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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 1395

Mr WHITLAM - I ask a question of the Minister for Customs and Excise concerning material from Rhodesia which apparently has come into Australia in breach of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations which were amended in December 1968 to cover cinematograph films exposed and developed unless the Minister has given his consent in writing for the importation of those films. Did the Minister ever give his consent in writing for any such imports by the Rhodesian Information Centre? As the authenticity of the documents published in the 'Review' and the 'Age' and handed over to the Government has not been disputed by the Rhodesian Information Centre I ask him what action is being taken against the individuals concerned for their breaches of the Customs regulations revealed in this document. Lastly, since these documents relate to the period up to July last and since the March 1972 issue of 'Rhodesia Commentary' refers to 'new films on Rhodesia' being shown to a film night in Melbourne, will the Minister investigate whether there have been subsequent violations of the regulations he administers?

Mr CHIPP (HOTHAM, VICTORIA) (Minister for Customs and Excise) - Perhaps some background to this matter would be useful to the House so that, as the Government would hope, the matter could be looked at in its proper perspective. The matter was first raised in 2 newspapers some 10 days ago and, because those articles alleged that there were evasions of the Customs regulations, at that time I felt it was the duty of a responsible Minister to ask for an inquiry into and report on that allegation. This I did. The investigations indicated that there were on the premises of the Rhodesian Information Centre 5 films and a certain quantity of printed booklets, leaflets and material of this nature. After examination of them officers of my department came to the view that they appeared to be in breach of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, to which the honourable gentleman has referred. So that this matter can be looked at in its proper perspective, because it has virtually had national headlines and because the Leader of the Opposition thinks it is important enough to be the subject of his first question today after a break in the sitting of the House of Representatives, I believe the House is entitled to the information.

There were 5 films which my officers believed appeared to contravene the regulations. One film was entitled 'Trooping the Colour - a film of a colour trooping ceremony at which Mr Smith takes the salute'. The second film was one which I am sure would make every admirer of democracy shake with fear that it might destroy the foundations of our political structure. It was entitled 'Para-olympics 1968 - portraying the paraplegic games in Israel'. The third film was entitled 'Land of Legend - tourist promotional material produced for tourist bureaus, airlines etc.'. The fourth film was entitled 'Two Leaves and a Bud - a story of tea growing in Rhodesia'. The fifth film would make all good lovers of democracy grow pale. It was entitled 'Soccer'. It was a film of a soccer final in Salisbury. Because officers of my department believed that technically this material did breach the regulations relating to prohibited imports it was seized. The material other than films comprising printed booklets was of a similar tourist or information character. There is a law relating to this material and in the opinion of my officers this law was apparently transcended. Therefore, the documents were seized. There could be other courses open to me as Minister for Customs and Excise in this matter but because of the type of material the Government believes that the whole issue would be put completely out of perspective if any penalty were imposed on the people involved other than the seizure of the documents and films. The point at issue is: Has the law been evaded? In our view there has been some technical breach and we have taken action and seized the material. Surely when this matter of imported films on soccer and tea growing is related to the other local and international issues affecting the world today the only way in which this issue can be described is as a mammoth, king-size, grand imperial humbug.

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