FOI Application to Qld Dept of Equity and Fair Trading (incl. censorship office)

Last Updated: August 2000


In September 1999, EFA lodged Freedom of Information Applications on the Queensland Department of Equity and Fair Trading (QDEFT). This department includes the Queensland censorship office.

After a lengthy process, taking 9 months and involving objections by the Commonwealth Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) to the release of some information, the vast majority of documents identified by the Queensland Department as being relevant to EFA's application were released to EFA in March and June 2000.

The purpose of these FOI applications was to ascertain the background and basis for the Queensland Censorship Minister's (Ms Judy Spence) media release of 16 September 1999 stating that:

  1. UNrestricted publications had become too "raunchy" for Queenslanders to read, and
  2. the Queensland ban on Restricted publications (Category 1 and Category 2) would remain in place. (Queensland is the only State/Territory where it is illegal to sell Restricted publications to adults).

In addition to information regarding Queensland policy, the documents released include considerable information about the OFLC's Review of Publications Classification Guidelines (undertaken during 1997-1999). The review resulted in revised, significantly more restrictive, guidelines effective from 1 September 1999. Documents released include briefing/recommendation papers provided to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General - Censorship, extracts of Minutes of those meetings, and reports of the OFLC and its independent consultants (Professor Peter Sheehan and Dr Judith Bowey).

The remainder of this document contains information on the FOI applications, details of material released and links to a considerable number now available online and key findings of a review of documents released. Two related reports provide more detail on findings.

Contents:


EFA FOI Application

  • 20 September 1999
    Original Application No. 1 - requesting "copies of all documentary evidence relating to the Government's announcement that Unrestricted Publications have become too 'raunchy' for Queenslanders to read...".

  • 21 September 1999
    Original Application No. 2 - requesting "copies of all documentary evidence relating to the Government's announcement that the ban on Restricted publications in Queensland would remain in place...".

Related EFA / QDEFT Correspondence

  • 22 September 1999
    QDEFT letter advising re EFA Application of 21 Sept that due date for decision was 7 Nov.

  • 28 September 1999
    QDEFT letter re EFA Application of 20 Sept advising due date for decision was 7 Nov.

  • 7 October 1999
    EFA letter in response to QDEFT inquiry confirming that both applications cover the Minister's office as well as DEFT and enclosing additional application fees to cover both areas, as requested. From this point on, EFA had 4 FOI applications lodged with Qld Gov and it was subsequently not always clear in QDEFT letters which application was being referenced.

  • 14 October 1999
    QDEFT letter of 14 Oct advising their letter of 28 Sept referred to wrong application but due date for decision was still 7 Nov.
    QDEFT letters (2) advising due date for decision of 26 Nov.

  • 29 October 1999
    QDEFT letters (2) advising that due to need to consult with third parties due date for decision advised on 14 Oct was extended to 13 Dec.

  • 4 November 1999
    QDEFT letter (2) advising that due to need to consult with third parties due date for decision was extended to 24 Nov

  • 22 November 1999
    QDEFT letter advising that "due to the significant workload being experienced by the FOI unit...there will be a delay of 3-4 weeks" in finalising EFA's applications. (This delay subsequently extended to 3 months).

  • 2 March 2000
    Letter from QDEFT advising of FOI decision, dated 2 March 2000, received 8 March 2000, including:

    QDEFT advised they had located 3524 documents considered relevant to the terms of the application. EFA then varied the terms of the application to exclude letters of complaint and responses by the QDEFT to such correspondence (given likely delays while third parties were consulted and a cost of 50 cents per page). This had the effect, according to QDEFT, of removing 3052 documents from the scope of the application, leaving a total of 472 remaining documents considered to be relevant by QDEFT.

    Of those 472 documents, 272 were released to EFA while access to the remaining 200 documents was deferred due to third party objection by the Secretary - Standing Committee of Attorneys General - Censorship. The Committee Secretariat is the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The Acting Director of the OFLC responded to the QDEFT's consultation inquiry objecting to their intention to release the documents.

  • 23 May 2000
    QDEFT letter advising of their decision to release all but 10 (on grounds of those not being relevant) of the 200 documents that were the subject of third party objection. However, access to the 190 documents could not be granted until the review rights of the Secretary - Standing Committee of Attorneys General - Censorship under the Qld FOI Act were exhausted. QDEFT's letter advised that:

    "...the Secretary, Standing Committee of attorneys-General Censorship, advised of their objections to the release of the documents you seek. The bases of their objections correspond with grounds for exemption provided by paragraph 38(a)&(b), paragraph 45(3)(a) and paragraph 46(1)(a) and (b) of the Act. They have also advised that certain material is not relevant to the terms of your application.

    I have considered the objections in light of the particular requirements of these exemption provisions, the factual circumstances relating to their complaints and the context in which the subject documents were created. Accordingly, I have determined that, except for the information/documents that I have determined to be not relevant to the terms of your application, none of the submissions advanced by [sic] support the claims for exemption under the exemption provisions listed above.

    The effect of paragraph 51(2)(d) of the Act is that due to the objections to the disclosure of documents to you, I am obliged to defer access to those documents which I have determined to release to you as part of this application. The issue of access to the subject documents will not be finalised until such time as the review rights of the Secretary, Standing Committee of attorneys-General Censorship are exhausted.

    Should the Secretary, Standing Committee of Attorneys-General Censorship, be aggrieved by my decision, sub-paragraph 52(7)(b)(ii) of the Act provides a right to seek internal review of my decision within 28 days from the date of your receipt of this decision."

    Apart from the section quoted above, the QDEFT letter of 23 May is almost identical to their letter of 2 March 2000 (and has therefore not been placed online).

  • 26 June 2000
    The remaining 190 documents (that had been the subject of third party objection) were released by QDEFT. Apparently, the Secretary - Standing Committee of Attorneys General - Censorship (aka OFLC) decided not appeal the QDEFT's decision to release the documents.

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Schedule of Documents released under FOI

The Schedule of Documents contains details of the documents obtained under FOI (and links to copies of a number of those documents). These documents include, inter alia, agenda briefing/recommendation papers provided by OFLC to Censorship Ministers' Meetings and extracts of Minutes of Meetings of the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) - Censorship.

Documents that were the subject of third party (SCAG and/or OFLC) objection initially, but subsequently released, are noted accordingly. The schedule also contains a brief description of the small amount of information to which access was denied.

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Key Findings

  • The Queensland Department was unable to provide any research, by themselves or the OFLC, to support the Minister's claim that Unrestricted publications had become "raunchier". [More...]

  • The decision to leave the Queensland ban on Restricted (Category 1 and 2) publications in place appears to have been made by the Minister without consultation with any members of the Queensland Parliament or Queensland citizens. [More...]

  • A paper listing three options for Queensland censorship policy on publications, apparently prepared for the Minister in early 1999 stated, inter alia, "Many hundreds of letters recently received from consumers advocating the sale of adult material". [More...]

  • The OFLC received a mere 147 submissions to the Review of Publications Classification Guidelines (despite having distributed over 1400 information packages directly as well as advertising in newspapers).

  • There is no evidence that the significantly more censorious Guidelines represent widespread community views. The probable unrepresentativeness of the submitters was raised by the OFLC's independent consultant, Professor Peter Sheehan. [More...]

  • 35% of submissions received were part of three localised letter writing campaigns (Wagga Wagga, Nambucca Heads and Melbourne) and over half of these commented mainly on their concern over sex and violence on television, not in publications. [More...]

  • 42% of the groups who lodged submissions were clearly identifiable as religious groups. 86% of the individuals (including letter writing campaigns) were readily identifiable as pro-censorship. Three occupational categories recurred among this group: teachers (primary school), counsellors, and priests or religious ministers. [More...]

  • Some OFLC claims about community views are not supported by their own 85 page Analysis of the submissions. [More 1, 2 ...]

  • While historically it has been claimed that the Commonwealth's role is solely that of classification, leaving enforcement relative to sale and distribution to the States and Territories, the OFLC sought and received approval for an increased OFLC role in enforcement. [More...]

  • There are indications that a lowest common denominator approach, based on State/Territory policy, is being implemented in Commonwealth law. [More...]

  • Encroaching censorship in Australia will not cease until or unless a significantly increased number of persons, who are happy with the censorship status quo, or desire less restriction, put pen to paper to the OFLC and their parliamentary representatives. Moaning about it in the pub, on street corners or on Net mailing lists and in newsgroups will not change the direction of censorship policy. Nor will relying on one or more organisations/groups to submit bulk views.

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Related Reports

Further information on documents released and findings of a review/analysis of same is available in the following papers:


Date: 7 August 2000