House debates

Thursday, 20 March 2008

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

Second Reading

11:58 am

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support the amendment to the bill, put forward by the member for Warringah, to impose a blanket ban on all pornographic material, to prohibit transport of that material and to leave in place the removal of the permit system. As the title suggests, the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008 relates to an emergency response. In considering this bill, we must not lose sight of the urgency that attached to the initial measures which this bill seeks to amend. Some months later, some can lose sight of the urgency: the shock, the dismay, the tragedy that triggered this emergency response. Some can retreat into previous positions—positions they were unable to credibly sustain at the time that these measures were first introduced. The Australian community reached the point where there was universal recognition that previous efforts had failed, that it was time to take a new approach to provide an emergency response. What we have in this bill is a cooling off by the government on their sense of urgency on these matters. We have a retreat and a revision from the government, rather than the resolve that is needed to follow through.

The government’s representations on its actions in this bill are deceitful, more Ruddspeak from a government convinced of its ability to hypnotise the Australian public. In announcing the introduction of this bill, the government presented itself as ‘cracking down on the exposure of R-rated material to children’. In the minister’s media statement on 21 February, she proclaims:

The Bill addresses concerns expressed by Indigenous people to the Little Children are Sacred inquiry about exposure of children to R-rated material available on pay television.

On 5 March, the truth of this matter began to be revealed. On that day, the Australian reported the comments by the member for Warringah that what was actually being offered in this bill was not a championing of the Little children are sacred report or the next bold step in the Northern Territory intervention but, as the member for Warringah was reported as saying, Labor ‘going soft on the trafficking of pornography’. In relation to this bill, the member for Warringah was further reported to say that ‘this was never previously articulated by Labor and watered down the bans introduced last year’.

The government has been selective with the truth on this matter. In this case, the devil of this bill is truly and literally in the detail of it. In clause 16, we read the government’s changes to provisions relating to the declaration of prescribed areas. This measure previously defined prescribed areas where a blanket ban on pornographic material should be applied in Indigenous communities on an absolute basis—no exceptions, no discussions; a clear and uncompromising ban on pornography in these areas. This was a tough but necessary measure as part of an emergency response to break the hold of this evil influence on our Indigenous communities.

However, in this bill we learn that, in the case of cable television, communities will not be protected from pornography as of right. We learn that under this bill the provisions for cable porn have been watered down. They have been compromised. Under the government’s proposals, the community must now agree to accept these restrictions before they can be imposed. In other words, this government is happy to legislate a veto power to give Indigenous communities access to porn whenever they want it, and it has the front to pitch this to the Australian community as cracking down—the next step—and as protecting children. It may be the government’s next step, but it is not a forward step in the way that it is currently drafted. This government has come to this place demanding the right for Indigenous communities to have access to pornography. That is what the bill is doing. However the government may seek to dress it up, that is what the government is doing.

We strongly support and encourage measures that enable pay television pornography to be restricted in Indigenous communities. It is the next step. It is the unfinished business that must be undertaken. But, in the same action, by changing the process for defining how a community is to be protected, to make such protection discretionary is a seriously retrograde step, a classic case of one step forward and three steps back.

This bill sets out criteria by which an Indigenous community’s right to porn can be upheld. It says the minister must have regard to the wellbeing of people living in the area—as if access to pornography could actually add to that wellbeing. The minister must have regard to whether there is reason to believe people in the area have expressed concerns about being victims of violence or sexual abuse in the past 12 months or expressed concerns about the risk—placing the onus of proof on the abused and the vulnerable. The minister must have regard to whether there is reason to believe that children living in the area have seen R18 programs during the past 12 months—giving the benefit of the doubt to those who want the porn, rather than the children who may become exposed to that porn. And the minister must have regard to the extent to which people, in particular, women and children living in the area, have, during the past 12 months, expressed the view that wellbeing will be improved if R18+ programs are not providedagain, placing the onus on the abused to speak out to state the obvious about why they should be protected.

The simple question must be asked: why should such considerations and questions even be necessary? On what possible basis can the government walk into this place, parading as moral crusaders for Aboriginal people, and make a case for such issues to be considered? Why are the government seeking to provide a backstop measure to keep pornography in Aboriginal communities? Furthermore, why are they making it harder for those most vulnerable to the impacts of this evil trade, the women and children who suffer at the hands of abusers, who have also become victims of this insidious material—to keep the porn in Indigenous communities?

Last weekend, in the Good Weekend magazine, there was an insightful article that I refer members to. It referred to the victimisation of Indigenous women powerless to speak up about the abuse that takes place in these communities. The article recounted the following testimony:

A non-indigenous Wik Mungkan speaker told me how a few years ago she was flown to a Cairns court to interpret for a girl who’d been dragged around the community and raped multiple times. In court the girl clammed up, the case was dismissed, and the girl and her assailant flew home to Aurukun on the same plane. “So much goes unreported because of the threats, the price you pay if you tell. There is real fear,” she said.

In this parliament, we must be the voice of the voiceless. The voiceless women and children in Indigenous communities are saying, ‘Remove this poison from our communities.’ They should not be forced to make their case, as this bill requires. They should not have to run the risk of further abuse to make their point. They should expect the protection of this parliament. They should expect that this government should do what it promised—support the Northern Territory intervention, and the spirit of that intervention, not water it down as it seeks to do with the measures outlined in this bill.

Only a month ago, we stood in this place and, rightly, provided a profound and heartfelt apology to Indigenous Australians. On that occasion, the Leader of the Opposition rightly stood here and reminded the House of the prevalence of sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, and he was derided for doing so. The actions of the government in this bill show that the Leader of the Opposition was right on the money. We cannot allow ourselves on any occasion to enter into a sense of denial about the reality of these issues. It was the stark reality of these issues that so effectively prompted the government into the emergency response actions that were the original subject matter of the laws this bill now seeks to amend. So today I remind the House of the comments by the Leader of the Opposition, lest we forget as we consider these matters. He said:

… sexual abuse of Aboriginal children was found in every one of the 45 Northern Territory communities surveyed for the Little children are sacred report. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, driving the Howard government’s decision to intervene with a suite of dramatically radical welfare, health and policing initiatives … the Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor, Nanette Rogers, with great courage, revealed to the nation in 2006 the case of a four-year-old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol. She told us of the two children, one a baby, sexually assaulted by two men while their mothers were drinking alcohol. Another baby was stabbed by a man trying to kill her mother. So too a 10-year-old girl was gang-raped in Aurukun, the offenders going free, barely punished. A boy was raped in another community by other children. Is this not an emergency, the most disturbing part of it being its endemic nature and Australia’s apparent desensitisation to it?

Yet it seems that these reminders are not enough. Within weeks we have a bill reopening the door for pornography to be let back into Indigenous communities. Increasingly, the studies reveal the link between pornography and abusive sexual behaviour, reinforcing rape myths and desensitising human responses to aggressive sexual behaviour. But, seriously, do we need the research to state what is obvious? I make these comments not to judge, not to moralise, but simply to warn. Pornography is a seductive and evil influence on our community, not just in Indigenous communities. None of us are immune from its ability to entice and negatively affect the health of our own sexuality. It has been a scourge on the lives of millions of human beings the world over, particularly men. It has destroyed lives, marriages and families. It has exploited our daughters, our sisters and our mothers. It is the enemy of our community. This may be a permissive and free society, but such freedoms are no substitute for virtues that underpin healthy families and strong communities—virtues that should be equally protected in this place.

Those opposite may argue that they are seeking only to consult, with the provisions contained in this bill, and that such a requirement is a necessary and virtuous addition to the emergency measures. But such an argument completely misses the point. We are talking about pornography that is contributing to abusive criminal behaviour, and the government wants to have a chat—a chat! The original measures understood what was required. This bill, sadly, however well intentioned the member for Warringah suggested the government may have been on this matter, does not do this. The government would rather appeal, I believe, to the political correctness that has enslaved Indigenous communities than protect the women and children who have the most to lose from the government’s spinelessness on this issue as portrayed in this bill.

We are living in a post-apology world. What took place in this place some weeks ago fundamentally changed the nature of this debate and how we go forward—and, more importantly, what happens practically on the ground and how we respond to that. We are now dealing with the cold reality of the present and the fragility of the future faced by women and children in Indigenous communities. The time for symbols and rhetoric has passed. These women and children should not have to make their case for porn to be excluded from their communities; they should receive that protection as of right.

There should be a blanket ban on pornography in these communities in relation to pay TV—no ifs, no buts. There should be a total prohibition on the transport of such material through prescribed areas—no compromises. There must be a guarantee that the consultation measures outlined in this bill are not a precursor to a further watering down of measures relating to other forms of pornography prohibited in the original bill. I would hate to think that this is some thin end of the wedge. I would hate to think that, and I am not necessarily suggesting it. But if this is the path we are going down, where we are going to now provide serial rights of veto on these important and quite strict measures, then I am seriously concerned for the welfare of those Australians living in these communities. I seek an absolute guarantee from those opposite that this will not be repeated in relation to any other measures—and, in fact, that they would withdraw such a requirement as currently proposed in this bill, as suggested by the member for Warringah.

The bill must also provide, as the member for Murray said, greater clarity on the 35 per cent rule regarding content. This rule should, firstly, ensure a higher benchmark than the current 35 per cent. But, secondly, it must be crystal clear that it applies on a channel-by-channel basis, not as a percentage of the entire package. These things are unclear as currently drafted. They must be made clear, particularly as it is outlined in the explanatory memorandum. These things are not clear; they must be crystal clear—otherwise, the bar will be set so low that anything could get through. And there should be no consultation when it comes to any right of veto on these sorts of requirements.

The other feature of this bill, one that has principally occupied more time of those opposite in speaking on this matter, is the issue relating to the reintroduction of the permit system. I believe that this is another retrograde step. And I notice that the government does not believe that Indigenous communities should be given the right of consultation in relation to the re-introduction of the permit system. They have not been given that right on this occasion. They have not been asked, or will not be asked in the course of moving forward on this measure, whether they think it should be reintroduced or not. There is no opportunity for communities to raise their voices, as the government demands in relation to pornography. So it is fine to go out there and consult on the issue of pornography but, when it comes to reintroducing the permit system, there will be no consultation—it is coming back, whether people in those communities like it or not. This ban on access is absolute.

So, we have a government that is happy to leave the door open to porn but shut the door on external scrutiny, economic opportunity and engagement with the positive influences of the broader community. The Good Weekend article I referred to earlier quotes linguist Peter Sutton, described as someone who retains a strong kinship tie with the Wik people. The article states that Peter Sutton has said:

... the best thing that could be done for Aurukun was to “endow its children with as much mobility as possible” so that they might “orbit” between Aurukun and the wider economic world as adults.

You cannot orbit if you cannot get lift-off. The permit system is designed to ground Indigenous children and to lock Indigenous people away from view, away from contact, away from opportunity and away from the broader Australian community.

As though it was not good enough to reintroduce the permit system, we read today—as other speakers have observed—in the Australian that the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, better known as ‘the union’, wants to apply a further code of conduct for journalists entering and reporting on Aboriginal communities. This was a code described by the prominent and award-winning journalist referred to earlier as ‘working against media freedoms in favour of what is mistakenly believed to be the interests of Aborigines’. The key point here is that the inspiration for this code did not come from the union, as reported today. The inspiration for this bill came from the Rudd government’s decision ‘to wind back the previous government’s changes to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act’. Those opposite say there is no watering down, but there it is. They have acted in response to the Rudd government’s decision to wind back.

Sadly, the dominos are falling on the Northern Territory intervention. Whether that is by design or by neglect, we will wait to see—but the dominos are falling. This is a Jekyll and Hyde policy from the government driven, I fear, by marginal agendas that comprise the internal constituency of those who sit opposite, who have found their voice again. Originally, at the time of the introduction of these measures, this voice was drowned out by the voice of common sense, purpose and resolve. As the former member for Longman said, on the introduction of the Northern Territory emergency response bill—and I pay tribute to the former member for Longman for his single-mindedness and his resolve on this issue:

When confronted with a failed society where basic standards of law and order and behaviour have broken down and where women and children are unsafe, how should we respond? Do we respond with more of what we have done in the past? Or do we radically change direction with an intervention strategy matched to the magnitude of the problem?

The previous government responded with resolve. This government, I fear, through this bill, will return Indigenous policy to the autopilot of the failed past. Symbols are not enough to close the gap. Radical action as undertaken by the former government is what is needed to address a radical problem. The community still supports such a response; in fact, they demand such a response.

I conclude by referring once again to the article in the Good Weekend magazine, wherein Aurukun Shire Councillor Jonathon Korkaktain said:

Back in my day, the elders fought for our rights—for money, for beer, for land, so we could live in our own world and be ourselves. We thought that was what we wanted, but it meant that our children could never have more than us—only the same or less. The elders didn’t understand that we had to take a step out of our world in order to give our kids a chance of a better life. They need one foot in both worlds. That is the big picture I see. That is our great mistake.

That also is the great mistake of this bill. I commend the member for Warringah’s amendments to the House.


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