put off debate until after the meeting of Attorneys-General and that he will convey our feelings to the Attorneys-General. He does not want a vote to be taken. I can assure the Attorney-General that nothing will impress the Attorneys-General more than this place saying: 'We will not go along with those regulations and ordinances'. There was not complete agreement at the last Attorneys-General meeting. Tasmania and Queensland did not agree to this action. Both Tasmania and Queensland want compulsory certifications. The Attorney-General has attempted to put forward that the Attorneys-General were in close agreement. There was no close agreement at all.

Let us consider what is happening in Sweden. I do not know how many people saw the film Not a Love Story which was screened in Canberra. Sweden was one of the countries which originally opened the doors to pornography. The film Not a Love Story depicts exactly what is happening in Sweden at the moment. Sweden is now seeking more controls on pornography. The film pointed out that the reason Sweden is moving back to more controls is that, when the gates were opened, a certain standard of hard core pornography, which was pretty low, appeared. Over the years it became worse and worse until now it is so bad that the powers that be in Sweden are saying: 'We have had enough; it is sickening. We are moving back'. Let us look at what happened.

Senator Chipp —That is the nature of pornography; the devotees are never satisfied.

Senator WALTERS —Let us look at 1971 when Senator Chipp was Minister for Customs and Excise.

Senator Chipp —I never let pornography in. Are you saying I did?

Senator WALTERS —Senator Chipp should listen. I am saying that we should look at 1971 when he was Minister. At that time, in February 1971, a debate was on about censorship. At that time both parties had a free debate. It was not a party debate. It was a conscience issue. I believe that is what should be happening here. Again, I ask the Attorney-General whether he will allow his party a free vote on this.

Senator Gareth Evans —No, of course not. Don't be absurd.

Senator WALTERS —It is absolutely incredible. He says: 'No. I have got them caucused. There is no way I would give them a free vote'. I asked him whether he would give them a free vote and he said: 'No, not on your life'. He has got them caucused. What more does he want?

Senator Gareth Evans —I wish it was up to me, but I don't have any say in it.

Senator WALTERS —He did not say it was not up to him. He just said: 'No, I will not give them a free vote'. There was an agreement in 1971-I am sure Senator Chipp will remember-between the States and the Commonwealth Ministers. The State and Commonwealth Ministers then introduced an R rating. This present agreement between the States and the Federal Government is not new. It has been done before. In 1971 Senator Chipp stated that there was agreement between the State and Commonwealth Ministers on an R certificate rating. At that time he said:

It is my fond hope that by the middle of this year the R certificate system will be in operation throughout Australia despite the vigorous and spirited opposition that is being conducted by people in certain quarters.

So for the first time we had an R rating. He went on to say-he may well laugh at this:

That is all I have to say, except that I wish to give an example of material covered by some of my last remarks. I am being criticised rather extensively for the prohibition of 'Playboy'. This comes under the heading of taking account of the limited availability of some works. Only 2 issues of 'Playboy' have been banned since the beginning of 1969 and I would regard-

get a load of this; this is Senator Chipp-

the standards of this magazine as a bench mark beyond which we will not go in permissiveness as far as sex is concerned.

That was not so very long ago, 1971. In 1971 we moved to an R rating and, according to the Minister at that time, Senator Chipp, he would not allow anything more permissive than Playboy. Ten years later we moved to an X rating. What will happen in the next 10 years? What will happen by 1991? Will we then think it is all right to have child pornography too?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator WALTERS —We are now told 'no' by the Government but in 1971 we were told by Senator Chipp that we would not move from Playboy, that it would not get any worse than that under his Ministry. We have had this gradual erosion, to which Senator Chipp alluded earlier, of standards. Senator Gareth Evans has said that no State government-it was a play with words-has objected outright to the Federal Government's procedures. He could have said that only one State Government, South Australia, has complementary legislation. But he did not put it that way. He did not put it that only one State Government has already got complementary legislation. He said that no State government has objected outright to the Federal procedures. Perhaps we will find that out on Friday. It depends on what impression one wants to make. About half an hour or so ago I received a letter from the video industry; boy, is it putting on the hard word.

Senator Grimes —Ha, ha!

Senator WALTERS —It depends on one's mind, Senator Grimes. Members of that industry are lobbying very hard and saying: 'For heaven's sake, do not disallow it'. I wonder why they are saying that. It would not be a bob or two to them, would it? The letter states-it is completely dishonest:

If the ordinance is disallowed those X rated video movies may be available without restriction-

At least they have the honesty to say 'may' be available without restriction. The letter continues:

including to children. This would cause some concern and I am sure it is not the intention of the Senate to create such a state of confusion.

What absolute rubbish! It is not the truth. I hope those in the video industry who have any sort of regard for their credibility will take the author of this thing to task when they read Hansard, if they are interested enough to read it. All that will occur if the regulations are disallowed is that the Government will be able to enforce the present legislation, the law as it is now, that states that a person shall not sell or otherwise publish for gain an objectionable publication. All the Government has to do is enforce the law. There will be no need for the X rated videos to be available without restriction , as the industry tries to tell us will happen, nor are the videos likely to get into the hands of children, as the industry would like us to believe, if we dare try to stop it being able to sell this sort of stuff.

Senator Harradine —It is untruthful blackmail.

Senator WALTERS —It is complete blackmail and I am surprised that the industry would do that. But no doubt other members of the industry will indeed take the author to task about it. As I said earlier, the barriers for importation of hard pornography, according to the Attorney-General, have been lifted. We are now faced with the situation of the Commonwealth washing its hands of its responsibility. I am not liable to wash my hands of that responsibility, nor is the Opposition nor, evidently, the Australian Democrats or Senator Harradine. We will see what the Attorney-General can accomplish on Friday. I have much pleasure in supporting both the Australian Democrats and Senator Harradine in their motions for the disallowance of those regulations.