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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2080

Senator HAMER(11.03) —I enter this fascinating debate on censorship. It is fascinating because it is one of those debates in which the beauty of the liberal theory on censorship comes into conflict with the harsh reality of how that works in practice. At the outset I declare an interest in this matter because I am Chairman of the Australian Film Institute. Our policy is that there should be no censorship of films at all. The reason for this is that the AFI is a cultural organisation and is aware of the great damage done to films by unwise censorship because films can be, and frequently are, works of art. Of course, not all films are works of art, but contemporary censors are very rarely good judges of the quality of works of art. One can cite many historical examples of works of art which in their time were regarded as outrageous and depraved. They are now seen in their true perspective of being great and worthy works of art.

We must ensure that we do not have mutilation of films that are genuine works of art by censors. This is, I believe, an artistic outrage. We must not have a situation in which a film like the one by Oshima can have additional editing by Mrs Strickland. This seems to me an absurdity. It is nearly as absurd as when a replica of Michelangelo's statue of David, which had stood for many centuries in Italy without doing any great or obvious harm to Italian morals, was brought out here and it was thought necessary to affix to it a fig leaf which looked surprisingly indecent. That sort of thing, I believe, is absurd. That most we can say with respect to whether showing films of this nature does harm to those who see them is that the evidence is inconclusive. If it did do any great harm, surely the most depraved people in the community would be the members of the Film Censorship Board who have to watch them in very large quantities. There is, I would say, no evidence at all that seeing this material does any significant harm. In fact, there is some evidence that it is a catharsis for people who are somewhat disturbed. This is all right in the case of films because control of access to films is practicable. But in the case of television and video an entirely new dimension is introduced because control of access to these forms of viewing is in practice impossible.

I believe that in looking at this problem we should follow two principles. The first is that it is no part of the role of a government to decide what adults may see and read in private. The second one, which overrides the first, is that governments have a responsibility to protect minors from seeing material of a violent or sexual nature that would disturb them. Those two principles have to be looked at in relation to what we do about the problem of videos. I support the disallowance motions before this Senate because I think the approach of the Government is fundamentally wrong. In the case of films it is possible to control access. One can rate films and warn potential audiences of their nature so that the audiences are not wantonly shocked. One can control access to R- rated and X-rated material and ensure that people below the age of, say, 18 do not get in. That works pretty well. But in the case of television, which is the matter I now deal with, there is no such control. One cannot be sure who will see a television program. The situation would not be changed if we went for cable television. I am sure we would have the same wish that what is available on television must be controlled. What is suitable for films where access is controlled is unsuitable for television because access is uncontrolled. It is no use saying that access to television can be controlled by family because we all know that that is impossible. Families are not always there. Families do not exercise this sort of control. I think it is therefore up to the Government to do this and it has been exercising that in the area of television.

Senator Gareth Evans —What do you say about books, Senator?

Senator HAMER —I am dealing only with film at the moment. Books are another issue, but I will deal with them if the honourable senator likes. I am dealing now with television and I turn to the area that is really concerning us, and that is video. The fundamental mistake being made by the Government in this area is that it is treating video as if it were a film rather than television. After all, all the videos will be seen on television screens and I believe that the same methods of control should be applied to video material as are applied to television. I put to the Attorney-General that the principle I would like to see applied is that the Government does not attempt to control what types of films are projected but controls the audiences to ensure that people under 18 years old do not see material we would not like them to see. With regard to video the Government should rate it to warn people what is there. The Government should not permit the sale or hire from video shops of R-or X-rated material because there is no possible way it can control that. If the Government treats video in the same way as television we will have a satisfactory answer to our problem. People who wish to see R-and X-rated material can if they wish put on their raincoats and go down to one of the cinemas where this type of material is shown .

Senator Gareth Evans —They cannot see X material. There is no X rating for public screenings. You know that.

Senator HAMER —I would not mind if there were. I am saying that we can control the access to films of people who should not see them, that is, minors. We cannot control access to video material, therefore the only control we can have is at the point of sale. I submit that the answer to the problem is to control access in cinemas, while allowing them to show what they wish, but to control video at the point of sale and not allow anything to be sold or hired from a video shop which we would not be prepared to transmit on television.