Patricia Petersen

Lecturer Central Queensland University
Brisbane International Campus

Speech given at Brisbane anti-censorship protest, May 28, 1999.

Thankyou, each and every one of you, for attending this rally. Your presence ensures that the rest of the world only views the Federal Government as a laughing stock - not ordinary Australians.

Patricia Petersen When the Federal Government puts into place the new Bill that was passed through the Senate earlier this week, they will have succeeded in changing the role of the State within our country. On this day, no longer will Australia be viewed by many ordinary Australians to be a democracy. Why? Because on this day, the Federal Government will make overt, make obvious its attitude towards ruling this country. On this day it will become clear to all of us that the coalition doesn't believe that it should represent the views of Australian people. All of us will realize that the Coalition is determined to enforce their beliefs and values on the people of Australia.

Let us remind the Coalition Government that the law in any democratic country serves a purpose - to allow individuals to do their own thing, unhindered by those who would prevent them from doing so, subject, of course, to the proviso that that business does not prevent others from attending to their own business.

It is clear that our current Federal Government is determined to overstep this mark. The change to the legislation is about placating the sexual attitudes, beliefs and values of the Coalition and their side-kicks, not the people of Australia.

The rationale for the change to legislation is based on the concern that Australian children need to be prevented from accessing pornographic material on the internet. But in practice, this isn't going to work. So, what's the point of changing the legislation? There is no point.

What concerns me most about the Federal Government's insistence that this Bill be put into place, is that it reeks of a trend - a trend towards damning sexual interests that have no basis for such condemnation. But even more worrying is the fact that trends such as these tend to be detrimental to society. Child abuse is a serious issue. And societies which hold restrictive attitudes towards sexual issues tend to breed child abuse. Mr. Howard, by this change in legislation you are telling Australian people that there is something dirty and disgusting about sex: you are at risk of adding to the cultural squeamishness towards sex, which already appears to play a major role in child sex abuse.

Surely, it is better to take sex out of the closet, so that good communication between parents and children, teachers etc. can be reinforced and encouraged. Surely it's time to take sex out of the closet and start talking about it, dealing with it so that appropriate interests in sex flourish and sexual interests in children are dampened. While children think that sex is taboo, they will remain silent about being abused. If they think that they are doing something dirty because they are being abused, they will feel guilty, responsible for the abuse, they won't speak up and they'll continue to be abused. So many children are victims of abuse in this country. Do something about the abuse Mr. Howard. Don't change legislation so that you potentially make it more of a problem.

Making it more difficult for adults to access pornographic material is potentially hazardous for all women and children within this country. When pornography was made freely available in Denmark in the late 60's, the incidence of sex crimes, sexual violence towards women and children, dropped markedly. In 1967 erotic material in Denmark was removed from the obscenity statute. This resulted in sex crimes in Denmark which had been stable from 1958 to 1966 decreasing by 25 percent in 1967, 13 percent in 1968 and 30.5 percent in 1969.

If this real life experiment is considered, in light of this week's change to legislation, we have reason to feel anxious. In countries where pornography is not freely available, violence towards women and children is at its worst, it's widespread, difficult to control because it's out of control.

Far from causing harm, pornography appears to have a cathartic effect on people's sexuality. The Denmark experience of the 1960's teaches us that the incidence of sex crimes appears to lower dramatically when pornography is made freely available.

This week the morality of pornography was conflated with the legality of it. This should never have happened. Even if we don't like pornography - we find it offensive, degrading, insulting towards women - the legality of sexually explicit material is another matter. Again, Australian law serves a function - to allow all of us Australians to engage in any activity, provided that that activity does not prevent others from engaging in their own activity. It is not the role of the government to prevent adults, male or female, from engaging in any activity, provided that that activity doesn't interfere with the activity of others.

At no time have we seen corroborating evidence to suggest that pornography being made freely available is harmful to society. Again if the Denmark experience is considered, whether we like the idea of pornography or not, we are forced to confront the possibility of pornography being a social good. The Denmark experience forces us to look seriously at the possibility of pornography serving a purpose - to lower the incidence of sex crimes.

We need to protect our children. The government has a responsibility to do this. And regardless of the Coalitions' attitudes and beliefs about sex, we want to keep our children safe. You are moving in the wrong direction Mr. Howard. I'm confident that most Australians would prefer individual adults to masturbate whilst consuming adult pornographic material, than sexually assault their children. Whether or not Australians like or dislike pornography, they want their children to be safe.

At present parents are responsible for ensuring that their children don't access pornographic magazines at home. Similarly parents should be responsible for ensuring that their children look at visual material they consider appropriate for their ages. Legislating against pornography doesn't teach children to look at age-appropriate material. However, parents can play a vital role in sexually educating their children - not by holding negative and restrictive views towards sex, but by having a positive, relaxed and open attitude towards it. We have enough child abuse in this country Mr. Howard. We don't want any more of it.

It's disappointing and worrying that these types of concerns weren't considered when the Bill was passed through the Senate, earlier this week. I can only think that the Federal Government wants to turn a blind-eye to issues of child abuse whilst pretending to care about them. This new Bill will do absolutely nothing to prevent children from accessing pornography on the internet. Putting it in place is a waste of tax-payers money, good money which could be spent on attacking important issues such as child sex abuse. It's time to do something about the overwhelming number of children who are sexually abused within this country. It's time to wake up to the fact that whatever we have been doing to prevent child abuse, just isn't working. Restricting access to many different types of pornography is moving in the wrong direction. We want to cut down on the number of children being abused, not ensure that more of them are harmed.

Pornography doesn't cause societal damage. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this is the case. We do have the experience of Denmark in the 60's which suggests that relaxing legislation in relation to accessing and distributing pornography can be helpful for society - it appears to reduce the incidence of sex crimes.

Given there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that pornography is harmful, this current Federal Government is overstepping the mark. When the new change to legislation is put in place that will be a significant marker of the government's refusal to recognise the appropriate role of the state. On that day, the Government will be saying to Australian people: We no longer see the law as serving a purpose - to allow individuals to do their own thing, unhindered by those who would prevent them from doing so, subject to the proviso that that business does not prevent others from doing their own thing. That day will be a sad day for Australia and all Australian people.