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Thursday, 5 April 1984
Page: 1243


Senator REID(10.37) —The Senate is dealing with the implications of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations (Amendment), the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations (Amendment), the Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983, relating to the Australian Capital Territory, and its regulations. As we have heard, the existing Customs regulations are being abandoned to bring these regulations and the Ordinance into effect. We are told by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) that the Customs regulations have fallen into disrepute and are not observed. He is the one who should tell the chamber why it is that they have fallen into disrepute and are not being observed because it is his responsibility to see that they are enforced and observed. The Attorney-General has clearly indicated to his people that it is not necessary for them to enforce these regulations, and of course he has done that in other areas as well. It is worth looking at the amendments to compare what we are abolishing with what we are bringing into effect. Regulation 4A at present states:

(1) This regulation applies to goods . . . that, whether of their own nature or having regard to any literary or other work or matter that is embodied, recorded or reproduced in, or can be reproduced from, the goods-

(a) are blasphemous, indecent or obscene; or

(b) unduly emphasize matters of sex, horror, violence or crime, or are likely to encourage depravity,

and to advertising matter relating to such goods.

The section goes on to say that the people judging these things are authorised by the Attorney-General. Throughout all of the legislation it is quite clear that it is all his responsibility; he is responsible for appointing the relevant people.

What has the legislation been replaced with? Section (1A), which replaces sub- regulation 1 of the former regulation 4A, refers to:

(a) publications, other than films that are registered under the Customs ( Cinematograph Films) Regulations, that, in the opinion of the Attorney-General or a person authorized by him for the purposes of this sub-regulation-

(i) depict in pictorial form a child (whether engaged in sexual activity or otherwise) who is, or who is apparently, under the age of 16 years in a manner that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult person;

(ii) promote, incite or encourage terrorism; or

(iii) gratuitously depict in pictorial form extreme violence or cruelty . . .

We understand the Attorney has agreed to withdraw the word 'extreme'. I wonder what that really will do to the legislation. In no way does the package proposed deal with the sort of pornography that we have spoken about in this debate-the exploitation and degradation of women. Having passed the Sex Discrimination Bill , it seems extraordinary that we should be faced with a situation where that sort of pornography is not any longer to be excluded.

It is clear that, as a result of the changes proposed in these regulations, the Attorney-General is allowing hardcore pornography to be a part of the scene in this country. As I said, if he claims that it already is, then it is because he has failed to administer the regulations for which he has responsibility. He made the claim yesterday that there was public demand for this sort of material, but he did not give any evidence whatever to support that assertion. To me it is a matter of extreme regret that Senator Mason has changed his approach to dealing with these regulations and the ordinance. His actions will ensure the legalisation of the sale of hardcore pornography in the Australian Capital Territory and the legalisation of its importation into this country.

Yesterday Senator Mason made an excellent speech. I thought it was one of the best speeches that he has made. In that speech he set out in an extremely effective manner the reasons that the ordinance and regulations should be disallowed. I am very disappointed indeed at the turn that the whole event has taken; I regret it. I believe that the ordinance still should be disallowed. In the Australian Capital Territory the Attorney-General is the chief, the person who appoints the officer who determines the classification of material, and the Attorney-General determines who shall be prosecuted in this area, as he does in other areas. It may surprise you to know, Mr Deputy President, that the running of a brothel in the Australian Capital Territory is illegal. According to the newspapers and the correspondence I get from constituents brothels abound in the Australian Capital Territory. Presumably the Attorney-General has a different attitude towards brothels because he has not prosecuted any brothel proprietors, even though police have raided brothels and obtained sufficient evidence to allow a prosecution to proceed. The only explanation that we know of for his inaction is that apparently he says that not enough people have complained about their existence.

The people of the Australian Capital Territory are very much in the hands of this man in determining what he regards as good for the community. He likes most people to have freedom in pursuing those activities that he believes in. However , he does not allow the same freedom to his own back benchers to make their own decisions about these matters. I think we need to examine the standards he brings to bear in making decisions on legislation such as this. As I said, he has been in a position to ensure the enforcement of those regulations that are in existence. I think the turn that the legislation has taken now will legitimise the flood into this country of this sort of material, and I am sorry that Senator Mason has been a party to that.

A report that appeared in this morning's Canberra Times about the classification of this material highlights what in fact has happened, namely, that video tapes, both good and bad, will be classified compulsorily in the Australian Capital Territory. However, the article does not go to the heart of the matter; namely, what material will in fact be allowed into this country. Another interesting aspect of the report of the debate in yesterday's Canberra Times is that it refers to the threats of the Australian Democrats and the Opposition to disallow the ordinance and regulations. The Opposition was serious in moving to disallow those regulations and that ordinance. It was not threatening to do so, but apparently the Australian Democrats were only threatening. In this article that word was used twice in relation to the Australian Democrats. It is reported in the same article that the Attorney- General said that if the disallowance motion had not been rescinded but had been proceeded with it would have been a particularly obstreperous use of Senate majority power. He does not seem to have much regard for the views of other people if those views differ in any way from his own. He said that the disallowance would have caused chaos, confusion and legal uncertainty in Customs administration and the Australian Capital Territory video industry. Of course, that would not have been the case if he had enforced the legislation that was in existence.

The Attorney-General now says that if this debate is adjourned he will put before the Senate the Government's intentions on the matter when the Senate resumes early in May. That may be so, but it will not allow the public appropriate time to examine the new proposals. I would have thought that it would be appropriate to allow the public time to examine this type of legislation. No doubt he will say that if he does not bring the matter before the Senate at that time there will not be time to deal with the motions of disallowance. I believe that these regulations and the ordinance ought to be disallowed so that proper discussions can take place as to what should occur. If they are disallowed today the regulations which exist can still operate and the Attorney-General can come back with something which is rather more appropriate than the present legislation.

I said that we are dealing with a man whose judgment we have to trust in these matters. I think that it is reasonable to question whether we would want to rely on his judgment. Yesterday we heard his reference to buying the votes of the Australian Democrats, using language that I would not repeat. Last year we spent some time examining his actions and his judgment in relation to the spy flights over Tasmania. I seriously doubt the judgment of any person who would have been involved in that in the first place. The Combe situation brought his actions to light. I found the matter of his interview of Mr Combe extraordinary indeed. There was the referendum issue. He was prepared quietly to change the nature of the ballot papers for the first time in history. He wanted $1.25m to promote his side of the argument, treating the electors at large as if they were idiots and not able to view the matter for themselves and had to be persuaded in this way. In his view, apparently we are better off by having a pretty fair flow of pornographic material into this country which people can see, but he will not give to this chamber a copy of the Menzies report on the Sala investigation. It seems to me that we either agree with him or he gets very angry.

People are concerned about this legislation. The matter was sent to the local House of Assembly. Honourable senators will recall that in the election campaign last year the then Opposition indicated its commitment to take notice of the views of the House of Assembly. As we know from the casino issue this Government does take notice if it suits the Government and does not if it does not suit the Government. The Attorney referred this matter to the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren). The Minister for Territories and Local Government referred it to the House of Assembly. He said:

My colleague, the Attorney-General, has asked me to refer the Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983 to the Assembly for its consideration and advice. The Attorney-General has asked that the following information be provided to the Assembly.

He went on:

The Ordinance was prepared as model legislation for implementation of the uniform censorship classification scheme agreed to by Commonwealth State Ministers with responsibility for censorship in July 1983. The scheme is expected to come into operation on 1 February 1984.

It is strange that we now have this legislation before us, but the States seem to be showing some reluctance to go along with it. I would have thought that alone would have warned the Attorney-General to proceed with somewhat less haste with this legislation when it was quite clear that the State governments were not proceeding in the same way. The Assembly was given a briefing by officers of the Attorney-General's Department last year. The fact is that the Assembly did agree to support the legislation. It did so because it believed at that time what it was told; that is, that it was to be complementary legislation between the States and the Territories and this was a necessary part of it. Subsequently , it found that was not the case. The matter came up before the House of Assembly last week. A motion was put to rescind the previous approval of the legislation. I am not aware of any disagreement which would indicate that members of the House of Assembly opposed it. The fact now is that the House of Assembly does not agree with this change of legislation in the Australian Capital Territory. Mrs Hocking, speaking in the debate, said:

I support the amendment. I believe it was misleading when we had a Press release of 25 January from the Attorney-General which said over and over again that there was to be censorship of publications and video tapes when in fact it was known all along that the Customs Regulations would bring in an open season approach to the admission of all types and any type of hard core pornography into this country. The article in the Sun Herald on 19 February says: 'That overseas distributors are planning to dump container loads of pornographic publications and videos as soon as the State Government gives the legal go ahead .'

Ms Walmsley also spoke against the legislation. Mrs Hocking, quoting Ms Walmsley , said:

This is one occasion when Family Team Members find themselves in complete agreement with their radical feminist sisters in strongly objecting to the abuse of women as things or sex objects.

From what I quoted earlier, it is quite clear that the legislative change which is proposed is correctly interpreted in those words. She also said:

It is useless to place warning signs outside restricted areas to protect those 18 year old and under, when their parents or older brothers and sisters can take the stuff home for unrestricted viewing in their own lounge rooms.

It is clear that in the Australian Capital Territory the majority of those representing the community in this forum do not agree with this legislation and do not want it. There is no adequate provision for protecting children from seeing these sorts of films in their own homes. As I said yesterday, Senator Mason dealt with a number of aspects. That with which he dealt most effectively was in pointing out the difference of being able to read and to see. Children can see video material. It can be on in their home and they have no ability to evaluate what they are seeing. By the time children can read, they may be able to read things which are harmful, but certainly children view videos at a much earlier age. They see violence, hard core pornography, extremely damaging material which would not be allowed in if the existing regulations had been enforced, and not these new ones brought in.

I have heard recently of two separate occasions of young boys being able to see this sort of material in their homes. One was a case of a group staying overnight at a birthday party. After the parents went to bed the boys sat around and watched video films which they knew to be in the house. On another occasion a boy had taken a key that he knew gave him entry into a cupboard where his father kept these films and all night viewing took place. It is not adequate to say that it is just a question of adults viewing this material in their homes. It is available to children if it is available at all. I regret that the Australian Democrats, in pursuing the matter as they have, have allowed this to come in. I thought it a bit ironic this morning that on the front page of the Canberra Times, right next to the article to which I have referred in relation to this debate, was an article headed 'Children's television standards issued'. It deals with a number of matters including:

Advertising standards designed to ensure that the vulnerability of children is not exploited through misleading advertising, undue psychological pressure, unsafe products, endorsements by children's program characters.

A standard requiring that no program, advertisement of other transmission during 'C' time may demean any group or class of people on the basis of sex, age , race, ethnicity, disability, religious beliefs or political convictions.

It is right and proper that there should be regulations within television to protect children during the times that children are likely to be watching television. But there are videos; these days many houses have videos. I certainly know of one three-year-old child who knows how to work a video machine in her house.


Senator Gareth Evans —Are you saying that censorship standards should be governed by those appropriate for three-year-old children?


Senator REID —What I am talking about is the possibility of children of all ages watching them. I have dealt with 12-year-old boys seeing material that is not appropriate for them. But if such material is in the country, they will see it. The rules applying to videos now are different from those applying to films. What I really get back to saying is: Why is there such a rush to change the regulations and bring in this regulation? Why not disallow the ordinances and start again, when they have been thought through properly and when there has been a much greater opportunity for consultation in the community? Why not enforce the legislation which exists at present? The House of Assembly certainly felt that it had been misled in what it was asked to do in the first place compared with what it now finds out to be the case. It regards it as premature.

It is interesting that the Government has made a commitment to give financial impact statements. I refer to a speech by the Minister for Finance, Mr Dawkins, on 7 September 1983 when he said that another major reform of the Government involves the presentation of financial impact statements. He said then that in the future all second reading speeches, would have significant information relating to costs, revenue and saving. He said that Ministers would attempt to assess the impact on industry and other sections of the community and get to know the financial and economic effect of their legislation. Most people welcomed that although we have not seen many of them as yet. In recent times we have all become familiar with environmental impact statements, the necessity for them and the reason they have become part of the legislative process.

I wonder whether it is not time that we started thinking about human impact statements when bringing in legislation of this kind. We should do some research and give some thought to the real implications on people of this type of legislation. It is time that we threw out these ordinances and got around to preparing a human impact statement on the changes, bearing in mind the availability of the videos, before we allow the introduction of hard core pornography which will flow from passing these ordinances.