Liberal Senator floats Canberra classification takeover

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Liberal Senator floats Canberra classification takeover
Pic of Parliament House

Impending shake-up?

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett has received a mixed response to calls for Canberra to take over the classification and censorship powers of the states and territories.

Barnett canvassed his suggestion of a possible federal takeover at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs' inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme.

“Have you considered a Constitutional possibility for the Commonwealth to enact accordingly so we have a consistent approach across the Commonwealth in every state and territory?” Barnett asked.

“Or do we have to continue along this path of cooperative federalism approach where we have to come up with a consistent outcome and then enact it and then have different states and territories implement it their jurisdiction in a uniform and mirrored way?”

Representatives of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, Research In Motion and Telstra welcomed the prospect of more consistency and less duplication in the classification regime, although they indicated Senator Barnett's suggestion was "novel".

Legal professionals Bruce Arnold and Sarah Ailwood questioned whether Senator Barnett's suggestion was constitutionally valid.

“It would require a huge expansion in the interpretation of the Trade and Commerce and corporations power if [the Government] was to legislate in this way,” Dr Ailwood said.

Barnett told iTNews that clarifying the jurisdiction issue was important to resolving many classification issues that were raised in industry and would feature in the Senate Committee’s report due before the end of June.

“The fact is that we have a different approach in different states and territories and at the Commonwealth level," he said.

"The theme that’s flowing through is the merit of consistency across the country, no matter which jurisdiction we are talking about. That’s something that appears to have significant support.”

Senator Barnett is one of two Liberal Senators on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The remaining membership is three Labor Senators and one from the Greens.

Shake-up speculation

The latest Senate Committee hearings followed renewed speculation of an impending shake-up of the Classification Act.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor told ABC News last week that if consensus on the R18+ classification could not be reached, "the Commonwealth will certainly be considering other options because we cannot continue to have an outdated classification system, that's actually, in my view, causing harm to young people".

The Australian Law Reform Commission was currently investigating Australia's classification regime in a separate inquiry.

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