House debates

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008

Second Reading

10:45 am

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Families, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs and the Voluntary Sector) Share this | Hansard source

I am pleased to continue the contribution that I began last night on this important legislation, the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008. I had made a few remarks about the government’s proposals to restore the permit system in this legislation, and I will come back to that point in a moment. I had begun talking about the government’s watering down of the former government’s proposal to totally ban pornographic material from the remote Indigenous townships of the Northern Territory. The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in her second reading speech, said:

The 2007 legislation included prohibitions on the possession, control and supply in prescribed areas of pornographic material. This bill addresses a further area of concern expressed by Aboriginal people in the Little children are sacred report about R-rated material available through pay television subscription.

A casual reader of this second reading speech would think that this bill goes further than the legislation introduced into the parliament by the former government last year. In fact, this bill very significantly waters down the legislation introduced last year. The legislation introduced last year totally banned all pornographic material in the prescribed areas, including pay TV porn. This bill effectively allows pay TV porn. In fact, it overturns the former government’s restrictions on pay TV porn.

Let us return for a moment to the Little children are sacred report. The report made it very clear that pornography, including pay TV porn, was a very important contributor to the degradation of these townships. It said that pornography, including pay TV porn, was readily available to children and that exposure to pornography played an important role in ‘grooming’—that was the expression used in the report—children for inappropriate and unfortunate activities.

Unfortunately, this legislation puts a Clayton’s ban on pay TV porn, because pay TV porn will only be banned under this legislation if the community asks for a ban, if the minister thinks that a ban is in the public interest and if the pay TV porn channel comprises at least 35 per cent pornographic material.

There is another issue with this bill—and the office of the Leader of the Opposition has been pursuing this with the minister in question. It is a drafting issue—that is, whether the 35 per cent provision in this bill applies to a specific channel or to the entire service. If it applies to a specific channel then there is little doubt that pay TV porn channels would, at least, potentially be coverable by this legislation. But, if it applies to the entire service, no existing pay TV porn channel would in fact be covered by this legislation. So the legislation would be completely useless, as opposed to being merely utterly ineffective, in banning pay TV porn from these areas.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks yesterday, I believe that the government is sincere, notwithstanding the stated opposition of some of its members. I think the government at senior levels is sincere in wanting the intervention to work and in wanting to continue to prosecute the intervention. But this legislation is not the way to do it.

I now wish to return to the question of permits, given a recent development in this area. According to the minister’s second reading speech, once the bill is passed the government will ‘by means of a ministerial determination ensure that journalists can access communities for the purpose of reporting on events in communities’. In other words, under the restored permit system that the government is currently proposing, no journalist will be able to visit a remote Northern Territory township without an express ministerial permit.

I ask members opposite: do they really think it is acceptable to ban the media from wide swathes of our country, except on the issue of a ministerial permit? If a riot breaks out in, Wadeye, Port Keats, for instance, should coverage of those events be dependent upon the issuing of a ministerial permit? Even if the minister in question is totally committed to free speech and utterly committed to the widest possible journalistic access to what is happening in our country, what if the minister is out of the country? What if the minister is tied up with other matters? As we know, when events happen the media have to be there as quickly as possible. And, even though ministerial permits are to be given automatically, the fact is that the requirement for them means that there will be, in effect, a news blackout in these remote townships and that is just unacceptable.

I noted this morning in the Australian newspaper that the award-winning journalist Paul Toohey, who has personal experience in this area, has handed back his Walkley award because the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, formerly known as the Australian Journalists Association, has supported the requirement for ministerial permission before journalists have access to these remote townships. I will quote now not Mr Toohey but Mr Warren, the secretary of the union, who said the proposed code—and this is an AJA code meant to work in conjunction with ministerial approval of journalistic visits—was meant to be:

…situational, and attempts to take into account the particular cultural sensitivities presented when operating on Aboriginal land.

I know that Australian journalists are not the most sensitive of people. I know that sometimes they can go blundering—and they are a little bit like Australian politicians in that respect—but the fact is we have got to let them in. If our democracy is going to survive, we have got to let the media know what is happening because, I say in this chamber, evil thrives in darkness. It is precisely because the Australian people have not, by and large, known what has been going on in these remote townships that the terrible things revealed in the Little children are sacred report have tragically been flourishing. We have had too much sensitivity and not enough truth in this area and that is why this particular provision of the government’s legislation is so objectionable. I say again that I applaud the sincerity of the government in its support for the intervention. I respect the decency, compassion and goodwill of the minister. I know that the Prime Minister really meant it when he said in his First 100 Days booklet that one of the achievements of the government was the banning of pornography in the Northern Territory but, I do regret to say, that is not the effect of this legislation and I do ask members opposite, in the spirit of bipartisanship, to please think again.

I will be moving second reading amendments, and in the committee stage I will be moving some specific amendments to the legislation. I hope the government will consider those amendments, which I believe have been in circulation for some time now. If the government would like to talk to the opposition about a better way to of doing what the opposition has proposed then I would welcome that. If the government would like to take the amendments on notice and consider them in the Senate, I would be prepared to accept that. But what I will not accept, speaking on behalf of the opposition, is an unamended bill because, while the bill does reflect a government which wants to do the right thing, it does not actually do the right thing. In the end, it is the job of an opposition not to say ‘me too’ to whatever a government proposes but to be constructive and, where necessary, to point out the flaws in what the government is doing. That is what I hope I am doing today. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:“the House questions the approach reflected in this bill and:

(1)
calls on the Federal Government to impose a blanket ban on all pornographic material in prescribed areas;
(2)
calls on the Federal Government to prohibit the transport of pornographic material through any prescribed area; and
(3)
urges the Federal Government to leave in place the permit system amendments that have enabled access to public land.”

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