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Regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising

CHAIR —Welcome. Please note that these meetings are formal proceedings of parliament. Everything should be factual and honest and it can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. This hearing is open to the public and is being broadcast live and a transcript of what is said will be placed on the committee’s website. Do any of you wish to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions?

Ms Gale —Kids Free 2B Kids is in alliance with the Australian Council on Children in the Media and supports the legislative and regulatory measures proposed in the ACCM’s submission. They cannot be here today. Kids Free 2B Kids raises awareness about the sexualisation of children. Direct sexualisation, as reported by the Australian Psychological Association, occurs when children are dressed in clothing and posed in ways designed to draw attention to adult sexual features that the children do not yet possess. Less obvious is indirect sexualisation, which occurs through the ubiquitous sexualised advertising and popular culture targeted at adults and this is the focus of the Kids Free 2B Kids submission. It remains a concern to us that the public is involuntarily exposed to billboard images and that children are held captive. There is no choice; children are bombarded with adult sexualised imagery. It is just plain wrong when advertisers assume that parents are afraid of talking or cannot talk about sex with their children or that they are hung up about sex or are hysterical moral panickers. This is a tired straw man argument.

In my experience, speaking with thousands of parents across the country, they want to be able to discuss their children’s naturally emerging sexuality and concepts of adult sexuality at age appropriate times. They do not want their children exposed to too much too soon. Children are forced to deal with adult concepts of sex and sexuality before they are psychologically and emotionally ready. We know from research and reports, from child development professionals and bodies such as the Australian Psychological Society and the American Psychological Association that this barrage of adult sexualised imagery is having a damaging effect on our young people. The jury is not out about this issue.

Many of the images displayed in the public domain would not be deemed acceptable in the work environment. Sexual harassment laws do not apply to the public arena. This is unacceptable. According to the Australian Council on Children and the Media, it is ironic that billboard and outdoor advertising is one of the least regulated forms of advertising under our legal system, considering that it is the hardest form for consumers to avoid if they object. We know from studies that sexualisation is linked to a rise in children and teens of anxiety, depression, body image problems, eating disorders, self-harm, poor academic performance and, increasingly, inappropriate child-on-child sexual behaviour.

I believe in previous sittings of this committee it has been suggested that the cost of independent regulation would be onerous to the community. It is worth considering figures sent to me by psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg from a recent government presentation. In Australia the cost per year for under-25s of mental illness is $10.6 billion, for suicide $7.5 billion, and for reduced wellbeing $20.5 billion. It is also worth noting that the ASB have never consulted and do not consult with relevant child development professionals when deliberating on complaints that are about children being exposed to sexualised imagery. Also, according to Child Wise and the Abused Child Trust, in 2006 the overall cost of reported child sexual abuse was calculated to be $2.58 billion per year, increasing every year. I have included the recommendations in the submission.

Ms Penovic —The Castan Centre in concerned with the promotion of human rights in Australia, and Australia is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is the most widely ratified of all international human rights instruments, with near universal ratification. I regard this inquiry as consistent with the actions of a government which is willing to meet its obligations under international law. Advertisers have a commercial interest in pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in order to draw attention to their products or services. Any observation of the nature of advertising in recent decades demonstrates this. The current regime of self-regulation advantages the interests of the advertiser over those of the wider community. A successful regulatory model must ensure that commercial interests do not undermine human rights.

The current regime has failed and in my view there are four main reasons for this failure. First, the AANA codes are inadequate. The AANA children’s code is limited to advertising targeted to children aged 14 years and under. There is a negligible amount of outdoor advertising which falls within this narrow code. Indeed, Ms Mattila this morning indicated that there were no complaints made under this code with respect to outdoor advertising, I think since January 2009. Ironically, a sexualised advertisement featuring a 15-year-old would fall outside the purview of that code. The Code of Ethics operates without regard to the developmental needs or best interests of children. The notion of ‘relevant audience’ as applied, for example, in section 2.3, dealing with sex, sexuality and nudity, is a misnomer. The audience obviously comprises the entire community, and this seems to be missed.

The second main problem is that the complaints procedure is flawed. Complaints under section 2.3 are determined without any consultation with child development professionals and without specific regard to parental concerns about the harms which Julie Gale has just discussed—harms which may emanate from cumulative exposure to this type of material. These harms have been chartered by professional organisations like the American Academy of Paediatrics and the Australian Psychological Society.

The third major flaw is that the complaints determination process marginalises the place of children in society. With respect to section 2.3, children are almost invisible. An examination of ASB determinations reveals that images and messages of a highly sexualised nature drawing on pornography have been considered acceptable. For example, nudity has been considered acceptable in circumstances where genitals are only partially exposed or concealed by strategic shadows, or where naked nipples are covered by stars. Such images may be acceptable to an audience comprising adults; they are unsuitable for an audience which includes children. They also remove from parents the ability to exercise control over their children’s access to age appropriate media.

While the process is structured and administered in a manner which offers little scope for successful complaints, the fourth major defect is the lack of real consequences which follow from successful complaints. When complaints are upheld, advertisers are still afforded sufficient time to get their message to a broad general audience. Even if, for example, the message is strongly suggestive of sexual violence, there are no sanctions applied, there are no enforcement mechanisms and public outrage may become a catalyst for further publicity. So it is the most extreme images and messages that may well generate the greatest commercial advantage.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to take positive action to protect children from harmful material. The best interests of the child is the paramount consideration in all actions concerning children. Because children are an audience for outdoor advertising, the regulation of outdoor advertising is an action which clearly concerns children yet has marginalised their interests. The convention calls on states to recognise and support the primary responsibility of parents in guiding the development of children in accordance with their evolving capacities and developmental needs—something that Julie Gale has also mentioned. Outdoor advertising impairs the ability of parents to make choices about disseminating age appropriate information in a manner conducive to the development of children’s normal sexuality and healthy self-image. In supporting the role of parents with reference to children’s best interests, an effective regulatory regime is required.

Ms McGavin —I will be very brief with a few points we would like to make. The first is that there has been a growing soft-pornification of society which has seeped through from that industry generally, and therefore the context in which outdoor advertising is now perceived has changed quite significantly. The second point is the fact that children are not able to consent to seeing these images. Dealing with children in any other form—when you have a child as a ward of the state or whatever—there are a whole range of regulations around protecting the child’s rights because they cannot consent, yet here they are exposed to something we know is damaging. The research is in no doubt at this stage. We know the damage it does. We need the will now to do something about that. We also think that this is a human rights issue for children and we have made some comments in other submissions about a Commonwealth commissioner where there is no-one advocating for children who have no voice.

In our experience working with disadvantaged children who may not have a context in which to put these images, their behaviours can escalate in ways that they do not for children who have other female role models or other contexts in which to measure this. We are particularly concerned about disadvantaged children and girls whose behaviour can escalate and get them into all sorts of difficulty. We also feel that, at this stage, self-regulation has not worked. It is very difficult to police yourself, as we know on a personal level let alone any other level, but we would certainly urge that real teeth are given to change the regulation of this.

Mrs Francis —I am going to talk on behalf of Rob and myself. This argument is not new. There has been growing community outrage about billboard advertising over a number of years that I know of. Out of sheer frustration I started a Facebook group in March last year. Within two weeks there were 5,000 members in that group and it has continued to grow, and that then got media attention. We started the ‘Outdoor advertising should be G rated’ group. These are now stickers but they were a billboard. That billboard ad was denied permission to go up twice because the message was against their other advertisers. We had a hard time getting that billboard up, but we finally did. Chris Tyquin from GOA refused the business completely. APN finally agreed after initially refusing to do so, but that was from community pressure.

I would like to table a letter that I have from Brisbane Grammar School, if I can. This is the sign on the Brisbane Grammar School and this is the start of a very large billboard that was up for about three months last year on the Normanby. That is the entrance where they walk to school. So that was the billboard and you can see that that is the Brisbane boys grammar school. That billboard mysteriously disappeared—

CHAIR —This is in your submission?

Mrs Francis —No, this is something new.

CHAIR —Okay, I thought I had all those photos—

Mrs Francis —You do, but I was just going to say that this billboard mysteriously disappeared. It is now up, 500 metres from the school. It was put up this weekend, so that is why it is new. That billboard, while it was moved from the school fence, is now 500 metres from the school.

On the Children’s Safety Australia website there is a quote that says:

Suspicious people: children should be made aware of what to do if they see someone acting suspiciously that may cause them to feel unsafe, including observations they should make, who to report to, and when.

So I would ask: when they see a nude man in the street what are they to think? Are they to think that is something suspicious? Or are they to think that mummy wants a cup of tea? I would say that we would want them to think that a nude man on the street would make them feel unsafe, not that a cup of tea is required, and in real life that man would actually be arrested. The Eros Foundation would say that we, on this side of the table, are using shrill and righteous rhetoric to drive our arguments rather than fact or logic—that is in their submission. They also say religious campaigns to rid the highways of filth and pornography reflect cultish behaviour and attract slightly unhinged people to them—

CHAIR —With respect, Mrs Francis, we are happy to take their submissions, but we are interested in your submission.

Mrs Francis —I know Julie’s work, and to say that our arguments do not have fact and logic is quite offensive.

Mr NEUMANN —Mrs Francis, how would you determine the G rating and who would do this?

Mrs Francis —We have G rating on TV so there is a system in place. For me the G rating would be sex, language and violence. So if a billboard depicts sex, violence or bad language then I do not think it is G rated and I do not think it belongs with that rating. I guess the only exception to that would be if it was educational and there was something violent depicted against smoking or drinking, but even then I think we have to be really careful.

Mr NEUMANN —Who would actually do it—the Office of Film and Literature Classification?

Mrs Francis —I believe that there would be a classification system set up. We want there to be a further thing from here to set up a classification system, but then the billboard owners themselves would have to comply to that classification.

Mr Ward —If I could comment briefly on that question, there is a push by some members of the government towards self-regulation, even in the area of film and literature. That is very troubling. I think that the evidence of the brokenness of this system shows that self-regulation does not work. There is a line that says what is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with this picture when nearly all of the complaints that go to the ASB are rejected? A board that is funded by the organisation it is supposed to police can never be unbiased.

CHAIR —I think you might already be making submissions to the Senate inquiry that is looking at classification more generally.

Ms ROWLAND —Following on from that, Ms Gale, one of your recommendations is screening and prevetting of billboards before they go into the public space. Who do you think would do this? And the second part of my question is: we are looking at whether the existing self-regulatory system is adequate, and I would like to get from you a sense, from the other end of the spectrum, of what legislative change—as opposed to the existing self-regulatory scheme—do you believe would be desirable?

Ms Gale —I believe there is no capacity for prevetting at the moment and as a lot of other people say, an independent regulatory body needs to be—

Ms ROWLAND —And do you think that would be a statutory body?

Ms Gale —Yes,  I do.

Ms ROWLAND —Does anybody have an idea of what existing body you think could do that?

Mr NEUMANN —We have had evidence about the ACCC.

Ms Gale —The system for me is so flawed that I cannot even look to see where I would  relegate that job to at this point.

Ms Penovic —I think there is not necessarily one right answer. The Classification Board obviously has expertise in that area, but there is a Senate inquiry that is still under way on a proposed children’s commissioner. A children’s commissioner among its tasks could deal with this issue quite comfortably. The Classification Board is more obviously a possible solution because it has existed for a long time and it is in the business of classification. But I see no reason why a children’s commissioner could not also serve that purpose.

CHAIR —So that would be self-funded in a way, because that seems to be the model used by the Classification Board—the user pays, basically.

Ms Penovic —To get the classification, yes.

Mrs MOYLAN —I just wondered if the ACL had registered complaints with the ASB, what were the nature of those and what was the upshot for the public hearing?

Mrs Francis —Tirelessly I have registered complaints and I have never had one complaint upheld.

Mrs MOYLAN —Can you just tell us the nature and then the process that you took and what happened. Just give us a couple of examples.

Mrs Francis —Sure. All of these I have complained about—everything is in my submission. What I have done is I have gone to the website and followed the protocols. I have gone to the website like anyone else.

Mrs MOYLAN —What did that cost you to register a complaint?

Mrs Francis —It did not cost me at all. But when they said, ‘Sorry, your complaint has not been upheld,’ if you wanted to have a review of that then you had to pay money, which I just could not believe.

Mrs MOYLAN —So this was just one particular matter that you complained about?

Mrs Francis —This was one matter that I complained about. I complained about this. The school principal complained about this. The school principal is from the Brisbane boys grammar school; it is a really prestigious school.

Mrs MOYLAN —So what happened? You complained about it, the school complained about it, then what happened from there?

Mrs Francis —What we receive is a letter—sometimes it is a letter posted in the mail; more often than not it is an email—just outlining the process that they have gone through and why the complaint has not been upheld.

Mrs MOYLAN —And what did they say in relation to the one posted on the school?

Mrs Francis —They felt that it did not go against community standards.

Mrs MOYLAN —Not that one—

CHAIR —The Love and Rockets. Is it a nightclub or a brothel?

Mrs Francis —It is a strip club.

Mrs MOYLAN —And what reasons did they give for that?

Mrs Francis —The only reason that they quote is that it is not against community standards, but then I contacted the Outdoor Media Association because I just felt outraged, particularly about the school one. There are also the bus shelters outside Brisbane Boys College and a number of the major schools, and the bus shelters have outrageous sexualised images on them. The boys sit at those bus stops waiting for their bus, so I complained about those as well.

Mrs MOYLAN —Who owns the bus stops?

Mrs Francis —That is a really interesting question because the correspondence that I have included in my submission shows that nobody will take ownership of those bus shelter ads. I complained to the Advertising Standards Bureau and they said that it was not under their jurisdiction.

Mrs MOYLAN —Who builds the bus shelters, do you know?

Mrs Francis —I think it would be the Brisbane City Council.

Ms ROWLAND —Councils usually do, and I only know this, Mrs Moylan, because I used to be in this position, but on Blacktown Council, for example, we then subcontracted them to a private company to take charge of the advertising. So it is actually a very difficult—

Mrs Francis —Yes, it is a slippery one. I contacted the Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman—

CHAIR —Former Lord Mayor.

Mrs Francis —Yes, former Lord Mayor—and in one instance he actually did ask the advertising people, but he sent me a letter saying he would not be able to do that again because it was not under his jurisdiction and that it was totally with the Advertising Standards Bureau. So I contacted them back again and then they did send me back a letter saying that they had dismissed the complaint.

CHAIR —In that it did not breach their Code of Ethics?

Mrs Francis —In the bus shelters, yes.

CHAIR —Ms Penovic, in your submission you say that an analysis of the complaints determined by the ASB raises concerns that children’s interests have been accorded insufficient weight. Would you like to expand on that a bit and maybe give some particular examples?

Ms Penovic —I gave three examples in my opening submission. It seems that under section 2.3, so dealing with sex, sexuality and nudity, the harm that may emanate to kids from cumulative exposure to this kind of material is dismissed; parental concerns are readily dismissed. The appropriate audience seems to have melded with the target audience—it seems to be this amorphous mass of adults who are receptive to images and messages about sexual content that are inappropriate for children. There is no analysis of research. There is no consultation with children’s health professionals. Children are marginalised, they are invisible in the process. The children’s code is just not relevant here; it is so narrow it just does not apply to the kind of outdoor advertising we are talking about here—outdoor advertising that has explicitly sexual content.

CHAIR —The AANA Code of Ethics says that it ‘shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience’. Your suggestion, Mrs Francis, is that, because school students will be at that bus shelter, the relevant audience is not the blokes going drunk up to the strip club; it is everyone who sees the advertisement.

Mrs Francis —I am sure they place these advertisements so that the boys, as soon as they leave school, will want to go to naughty bars. It is absolutely strategically placed.

Mr Ward —You do not think that they are doing it by accident, that they accidentally put the advertisements next to the boys school?

Mrs Francis —No.

Ms SMYTH —Just following on from that point, Ms Penovic, I am looking at the last paragraph in the Castan Centre’s submission, where it goes on to talk about the best interests of the child. I gather that you are making a reference to 17(e) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is that slippery slope in prescribing things that the state has an interest in and ensuring that children have appropriate expectations in terms of their sexuality or body image. I suppose for me it is always a question of stopping short of prescribing a type of morality. Are there any instances around the world of states encountering similar questions? Maybe you could elaborate on the point you are making there.

Ms Penovic —We can take a comparative approach and look at other countries around the world. I will make mention briefly of the Eros Association. I was rather amused by the fact that they suggested that Australia should keep up with the standards applied in South Africa. There was an example of a Sexpo ad that generated no complaints. I might add that South Africa has, per capita, the highest rate of rape in the world, including child rape, and surveys have revealed alarming attitudes towards sexual assault in that country. This is not because of billboards, but billboards obviously play a part in forming societal attitudes. So I think we are better off looking elsewhere. An example of a rights-respecting nation, which has had a bill of rights since 1960 and a constitutional charter of rights since 1982, is Canada—a country not that different form ours and a country that has fairly strict guidelines with respect to gender portrayal and these kinds of issues. I think that is no accident. I think that is a result of the rights-respecting culture in that nation.

Mr NEUMANN —I was impressed by all your submissions. They were very detailed. In the Castan submission, the fourth point was the lack of consequences in the self-regulation. I wrote down ‘to uphold complaints’. Can you talk about what you would see in your Utopian, new Valhalla, new Jerusalem situation, where you have got this new system that you have set up, would be the way we should go in terms of sanctions and penalties or the procedures at that end? What are the consequences to the advertisers?

Ms Penovic —I think that under a system of prevetting, those consequences are going to be rare to begin with, because I think you need effective regulation at the beginning.

Mr NEUMANN —Who does the prevetting?

Ms Penovic —The Classification Board, the children’s commissioner or another statutory body.

Mr NEUMANN —If they slip through?

Ms Penovic —If they slip through, I think that sanctions, in the order of fines, may be appropriate. There need to be teeth, and there just are not at the moment. I hasten to add that I depart from the view of some of my companions here with respect to the classification. We are an organisation of lawyers, not classification experts, but my view about the G rating is that the G rating may take our system from one extreme to another. The reason I say this is that it may exclude advertising that is in the public interest. I know that the Advanced Medical Institute would say that they are about sex education, and I think any intelligent person here at this table knows they are not.

Mr NEUMANN —They are making money.

Ms Penovic —I am talking about real sex education, real public health education sponsored by the Australian government. On the train on the way here I saw an ad sponsored by the Australian government for ecstasy and it showed what was contained within an ecstasy tablet. It was a rather unappealing image. I wonder whether a G rating may exclude that kind of material; that kind of material is clearly in the public interest. A PG rating was my suggested yardstick, although we may need a new system of classification with respect to this kind of advertising.

CHAIR —More a G rating with a public interest.

Ms Penovic —Yes.

Mr NEUMANN —The Australian Christian Lobby agree with your assessment and I think you, too, Ms Gale, that if these billboards were placed in a locker or a workplace they would amount to sexual harassment. Should we look at replicating the same sorts of responses in relation to billboard advertising as we see given to those persons who have engaged in that sort of behaviour in the workplace? I mean there are all kinds of things and consequences can flow in terms of discrimination, dismissal and damages.

Ms Penovic —You can get an enforceable federal court judgment.

Mr NEUMANN —Is that what we should do? Because you are all singing from the same hymn sheet on that point.

Ms Gale —Then the Code of Ethics has to be completely rewritten. They are so broad and that is why everything gets through. We have a board that is opinion based and majority rules and so it would be very difficult to determine what sexual harassment is under those rules.

Mrs MOYLAN —You made the point there about the board. In terms of the suggestion that prevetting may address the concerns, we seem to run into the same problems with the censorship board. I know my electorate gets complaints from time to time about the censorship process for films and television, so I am not quite sure. I am just concerned about the effectiveness of that process, whether we need to strengthen the code or whether we do need a prevetting system. Would you like to comment on that?

Ms Gale —Both issues need to be addressed. You cannot have one without the other.

Mrs MOYLAN —Do you think that the current censorship arrangements work for film and television? Are you confident that that same system will address some of your concerns with billboard advertising?

Ms Gale —No, I am not confident. There is a Senate inquiry into the classification system at the moment and I have a lot of grievances about the current system. But, again, I think that we need to have new conversations about what will work.

CHAIR —Just going back to that whole idea—and this is a question to all of you, I guess; I am probably playing the devil’s advocate—but young people today, generation Z, say, born after 1995, have the internet. People who are aged 11, 12, 13 years old grew up with the internet. The internet is obviously a tool designed to spread information. One thing it seems to be particularly focused on is porn and distributes that throughout the world. So they have grown up with people trying to trick them and trap them, with banners and dating ads and all those sorts of things. Surely, billboards are the least of our concerns? These are the kids who have access to a world of porn on their iPhone—I do not know how old they have to be to get an iPhone—when they are 10, 11, 12, 13 years old.

Ms Gale —Parents have a role in being able to restrict what kids see and view. They have a role.

CHAIR —But if you try to put that kid in cotton wool—

Ms Gale —I do not think any of us are advocating that, but I think the message that is in the public is that we as a community validate this message.

CHAIR —But their public is in their iPhone—

Ms Gale —Yes, but they are not held captive and they are not involuntarily exposed necessarily.

Ms Penovic —The parental role is a complex role. It entails exercising some control over that. Some people do a better job than others. But parents have no control over the outdoor environment and, as these images proliferate, they feed into what the perceived community standard is, which may be very different from the actual community standard. I think the argument: ‘Well, it’s ubiquitous, anyway; it’s in other media, so why shouldn’t we accept it in outdoor advertising?’ is erroneous. In all of those other environments, parents are able to control and guide their children in some ways, and we know that the government has had a big project in terms of internet filters and has had a debate around that. But that is because, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, parents have a primary role in guiding the development of their children. It is a complex role, in which most parents try to do their best—

CHAIR —It has nothing to do with G rating. I mean, there is no suggestion that the government is going to censor the internet such that we only see G rated material—

Ms Penovic —No, it is impossible, but it is about assisting parents in their role.

Mrs Francis —Children have a right to their innocence. My six-year-old grandchild asked me, ‘What is a condom?’ I just think that is unfair. It is unfair that a six-year-old has to even sit in the car and sound that out. Why does she have to know what a condom is when she is six years old? It is not fair.

Mr NEUMANN —Is it because, to use your words, we cannot switch it off or shut it down? That is why outdoor advertising is in a privileged position. Is that what you are saying?

Mrs Francis —Yes.

Mr NEUMANN —So there should be a special category in terms of looking at that, because parents and grandparents have no control.

Ms McGavin —In the same way, you cannot consent, children cannot consent and parents cannot give permission, because it is always pervasive and you cannot miss it.

Mr NEUMANN —It is not a matter of infringement of civil liberties; it is a matter of protecting children because of those things.

Ms Penovic —Yes. The internet is a different beast and one that we all know is quite difficult to control. But if we think about the classification that applies to television in time zones, outdoor advertising is an area that has operated without classification, without effective vetting, and yet we have absolutely no control over it. We have more control over television and we have more protection, so this is a real lacuna in regulation.

Mr Ward —Your comments about children being internet savvy is certainly right. If you want to know how to drive a DVD player, ask a four-year-old. But, on the other hand, the point about billboards not being able to be switched off is really the key. Children are learning to protect themselves online; there is more effort being put into that by the government. I think Ms Gale, or somebody, made a comment about strengthening the role of parents. You cannot leave children by themselves. The responsibility lies with parents and with our wider society to do things to protect children and certainly coming up with a G rating for billboards is a step in the right direction.

CHAIR —Just going on to that, in terms of your submission, Ms McGavin, you recommend much clearer mandatory guidelines on excluding sexualised images that impact the development and self-images of girls and women. What do you think should be contained in these sorts of guidelines?

Ms McGavin —I think it is very much that old-fashioned notion, of girls in particular, of the male gaze and I do not think there is any question about what that is and there is plenty of evidence and information about what is normal and healthy. From our point of view, we would actually like to see any image that objectifies or takes away that whole range of personality and personhood as part of that regulatory framework.

CHAIR —Say that again? Their personality and—

Ms McGavin —Yes, their personality and personhood.

CHAIR —So they are just a body—

Ms McGavin —They are just a body and valued only for that. We are particularly interested in disadvantaged children who may not have a mother who is an accountant with a really strong normalised image. The images that become normalised for disadvantaged children are those that they are exposed to about image.

Mr NEUMANN —I know that the other people here would think that a prevetting system of some description would be an advantage. Does the Salvation Army think that as well?

Ms McGavin —For us, to stop children being exposed at all, if it starts at that prevetting stage, you would hope that that would therefore mean there would be less getting out there slipping through to the keeper if that stage was done carefully enough. Quite frankly, the system does not matter so much from our point of view, as long as it happens. As long as we get these images out of the public space and prevent the damage that they then do—

CHAIR —So you would not have a problem with self-regulation if self-regulation lifted the bar or did not lower its standards.

Ms McGavin —Not necessarily, but it seems to us that there are very few self-regulatory bodies that actually work in any field.

CHAIR —Most church law was based on that.

Ms McGavin —And we have got issues with some of that too, but we will not go there. If a very strong children’s commissioner had a very strong capacity to do something at that vetting stage and if there were very strong sanctions and very hefty fines et cetera perhaps that would work, but I am a little bit dubious about self-regulation.

CHAIR —But philosophically you want the outcome?

Ms McGavin —We want the outcome. We do not pretend to have the expertise in that area, either.

CHAIR —Ms Penovic, you mentioned the Canadian guidelines for portrayal of gender. Is it binding?

Ms Penovic —It is a self-regulatory system, I understand it is a mandatory code, but it is administered—

CHAIR —Do you know the stick? What is the stick they use?

Ms Penovic —I am not familiar with that, no.

CHAIR —Okay, we will have a look at that.

Mr NEUMANN —I asked a lot of questions this morning about the independent review process. As a lawyer representing a group of lawyers, can you comment in relation to your observation of that?

Ms Penovic —My observation is that it is not transparent. It does not comply with principles of administrative law. It is self-serving, as is the self-regulatory system in its entirety at present. Can I put it more strongly than that? It does not comply with principles of natural justice.

CHAIR —The organisation Kids Free 2B Kids states that groups such as themselves have done more to educate the public about the complaints system than the ASB. Can you elaborate on this comment? And how would you recommend that the ASB educate the public about the complaints process, taking on board what you said, Mrs Francis, that it is not always a fruitful gully to go down.

Ms Gale —When I first started raising awareness about this issue in early 2007 and started speaking to groups, I noted that people would say, ‘Well, where do we complain and who do we complain to and how can we complain?’  It was so common and it is still relatively common, although I think a lot more people know that it is important. People did not even think that complaining would make a difference: ‘What can I do? What can little old me do?’ So I have been educating people that it is a reactionary system and absolutely nothing will be done unless one person complains. It is part of my awareness-raising process to let people know that they should complain and they must complain. It may not make a difference but it is an important process, given the way it stands at the moment.

CHAIR —If you do not speak up, nothing will happen?

Ms Gale —Often nothing will happen. The ASB have always used the excuse: ‘But there aren’t many people complaining, so obviously there are no problems.’ That is their excuse. I think they need to hear more from the community. Now, of course, they are hearing more and more from child development professionals and children’s advocates and they cannot use the excuse that it is a moral panic anymore. When it comes to sex and sexuality I know they have found through internal research that they have been out of touch with community standards.

CHAIR —You have read their own reports?

Ms Gale —Yes.

Mr Ward —This is a closing comment and something that is worth saying: sometimes the opposition to this inquiry and the concepts that you are discussing here today are framed around the fact this is just a religious issue. It is not a religious issue. Certainly, religious people may speak up, but certainly they have got a right like everybody else. The evidence is clear that—

CHAIR —You do not agree with the Eros Foundation’s suggestion that you need to have one per cent of viewers before you reach the trigger point?

Mr Ward —I would rebel against their suggestion that we need more filth and pornography. I guess the point is that the Minister for Home Affairs talked recently about not wanting to employ an army of censors and I understand that. We actually have an army of censors; they are called the general public and they are not happy that their views are being ignored. I congratulate this committee on actually existing. Hopefully, you will be able to do something about it.  

Ms Penovic —Can I just add a comment. Mention  was made in one of the previous sessions about the Australian Children’s Television Standards and the lack of advertising in certain time slots on the basis that children cannot distinguish content from advertising. I think that is something to bear in mind, particularly when we are thinking about very young children being exposed to overtly sexual content. That is something that seems to be ignored in the current system.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for taking the time to appear today and for your detailed submissions.

Proceedings suspended from 12.31 pm to 1.21 pm