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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2739

Senator DURACK(6.03) —The only thing that I agree with in what Senator Collins has just said is that this debate is all about where one draws the line and, I might say, in what circumstances one draws the line. Apparently Senator Collins is opposed to X-rated material-that is, material which depicts explicit sexual acts-being permitted for public viewing in cinemas, but is prepared to allow private viewing of such material, on the ground that it may be harmful to his and other children. That is one of the main concerns of those who draw the line at a different place from where Senator Collins draws it. In being available in private homes, this material easily gets out of control and falls into the hands of those whom Senator Collins, on his own admission, wants to protect and in respect of whom he thinks censorship is justified.

Senator Zakharov —On those grounds he would ban alcohol.

Senator DURACK —We know that Senator Zakharov takes a much more liberal view of life than that which Senator Collins has been trying to portray. He tells us that he is a great liberal and that is why he is against censorship except in certain cases.

Senator Collins —Not a great liberal, just an ordinary liberal.

Senator DURACK —I am talking about a small `l' liberal. Senator Collins has just given us a speech about how liberal he is in the social, moral sense. This debate has never been about whether there should be censorship, despite what Senator Zakharov may believe. The substantial debate has been about where one draws the line.

Senator Zakharov —We all agree on that.

Senator DURACK —Again, I will not speak for Senator Zakharov. It is certainly not about whether we should have censorship. The vast majority of us agree that there has to be some censorship, which does change from time to time because of community standards. The question is where and on what basis one justifies censorship occurring. This is a very difficult question for people such as ourselves to decide in what is an emotive and politically charged atmosphere. In order to assist us to make the decision as to where the line should be drawn, the Senate referred this matter to a committee to see whether it was possible to get some guidance and help from experts, with scientific knowledge and experience of psychology in particular. It seems to me that the only justification for censorship in this area is whether viewing material of this kind-or hearing it-is or could be, on any reasonable grounds, harmful to other people. That is the test, and I would think that that is the test that Senator Collins adopted in the remarks that he has just made.

The purpose of going to a committee and getting an in-depth study and an expert opinion was to get some guidance on what sort of material is or may be harmful in certain circumstances. The scientific evidence that was received by the Joint Select Committee on Video Material may have differed, and certainly members of the Committee differed in their views of it, but authoritative and convincing scientific evidence was put before the Committee which pointed to the fact that, regardless of whether there is any violence or coercion in this type of material-namely, explicit depictions of sexual acts-the viewing of such material in some circumstances by some individuals could produce conduct which was harmful not only to those people but also to others. I think that what we should mostly be concerned about is not so much the effect of this material on the viewer but the behaviour which may result in certain circumstances from watching this material.

I have quoted the evidence from Professor Sheehan, a professor of psychology at Queensland University, a leading Australian psychologist who has been a member of the Films Board of Review for some years. He must be taken as an expert who can guide people such as us in coming to these very difficult decisions. I do not propose to read the evidence. I quoted some of it in my speech in the second reading debate. It is quite clear from Professor Sheehan's evidence that there is a real possibility of harmful effects occurring as a result of this material being available. Senator Walters's Regulation of Video Material Bill is simply designed to return the situation to what it was, before changes were made to the censorship laws a few years ago by the present Government. For the first time it allowed an X-rated classification for videos not for public viewing for people over 18 years of age. I find that a most extraordinary distinction for people to be drawing, as I have already indicated. For instance, does Senator Jenkins believe that it is all right to have this material in the home but it is not all right to allow people over the age of 18 years to go into a public cinema and view it? What is the difference? It is totally illogical.

I believe there is sufficient evidence for us, through this legislation, to change the situation brought about by fairly recent legislation which resulted in this particular category for application to videos only. That is the purpose of this legislation. If Senator Jenkins's amendment is carried, the whole purpose of this Bill will be completely destroyed and it will become a totally pointless exercise.