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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1411

Senator VIGOR(3.12) —The Commonwealth's power to review and censor films and, by extension, videotapes flows from the power given by the Constitution to regulate trade and commerce with other countries and between the States. Specifically, the Film Censorship Board is constituted under regulations flowing from the Customs Act. The Board is a full time statutory body examining imported films and videotapes. It also functions as a registry and classifier of films and videotapes for public exhibition, sale or hire in the Australian States and Territories with the concurrence of the State and Territory authorities, according to various pieces of local legislation. The State of Queensland, for reasons best known to its Premier, maintains a separate Film Board of Review catering to delicate Queensland sensibilities and tastes in films and videotapes.

The Film Censorship Board plays an important role in the classification of imported television programs as well as those which are produced locally by persons outside the auspices of a television station. This function is performed by ministerial arrangement on behalf of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. It is a source of amazement to me that the licensees of commercial stations do not complain about this as being objectionable censorship while at the same time they have mounted a vocal campaign to undermine the Tribunal's ability to pre-classify children's television material.

Decisions of the Film Censorship Board are reviewable by the Film Board of Review. During 1984 there were 15 appeals against the decisions of the Film Censorship Board. Nine of these were upheld. Considering the large number of films registered and classified-620 in 1984-this reflects the high regard in which decisions of the Board are held within the community and by film makers and distributors. Fifteen written complaints were received by the Board in respect of film and video decisions. There were also 15 appeals to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal against decisions on imported television programs. However, all is not well. The first clue to dissatisfaction with the circumstances in which the Board finds itself is in the brief accompanying letter printed at the front of this report. I quote:

Unfortunately, due to staff shortages and inadequate resources this report lacks the detail of previous reports.

The Chief Censor, Janet Strickland, expands on this muted criticism of the Attorney-General's Department, which carries administrative responsibility for the Board, on the last page of the report. There we see this comment:

Legislative amendments in February 1984 have resulted in a more complex and time consuming decision making process.

And that is without any extra staff.

Senator Walters —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The honourable senator is reading his speech.

Senator VIGOR —I was quoting from a letter in the actual report.

Senator Georges —Mr Acting Deputy President, I wish to raise the same point of order. Even though Senator Vigor is reading from a letter at the moment, he was reading his speech. I think that, as a new senator, he ought to be reminded of standing order 406. I am not trying to put the honourable senator at any disadvantage but he would do better if he did not read the speech. He would be better to give his opinion off the cuff rather than reading some prepared material. I think the standing order ought to be upheld.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Jessop) —I draw your attention to that standing order, Senator Vigor. Senators are not permitted to read their speeches. They occasionally refer to copious notes. I draw your attention to that and ask you to proceed.

Senator VIGOR —Video classification has become a terribly heavy load on the Film Censorship Board. I believe that it is quite important that this material should be handled effectively for the community's sake. The material often contains a lot of very unreasonable material, including child pornography, bestiality, incitement to terrorism and the misuse of drugs. It is very important that, as well as looking at sexual pornography, we should have separate classifications for areas such as violence. As said previously by Senator Mason, we need to have a V classification to cover violent crimes which may be portrayed in films and to ban violence from being shown. In 1984 only 1.03 per cent of films which were put before the Board were rejected or refused classification.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Jessop) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.