Classification And Internet Censorship As An Election Issue

When was the last time someone went to jail in Australia for a censorship crime? 1870? 1926? 1947?

Try… May 2010.

That’s right. In May of this year, the NSW Labor government sent a 40-year-old gay adult-shop owner to jail for selling non-violent, erotic X-rated films. He has just been released and from all reports is a broken man.

Make no mistake about what really happened here. This man went to jail for selling films that had been classified by a federal Labor government as legal to sell, legal to purchase and legal to possess at a Commonwealth level. They were legal to bring into the country through Customs in Sydney and they were legal tender in western democracies around the world. But in the moral backwater that Australia has become since the mid 1980s, politicians are in our bedrooms like never before. The religious right have quietly transformed this once free nation into a country of censors and moral puritans.

Last week a 40-year-old Sydney woman who ran an adult shop in Sydney’s southern suburbs was hauled before a magistrate and fined $5000 for selling adult films that were legal at a federal level and was told by the magistrate that if she was convicted again she would immediately go to jail. This happened in a state where the Police Commissioner is a regular Hillsong Church worshipper and who recently ordered bibles to be printed with NSW Police monograms on them. Whatever happened to the notion of separation of church and state in Australia?

Last month, Australia’s largest producer of non violent erotica, a Gen Y Melbourne website operator called abbywinters.com, was convicted and fined for making X rated films by a state Labor government. He used Gen Y models who often filmed themselves in their own homes and many of these 18 -25 year old men and women received visits from the police in trying to convict the website operator. Rather than wait around for a jail sentence on a second offence and for proceeds of ‘crime’ legislation to bankrupt him, he packed up his entire business and staff and migrated to the Netherlands where his business is perfectly legal.

A couple of months ago the federal Labor government changed the Customs regulations to force people to declare whether they had any ‘pornography’ when returning to Australia. It didn’t matter if the material was legal. If you had anything that could possibly fit the definition of ‘pornography’ such as a Playboy magazine, a lesbian journal, a photo of your partner naked or, worse still, an image of the two of you making love on a mobile or a laptop, you had to declare it or risk prosecution. Customs officers now have the right to search your browsing history and iPhoto for the catch-all reason of investigating ‘pornography’.

Suddenly the tide has turned. Morals groups and religious bigots have infiltrated both the Labor and Liberal parties to such a degree that they are now jailing people for censorship crimes and forcing companies to leave the country. Even the Greens have chosen not to make an issue of this increasingly alarming situation.

It is against this backdrop of the most sinister censorship regime in years, that the federal Labor government has launched its new internet filtering regime and now an equally sinister online data retention proposal. Although the Coalition have hedged their bets on these proposals they unequivocally back the moral agenda behind them even more than Labor. The Greens, through Scott Ludlam, have strenuously and publicly opposed these on line proposals but have done nothing to address the creeping censorship that underpins these crazy schemes. The fact that they preselected Clive Hamilton, the architect of the government’s online filtering proposals, to contest the by election for the seat that Peter Costello vacated in December last year, meant that they were, at best, confused about their approaches to censorship in general.

It was this sudden faltering of the Greens on the issue that caused me to run against them in that election. In the Higgins by election, the Labor, Coalition and Greens candidates all backed an internet filtering scheme and only the Sex Party stood against it. To understand the real intent and nature of the internet filtering scheme requires an understanding of how the Christian right has infiltrated politics in Australia and how they deal with Labor, the Coalition and the Greens.

Internet filtering and changes to the Classification scheme in Australia cannot be isolated from the incredible power that religious and morals groups now have in Australian politics. The most telling statistic about this is that 38 per cent of federal parliamentarians are members of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. This means they get down on their knees to pray before each day’s parliament opens, they go to church at least once a week and they read the bible at home, say grace before meals and bring their children up to be the same. In the last census, only 9 per cent of Australians professed religiosity to this degree. Which means that politicians with a strong religious agenda are four times more likely to show up in the federal parliament than they are at the local shopping centre, night club or footy game. And they are guaranteed to be in all political parties except the Secular Party and the Sex Party.

Internet filtering, data retention schemes, bans on R-rated and X-rated computer games and on X-rated (non-violent erotic) films will continue in this country as long as politicians who support the ideals of political parties like Family First and lobby groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, are in such numbers in our parliaments.

Not only can you now go to jail for breaking moral censorship codes, but if you disagree with them and try to prove your point in an official forum, you are now hit with charges that only multinational companies can afford. At present if an amateur film maker wants to appeal against a classification that the government has applied to their film, it will cost $8000 to do that. In fact the federal government has issued a draft paper that will see that fee raised to $10,000 later this year. We have just seen the makers of a zany zombie film have it banned from an independent film festival in Melbourne because the Classification Board was of the opinion that the film would have been higher than an R-rating. Why this should stop film makers from screening their films to a sympathetic audience of like-minded buffs is another matter again but the point is that if the film maker wanted to test the ‘assumption’ that the film would be X or RC it would have cost them perhaps as much as it cost to make the film for an appeal. Will websites that have been blocked by the government’s filter be expected to pay $10,000 if they want to appeal those decisions? If the government changes the fee for review for a website, they will have to change it for all other media as well. This would be a small mercy at least and something that the Sex Party has been calling for. It simply wouldn't make sense to keep the appeal fee for a film, computer game or publication at $10,000 but allow appeals for websites that could easily feature the same content, at a different rate.

Who makes these stupid rules anyway and why? Public opinion is clearly not part of the equation. Since 1988 the adult industry has conducted 10 professionally run public opinion polls with reputable pollsters like Roy Morgan, Newspoll and AC Neilson. In every one they found that an average of 75 per cent of the population in all states wanted to see X-rated films legal and properly regulated. But instead, governments are now sending people to jail for acting in accord with this public opinion.

So what makes anyone feel comfortable about the sanctions that a Liberal or Labor government would put around breaches of online censorship laws? Labor governments are already sending people to jail and bankrupting their businesses for selling X rated films in the real world so why would you trust Stephen Conroy to not apply these same sanctions to people doing the same thing online after the election? On an SBS Insight program last year I managed to extract a promise from Conroy that he would not include legal X rated films in the filter. Program host Jenny Brockie commented that we appeared to be witnessing a new policy being announced and since then the Minister has maintained that only RC or Refused Classification material will be caught up. But can you believe someone from a party that sends people to jail for selling legal erotica? Can you believe someone who is so influenced by the church that he gave the Australian Christian Lobby a special briefing on how and why he would postpone the internet filter without talking to any other stakeholder? No.

Stephen Conroy has announced that he will review the RC classification after the election as part of instituting his internet filter. This will be fascinating. If this means that some material that is currently rated RC (R-rated and X-rated computer games, most adult websites, drug use sites, euthanasia sites, etc) will have to be allowed in one of the other categories, then this will require a change to the whole classification scheme. Something that the Sex Party has been constantly lobbying for. This scheme is broken beyond repair. Notwithstanding the anomalies in the system that I have outlined above, classification is now seen as a joke by those in the entertainment and information sectors. The best example of just how ‘broke’ is that the government now says that if you have a nude drawing or picture on your business card it is said to be (in the jargon) a ’submittable publication’ and if you don’t send it in to be classified you are committing a crime. If you do send it in you are charged $500 for someone to look at it for five seconds and classify it. How utterly unfair and ridiculous. George Orwell would turn in his grave.

The Liberals are no better in this respect and in others they are worse. In 2006, the Liberal government signed off on the first draft of a new Online Content Services Bill which handed down two year jail sentences and $200,000 fines for anyone in Australia who uploaded X rated or above content to a website anywhere in the world. You just had to based in Australia and seen to be in some way authorising or facilitating adult content onto the world wide web and you were done. Fortunately that first draft was leaked to me and soon I had engaged a number of large publishing houses in Australia who do quite well from adult content, as well as mainstream material. We formed a punchy little business-based lobby group. Within about six weeks it was put to the Howard government that they would have millions of emails going out amongst the online community saying vote NO for the Liberals at the 2007 election. That electoral threat was successful in getting them to remove these appalling penalties. The only proviso was that the deal remain secret until after the election as the Liberal’s partner in the Coalition, the National Party, would have tried to reinstate the penalties if they found out. Can you believe that these political parties are so inept and so out of touch?

The Liberals agree with the concept of filtering but just disagree over the technology that Labor is using to do it. The Greens disagree with internet filtering through their spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam, yet they still pre selected the architect of the government’s internet filter to run against me in the Higgins by election last year. The Sex Party appears to be the only party in this election with a policy on censorship that is uniform in message and uniform across all mediums. It says that there are very few things in society that need to be officially censored and that the internet is not just another technology but is in fact a living breathing community of minds. It represents a more radical shift in human consciousness than the development of stone axes, the taming of fire or the industrial revolution. It is a revolution in consciousness in its own right and political parties who seek to censor parts of it might as well try and put physical gags in people’s mouths and actual blindfolds on them.

The Sex Party and the Secular Party are in this election with policies to stop the underlying causes of censorship and to deal with specific problems where they bubble up to the surface. The Greens deal with censorship problems only as they rise up in the public arena. Still laudable but they could do much more. Censorship is not really a priority for them.The Democrats are philosophically on side. All other parties and most independents running in this election have no interest in censorship issues or actively support more online and offline censorship.

If you’re sick of the nanny state at this election – you know what to do.

Fiona Patten has over 20 years experience in the adult goods and services industry as a lobbyist and advocate. She has been the CEO of Australia’s national adult retail and entertainment industry association – the Eros Association – since 1992. In 2008 she launched the Australian Sex Party in an attempt to win Senate and state Upper House seats and to challenge the balance of power positions that Steve Fielding’s Family First and the Rev Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats, currently hold.

She started her career as an AIDS educator with ACT sex workers through the local advocacy group, WISE. Since then she has held positions on the Board of the AIDS Action Council, AFAO, ACT Attorney General's Sex Industry Consultative Group and the National Sex Worker organisation the Scarlet Alliance.

In 2007 she was a consultant to Foxtel’s Showtime, advising on the making of the brothel industry program, Satisfaction. In 2002 she was a regular sexual health commentator on Channel 10’s Beauty and the Beast.

Her work frequently sees her meeting with state and federal Ministers over a range of adult industry issues from immigration to censorship.


Comments

    Well written Fiona.

    Yes very well written, and scarier than a horror story.

    I really thought that Australia was an open country, free of this sort of crap. Well, I guess it still is, the issue is politicians.

    Obviously the fanatically religious minority in Australia have decided to fight back against the rest of us, and have ensured that they get as many of their kind as possible into parliament so they can stop what the vast majority of the country are perfectly fine with.

    It is indeed scary. To think that up until a short while ago that I would never want to leave this fine country. Now I'm not so sure...

    Fantastic piece !!

    "This happened in a state where the Police Commissoner is a regular Hillsong Church worshipper and who recently ordered bibles to be printed with NSW Police monograms on them. Whatever happened to the notion of separation of church and state in Australia?"

    Seperation? That the police comissioner has religious convictions does not in any way harm the seperation of church and state. Neither does ordering bibles with a police insignia for those members of the force that desire them. Having a man or woman of faith in our top job does not diminish the seperation between the spheres of church and state.

    I am a Christian who is against the filter and censorship, but become frustrated when stories like this go too far.

      When the Police Commisioner is well known to crack down hard on things that don't suit his "moral" convictions (like sex and alcohol) and he speaks at things like this: http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-diary/top-cop-leads-god-squad-20100411-s0wp.html then I think that it's more than fair enough to question his suitability to separate his beliefs from his duties.

      When those bibles are at the tax payer expense!

      It is not fair. If the Commissioner is going to do so for the Christian Bible he ought to also do so for the Koran or the writings of Budha. But he didn't, did he? It is out and out inappropriate and there is no way you can argue otherwise without hypocrisy.

        Sorry mate. "It's not fair" is not an argument. And if there are buddist or muslim cops out there who want monogrammed Korans or anything else, then they will have to speak up.
        If you're talking about going too far, you're doing it right now.
        I'm no fan of religion in any way, and I disagree with taxpayer dollars being spent on bibles for cops (I don't think they need them for work any more than I need a playboy in the toilet, they should bring their own from home), However, your argument is annoying, and you can't convince anyone with an annoying argument. In fact, you are only turning people off, I mean, I agree with you in principle, but you've managed to piss me off, and many others who read your comments, so have a think about what you say before you post. Try to further the cause, not put it back.
        I reiterate- What you are saying is not wrong, but you really need to think about your presentation of the argument.

      While I agree, Jason, that the police commissioner is entitled to whatever religious beliefs he likes, ordering police "branded" bibles is a direct affront to the separation of church and state.

      I wrote to the NSW Police Commissioner to urge him to fund the distribution of other holy books: i.e. the Koran, the Talmud and the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He didn't reply.

      I think it's funny that the usual police insignia is in fact an inverted pentagram as used by Satanists!

        Well.. I'd assume that if its inverted that they are insinuating the opposite meaning, in which case it would make sense, much like how the swastika was slanted 45 degrees to reverse its meaning.

        I don't think Simon gets it- Someone tell him to read things properly. Oh and by the way, swastikas and 45 degree angles? Where did you get that crap? Hitler reversed the swastika to use as a symbol for the Nazis, and they put it at all different angles, on its side, 45 degrees, whatever. Please, spare us your made-up "facts". People like you make the internet a poor source of information.

    Separation of state & religion is a US concept, not an australian one.

      The Australian Constitution states:

      Chapter 5, Section 116:
      The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

      How is that not separation of the Church and State?

      I wish there was separation of idiots and the internet...

        p0wned!

        The High Court ruled that the Australian government can support religion, just that it has to support every single one.

        I am guessing that is what molo meant. Our separation is different. The ruling allows the support religions as long as it is not just one.

        If that's what the law says then that's exactly what's happened. The commonwealth isn't allowed to exert any influence on religion BUT there is nothing in there that says religion can't have any influence on commonwealth matters.

        Anyone in power can make decisions based on their faith to affect the commonwealth, the commonwealth cannot however make someone pray 5 times a day, or not pray 5 times a day.

    This article is impressive to say the least. You have completely secured my vote (although there was no doubt about that anyway).

    I only hope people that read this article are forwarding it on to friends and co-workers.

    I'm with Jason on this one, I'm a Christian, and I am against the proposed internet filter and censorship taking place in Australia at the moment. My understanding is that Australia is supposed to be a free society, but when things like this censorship and filter are proposed I have to wonder this freedom.

    Yes I will agree that porn is morally wrong, however I don't want to stop someone who doesn't have my beliefs from doing what they want to do in the privacy of their bedrooms. I've seen and watched porn, Fiona has seen and watched porn, hell most people have seen it.

    To have a small minority rule the content for the majority of the population is appalling.

    I will certainly be forwarding this article to family and friends.

      Andrew, what do you mean "I will agree porn is morally wrong"? Like there is some universal set of morals that everyone should adhere to?
      As a pornographer I take that comment personally. I do everything I do in my business to make sure I am not painting anyone or any group in a poor light. I go out of my way to make sure our talent are happy, healthy and fully aware of everything involved in what they are doing.
      Porn, in and of itself, is NOT immoral. There are immoral ways of making porn, but equally there are immoral ways of doing damn near anything. There are immoral ways of running any sort of business. I care deeply about what I am doing, about proving to the people of this country that this is an industry that does not deserve its bad rap, that people in it can behave and run their businesses in a moral way.
      Obviously, I am anti- censorship and PRO Australian Sex Party.

        It's not just porn. Christians believe sex before marriage is immoral.

        It is also considered immoral to "harm" your body, or soul in any way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins#Historical_and_modern_definitions_of_the_deadly_sins

        Within the paradigm of Christianity, everyone is a sinner to some extent, it is morally hypocritical - and one of the gravest sins to judge someone else.

        Because someone believes what you are doing to be wrong is not specifically a criticism of you.

        I think Christianity should be more removed from politics, especially when I read about people like Conroy and Fielding, who give others a bad name.

    Great piece, but pity there's a couple of factual errors. The Democrats ran a candidate in the Higgins by-election that is anti-censorship (he got about 1500 votes compared to the ASP's 2100-odd) so it wasn't "ASP alone against the tide". It'd also be great if less people against censorship harped on about euthanasia and the like, when RC is much wider than these distasteful things - potentially capturing ANY info on crime that a bunch of bureaucrats say can't be rated R.

      Euthanasia is not "distasteful", and it shouldn't come as a surprise that people who value the freedom to make your own decisions would be in favour of allowing it along with X-rated material.

      Choice and freedom are always good things whether you're talking about porn, euthanasia, abortion or any of the things that christians feel they have the right to mandate to everyone else about.

      Please don't make the mistake of tarring all Christians with the same brush. The religious right believes sex before marriage is immoral, the rest of us don't interpret the Bible literally.

    Excellent piece Fiona, thank you. I have Tweeted it and also posted a link to the article on the Australian Atheist Foundation forum.

    The whole thing is quite terrifying - from the filter push, the refusal to classify legal material, through to the airbrushing of female genitalia from porno mags - all underpinned by a hardline religious agenda. This is not the direction I want to see my young and vibrant country going in.

    Keep up the excellent work.

    An interesting and disturbing report. But just remember one thing - the religious right are linked to the Federal Liberal party, particularly in NSW. There are some real maniacs running their crackpot agenda. A vote for the Liberals is a vote for that faction. Abbott supports many of their views. The Internet filter is nothing compared to what will happen if that lot get the hands on the social levers. That filter is being diluted all the time and will be dumped after the election should Labor win. So to will the NBN be dumped if Abbott wins.

      The filter will only bne dumped is Labour has to do a deal with the Greens instead of Family First. Even then, if the Liberals support it, we are in for a rough ride. That being said I am concerned that the Liberals may be far worse. The legacy of having a conservative government in power for 10+ years is a generation that know no other government and thinks that ultra-conservative views are the norm. Scary stuff.

    Excellent Piece!! Got my vote!!

    P.S. this freaks me out

    Fiona as this article is about "fighting the filter" and specifically about the election isn't it a bit underhanded to headline this article about people being arrested because they are in violation of state law rather than federal?

    The charges and the police bible issues are all state level issues, and while important should not be confused with the issues at hand which is federal level censorship.

    I'll d/l and view what I please. To hell with God-botherers and copyright Nazis.

    'I' will do as 'I' please.

    To hell with the rest of you.

    Fiona,

    I'm strongly anti-censorship and am generally in agreement with ASP policies.

    However, I'm concerned that you failed to disclose that you are running for the senate in this election and that Clive Hamilton is not. Seems rather underhanded to me.

    Great article, and I agree 100% that Australia is headed down a dark path, and already has some pretty ridiculous and strict laws relating to censorship.

    However, it was lazy to assert that all we know about Bob Brown's religiosity is that he is a Christian. Bob's own Wikipedia article has a link to an article in The Age which has a lot of information about the religious leanings of current MPs, including a quote from Bob Brown stating he is a "lapsed Presbyterian" and that his religion is "believing the fate of the Earth is in our hands."

    It is dishonest and lazy to paint the first openly gay member of Parliament and a lifetime crusader for sanity when it comes to legislation on issues surrounding sex.

    Hi Fiona,

    I thought you did very well on channel 7 this morning.
    Do you have a candidate running in South Australia, what's your parties stance on the NBN, and where do your preferences go?

    Good read, well written.

    How is it even possible for someone to be sent to jail without committing a crime? Has all sense of law gone into the trash?

    Ms. Patten, I may not be able to vote for you at this election (still 17 :< ), but you have my full respect and support on any future endeavours you may undertake.

    Run a member in the Fraser electorate and I'll be voting for them!

    good article.

    you have also scared the living shit out of me.

    my parents wonder why I want to revoke my citizenship and become a sovereign individual. amazingly I am disallowed from doing so. http://www.citizenship.gov.au/current/give_up/ - If I do not become a citizen of another country, I am not allowed to revoke my citizenship. Defeats the purpose of become a soveriegned individual in the first place.

    Australia was named so because it rhymes with failure.

    Great article, and great 'debate' on Sunrise this morning.

    oi!! no christian bashing! i am a christian who opposes the filter.

    Nothing has frightened me this much since... well... ever.

    I'm sickened, shocked & repulsed at the control so few have over so many - even after repeated independent public polls show the overwhelming majority side with common sense - and the strong "gotta be a Christian to be in politics" view that seems to be so prevalent.

    Excellent article. Thank you. I truly hope many people read it, comprehend it, and realise the full gravity of the situation. The consequences & damage of the terrible direction this nation's "religious and moral puritans" want to take us in will be several orders of magnitude harder to reverse once in place.

    Can I ask where you got the stat "that 38% of federal parliamentarians are members of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship"? I would like to use it - but it sounds a bit high to take it on face value. It is a VERY scary statistic!

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