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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1302

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. I ask him to comment on statements made by Ms Barbara Biggins, the chair of the film board of review, which indicate that the committee on violence in the media established by Mr Howard was looking at easy solutions. I quote from an article in today's Australian under the heading `V-chip only part of the solution' in which Ms Biggins is quoted as saying:

"The V-chip has been touted as a remedy by some but. . . it's very much a long-term and what I would call a middle-class solution for those able to buy a new set and to keep the control devices away from their kids who can probably program it far more easily,". . .

She is also quoted as saying:

"I'm certainly concerned about the statements they're making in the press that there is no evidence of a link between media violence and violence in society. . .

Could the minister comment? (Time expired)

Senator ALSTON —It is certainly correct to say that there are no simple solutions in this area. What I think is required is a mix of solutions—multi-level solutions. There can be no doubt that sociology and criminology are not exact sciences. I can understand people jumping to conclusions and saying, `Therefore, you haven't proved that there's a link.'

What I think can be said is that you certainly cannot prove that violence on cinema, video or other electronic forms causes any particular level of violence. But you can certainly say there are a number of ways in which violence can have a deleterious impact on certain groups. It is very easy to generalise and also very dangerous. We certainly do not take the view that there is no link between any violence on video and subsequent behaviour.

I think you also have to say it is a minefield if you are wanting to look at establishing those sorts of propositions on a balance of probabilities, because what research inevitably shows you is that certain violence may cause certain disturbed people to act in a particular way. Young people may be more affected than others. The converse of that, to any lawyer, is to say, `Yes, and they may not, either.' So you have to be very careful in interpreting that research.

The majority of studies conclude that there are a number of adverse effects from watching violence on television. It obviously de pends on the quantity, the frequency, the people who are watching it, the context in which that violence is portrayed. I certainly would not argue that V-chip technology is a single solution or even the most effective probable solution, any more than I would say that simply putting back violence on television until 9.30 p.m. is somehow the answer. There are a number of ways in which you can address the problem. In some respects it is a health problem. It may have a lot to do with people having a lot of time on their hands and wasting it, in effect, by trying to escape from the real world.

I can recall recently talking to a Supreme Court judge who said he had been presiding over a number of murder trials. He was very concerned that what we might call serial killers are found to be in possession of violent videos. He said that we do not ever have any evidence establishing any sort of a link but you have to ask yourself whether that might be a contributing factor. I think it may well be a contributing factor.

Senator Bob Collins —Whether they wouldn't be serial killers without it.

Senator ALSTON —We can have violence in this chamber, Bob, on a regular basis.

Senator Bob Collins —I am agreeing with what you are saying.

Senator ALSTON —I know you are. That is why I think in trying to tackle this problem in a sensible way we have to have regard for community expectations and not simply the extent to which you can demonstrate proven links. I have seen a number of extracts from what are generally regarded as the top 10 violent videos in the community. It seems to me that not many of them have got much going for them. In the same breath, I am very surprised that they seem to be remarkably popular. Maybe you blokes are watching far too much of it. If I could send you some Lion King clips, you might find that a lot more educational.

I say in conclusion that we will be looking at every aspect of this very important and complex issue. There are a number of potential ways forward. Certainly, there are some gaps in existing legislation. But no one should pretend for a moment there is any single solution, any more than they should pretend that the mix of solutions will deliver a dramatically better outcome. I doubt very much whether you can ever say that anything in society is caused by any particular event. What you can say is that, to the extent there is an unnecessary climate of violence and that that is not in the community's interests, we ought to be doing something sensible about it. The committee which will report to the Prime Minister by the end of June will be looking at all those matters. (Time expired)

Senator HARRADINE —I have a supplementary question. How could the Attorney-General get it so wrong when it was claimed that, on a study of violent computer games, there was no effect, when, as Ms Biggins points out, that was a study over a 10-year period of largely the Pacman video games, which are nothing like the type of video games that are available nowadays? Can you give the Senate a guarantee that people who may well be desensitised in the OFLC, people who may well be adopting the culture of deregulation in your own department, are not running the show? Can you give an undertaking to the Senate that you will hire competent people who are independent of those two groups so that you will be able to be given both independent and accurate advice? (Time expired)

Senator ALSTON —I can understand Senator Harradine's concerns because, quite clearly, you have to take account of changes in technology and the impact of new and ever-more violent forms of video presentation. What we may regard as violent in one year may not be regarded as violent five years later. That may itself be a very bad thing because it means the level of desensitisation has risen.

In your terms, perhaps, the principal culprit is the Institute of Criminology because they come up with some, I think, fairly waffly assessments on this issue. That may not be their fault in the sense that it is very difficult to actually get hard evidence on a number of these things.

Certainly, when it comes to video games the tentative evidence I have seen suggests that, because particularly young people realise that this is not a real life situation, they are more interested in the competition on the games than they are in the level of violence. Indeed, what I think seems to be more impactful on young people is news and current affairs, which they do recognise as real life. If they do see bodies being carted around, they think it can happen in their own backyard.(Time expired)