Publications too 'raunchy'
for Queensland adults to read?
Last Updated: 7 August 2000
This paper provides information about Queensland Government censorship policy obtained by EFA under the Queensland Freedom of Information Act in March-June 2000.
The purpose of EFA's FOI applications to the Queensland Department of Equity and Fair Trading (QDEFT), which includes the Queensland censorship office, was to ascertain the background/basis for the Queensland Censorship Minister's (Ms Judy Spence) media release of 16 September 1999 stating that:
- UNrestricted publications had become too "raunchy" for Queenslanders to read, and
- the ban on Restricted publications (Category 1 and Category 2) in Queensland would remain in place. (Queensland is the only State/Territory where it is illegal to sell Restricted publications to adults).
- Raunchy Publications
- Ban on Restricted Publications
- Queensland Community Support for Ban on Restricted Publications
According to the documents released to EFA under the Queensland Freedom of Information Act, there is no basis for either of the statements made by the Queensland Minister in her media release of 16 September 1999 that:
- UNrestricted publications had become too "raunchy" for Queenslanders to read, and
- the ban on Restricted publications (Category 1 and Category 2) in Queensland would remain in place.
EFA's FOI application was broad and should have brought to light the background and reasons for those statements. The descriptions and source of the small quantity of information denied preclude any possibility that denied documents were related to the Minister's statements.
The Queensland Department and Minister's office were unable to provide any documented grounds for the claim that Unrestricted or any other publications had become "raunchier". There is no indication in documents released that either the Queensland Government or the OFLC has carried out an analysis of publications over any period of time resulting in evidence that Unrestricted publications had become "raunchier".
The proposal to further restrict the contents of Unrestricted publications appears to have been originated by the OFLC. There is no indication in documents released that any of the changes to the Guidelines were requested by the Queensland Government.
The first and only mention of "raunchiness" is contained in a draft Queensland media release dated 16 September 1999 (after the new Guidelines became effective) which appears to have been prepared by the Queensland Classification/Censorship Officer. The final media release was issued on the same date as the draft, without alteration.
Ban on Restricted Publications
The decision that the Queensland ban on Restricted publications (Category 1 and 2) would remain in place appears to have been made by the Minister (or by lack of a decision) without consultation with any members of the Queensland Parliament or Queensland citizens.
A paper entitled "Queensland's Position" (Folio 3335-6), apparently prepared for the Queensland Minister prior to the Censorship Ministers' meeting of 15 April 1999, listed three options for consideration regarding Queensland's position on publications. These were:
- Option 1: no change to existing policy
- Option 2: allow the sale of Category 1 Restricted publications
This section noted: "Many hundreds of letters recently received from consumers advocating the sale of adult material".
- Option 3: allow the sale of Category 1 and Category 2 Restricted publications.
No documents commenting on those options or documenting a decision thereto were released, nor are any denied documents likely to be related to this matter.
Primary matters taken into account in deciding to maintain the ban on Restricted publications appear to have been:
- The potential for media publicity criticising Queensland censorship policy and, more particularly, whether such publicity could be minimised or avoided:
"The publications guidelines review is controversial and importantly the proposed changes are vehemently opposed by industry. Because of Queensland's unique position of being the only jurisdiction in Australia not to allow the sale of restricted publications, we are the primary focus in discussions involving any perceived loss of sales/profits due to the proposed changes. ... A presence [at the OFLC industry consultation meeting] would help in being able to respond and possibly reduce subsequent negative criticism for Queensland. In view of some of the companies involved and their ability to attract media attention this aspect cannot be underestimated. ..."
(Memo from Queensland Classification Officer to QDEFT Director-General, 17 May 1999, p.2 (Folio 3343))
- Whether the new guidelines were acceptable to the industry:
"...it can be said that the guidelines are generally acceptable to the industry. Industry will always want to stretch the boundaries further no matter where they are drawn".However, the above statement appears to conflict with comments made by industry representatives at an industry consultation meeting held by the OFLC. A report on that meeting, presumably prepared by the Queensland Classifications Officer, given it appears to have been written by someone who attended the meeting, stated:
(Briefing paper prepared for the Queensland Minister prior to the Censorship Ministers' meeting of July 1999 (Folio 3314))
"General view was the guidelines better presented but concerned that unrestricted should be tightened. Very concerned about discreet nudity - wanted it changed to natural nudity as 85% of women show some labia naturally."(For further information on the matter of "discreet nudity", see: OFLC approval of depictions of women akin to genital mutilation.)
(Report titled "Outcomes - Consultation with Industry - Sydney - 26/27 May 1999" (Folio 3341))
Queensland Community Support for Ban on Restricted Publications
EFA's FOI applications requested, inter alia, "any evidence that there is substantial community support for the proposition that adults in Queensland are incapable of making their own decisions about choice of reading material" and "copies of any correspondence or reports documenting the number of complaints received by the government from the general public". The Department identified 3052 documents considered relevant, apparently dating from 1991. EFA amended its application to exclude these documents, given a cost of 50 cents per page.
However, the schedule listing the 3052 documents may shed some light on the number of complaints received in the past three years. The schedule (Page 1, 2, 3 GIF format) indicates that since October 1997, the Department's files contain up to 1151 pages relating to "correspondence to and from complainants" on topics other than public display of publications:
|Qty.||Folio No.||File Date||Description|
|227||1103-1330||from 10/97||Correspondences to/from Complainants|
|273||2126-2399||from 07/98||Correspondences to/from Complainants (incl. petition and Summary Report on Community Attitudes Towards Censorship)|
|651||2401-3052||from 07/98||Correspondences to/from Complainants|
Of that 1151 pages:
- 273 pages are in a file that includes a petition and it is not known whether the bulk of the material in that file is letters to complainants listed in the petition or whether there are also letters from and to other complainants. For the purpose of this exercise, it is assumed that each of the 273 pages is a letter to one of the complainants on the petition - the maximum possible number of complainants (assuming replies are sent to complainants).
- 878 pages in other files may consist of letters from complainants, and/or letters in response to complainants. It seems reasonable to assume that every complainant receives a letter in reply. For the purpose of this exercise, it is assumed that each complainant's letter is one page and each reply is one page. Thus 878 pages may represent 439 complainants.
On the above speculative basis, it appears that since October 1997 the Queensland Government may have received 712 complaints (273 + 439) concerning some aspect of the Queensland censorship laws (other than public display of publications).
A Queensland options paper (Folio 3335-6) apparently prepared for the Queensland Minister prior to the Censorship Ministers' meeting of 15 April 1999 stated:
"Many hundreds of letters recently received from consumers advocating the sale of adult material".The estimated 712 complainants referred to above would presumably include the "many hundreds" advocating sale of adult material. It seems the Queensland Government may be on very shaky ground in claiming there is wide community support for the Queensland ban on Restricted publications on the basis of complaints they have received.
EFA's application sought a wide range of material that may shed light on the justification or basis for the existing ban. Apparently no such information was available in the Minister's office or department, other than the files regarding complaints referred to above.
There is no basis for the claim that 'Unrestricted' publications have become raunchier. The fact is that depictions permitted in publications 20 years ago are not permitted today and there is no evidence that the OFLC has not been properly applying classification guidelines that have become increasingly restrictive over the past 20 or so years. The relevant division of the Queensland Government was unable to provide any research, by themselves or the OFLC, to show that Unrestricted, or any other, publications had become "raunchier".
The Queensland ban on the sale of Restricted publications to adults appears to be a matter of simplicity and expediency rather than agreed policy. The Government apparently does not hold details of the basis for the ban implemented by a prior government, nor to have undertaken any research or consideration regarding whether the policy of attempting to prevent Queensland adults from choosing to read material that is legally available to adults in all other States and Territories can be legitimately justified. This ban does not affect only "adult" publications, but also widely acclaimed, though controversial, books classified Category 1 Restricted, such as American Psycho.
Evidently, the government has also not considered the (lack of) merit of a continuing ban which simply encourages a black market (since Queensland banned Category 1 and 2 Restricted publications are available for purchase in various areas in Queensland) and the export of Queensland dollars to other Australian and international jurisdictions (since Queensland banned publications are legally obtainable by mail order).
Date: 7 August 2000