Authoritarian governments hate sex, and it seems the Australian government is no exception.
The current target is the adult porn industry, with a focused attempt to roll back access to adult and consensual pornography. Money and resources are thus diverted from real evils, such as the physical and sexual abuse of children.
On May 21, the Fairfax press announced that incoming passenger cards for those arriving in Australia had been changed so individuals would now be obliged to declare whether or not they had pornography in their possession.
Obviously, people with child abuse material would tick “no” in the same way a person importing illegal drugs would tick “no” to a similarly worded question.
On the other hand, Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party pointed out: “If you and your partner have filmed or photographed yourselves making love in an exotic destination or even taking a bath, you have to answer ‘yes’ to the question or you will be breaking the law.”
Although the change has been introduced without consultation (customs say that the change is minor) it has, along with Australia’s proposed internet filter, received international attention.
The proposed internet filter has been put on hold until after the federal election because of the successful campaign run by groups such as Electronic Frontiers Australia. Surveys have shown that there was mass opposition to the filter, especially by the tech-savvy under 30s.
The secret list of sites that were going to be banned by the government was given to the Wikileaks website, showing that “terrorism” and child pornography was not the real aim. The proposed blacklist included YouTube clips, a website on graffiti, a euthanasia website and the soft-porn website Abbey Winters — currently the largest soft porn site in Australia.
The prudish agenda promoted by key individuals in conservative Australia perhaps better explains why Channel 7 so badly read the public mood in its “expose” of NSW transport minister David Campbell, who they filmed coming out of a gay sex club in Sydney.
Premier Kristine Keneally, in the view of many, was perhaps a little too eager to accept his resignation when she called his actions “unforgivable.”
It was not clear if the comment referred to his having gay sex (which would be pure homophobia) or his cheating on his wife (none of her business). Even the talkback radio constituency thought that what Channel 7 did was wrong and Keneally has since apologised for her comment.
The proposed greater regulation of adult pornography takes place against the background of the Rudd government’s continuing refusal to pass legislation to recognise same-sex marriages. Australia thus finds itself in an odd position, where it is relatively laid-back in relation to sex and sexual matters (more than half of Australians support same-sex marriage) while there are powerful individuals who are sexually conservative.
The prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is a serious Christian and member of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, while opposition leader Tony Abbot is a former trainee priest and slightly creepy man who likes to talk about his daughters’ virginity.
Some Australian states are doubly blessed. Keneally, who calls herself a “feminist Christian”, declined to vote for the Relationships Register Act, which allows same-sex relationships to be registered, by absenting herself from the parliamentary vote (it is now law).
The NSW police commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has a soft touch for the Christian fundamentalist Hillsong Ministries and he personally helped distribute, in August 2009, a special edition of the Bible among police ranks (it is special because it is covered with a blue and white checked ribbon).
The communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has won the approval of Jim Wallace, the chief executive of the Australian Christian Lobby, with whom he has met and discussed the internet filter.
Although the internet filter is off the cards for the time being, the promotion of conservative attitudes towards sex and sexuality is likely to continue. Meanwhile, be careful with those holiday happy snaps.
[For further information, visit wikileaks.org and www.efa.org.au .]