Classification (Publications, Films And Computer Games) (Parental Guidance) Amendment Bill

21 Jul 2010 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the Classification (Publications, Films And Computer Games) (Parental Guidance) Amendment Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (21:10): I thank all honourable members for their contribution. I also thank the speakers who were prepared to come in yesterday to brief members, and I indicate for the record that they were Winnie Pelz, who is the Acting CE of YWCA; Rita Princi, who is a child and family psychologist; and Professor Elizabeth Handsley of Flinders University, who is an expert in media law. Both Rita and Elizabeth are board members of Young Media Australia, so they have spoken extensively on this issue. I do note from the preceding speaker that the ALP had its caucus at the same time; I apologise for that. However, things being as they were, all three of those speakers who were able to come in are very busy people, and I do appreciate their time. I do note that minister Gago was able to send her adviser, and I appreciate her attending.

In summing up, I reiterate for the record that there are many, many publications that the classification council just does not see. I anticipate that a very limited number of these publications would be captured by this legislation. As I said in the briefing yesterday, those publications know who they are. We have a system that is very much reliant upon the industry being aware of whether they are relevant to be captured by a particular piece of legislation. Then, if they are in breach, it relies on consumer complaints to the classification board and then investigation.

This bill will not restrict the sale of publications in any way; it is consumer advice. It provides two examples to determine markings that may be used; it does not mandate what they are. There are other ones that may also be anticipated. I believe it has provided an opportunity for greater community input and understanding of this particular issue. I am disappointed that, once again, the Labor government has decided to behave as a dog in the manger. While the government bleats platitudes about understanding the issue, it has used hyperbole and circular arguments not to support this bill. As I said in my second reading explanation, all of the parties were invited to address this issue at the YWCA; so they are certainly aware of it. It is a very small bill of some four clauses.

May I say that this is the government that sought to ban that great threat to civil society, the eating of cats and dogs, in its first term, yet this is an issue that is of great concern. There were 300 people who paid nearly $30 to go to Walford College on a cold evening to listen because they were very concerned about this issue. However, the government has chosen not to make any effort to participate in this and to send a message to marketers of products to children and pre-teens.

I also note that the Senate committee, which reported some time ago, which was chaired by a Labor Senator and whose recommendations were provided to a Labor government, has done absolutely nothing to implement any of those recommendations. So, Mr President, you heard it here it first: expect to see some version of this bill in some incarnation in the name of the government, and they will claim credit for themselves. I put them on notice that their actions are noted, and they will be judged accordingly. I commend the bill to the house.

Bill read a second time.

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: As I indicated, the government is concerned about this issue and wants to take a considered, measured approach to solving the problem. The honourable mover has said that this bill is only targeted at a small group of publications and that they know who they are. It is my understanding that the law does not quite work like that. If this bill were passed, the minister or the council would have to act on assessing publications reported to it. I do not think that the minister or the council could say, 'I'm sorry, this bill wasn't aimed at you,' because that is not what the act would provide.

You cannot pass clauses and amendments to laws and say, 'We only intend for it to apply to this group of people, and other people it won't apply to,' because that is not what the statute provides. So, I would ask the honourable member if she can confirm that it is her understanding that under these amendments the council or minister would be required to examine any magazine, book, picture or publication reported to it or him or her as potentially containing PG material, be forced to assess it and, if appropriate, require the relevant consumer advice to be attached?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I think the honourable member quite deliberately misunderstands the way the classification system operates.

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: Just answer that question I just asked.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I am answering it.

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: No, you are not.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I am answering it.

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: Well, you can just say yes.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: No, I am not going to just say yes. I am going to answer it in the way that I choose, not in the way that the acolyte of Don Farrell chooses to answer it for me. The way that the classification system operates is that it does not sit in judgement of every publication that is sold in South Australia. It relies on complaints, and not everybody sits around trying to ping a magazine for a particular complaint.

There was a complaint made to the council several years ago relating to a magazine called Zoo Weekly, I think it was, and so it investigated that. It said in the annual report that, specifically, the complaint focused upon matters of a violent content and alleged sexual content inclusive of that material printed on the cover of the magazine. The magazine is currently unrestricted in respect of its classification.

The Classification Council and the Attorney-General do not rush around to retailers and check every magazine for its content. It is reliant on complaints from members of the public, and in response to complaints it then investigates. So, obviously, the producers of magazines are very well aware of what the regulatory environment is doing, they are well aware that there was a Senate inquiry and they would be well aware that this parliament is looking at this particular issue and, therefore, they would be remiss if they did not seek to comply with those laws.

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: The short answer there was yes, the council or minister would be required to examine any magazine, book, picture or publication reported to it or him or her as potentially containing—

The Hon. A. Bressington: Due to a complaint made.

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: Yes.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: I said that.


The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Yes. So, what's your point?

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: Yes. So, she is agreeing that that is in fact how the bill works. The honourable—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The CHAIRMAN: Order! The Hon. Mr Finnigan.

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: How am I insinuating it? I asked: is it correct that any publication, etc. referred or reported to the minister or the council would have to be assessed and potentially given a consumer advice? The answer, clearly, is yes. The honourable mover's response is, 'But not many of them will, and the publishers know what they've got to comply with, so it's not really a big issue.' Again, that is not the way to make laws, to say, 'We don't think that many people are going to be caught by this law, so it's not really that important.' That is really not the way the law works.

I would, therefore, ask the honourable mover if she is able to provide any information or whether has she made any estimates as to the cost of implementing this scheme, given that she does acknowledge that people would be able—whether or not they would choose to take up that option—to make complaints and have the minister or the council assess publications for PG content and potentially issue a warning.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On the question of cost, I am reliant on the record of the South Australian Classification Council. The one I have in my hand is for the year ended 30 June 2007, so I will necessarily have to make some assumptions that the number of complaints are comparable.
The council in that particular year met six times. Its expenditure for the year was $3,900. It received a total of 21 queries, and they were: complaint about advertising (seven); query about classification of a computer game (one); query about consumer advice (one); query about classification of films, video, DVD (two); complaint about merchandise (two); query about classification of publications (one); query about sale of computer game (one); complaint about TV content (two); query about the act (one); query about copyright (two); and information about censorship (one).

From that, I take it that two queries out of 21 related to the issues that might broadly come under this ambit. As it was $3,900, I cannot imagine that unless there were some sudden stampede of people rushing off to make complaints to the South Australian Classification Council, that it would be significant.

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: I wish to place on the record that the honourable mover obviously failed to mention there that our scheme is consistent with the commonwealth scheme, so most of it is done by the commonwealth, which expends considerably more on the subject. This amendment would create a new category of consumer advice out of step with the rest of the jurisdictions in Australia, which I believe would create quite a number of newer complaints.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. B.V. FINNIGAN: It is my opinion, and that is why I am asking the question. It is my opinion that it would lead to an increase in complaints, but I would be interested in what the honourable mover has done to investigate something a bit more thorough than her opinion. Clearly, she has not done that. She is having a guess, and the guess is that not many people would complain so it is not a problem. Clearly, there is no realistic or considered view on what this proposal would cost.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The member, quite rightly, is entitled to have his point of view, but I do not think he has advanced the discussion. If he is going to make the argument that this is inconsistent with the federal regime, why would we bother having the act at all? It has been retained by South Australia by successive governments, and it has taken an independent position on the issue of classification of computer games and, in some instances, films. Why should publications be any different?

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: You might want to tell us how much it will cost. That was simply my question.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Well, $3,900 to deal with 21 complaints in a financial year. You spend more in five minutes on the former auditor-general investigating the Burnside Council, so that is a bit rich. If the honourable member has a question, I would be interested to hear it.

Clause passed.

Clauses 2 to 4 passed.

New clause 4A.

The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: I move:

Page 2, after line 23—Insert:

4A—Amendment of section 19A—Classification of publication forming part of a series

Section 19A—After subsection (1) insert: (1a) If the council or the minister makes a declaration under this section, other references in this act to classifying a publication will be taken to include applying a classification to publications in a series of publications within the ambit of the declaration (including with the effect that consumer advice applying to a publication that has been classified will also be applied to all publications within the ambit of the declaration).
As I said in my second reading contribution, this is a simple amendment that expands the application of section 19A in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to cover consumer advice notifications.

Section 19A of the act presently allows the Attorney-General or the Classification Council to make a declaration that a classification applied to a publication will also apply to all or a specific number of subsequent editions of that publication. My reading of section 19A of the act, particularly the term 'classification granted', is that it presently restricts declarations to the formal classifications listed in section 15 and cannot be applied to consumer advice.

The amendment does nothing to detract from the bill and, rather, simply seeks to avoid the doubt of whether section 19A can be applied to consumer advice notifications under section 21 of the act. It may not be necessary but, if the intent of this bill is carried, teen and tween magazines for the first time will be forced to carry consumer advice warnings, and it is my concern that a publisher may attempt to question the validity of a declaration under section 19A that relates solely to consumer advice.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I am happy to accept the honourable member's amendment and commend it to the house. New clause inserted.
Remaining clause (5) and title passed.

Bill reported with amendment.

Bill read a third time and passed.