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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2086

Senator ARCHER(11.41) —I joined the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances especially to take part in the inquiry into this one reference. Therefore acting as a member of that Committee was a new experience for me. I had not previously participated in the activities of the Committee. Consequently, I found it necessary to do a considerable amount of reading. I thank the Committee secretariat and John Uhr for the very capable way in which they provided me with information and assistance. It was not long before I became aware that the Committee was dealing with a very difficult matter. Several items in the Schedule needed clarification, and the gobbledegook, Evans- type wording they contained did not make the task any easier as we went on. When the Committee was probably two-thirds of the way through its task, it was given a whole lot more of this cottonwool type wording that confused the situation even further and probably said nothing.

I think members of the Committee generally got confused at times by the wording . Those with a legal background were probably able to interpret the wording better than I and possible one or two other members of the Committee. The Committee operated with considerable good will and, as I said, it was quite a new experience for me. The interpretation of words required the Committee to do a lot of research by the use of dictionaries and law books and by discussion amongst ourselves. I would say that the decisions that we reached were reached through the best combined abilities of the members and staff of the Committee. When I went through the report today I found that it clearly refers to restrictions being placed on six individual areas. Paragraph 6 of the report reads:

There is one exception: the new law specifies 'pictorial depiction' of violence , so that publications which deal with violence in a non-pictorial form are now being treated differently, and this change involves a restriction of the pre- existing power.

That is the first restriction. Paragraph 7 reads:

The draft amendments are more restrictive than the new law . . .

That is the second restriction. Paragraph 8 reads:

Since the new law does not include the previous reference to encouraging the taking of hard drugs, it is more restrictive; however, the draft amendments would overcome this.

That is the third restriction.

Senator Harradine —Restrictive to the powers?

Senator ARCHER —Restrictive to the powers.

Senator Walters —That is what he did not understand.

Senator ARCHER —I thank Senator Walters. That is exactly the point I am leading up to. Paragraph 10 of the report reads:

If it is assumed that the term is equivalent to or covered by the old references to 'indecent or obscene' and 'unduly emphasise matters of sex . . . or are likely to encourage depravity', then the lack of these words in the new law is a restriction.

That is the fourth restriction. The fifth one is to be found in paragraph 15, which reads:

. . . videos not for public exhibition are no longer required to be registered . . .

The sixth one is to be found in paragraph 16, which reads:

Section 58 of the ACT Classification of Publications Ordinance restricts the pre-existing law by removing two existing, if rarely used, avenues of legal redress under the common law . . .

The Committee unanimously identified a restriction in those six areas-a restriction on the enactment, on the prevention. This poor, silly, little man who has been raving here tonight does not understand what this restriction means . I have never heard any thinking so completely convoluted as that which I have had the misfortune to hear from the honourable senator tonight. If the Australian Democrats had taken the trouble to read the report or even one of its number had taken a position on the Committee, we may not have gone through this absolute farce with which we have been presented tonight. At least we may have been spared the ludicrous Press release that was signed by Senator Mason. I am absolutely appalled that he was prepared to admit that he was the author of it. Regrettably, that Press release has necessitated Senator Durack producing a statement which goes as far as is reasonable towards demonstrating the futility of the Press statement and the imbecility of its author. I seek leave to have that Press release incorporated in Hansard.

Senator Tate —I would like to see it.

Senator ARCHER —It has been shown to the Minister.

Leave granted.

The Press release read as follows-

PR84/96 Canberra 29th May 1984


The Australian Democrats Deputy Leader Senator Colin Mason today attacked the Liberal Party for its intention to vote on a customs regulation on X-rated videotapes, saying it represented a new low in political cynicism and dishonesty .

''I have been told the Liberals will vote for disallowance of a regulation controlling the entry into Australia of the filthiest and most violent pornography imaginable,'' Senator Mason said.

The Democrats will vote with the Government to defeat disallowance of the regulation. Senator Mason said the Democrats had succeeded in their objective, which was to prevent the import into Australia of gratuitous, violent and cruel material with sexual aspects.

''The Government has acceded to the Democrats request to firm up the regulation , especially the final form of section (a) iii which bans any videotapes which:

contain detailed and gratuitous depictions in pictorial form of act of considerable violence or cruelty, or explicit and gratuitous depictions in pictorial form of sexual violence against non-consenting persons.

''The section effectively prevents material depicting rape and other violent sexual assults and is a major step forward for proper community values in Australia. I now call on the Government and the Customs and Classification authorities to ensure that this regulation is policed strictly.

''Meanwhile, I reiterate that the Liberal Party knows full well that destruction of this most valuable regulation, which has had input from all over Australia would open the floodgates to violent and cruel material because of the inadequacies of the law it replaces.

''An even worse aspect of the behaviour of some Liberals has been their misrepresentation of this matter to the churches and women's groups in Australia in a cynical and untrue publicity campaign.

''This is a highly complex and important matter and the attempts to trade dishonesty on it represents a thoroughly despicable and dishonest trick,'' Senator Mason said.

For further information contact Senator Colin Mason (062) 72 7434

Senator ARCHER —That Press release shows itself to be plainly ridiculous, or that the whole subject has been totally misunderstood, or that the statement was wantonly stupid. I find it quite incredible that what I suppose one would call a Mason-Evans agreement covering these matters should produce a result such as this. The Democrats were of enormous help to the committee, particularly by not participating in it. As far as Senator Evans is concerned, anybody who buys the Democrats deserves what he gets.

I thought the matter gained a better perspective when in the course of his enlightening speech Senator Mason said that the community needs a bit of nudity and perhaps a little pornography. I think that absolutely typifies Senator Mason 's attitude towards this whole matter. It probably typifies the view of the Democrats. I really have never seen one person go to so much trouble to make such a fool of himself in such a short time. I am completely at a loss to understand why Senator Mason made reference over and over again to the fact that various of the so-called offences had to be gratuitously depicted. I cannot see why an offence is so much different if it is gratuitously depicted than if it is depicted in any other form. I am not quite sure whether Senator Mason's argument was that it makes it so much better or so much worse, but so long as it was gratuitously depicted, that seemed to make the difference. Perhaps it was just that Senator Mason liked to use a big word.

Senator Mason referred also to the churches' misleading campaign but, as one would expect from a person who makes a charge, he left it at that point and did not say in what form he was making the accusation of misleading campaigns. I guess that, with any luck, we might have the benefit of his explaining this not only to honourable senators but also the church people in due course. I, too, was somewhat impressed by the speech on 4 May and in particular the sections quoted by Senator Reid. I am made more conscious of the ability of Senator Mason when I realise that he can make such a speech as he did tonight, on 29 May, when on 4 May he made a speech which I would have thought was made by a different person in a different chamber, even on a different subject.

I was impressed also that Senator Gareth Evans went to the trouble of saying that we ought to take whatever steps are necessary to protect children. However, it is clear from an examination of the wording, and the actual practice, that absolutely no effort at all is being made to try to protect children. I wonder how it is that Senator Gareth Evans says that in his position what he is really endeavouring to do is put together what people want, and that he does so by tapping community opinion. I am not quite sure who wants all this pornographic filth. I am not quite sure who has asked for it. The Attorney-General will have the opportunity to explain that to the Senate later. I was new on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, but I gathered that no member of that Committee was particularly rapt in pornography. I do not think they demanded it. The subject has been debated fairly fully in this chamber, but I have not seen many honourable senators clamouring for more porn.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Senator Mason has said he does.

Senator ARCHER —I am sorry; Senator Mason wants more porn. The Parliament has been presented with many petitions containing thousands of signatures of people requesting that this Parliament desist from its endeavours to increase porn. I guess the Clerk could correct me on this, but to the best of my knowledge no petition presented here in the past month has clamoured for more porn. The records on that could be checked. Perhaps the Attorney-General has that information as well. Only today, petitions containing more than 5,000 signatures were presented. That is just one day. Before long, perhaps another 15,000 or 20, 000 persons will put their signatures to petitions expressing concern about this to the Parliament. If they exist, let us have the 15,000 or 20,000 signatories that require us to break down standards even more.

I am grateful that the Attorney-General will now spend more time consulting. If he does so, rather than being insulting to persons he seeks information from, we might get somewhere. There must be somebody who has been successful in urging the Government to instigate changes in pornography laws and to water them down to the extent that they have been. From the sort of people I have been in touch with, I guess it is not the Country Women's Association or the Catholic Women's League or the parents and friends from any of the schools that I know. It may be some of the operators of the Sleazy Jack video places. It may be even some of the Australian Labor Party branches for all I know. I am not sure. But we have not had this information, and I really need to know more about it.

I turn to the matter of the depiction of people consenting. I believe all they are consenting to is consenting to take the money for doing it. The notion of whether the people depicted are deemed to be consenting or deemed to be consenting is absolutely ridiculous; it is ludicrous in the extreme. I feel also that the provision 'likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult person' is again an absolute nonsense, in Evans-talk. Another provision relates to depicting in pictorial form bestiality in a manner that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult person.

Senator Gareth Evans —What is the problem?

Senator ARCHER —Perhaps the Attorney-General is able to demonstrate to us bestiality that is not likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult person.

Senator Gareth Evans —Have you ever heard of Leda and the Swan?

Senator ARCHER —Yes, I have, as a matter of fact.

Senator Gareth Evans —How is that for a start?

Senator ARCHER —Do you think that is a good piece of artistic demonstration or portrayal? Do you think it is likely to be good for standards and morals?

Senator Gareth Evans —It is a recurring theme in Western art and literature, you oaf. If you do not recognise that, you ought to be sitting down.

Senator ARCHER —I thank the Attorney-General. This is what we call gratuitous advice, is it not? I appreciate the fact that he is so good at handing out gratuitous advice. I would not like to cause offence to a reasonable adult person by asking some of these questions. The Attorney-General referred also to the question of paternalism. I think it a matter of whether the Attorney-General is prepared to throw off what I believe is a responsibility. Those of us who come here in all sincerity, and not just to foster our own egos, believe we have some responsibility. I suggest to the Attorney-General that it would be worthwhile his having a look at for himself some time. In the meantime, for him to say it is paternalistic for him to uphold his duty in this place and to do the right thing by the public I find difficult to understand. He is going through the ridiculous phase of trying to change everything for the sake of change. He wants to destroy everything and leave this trail of destruction, to be remembered as the great destroyer. He is destroying everything he can without thinking about what he leaves for others to clean up.

I will certainly be supporting the motions for disallowance. I do so on three grounds. Firstly, the literature we have received from the Attorney-General over and over again refers to the fact that this is model legislation. If it is model legislation, I would suggest it should be in the form of legislation and not regulation. The fact that other States might not wear it at any price is another matter. The Attorney-General claims it is model legislation. Secondly, I believe the changes will seriously weaken recourse to legal decisions, where they are necessary, and replace them with administrative decisions in the hands of the Attorney-General or anyone to whom he chooses to delegate. I do not think that is good enough. Where such a substantial change is being made it should be a matter for the Parliament to debate and deal with as ordinary legislation.

Thirdly, there is a considerable change in the whole basis of what we have been talking about. The matter has been so totally watered down, and the whole question of pornography in all its forms has been made so much more open, that I believe the matter needs to be dealt with as any other reasonable legislation should. The changes that have been made have clearly been made to degrade the system. There is no question about that, because they were not necessary. The Attorney-General talked about non-enforcement of previous regulations. I would not expect that the Attorney-General would seriously suggest that because we change the regulations we are likely to change the views of law enforcement officers to them. There is nothing wrong with the regulations had they been better enforced. To change an odd word here and to put a few more words there and make them a bit longer really does not get anywhere towards overcoming the real difficulties that there have been. I believe that the case that was reported in the Canberra Times absolutely and completely exemplified the stage that the situation has reached. It is not going to improve unless we in this place take seriously the job we have been sent here to do. We are certainly not typical of the wide range of people in the community. If we go out and ask the people what they think instead of standng up here and trying to push it down their necks that we know what is better for them, we might even find out what they think. In the meantime I certainly support disallowance.

Wednesday, 30 May 1984