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The censorship laws in this country do not reflect our modern experience. Instead, our government is making our choices for us.
Free speech involves both the freedom to communicate and the freedom to receive communications. Yet the Commonwealth restricts what we can read, watch, play and listen to.
This hurts those Australians who would choose to read, watch, play or listen to censored material. It also does nothing for other Australians, who would have a clear option if this censorship was not present: we can choose to not read, watch, play or listen to the material. Free speech involves no obligation to listen.
One of the three free speech bills I recently introduced in the Senate seeks to remove the ban on publications, films and computer games on the grounds that they offend against standards of morality, decency and propriety.
My bill seeks to remove a ban on publications, films and computer games that meet the broad criteria of advocating terrorism, while retaining the ban on material that promotes, incites or instructs in terrorism.
The difference might be clearer with an example: the 1988 film Rambo III cast the Mujahideen as heroes fighting against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Under the existing law with its broad criterion, this could now be interpreted as advocating terrorism.
The censorship to which we are subjected is not limited to publications, films and computer games, but extends to the content we receive through broadcasting, datacasting and online. Some of these bans should be pared back too, at least for services provided behind paywalls where there is less likelihood of receiving unsolicited content or facilitating underage viewing. This is what my bill seeks to do.
The message behind my bill is clear: if you don’t want to read a particular book, then don’t. If you don’t want to watch a particular film, then don’t.
We need to remove prudishness from current laws, so that codes of practice for subscription broadcasting or datacasting do not treat adults as if they are children. Provided they are subject to access-control systems, subscription television broadcasters and online content services should be permitted to broadcast X18+ and R18+ programs.
Some of our current censorship laws are not just prudish, but downright racist. Certain pornography is banned in parts of the Northern Territory but not elsewhere in Australia. There are publications, films and computer games which are legally available in most of the country but not in some Indigenous communities based on Ministerial decree, with criminal offences applying. My bill would remove this.
However, it will not change the existing prohibitions on publications, films and computer games that promote, incite or instruct in crime, or that portray children engaged in sexual activity. Dealings in child pornography would remain serious criminal offences. And all publications, films and computer games, including those no longer banned under my bill, would continue to be subject to the classification rules that restrict access where material is unsuitable for a minor to read, see, view or play.
Finally, my bill would remove censorship based on the assumption that as electors, we are too stupid or weak-minded to receive electoral material on the preceding Thursday or Friday ahead of an election.
This ban does nothing to prevent broader electioneering on those days, and disregards the fact that Australians are increasingly casting their votes before election day. If the objective is to ensure that votes are well-considered, the best way to achieve this is to make voting voluntary.
The message behind my bill is clear: if you don’t want to read a particular book, then don’t. If you don’t want to watch a particular film, then don’t. And if you don’t want to play a particular computer game, then don’t.
But let’s respect the fact that others may have different views.