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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2084

Senator REID(10.31) —Much has been said in this debate on the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations (Amendment), and I shall not go over some of the arguments that have been dealt with quite adequately. But the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances specifically refers to the Australian Capital Territory and the role of the Commonwealth. It clearly sets out that the regulations are less restrictive than has been the case previously. This is referred to in several paragraphs. In particular I want to refer to paragraph 15, which states:

In addition, under the Cinematograph Films Regulations, videos not for public exhibition are no longer required to be registered by the Censorship Board. In the Australian Capital Territory, which is the one area in which the Commonwealth has direct responsibility over point of sale operations, many publications regarded as objectionable are now available subject to restrictions on their display and distribution which are expressly designed to limit the exposure of children of certain types of publication.

There have been comments over recent weeks from Archbishop Carroll who has referred to the flood of this material into the Australian Capital Territory. It is clearly available to children in homes because not all parents can supervise all children 24 hours a day. I imagine that even the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) is not able to do that, or would suggest that it is actually possible.

I understand that since 1 February 1984 until 7 May of this year 171 films have been allowed in and have been classified with an X rating. I am told that not one such film has been refused classification. It is very clear that they are freely available and it also would appear to be fairly clear as to what the Attorney-General intends. It is clear that that is his standard as to what should be freely available to children in this community.

I wish to refer to some of the contributions that were made to a debate in the House of Assembly on 27 March 1984, which gave an indication of what some of the members of the House of Assembly thought on the matter. Mrs Cains, moving an amendment, said:

A considerable amount of material which was not previously allowed into Australia is now available.

She went on to say:

From the Attorney-General's own Department there is a sheet which says 'That the barriers to the importation of hard core pornography other than child pornography, publications which incite terrorism and publications containing extreme violence and/or extreme sexual violence have been lifted.'

She repeated:

Barriers to the importation of hard core pornography have lifted.

Ms Robin Walmsley, an Australian Labor Party member of the House of Assembly, spoke in the same debate and, in referring to Mrs Cains's comments, said:

It is rare that we hear her quoting from the words of any Women's Advisory Council, particularly that of New South Wales, but I am delighted that she is, and in this instance 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.

She went on to say:

I think it is very important that this sort of material is not only banned but prohibited, and should be totally frowned upon by this society. It is exploitation in its most extravagant form. We do not want to see women made subjects of this unfortunate display. So I support her, I am concerned.

I would have thought that all women would be concerned at the trend of this Ordinance and the regulations. Mrs Hocking, also a member of the House of Assembly, spoke in the same debate. She said in part:

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.

And so the debate went on. It is clear that that is the case. The situation is that Objectionable Publications Ordinance 1958 was within the control of the Attorney-General to enforce, but he chose not to do so because it was not the sort of ordinance that he wanted to enforce. Similarly, it is clear that he has no intention of enforcing legislation dealing with brothels in the Australian Capital Territory. If this Ordinance and the regulations were disallowed there is law available which could be enforced if he had the will to do so. It may be that some amendments would be required at some stage, but they should be done, as has been suggested in the dissenting report of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, by proper legislation and not in this form. It is referred to as model legislation but there does not appear to be much real agreement between the States and Territories as to what should occur. The explanatory statement from the Attorney-General in January of this year said that the regulations had been drawn up in consultation with State and Northern Territory governments. I do not know how one could really classify that statement in the light of the evidence that three States have said that they will ban X-rated videos. It seems to me that the Attorney-General was attempting to convince people very strongly as to what they should do, and he certainly has succeeded as far as the Australian Democrats are concerned.

It is certainly worth having a second look at the contributions to the debate made in this place on 4 April 1984. I quote from the Hansard which, in referring to representation, states:

The overall weight of such representations has been, almost without exception, to express alarm at the prospect of this kind of extreme material becoming prospectively available even if it is given an X rating.

Further on it is stated:

However, I believe that the Senate must look at them and, if possible, ensure that the community view on them is accommodated,

Again it is stated:

It would be extremely naive of anybody to suggest that in this one area of X- rated video tapes there should be unfettered and untrammelled freedom where there may be evidence that there is harm to the community.

They were the words of Senator Mason in this debate.

Senator Archer —Senator who?

Senator REID —Senator Mason from New South Wales, on 4 April 1984. What evidence have we had that the community has changed its view since 4 April 1984 or that the flood of representations that Senator Mason had received up until that time has suddenly changed to bring about the way he has indicated he will vote tonight? He went on further to say:

It is obvious that these video tapes and discs do not merely affect the adults who buy and view them. The victims of the violence inspired by sadistic and cruel pornography are almost always those who are physically weaker in the society. I suggest that the Attorney-General bears that in mind. They are usually women and children; they are the innocent victims. They have a right to be protected against even the possibility of that kind of assault. As I said before, these tapes are almost exclusively degrading and offensive to women. I have had submissions from most of the feminist movements. They are in favour of rescinding the new X rating altogether so that the R rated movies would again be the most explicit allowed. That may surprise the Attorney, but that is a fact.

Adults who buy or hire these videos are not the only ones who are exposed to them.

They are the words of Senator Mason on 4 April 1984.

Senator Teague —Whose words are those?

Senator REID —They were Senator Mason's words. When I contributed to the debate, I think the next day, I commented on what I thought was one of Senator Mason's better speeches in this place. It showed a sensitivity to this matter. I thought he understood what he was doing, but I did not realise the extent to which he really wanted to vote with the Government on the matter. It is unbelievable that he spoke strongly in those terms on only 4 April, that he came into this place and moved for the disallowance of this Ordinance and these regulations. Then tonight-I suppose it remains to be seen-he says that he will vote against his own disallowance motion. It is a lesson to all of us as to what notice we should take of him on any occasion in the future.

No honourable senator has put forward any evidence in this debate, and no evidence was provided in any of the statements made by the Attorney-General, that there is any demand from the community for the changes to the regulations and ordinances that he has brought in. Senator Mason assured the Attorney- General that it was necessary to take note of the community view on matters such as this. Plenty of evidence has been presented to the Senate, in the form of petitions and in other ways, that the community does not want the legislation changed. I think we are entitled to ask the Attorney-General on what basis he is forcing this change upon the community, when clearly most members of the community do not hold the view that the law should be changed. It is not the view of many church leaders and bishops that it should be changed; it is certainly not the view of women's organisations and feminist organisations in this country. Who is the Attorney-General trying to please by introducing these changes? I think we are entitled to know the answer to that question. Who is Senator Mason trying to please by the turnaround he has displayed in the contributions he has made to the debate on this matter between 4 April 1984 and 29 May 1984?