Attorneys-General, are you really up for reform?

[Update 22 July 2010: I failed to update my brain. The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General postponed their meeting thanks to the federal election. If only I’d re-read their website. Still, this means there’s now plenty of time to make the point.]

The other day, communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy called for a review of Refused Classification material online, something I called his “filter masterstroke”. With the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General due to meet in Perth tomorrow and Friday on 4 and 5 November 2010, I’m calling for them to review the whole classification system — not just online and not just RC.

Here’s what I just sent the NSW Attorney General, John Hatzistergos MLC (pictured):

The Hon John Hatzistergos MLC
Attorney-General of New South Wales
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001

Fax +61 2 9228 3600

Review of Refused Classification

Dear Minister,

As you will be aware, Senator Stephen Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has recommended that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General review that category of online content called Refused Classification.

I urge you and your fellow Attorneys-General to extend that into a full review of the classification system, not just for the internet but for all media.

In brief, Australia’s classification system is currently an inconsistent mess. I doubt that it accurately reflects the mature, tolerant and robust Australian community standards of the 21st Century. Simply put, such a review is long overdue.

Irene Graham has documented in detail the state of Refused Classification in Australia at and it is clear that over the years the RC category has been extended in an ad hoc manner to include material well beyond the governments’ original intentions — in many cases without reference to parliaments, let alone to the people.

Looking through the rest of Ms Graham’s site, it is clear that for the last decade, and perhaps longer, more attention has been given to the views of vocal minority groups rather than to the peer-reviewed social research that is available. This must change.

It is also clear that many decisions have been made on the basis of content being perceived as “offensive” to people’s tastes, rather than any demonstrable risk of harm. It simply is not the government’s place to legislate on matters of taste.

Finally, this is the age of media convergence. It is ridiculous to have different classification standards for the same video material, for example, depending on whether it is delivered via broadcast television, a DVD in a shop or via the internet.

In no way should any of this be seen as wishing to relax the laws relating to criminal material such as child abuse material. But that is a matter for criminal law, not classification.

If you require any further details, please do not hesitate to contact me.


cc: The Hon Carmel Tebbutt MP, Member for Marrickville

It’s all very last-minute, but I reckon a lot of phone calls, faxes and emails to your state Attorney-General wouldn’t go astray.

6 Replies to “Attorneys-General, are you really up for reform?”

  1. @Stilgherrian – The NSW State election won’t be until 2011 and it’s almost certain that John Hatzistergos will be the State Attorney-General at the SCAG meeting held in November – so your letter to him is still pertinent.

    According to Hansard John Hatzistergos has been told repeatedly in the New South Wales Parliament of the true situtation in New South Wales. I had lengthy correspondence with Peter Breen (former MLC) in 2004/2005 and the issue ended up in the Commonwealth Ombudman’s Department and is technically still an open issue.

    I also have letters from almost everybody involved in this fiasco including the Minister for Police in the New South Wales government – addressed to my [at that time] local Member of Parliament Jackie Kelly MP informing me that breaches of the Enforcement Act are taken seriously and that all reported breaches are dealt with.

    Shortly afterwards the police in Penrith discovered what were allegedly bestiality videos on sale in a local outlet along with videotapes (as they were then) of sexual violence – extreme breaches of not only the New South Wales Enforcement Act but also the Prohibited Import Regulations of the Customs Act.

    The last letter I received was from the former Federal Attorney General – Philip Ruddock denying almost everything he said on the issue in previous correspondence – leaving it to me to somehow come to terms with the issue.

    Peter Breen later founded the Human Rights Party but then joined Morris Iemma’s Australian Labor Party – but was either expelled or resigned from the ALP over a somewhat contentious book he wrote and published.

    At one stage John Hatzistergos described the sale of “X” rated videos as a very serious crime but when Peter Breen brought the matter to his attention all he could ask was “how much do they cost ?”

    In March 2010 Lee Rhiannon of the Greens asked how it is that that which is legal to own and purchase, and available in copious quantities in New South Wales (BTW the number of stores in Penrith increased after the 2005 raids, with the store that was no doubt carrying bestiality warning that anyone caught stealing would be reported to police and be taken “directly to jail”) could result in a jail sentence for those involved in selling it.

    We have a situation where a person intererested in viewing an RC film (often perfectly legal overseas) can either:-

    a) purchase locally and while being free from criminal prosecution expose the person selling the material to a jail sentence (as happened in Oxford Street earlier this year)


    b) take the risk of importing it and then having it seized by customs (it happens often) and if seeking to resolve the issue be threatened with criminal sanctions by Australian Customs.

    This not only involves matters such as explicit depictions of rape (and I mean explicit) returned to me in 2004 by officers of the Office of Film and Literature Classification – and ignored entirely by the New South Wales police but also art films such as Salo.

    I was told I shouldn’t purchase material from outlets but it isn’t illegal either to purchase or own them.

    BTW The chinese version of Salo (not registered on the IMDB) is still the most viewed video on the nocensorshipaus YouTube channel – currently over 163,000 views – many of them in San Marino, Italy and neighbouring countries.

    This edited version was from a .vob file on a $15 DVD purchased in George Street where copious quantities of RC and/or unclassified material are still on sale. I still have it and it doesn’t have the explanatory material required for the recent authorised release. None of it’s in English (only French and Italian) so I guess I’m safe.

    The issue has it’s roots in 1984 legislation which prohibited the sale of unclassified material – not “X” rated material which wasn’t formally made illegal until 1995/1996.

    I have made this point in the Australian Computer Society ELSIC list. From what I understand I may be a member of the ACS Community Engagement Board (formerly the ACS Community Affairs Board) although unlike ELSIC the membership isn’t listed on the ACS website only in correspondence sent to me. Regardless I still make contributions to the ACS ELSIC list – which some people both in Australia and overseas seem to appreciate.


    Oh I notice from STOTC (Mike Meloni’s blog) that L.A Zombie has been banned in Melbourne – something to do with leather, guns and dongs & multiple types of flesh eating too !

  2. Addendum: It should be noted that New Zealand is a “state” for the purposes of SCAG. It is the only state attending that permits an R18+ classification for games. They seemingly always send someone – but as they believe the other Australasian states are somewhat backward when it comes to censorship they tend to listen rather than contribute.

    Other territories without the status of “state” as defined in the Australian Constitution (New Zealand for instance) send observers.


  3. Update:

    Tweet of the day from the State Attorney General on R18+ computer games

    @AusTigerTank this matter has a long way to go. First no one has defined what any new category will include.

    34 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® in reply to AusTigerTank

    I hope you aren’t expecting a definitive reply to your question regarding “Refused Classification” material.


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