So who exactly is content with the
practicalities of the current situation?
Based on an article from
The Sydney Morning Herald
As nominally illegal X-rated videos sell in Sydney shops, unpoliced and
unregulated, violent pornography can now be found upon the shelves.
David Haines ascends the narrow stairway to Adult Book. Two floors up, past the
magazines, sits a wall of pornographic DVDs and videos. He scans the shelves,
looking at markings on the covers. Of the 150 DVDs and videos in that shelf,
two appear to have been classified, Haines says. The other shelves also
contain many apparently unclassified videos and DVDs.
Selling videos that are unclassified, refused classification or X-rated is
illegal in NSW. But the law is generally not enforced. However, a private
member's bill that State Parliament has been considering aims to legalise
X-rated sales and boost penalties for selling videos and DVDs that are
unclassified or have been refused classification.
Haines is uniquely placed. He is chairman of Gallery Global Network, a listed
company that distributes mobile phone entertainment as well as adult videos and
DVDs. But he worked for 14 years at the Commonwealth's Office of Film and
Literature Classification, including eight years as deputy chief censor.
At another store a few doors away not far from the NSW Police headquarters,
Haines surveys the thousands of videos and DVDs lining the walls. The bondage
sections of these stores, he says, contain most of the extreme porn.
Earlier, the Herald had visited a store in Kings Cross where a few videos of an
extreme nature were for sale. A DVD, Mr Dog, with no classification
markings, contained bestiality footage; price $60. Another showed sexual acts
involving a woman with a gun at her head. The shop assistant said some months
before there was on sale a video with footage of a woman's labia nailed to a
This is a taste of some of the unclassified videos sold in sex shops and adult
bookstores. Industry sources estimate there are about 200 such shops around the
state. A small minority of the videos portray bestiality, sexual violence and
coercion, pain and other activities that would all be refused classification if
they ever went near the national censor - which they don't.
Videos and DVDs submitted to the classification office are either categorised or
refused classification. The X18+ category applies to films that contain actual
sexual intercourse or sexual activity. No "violence, sexual violence, sexualised
violence or coercion is allowed in this category", the classification office
says. In the R18+ category, simulated sex is allowed, but "sexual violence may
only be implied and should not be detailed", the office says.
While classification is a Commonwealth task, banning and enforcing bans on the
sale of porn is a state responsibility. In the 1980s, the Reverend Nutter Fred
Nile led a Christian campaign - with some feminist support - against X-rated
videos. By 1984, the sale of such videos had been banned in NSW.
The same ban exists today. In NSW, it is illegal to sell videos X-rated,
unclassified, or refused classification. But it is not illegal to buy or possess
X18+ classified material. Despite this, X-rated videos and DVDs are available
throughout the state. But most sexual videos sold in NSW are not X-rated, they
are unclassified, rendering the national classification system largely
meaningless in the realm of pornography.
Nile is still a state MP and opposes the private member's bill by Peter Breen,
another upper house MP, to legalise X-rated sales.
Breen believes few people, including the Premier, Bob Carr, want X-rated videos
to be illegal, which is why the ban on them is not enforced. Hardly any sex
shops are prosecuted over their sale of X-rated videos or videos that are
unclassified or have been refused classification, Breen says. The crime
statistics for the years 1995-2003 support this view.
A spokesman for the NSW Attorney-General, Bob Debus, says enforcing the law is a
police operational matter, not a matter for the Attorney-General. The Herald
asked NSW Police why it did not enforce the ban on X-rated videos. A police
spokeswoman said in a statement: Police officers do enforce the illegal sale
of X-rated films. However, they are rarely reported to police. We would,
however, encourage members of the public with any information about such
activity to report it to police.
Other states also banned X-rated videos in the '80s, but the ACT and Northern
Territory did not. The ACT has a regulated system under which X-rated films are
sold only in licensed adult stores. Breen and sex-industry lobbyists say the ACT
could be the model for a new regulated system in NSW. If the stores in the ACT
sell material that is unclassified or has been refused classification, they are
likely to lose their licence.
Even members of the Labor Party agree there is an issue that needs resolving.
The NSW Parliament Standing Committee on Social Issues recommended, after
studying the issue, that the Attorney-General consider either establishing a
licensing scheme, similar to that which operates in the ACT, to allow controlled
premises to sell X-rated material in NSW or taking more enforcement action
against breaches of the legislation. That was three years ago.
But there are no plans to establish a licensing system for adult shops or
legalise X-rated sales, Debus's spokesman says. Any changes "should be addressed
nationally" through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, which includes
state and federal ministers. NSW has no position, he says, on the direction the
talks between states should take on this matter. No other state allows the
sale of X-rated material, and Mr Breen's bill would result in NSW being out of
step with the states and the Commonwealth, he says.
The Reverend Nutter Gordon Moyes - Nile's fellow Christian Democrat in the
Legislative Council - believes the law is fine as it is, but is not being
enforced. People are flouting the law because they know they can get away
with it, Moyes told Parliament during debate over Breen's amendment bill.
Liberalising the sale of some pornographic material will not lead to retailers
restricting the material that they sell if there are no effective sanctions in
place that are being enforced.
Breen's bill has fallen at its first parliamentary hurdle. Debus's spokesman
said the Government decided to not support it, because there is a fatal flaw
in the bill. The bill proposes to make it legal to sell and publicly exhibit
X18+ rated films without any visible mechanisms for increasing the level of
enforcement of the classification laws.
Breen agrees there are no such mechanisms in his bill, but says the Government
could easily introduce regulations to increase enforcement.
He believes Carr does not want to take on the religious right, including Nile
and Moyes. Bob Carr's attitude is let sleeping dogs lie, Breen says. And
while some of the videos contain dogs, they're certainly not sleeping.
When the upper house voted last week, Labor MPs crossed the chamber to vote with
the Coalition, Christian Democrats and others. Government ministers sat chatting
and laughing with a senior Coalition MP while the count was taken - 32 to five
against the bill.
But Breen's proposal, and the attention on the issue this year, might have had
some effect anyway. While there are bondage videos on show that Haines believes
would be refused classification, the even more extreme material such as
bestiality tapes that were on display during his last visit several months ago
are gone, he says.
A survey on sex in Australia from 2003 found nearly four out of 10 men and
nearly two out of 10 women had watched an X-rated video in the previous year.
Internet porn use grabs the headlines, but the survey of 19,307 adults by the
Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University in
Melbourne suggests mainstream porn use might be slanted towards videos and DVDs.
Some people are surprised that sex shops, which with mail order offer the main
retail outlet for such videos, have survived the internet. But Robbie Swan, of
the Eros Association, which represents adult retail and entertainment services,
says there are as many as 700 sex shops nationwide. Swan told a recent Senate
inquiry that the adult goods industry turns over $1.8 billion a year in
The MP Peter Breen says 5 million pornographic videos are sold in NSW every
year, and 3 million are illegal, either X-rated or unclassified, based on