Censorship of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

SALÒ was banned between March 1976 and February 1993. A campaign by Christian groups and politicians saw it refused again from February 1998 until April 2010.

Australia’s most hard-fought censorship battle finally ended in August 2011 with a Federal Court judgement.


Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

aka Pasolini’s 120 Days of Sodom

aka Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini / 1975 / Italy / IMDb

The Australian premiere of SALÒ took place at the 1976 Adelaide International Film Festival.

1995
Jon Hewitt, one of the festival organisers, claims that the Adelaide premiere “gave us a taste of what was to come”.

“It was an absolute, bloody scandal. A second-rate journalist got hold of [the news about the premiere] and wrote a half page story beating up the scandalous aspects of [SALO] and it just went from there. We were getting copious amounts of phone calls from concerned citizens. [The screening] was sold out and Her Majesty’s Theatre – which holds about 1200 people – was standing room only, with people clamouring to get in. Hoards of people were protesting outside. There is a police squad in Adelaide who were investigating crimes to do with children, paedophilia and so on, and they came along to view the film. It was a real success de scandal.”

– Censuring Salo: The Unbanning of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo
– Rebecca Huntley, Film Honours Thesis
libertus.net via Trove

The first refusal

In March 1976, a 3154:00-meter (114:58) print of SALÒ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM was banned because of ‘indecency’. This decision was favoured by ‘…a narrow majority’ of the Censorship Board’.

The following month, the Films Board of Review upheld the decision.

In both cases, it was submitted by United Artists in an English dubbed print as PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM.

1995
The Board viewed a 115 minute, 35 mm, English dubbed version of SALO on 10 March 1976. The film was viewed by the full Board which was “closely but sharply divided”, rejecting the film under regulation 13(a) of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations by a majority of five to four for an ‘R’ rating.

The FCB’s 1976 decision was upheld by the Films Board of Review on 2 April 1976. United Artists wrote to the then Chief Censor, R.J. Prowse, asking whether it was “legally permissible and whether it would be embarrassing to [the] Board if [United Artists] imported and submitted for possible registration, the Italian version (English sub-titled)” of the film. Prowse’s opinion was that although there was no legal barrier to such a move and a different version would be re-screened and reconsidered by the Board, there was not much hope for a different decision.

– Censuring Salo: The Unbanning of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo
– Rebecca Huntley, Film Honours Thesis
libertus.net via Trove

No show in Sydney

In June, instead of screening the actual movie, the Sydney Film Festival organised a slide, script and music presentation of SALÒ. It was staged by Gideon Bachmann, a friend of Pasolini, who had written a supporting article for the Films Board of Review appeal.

1995
Meanwhile, the organisers of the 1976 Sydney Film Festival were considering importing SALO for inclusion in the Festival’s tribute to Italian cinema. The then director of the Festival, David Stratton, was shown a dubbed American version of the film which he thought was “appalling, crudely dubbed, [which] cheapened the entire film”. On the basis of that print, Stratton decided not to include the film in the festival programme.

Instead, Festival consultant Gideon Bachmann staged a slide, script and music presentation of the film on Sunday, 5 June 1976. Bachmann described the film in detail and the slides covered almost every scene. Stratton remembers there was a lot of interest in the presentation. United Artists felt that the Festival presentation in front of the media would stir up controversy. Chief Censor Prowse suspected that the Festival would present the SALO material “in a manner of propaganda for absolute and complete freedom of festivals from all laws relating to the importation and exhibition and advertising of cinematography films”. However, the presentation occurred without incident or “repercussions”. This didn’t stop the then Chairman of the Films Board of Review, Stanley Hawes (who was in the audience) making a private comment to Stratton, castigating him for allowing the presentation.

The presentation must have been a novel re-invention of SALO, representing the film in a way that conveyed basic narrative content whilst slipping in between the gaps in the legislation regulating cinema exhibition. Stratton only agreed to the event because he “wouldn’t be breaking any laws”. Prowse seemed to have disagreed, suggesting in a memo that the Theatre and Public Halls Act 1908, regulating film advertising material. However, the Festival wasn’t prosecuted, and a festival audience got a good impression, albeit stilted, of SALO’S content.

– Censuring Salo: The Unbanning of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo
– Rebecca Huntley, Film Honours Thesis
libertus.net via Trove

No show in Melbourne

In 1980, SALÒ was refused permission to screen at the 25th Melbourne Film Festival.

June 11, 1980
Chief censor, Lady Duckmanton [Janet Strickland], rebuffed an attempt by Geoffrey Gardiner [new MFF Director] to get the film exempted for the festival.

“I just thought I’d ask,” Mr Gardiner said with a smile.

Despite the ban on the picture the festivals have been freed from the heavy-handed censorship of years ago when woolly-minded customs ministers banned pictures willy nilly and had overseas directors storming out of the festivals because their pictures had been cut or banned.

“Today we are free from that sort of nonsense and it’s established our reputation as a leading festival throughout the world,” Mr Gardiner said.

– Festivals are top for film buffs
Australian Woman’s Weekly via Trove

1995
The then Festival director Geoffrey Gardner wrote a letter to the Chief Censor, Janet Strickland, asking permission for “one screening to members in an Italian language print, with English sub-titles”.

“I freely concede that the film contains some quite graphic sequences, but I do believe that it should be shown in Australia to adults as it is, like all Pasolini’s films, a unique and heartfelt work of art.”

Strickland wrote back stating the film was rejected in March 1976 and that she was “of the opinion that it would still be rejected as indecent, in terms of current community standards”.

– Censuring Salo: the unbanning of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo
– Rebecca Huntley, Film Honours Thesis
libertus.net via Trove

The Festival opened on 4 June 1980, minus SALÒ.

Do you speak Italian?

An under-reported fact about SALÒ is that copies of the Italian language video could be found for rent in Australia. The main distributor was De Matteis Enterprises, who had been importing tapes since the early 1980s. So many rare titles were released here that they are now exported back to their country of origin to feed the demand of video collectors.

The image below is from the 1988 release from De Laurentiis Ricordi Video/Univideo.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – Univideo

The fact that it could be rented, while an epic censorship battle raged, highlights the unregulated world of ethnic video stores.

Still refused after 16-years

In June 1992, a 117-minute videotape was Refused Registration. Premium Films, submitted it as PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM.

They applied again with a 116-minute 35mm print, but this too was banned in December 1992. In this case, the title was recorded as SALÒ O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA.

It is unclear what, if any, modifications were made between the two submissions.

September 17, 1993
PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM, also known as SALO, uses the narrative structure of the Marquis De Sade’s 120 DAYS OF SODOM, to present a portrait of human degradation which serves as a metaphor for fascism. It was first considered by the Board during 1976 when the film was refused by a narrow majority, a decision subsequently upheld by the then Films Board of Review.

In 1992, the Board was again divided, with a majority of seven of the eleven member Board voting to refuse the film while four recommended a Restricted classification. The majority considered a combination of visual and conceptual elements to be indecent. It thought that the reasonable adult person would find the film’s intellectual thesis neither clear nor compelling and would therefore, be more inclined to perceive the general character of this version of the film in pornographic, voyeuristic and exploitative terms. The minority considered the film neither exploitative nor voyeuristic, but warranted a Restricted classification as it was likely to be offensive to some sections of the adult community.

– Office of Film and Literature Classification
– Reports on Activities, 1992 to 1993

R-rated on appeal

Following the December refusal, Premium Films appealed to the Film and Literature Board of Review.

In January, the nearly seventeen-year ban was lifted with the awarding of an R (Disturbing adult concepts and high level violence and sex) rating.

It was passed on the understanding that no video release would follow. This was the first time that such a demand was put upon a classified film.

January 13, 1993
The Board of Review considered an appeal by Premium Films against the decision of the Film Censorship Board to refuse registration to the FILM SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA / PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM (hereinafter referred to as SALO.

The film was completed by Pier Paolo Pasolini shortly before his death in 1975. It depicts the sexual degradation and torture by four high-ranking functionaries of a group of young prisoners, teenagers of both sexes, who have been rounded up by the Fascist authorities during the closing stages of the war. The film has had a long history of scrutiny by censorship bodies in many countries, and has several times been rejected, in different versions and formats, for screening in Australia. The present appeal was in respect of the original Italian-language version, subtitled in English for cinema exhibition only.

The film is generally considered to be a metaphor for fascism and oppression and a critique of capitalist exploitation. According to Mr John Cerrone, representing the appellants, Premium Films, it has been approved for showing in 16 countries, including France (where it was first shown), Britain and the United States. The Board of Review considered a detailed response by Mr Cerrone to the report of the Film Censorship Board on its most recent decision. In a brief presentation to the Board, Mr Cerrone contended that SALO, if approved for restricted exhibition, would be seen, in the main, only by serious and generally older film goers and film enthusiasts in arthouse cinemas, and would be exhibited with any appropriate warning or advisory message which the Board might require.

Members of the Board of Review, while endeavoring to assess the film solely by references to its intrinsic character and without regard to its provenance or the notoriety of its director, were nevertheless mindful of the fact that Pasolini was among the leading filmmakers of his time, and that SALO is considered by many to be one of his most powerful and important works.

Notwithstanding the extreme character of much of its imagery, and intense feeling of horror and revulsion it might arouse in some audiences, it seemed to the Board appropriate that decisions taken as long as seventeen years ago on a film of undisputed importance should be looked at afresh, in an atmosphere unclouded by indignation and controversy attending the film’s initial screenings abroad. SALO presents us with the most stringent test to date of the basic principle that adults in a free society should be at liberty to see what they wish. That principle, endorsed as part of the comprehensive revised guidelines by Commonwealth, State and Territory Censorship Ministers in 1979, we have taken to be fundamental.

Approaching SALO from this standpoint, we agreed that its depictions, while frequently shocking, were integral to the filmmaker’s purposes, and therefore not gratuitous; nor were they in any way erotic or titillating. We noted the assurance of the distributor that the film, if approved with an ‘R’ classification would be exhibited by them only in smaller, selected cinemas and advertised with appropriate discretion. We noted finally the comments of the minority of the Film Censorship Board, who concluded that the film:

“Whilst certainly challenging from a classification standpoint, could nonetheless be accommodated in the Restricted category, defined as this is to encompass material considered possibly offensive to some sections of the adult community. The minority argued that although the film deals with indecent or obscene phenomena, it does so in a manner which is neither indecent nor obscene in itself when viewed in the context of a film of merit where even the most problematic of elements clearly serve the director’s metaphorical purpose. For the minority the film is neither exploitative nor voyeuristic, but a powerfully realised political statement on the violation of innocence and freedom”

With this opinion the Board of Review, after much careful consideration, concurred and accordingly determined that SALO should be registered and classified ‘R’ ( for restricted exhibition), subject to the condition that the advertising material prepared for the film by Premium Films be submitted to the Review Board for approval.

We directed that the following consumer advice apply to the film:’ Disturbing adult concepts and high level violence and sex’.

– Film and Literature Board of Review report

Australian premiere

The 1993 theatrical release began in Sydney on July 2nd and Melbourne on July 15th.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom - Australian poster 1
Poster – Premium Films

The poster, which had to be approved by the Film and Literature Board of Review, stated that it had been ‘Banned in Australia for 17 years’. It continued, ‘Now for the first time Australian audiences have the opportunity to judge one of the most controversial films in the history of cinema. A work of rigorous moral intelligence or a descent into a nightmare of cruelty and lust?’.

The fight begins

The opening of SALÒ, in Adelaide on May 28th, would begin one of Australia’s longest-running censorship battles.

May 31, 1993
The Festival of Light attacked the screening yesterday of an Italian film previously banned in Australia for 17 years because of its explicit sexual violence.

The film, entitled SALO OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM, had its Australian premiere in Adelaide on Friday night and is to be shown in Melbourne and Sydney next month.

About 1200 people attended the premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, but a Festival of Light spokes- woman, Rosslyn Phillips, said at least 50 had walked out before the end of the film.

– Explicit film draws fire
Canberra Times

With the film now playing in other states, a campaign was launched by Christian groups to keep it out of Queensland.

August 24, 1993
The Clerk announced the receipt of the following petitions—Movie, SALO
From Mr Szczerbanik (143 signatories) praying for urgent action to ban the movie SALO from Queensland.

– John Szczerbanik (Labor)
– QLD Legislative Assembly

This type of protest would have been successful in the 70s and 80s when the Queensland Films Board of Review was in operation. However, by 1993, three-years had passed since it was disbanded by the Goss Labor government.

An 18-year crusade begins

In August 1993, Julian McGauran (National) began his campaign to keep SALÒ out of Australia. This Catholic ‘soldier of Christ’ would go on to fight it to the Federal Court of Australia in 2011. By this time, he had defected to the Liberal party.

August 31, 1993
Senator McGAURAN (Victoria) —by leave—I present to the Senate the following petitions, similar in wording, from 16 and 20 citizens, which are not in conformity with the standing orders as they are not in the correct form:

To the Honourable the Chairman and members of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

The petition of the undersigned shows:

We the undersigned citizens respectfully request the Committee, in its capacity as overseer of the Film Review Board, to replace the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Evan Williams, on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards, with a more responsible community representative.

To the Honourable the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The petition of the undersigned shows that the signatories request you to exercise your authority to replace the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr. Evan Williams, with a more responsible and representative member of the community, on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards, as evidenced by his support for the release of the film SALO.

Senator Robert Ray—Mr President, I raise a point of order. We seem to be getting back to a stage of reading out petitions in this place when people send them in incorrectly, which gives them an advantage over those who send them in correctly. I wonder whether you might look at that and take it up with the Procedure Committee.

The PRESIDENT—I must admit that on one of the advices I received there were some extra words added today. I will look at that.

– Petition – Film and Literature Board of Review: Chairman
– Julian McGauran (National), Robert Ray (Labor)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

September 2, 1993
Film and Literature Board of Review: Chairman Senator McGAURAN (Victoria) —by leave—I present to the Senate the following petition, from 137 citizens, which is not in conformity with the Standing Orders as it is not in the correct form:

To the Honourable the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The petition of the undersigned shows that the signatories request you to exercise your authority to replace the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr. Evan Williams, with a more responsible and representative member of the community, on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards, as evidenced by his support for the release of the film SALO.

– Petition – Film and Literature Board of Review: Chairman
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

September 2, 1993
McGAURAN (Victoria) —by leave—I present to the Senate the following petition, from 83 citizens, which is not in conformity with the Standing Orders as it is not in the correct form:

To the Honourable Attorney-General.

The petition of certain citizens of Australia, draws to the attention of the House of the release of the previously banned film SALO, allowing it for public viewing.

Your petitioners request the House to exercise your Authority to replace the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr. Evan Williams on the grounds that he has lost touch with Community Standards.

– Petition – Film and Literature Board of Review: Chairman
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

September 6, 1993
Senator McGAURAN (Victoria) (10.30 p.m.) —This evening I wish to relate my comments to the decision of the Film and Literature Board of Review to release the movie SALO. The movie SALO is presently showing in major capital cities of Australia and represents a watershed in censorship laws in this country. My concern is as much against the clear breach of the censorship laws and the unequivocal instructions of the Commonwealth, state and territory censorship ministers for tighter application of those guidelines as it is against the movie itself.

The movie SALO, made in 1976, banned in this country for some 17 years, has been released in mainstream theatres with no more than a lowly R rating and therefore there is no barrier to its release on home video. The story-line begins with the kidnap of 16 adolescents in an Italian village, eight of each sex. For the remainder of the film they are subjected to every form of violent sexual humiliation and torture before being mass slaughtered in a bizarre fashion.

I make reference to the hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies in Sydney on Thursday, 5 August 1993 to try to encapsulate the depths and darkness of the movie SALO. The committee transcript reads that the movie:

Contains constant nudity, masturbation, forced sodomy, forced urolagnia, coprophagous, humiliation and degradation, anilingus, suicide, candlewax burns to breasts and male genitalia, a man’s tongue cut off, an eye explicitly gouged out with a knife, a woman partially scalped, a boy’s nipples branded with a hot iron, being forced to eat excreta, torture and killing during the “Cycle of Blood” canto. Naked male and female youths forced to behave as animals going on all fours to beg for food—eventually betraying their fellows in an attempt to survive, hanging, whipping, accompanied by raconteurs’ stories based on offensive, fetishes and paedophilia, a woman’s verbal accounts of sex experiences as a child and of matricide, live rat forced into a girl’s vagina, whilst various adults engage in sexual acts.

The movie SALO has been condemned outright by every film critic of any note. The most notable critiques came from Neil Jillet of the Age on 8 July 1993—he described the film as ‘vile’ and a ‘treat for sadists and psychopaths’—and Marion Groves from the Sun-Herald who asked why the film and literature review board was so determined to provide suitable entertainment for Mr Baldy, Mr Stinky and Mr Cruel, Melbourne’s notorious child molesters and murderers.

Moreover, the Victorian police headed by the office of the deputy commissioner, the head of the spectrum task force overseeing the investigations into Mr Cruel, the head of the rape squad, the head of the gaming and vice squad and the department’s chief serial crime expert were instructed to see the movie and to report on the movie to the highest command. In my casual conversation with some of those who attended the movie, they told me that, following the movie, these men of the police force who had experienced many hardened situations had to take a walk down by the Yarra just to get their breath.

In a statement to the community standards committee, the conclusions of the police were affirmed by Mr Reaburn from the Attorney-General’s Department when he said:

One has to doubt how it will affect the community in the long run. How many of the young men trooping in to see the film at various Twin Cinemas in our capital cities are aware of the allegorical considerations?

The community has also protested against the movie by way of letters, petitions and phone calls—the volume of which has been exceptionally large. At a meeting of the Senate select committee on community standards in Canberra on Friday, 20 August, Mr Reaburn from the Attorney-General’s Department confirmed that a great many members of the community had protested directly to the Attorney-General’s Department.

It is then legitimate to ask: according to whom, and on what criteria, was the movie SALO released into Australian society? The Film and Literature Board of Review, the body that is the final arbitrator of the film’s classification and release, is responsible. Its chairman, Mr Evan Williams, is therefore the responsible person. Mr Williams has publicly and before the Senate community standards committee vigorously defended his decision and claims that the release of the movie can be justified on four grounds.

Those grounds are, firstly, that the movie is of artistic merit. According to Mr Williams, ‘It is the task of the artist, at least occasionally, to shock the old and complacent’. The second ground is that the movie would be shown only in art-house theatres, a proviso which cannot be enforced and is not mentioned in the guidelines as a relevant criteria. The third ground is that adults in a free society ought to be allowed to see whatever they like. Mr Williams confirmed his view in a letter to the Age on 15 November saying that:

‘… to deny their right to do so, I believe, is to champion a view of censorship now largely discredited in Australia.’

The fourth ground for Mr Williams releasing this movie SALO may be found in his article in the Australian on 21 May 1993 when he said, ‘Quite simply, we thought it was a good film’.

It is my view that the position of Mr Williams as Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review is no longer tenable, and he should be dismissed. I take this view on four counts: firstly, there has been a clear breach of the guidelines for the classification of films and videotapes which he was obliged in law to apply. Under the refused classification section of the guidelines, subsection (b) has been breached. It reads:

‘… any film which includes unduly detailed and/or relished acts of extreme violence or cruelty; explicit or unjustifiable depictions of sexual violence against non-consenting persons, will be refused classification.’

Mr Williams himself has stated that the adolescents suffer ‘sexual torment and sadistic humiliation of an extreme kind’. Secondly, Mr Williams was in breach of the principle found in the preamble of the classification guidelines which reads:

‘… community has the right to ban material considered likely to endanger public health or safety; or to offend accepted standards of public decency.’

Thirdly, he was in breach of the clear direction from the June 1988 Commonwealth, state and territory censorship ministers meeting in Darwin requesting that the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review apply tighter restrictions to sexually violent films in the M and R categories. Fourthly, in my own State of Victoria, section 8(2)(c) of the Classification of Films and Publications Act 1990 provides:

‘… that a censor must refuse to classify a film that depicts a child (whether engaged in sexual activity or otherwise) who is, or who is apparently, under the age of 16 years in a manner that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult person.

Not only do I believe that Mr Williams’ position is no longer tenable because of the flagrant breaches of the above but also I question his competence to be a judge of community standards. This belief was confirmed by the incredible assertion by Mr Williams that he could see no evidence to link a level of sexually violent crime to sexually violent movies. His opinion clearly shows poor judgment and it could be supported only by a very small minority of people in society.

It is clear from the committee hearings that community views were never a touchstone in the film and literature review board’s decision making process; rather, the artistic value of the movie and the freedom of expression of the director overrode community standards. Mr Williams is employed to apply the law, not to make it up. These boards are made up of appointed officials; they are not elected. For this reason they cannot be allowed to roam free, interpreting the guidelines as they might, inventing new criteria and then being unaccountable to the community and protected from criticism by government departments.

As public representatives, we are here to represent the standards of the community as well as the public sentiment towards issues that arise from time to time. As a public servant, Mr Williams is obliged in law to follow the guidelines which are laid down by the parliament. He and other members of the board are not at liberty to substitute their own philosophical judgments, as they have done. I therefore put it to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and the other senators present in the chamber, to join me in calling for the dismissal of Mr Evan Williams, since the only appropriate signal we can make to the community is that we will not tolerate breaches of the guidelines which place the safety of our citizens in peril. This will no doubt send a clear signal to a worried community that any member or chairperson of the film and literature review board is accountable for his or her actions. I agree with Mr Williams on one point, when he said:

SALO presents us with the most stringent test to date.

I say clearly that the release of SALO was a deliberate challenge to the community standards and, therefore, a watershed in this country’s censorship laws. To leave the matter undisputed would signal a collapse of Australia’s censorship laws. I finish by quoting the last paragraph in today’s Age editorial, Monday 6 September, which I believe clearly relates to the release of the movie SALO:

The unacceptable alternative is simply to wish our children luck as they ride the pendulum of censorship towards the outer limits.

– Salo
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

September 7, 1993
Senator McGAURAN (Victoria) —by leave—I present to the Senate the following petition, from 13 citizens, which is not in conformity with the standing orders as it is not in the correct form:

To the Honourable the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The petition of the undersigned shows that the signatories request you to exercise your authority to replace the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr Evan Williams, with a more responsible and representative member of the community, on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards, as evidenced by his support for the release of the film SALO.

– Petition – Film and Literature Board of Review
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Not in NSW

Fred Nile (Call to Australia NSW) first began protesting films in 1974 with the release of LANGUAGE OF LOVE (1969).

Here he is calling Pier Paolo Pasolini an ‘apparently a sexually perverse person’ which is Nile-speak for gay. He goes on to claim that he ‘finally killed himself’ when in fact Pasolini was murdered.

September 7, 1993
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [5.8]: The matter I wish to bring to the attention of the House concerns a controversial decision made by the Commonwealth Film and Literature Board of Review in regard to a film called SALO. Like many members in this House and those in other parliaments of Australia, we were shocked when the film was passed for screening in Australia after its prohibition for 17 years. It was correctly banned by the Commonwealth Film and Literature Classification Board, which is not known for its rigid decisions. That ban should have been upheld. However, the Commonwealth Film and Literature Board of Review overruled its decision. The film is now being shown in various theatres around Australia, including one in Paddington [Academy Twin cinema].

Call to Australia believes the original decision of the Commonwealth Film and Literature Classification Board was correct. SALO has been described as a film involving a great deal of violence and degradation, particularly of teenage girls. Even Mr Evan Williams, Chairman of the Commonwealth Film and Literature Board of Review, which overthrew the decision of the Classification Board, is quoted in the Australian of 21st May as saying that SALO contains “scenes of concentrated foulness, sexual torment and sadistic humiliation of an extreme kind” – in relation mainly to the degradation of teenage girls. The film promotes, by implication, child pornography because the press articles show naked SALO actors, arguably under the age of sixteen years. We believe that this film, by its contents, through the display of such violence is but another step in the desensitisation process that will entice many who view the film to become involved in sexual violence themselves.

The producer of SALO – apparently a sexually perverse person – finally killed himself. Why should the perversion of a sick mind be allowed to be fed into the minds of Australian adults and children if this film is eventually allowed to be screened, even in an edited version on television? We believe the film was produced as a deliberate attack on attempts to censor such pornographic films. Other comments about the film include those by Neil Gillet, the film reviewer of the Melbourne Age, who described SALO as:

‘… a vile film. It is a treat for sadists and other psychopaths…The shock of watching this film numbs the mind to anything but the violence, Pasolini’s apparent relish in presenting it and conjecture about how he persuaded, or coerced, the cast – especially the younger actors – into following the director’s orders.’

Those younger actors, mainly teenage girls, were degraded in the production of the film, which will have similar impact on viewers. Mr Keith Connolly, the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Review that released the film, considered SALO to be “an utterly appalling chronicle of human depravity”. Nevertheless, he voted to release it for exhibition with an R rating, and later revealed that the vote by the review board was unanimous. That revelation makes me wonder whether the Review Board should not be sacked and other persons appointed, given that its members can make such statements yet be unanimous in overthrowing the decision of the Classification Board that the film should not have been shown. SALO can now be seen by anyone over 17 years of age. The whole point is that the review board was stating what is described as a classic liberal position – of philosophy, not of politics – that anyone over the age of 17 should be perfectly free to witness any film he or she wishes and – presumably, one might add – free to read any book or to undergo any experience.

– “Salo” Film Classification
– Fred Nile (Call to Australia)
– NSW Legislative Council

Banned in Western Australia

Eight-months after receiving an R-rating, Western Australia became the first state to ban SALÒ.

September 15, 1993
This is to certify that the Minister charged with the administration of the ‘Censorship of Films Act 1947’, acting pursuant to section 12B of that Act has directed that the classification for restricted exhibition assigned to the film SALO 0 LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA pursuant to section 12 of that Act shall be ineffective in the State and that the Minister has refrained from assigning to the film any classification in lieu, the film thereby being deemed to be an unapproved film under that Act.

– Certificate of Ineffectual Classification
– Censorship of Films Act 1947 – Form 4b
– Cheryl Edwardes, Minister
– Western Australian Government

In 1981, the WA Government had also prevented CALIGULA (1979) and THE EXTERMINATOR (1980) from screening.

September 15, 1993
Attorney General Cheryl Edwardes has refused to assign a classification to the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (120 DAYS OF SODOM).

Mrs Edwardes, the Minister responsible for Censorship, said her decision made SALO an ‘unapproved’ film which could not be shown in Western Australia.

The film is set in Nazi-occupied Italy towards the end of the Second World War and involves the abduction of a group of teenagers who are subjected to a series of degrading and obscene acts ranging from perverted sexual practices through to brutal violence and murder.

“While I am loathe to use the powers given to me under the Censorship of Films Act, I believe the film contains graphic depictions of extreme violence and sexual violence, and should not be exhibited,” Mrs Edwardes said.

“After viewing the film I have concluded that the portrayal of sadistic sexual acts, brutal violence and depravity against young people goes beyond what is acceptable in terms of current community standards.”

Mrs Edwardes said the disturbing elements of SALO included:

– forced sodomy;

– the branding and burning of breasts and male genitalia;

– people being forced to eat excreta, tacks and razor blades;

– an explicit scalping, the cutting of a youth’s tongue, the gouging-out of an eyeball;

– urolagnia; and

– a live rat being forced into a girl’s vagina.

“These are just some of the images portrayed in the film – there are many more,” the Minister said.

The film had been banned in Australia by the Film Censorship Board for 17 years, a decision upheld as late as December 1992 – but was given an ‘R’ classification earlier this year by the Film and Literature Board of Review following an appeal by the distributors.

Since then the film has been shown in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney – where newspaper reviewers have described the film as ‘vile’, and ‘a treat for sadists and psychopaths’.

The decision taken not to provide this film with a classification in Western Australia has been based upon careful analysis of the arguments put for and against its exhibition.

At a time when as a community we are attempting to reduce the level of violence in society – particularly against young people and children – I could not justify giving the film a classification.

I am not prepared to allow a film to be shown in this State that could simply serve as a ‘trigger’ for the perpetrators of sexual and sadistic violence.

– Film refused classification
– Cheryl Edwardes (Liberal)
– Attorney-General of Western Australia

Pay for censorship

In October 1993, SALÒ was cited as a reason for keeping R and X-rated movies off pay-TV. This would eventually become law and is the reason why Foxtel still [as of 2021] has to censor films.

October 28, 1993
Senator REYNOLDS (Queensland) (4.01 p.m.) —I present a report of the Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies on video and computer games and classification issues.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator REYNOLDS —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate my tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies
Report on Video and Computer Games and Classification Issues October 1993

Tabling Statement by Committee Chairperson, Senator Margaret Reynolds.

The Committee’s concern about the system of classification of films and videos was prompted by the decision in January 1993 of the Film and Literature Board of Review to release the film SALO with an ‘R’ rating, overturning a decision of the Film Censorship Board to maintain a ban on the film’s release of 17 years standing. The Committee’s terms of reference include a requirement that it consider whether material which would be classified in the ‘R’ and ‘X’ categories should be permitted on pay TV. The Committee was able to use the consideration of SALO by the classification authorities as a “window” into the operations of the system which has the potential to eventually permit ‘R’ or ‘X’ material onto pay TV.

The Committee’s inquiry highlighted a number of systemic flaws in the classification system and its report has recommended the implementation of a number of important remedial measures, particularly in relation to the restructuring of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which is the umbrella Commonwealth agency housing the Film Censorship Board and the Film and Literature Board of Review. The Committee recognises that the adjudication of community standards will always fall to certain individuals tasked with that role and that there will inevitably be differences of opinion about decisions which arise from such a system. The Committee was concerned, however, about the idiosyncratic nature of the current system, which gives little certainty to the community about what material will or will not be released. The Committee’s recommendations are directed at ensuring that the classification system, as far as possible, meets prevailing community standards.

The Standing Committee of Censorship Ministers is scheduled to discuss these issues at its forthcoming meeting in November, when it will examine in detail the proposals of the Law Reform Commission for greater uniformity in film and literature classification as contained in its September 1991 report Censorship Procedure. As with its recommendations in relation to the regulation of video and computer games, the Committee urges the Ministers to agree to the early implementation of the Committee’s proposals for reforms in the film and video classification system.

– Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies Committee: Report
– Margaret Reynolds (Labor)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Petition No. 5

After a three-month break, Julian McGauran (National) was back with the signatures of twelve more god-fearing folks.

December 14, 1993
Senator McGAURAN (Victoria) —by leave—I present to the Senate the following petition, which is not in conformity with the standing orders, from 12 citizens requesting that the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr Evan Williams, be replaced with a more responsible and representative member of the community on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards:

To the Honourable the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The petition of the undersigned shows that the signatories request you to exercise your authority to replace the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr Evan Williams, with a more responsible and representative member of the community, on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards, as evidenced by his support for the release of the film SALO.

Petitions and petitioning letters received.

– Petition – Film and Literature Board of Review: Chairman
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Banned in South Australia

In January 1994, Trevor Griffin (Liberal) refused to let SALÒ screen in South Australia.

January 1994
My decision has not been taken lightly and I’m very conscious of the criticism which will come from some members of the community. Undoubtedly the debate over this film will raise the philosophical issue of censorship or no censorship, but that is not the issue. There is widespread concern about violence in the community and access to violence through videos and computer games, so a decision does have to be made in that context.

I might also point out that it is the International Year of the Family. The film, lasting nearly two hours, was slow moving and it was difficult to recognise the metaphor some people claim the director Pasolini was endeavouring to demonstrate. It is difficult to establish whether or not the acts could be described as child ‘pornography’.

– Trevor Griffin (Liberal), SA Attorney-General

His actions were criticised in the Legislative Council.

February 10, 1994
The Hon. ANNE LEVY: I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for the Arts about advisory committees.

Leave granted.

The Hon. ANNE LEVY: The Hon. Mr Griffin has already begun the process of returning South Australia to the 1950s and 1960s by his banning of the film SALO. This is despite the recommendation from the Commonwealth Film and Literature Board of Review that the previous ban be lifted and the film receive an R classification so that it could be viewed by adults if they chose to see it. I would like to remind members that this film can now be viewed by adults in 16 different countries, including Britain, France and the United States of America. It certainly makes us look ridiculous that our new Government is adopting a ‘big daddy’ approach and limiting our access to a serious if revolting film, so separating us from the rest of Western culture by puritanical and bigoted censorship.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. ANNE LEVY: Just as our Festival of Arts is to begin, where we hope to impress other nations as to the depth and value of our cultural pursuits.

The Hon. Diana Laidlaw interjecting:

The Hon. ANNE LEVY: As to arrests on footpaths, I apologised publicly for that, I remind the Minister. I do not want to see the film SALO; I have not seen it and, when it is finally released in Adelaide, as I am sure it will be, I do not intend to pay good money to go and see it. But I express my strongest indignation that the Hon. Trevor Griffin is sitting in judgment about what I and other adult South Australians can view. I do not want him as my moral guardian and I do not want him making aesthetic judgments for me. I would maintain that he is not qualified for either role.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. ANNE LEVY: Mr President, I would like to quote—

The Hon. Diana Laidlaw: I’m not sure what this has to do with advisory committees.

The Hon. ANNE LEVY: If you listen to my explanation, you will find out. I should like to quote from an article written by the Chair of the Commonwealth Film and Literature Review Board as to why the 17-year-old ban on SALO has been lifted for the rest of Australia. Evan Williams states:

‘SALO contains scenes of concentrated foulness such as few of us might have imagined, and I doubt if anything would persuade us to watch it again. Yet we reached our decision with surprising ease and a reassuring unanimity.’

He further states:

‘I believe, as I am sure do my colleagues on the board, that the paramount function of censorship is to protect innocent and impressionable young minds from corrupting influence, and that artistic freedom is only one element—though probably the most important—amongst those we are asked to weigh.’

‘I believe there are many films that would be better not made and many more that would be better not seen. I deplore Hollywood’s obsession with violence and depravity, which seems to be getting worse, and was amongst the first to advocate the newly adopted MA (Mature Adult) film classification…But I can see no valid reason for preventing adults from seeing SALO.’

Further in his article he states:

‘The Times critic in 1977 called it a ‘forbidding desperate work of art’, whose chief purpose was to produce a powerful cathartic shock, in which the sexuality, the scatology and the horror were in no respect titillating in the manner of pornography, but deliberately painful.’

He further states:

‘Perhaps our strongest reason for lifting the ban was the conviction that adults, after 17 years, should be allowed to judge the film for themselves.’

He says:

‘Most of us could recall films with scenes of comparable violence and horror…(for example) Greenaway’s THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER—’

This film was shown for many weeks in Adelaide.

Evan William then says:

‘We had another reason for allowing SALO. Quite simply we thought it a good film.’

Elsewhere he said:

‘Yes, I think adults should be allowed to see it. It was for just such films that the R certificate was introduced more than 20 years ago…No-one is likely to be inflamed or titillated by it. Audiences are more likely to be numbed or saddened. Or as Pasolini might have hoped, steeled with disgust and indignation against the horrors of the world.’

That is the considered and careful view of those who are charged with considering censorship in this country and who know something about the matter. We all know that this is not the first time that the Hon. Trevor Griffin has dutifully sat through a film and, because he did not like it, has made sure that no-one else could make their own choices as to whether they would see it.

Perhaps it is salutary to remind South Australians that 10 years after the Hon. Trevor Griffin banned SWEET SWEETBACK BAADAASSSS SONG [in 1980] as likely to deprave and corrupt the populace of South Australia, that same film was shown on television nationally, and I have certainly not noticed any discernible madness or depravity amongst those who chose to view it on national television. I have no doubt whatsoever that we will be able to see SALO at some time. We will catch up with the rest of the world eventually, after a few years of being a laughing stock and being quite unable to be considered seriously in cultural matters. I only hope the reputation of our Festival of Arts does not suffer in the meantime. As the Hon. Trevor Griffin is obviously taking his role as moral guardian and aesthetic critic to such ludicrous lengths, I ask the Minister for the Arts the following questions:

1. Will the Minister appoint the Hon. Trevor Griffin as a member of all advisory committees in the arts, particularly film, so that his approval and judgment can be obtained in all cultural development matters? This would at least ensure that his veto would be established before time, effort and resources are expended in developing artistic product which he might otherwise ban at a later stage?

2. Does the Minister still hold with the peer group assessment principle for artistic matters, despite its obvious rejection by her colleague the Hon. Trevor Griffin in his personal overriding of the judgment of the Commonwealth Film and Literature Review Board? Can the Minister reassure the arts community that peer group assessment will continue in this State? Will she attempt to convince her colleagues that the Hon. Trevor Griffin is not anyone’s artistic peer?

The PRESIDENT: Before the Minister replies to the question, can I point out that there was an awful lot of opinion in that question. It is not necessary; Standing Orders do not require it. I ask that the Hon. Anne Levy note that in regard to her future questions.

The Hon. DIANA LAIDLAW: The answer to the first question is, ‘No’. The Hon. Trevor Griffin is fortunately too busy and has a very—

The Hon. Anne Levy: Unfortunately he is too busy?

The Hon. DIANA LAIDLAW: Is fortunately very busy and he also has faith in the people that I would appoint to the peer advisory group in respect of the arts. Traditionally the arts have had an arm’s length principle involved in determining grants. It was a system that was established by the Hon. Murray Hill when I was working with him many years ago. That system is less credible in some respects in recent years, but it will be a system that will continue with integrity in the future.

– Anne Levy (Labor), Diana Laidlaw (Liberal)
– SA Legislative Council

Here is Griffin defending the statewide ban.

February 10, 1994
The Hon. CAROLINE SCHAEFER: I seek leave to ask the Attorney-General a question about his decision that the film SALO not be shown?

Leave granted.

The Hon. CAROLINE SCHAEFER: Further to the question asked by the Hon. Anne Levy, are you in fact as bigoted as she suggests or do you have valid reasons for your decisions?

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I can assure the Hon. Anne Levy that I certainly do not have the time to be on any of the advisory boards and committees that the Minister for the Arts has responsibility for. But I can say that she acts very responsibly in the interests of the whole community in the appointments she is recommending. I have no hesitation in supporting those appointments and in fact I do support some of the artistic activities that occur under her patronage. The Hon. Anne Levy has really opened a hornet’s nest— or one might even suggest Pandora’s Box—about this film SALO because it is not as clear cut as she makes it out to be. She was suggesting that it was an issue of whether there should or should not be censorship. That is not the argument. The argument is not about censorship; it is about what ought to be the cut-off point at which the censorship laws—

The Hon. C.J. Sumner: The argument is about who should do it.

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: It is not. The Hon. Anne Levy made the point that she should be able to hear and see what she wishes as an adult.

The Hon. Anne Levy: No, I said do what the Commonwealth—

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: It is not clear-cut at the Commonwealth level either. What happened was that the Film Censorship Board made a decision, by a majority, not to classify it. That was subsequently overturned by the Film and Literature Board of Review. The Film Censorship Board in making its assessment said:

‘However, the majority of the board was of the opinion that, in combination, the visual and conceptual strength of the depictions of the forcing of sadistic sexual acts upon captive teenagers, [mostly naked] the brutal violence, plus the disturbing acts of depravity, go beyond what is acceptable in terms of current community standards. For the majority, these depictions exceeded any legitimacy as metaphor or allegory that could be claimed on their behalf; the majority deemed these visuals of degeneracy which are presented for their own sake to be indecent.’

The Film Censorship Board identifies a whole range of strong depictions, which I suppose one could briefly encapsulate in the following descriptions: explicit rape scenes; branding and burning of breasts and male genitalia; people being forced to eat excreta; scalping; the cutting of a person’s tongue; and the gouging of an eyeball.

The Hon. T.G. Roberts: Sounds like a Liberal Party meeting.

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: With respect, I think that is what happened in the Labor Party Legislative Council Party Room recently, because there have been some dramatic changes on that side of the House, so let us not talk about who is doing the gouging and who is cutting the tongues. There was community concern about the film from a wide range of people. Subsequent to the decision I can say that there were members on both sides of the Parliament who expressed appreciation to me for the decision that was taken. I do not intend to set myself up to view every film and every play, or whatever. This was a film of particular interest and concern to a wide range of people. It was highly controversial. Because the responsibility was given to the Attorney- General in the Act I did not turn my back on it. I decided that if I had the responsibility I should act upon it. I did not relish the sort of criticism that the Peter Goers, the Peter Wards and other people heaped upon me. No-one in politics wants that. But I decided in the circumstances, without of course knowing what was going to happen—but probably would still have done it anyway—that one ought to set the level at a different level from that which the Film and Literature Board of Review set.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: Mr President, it is not a signal that—

The Hon. Anne Levy interjecting: The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: It is not a signal that at the Fringe, the Festival, or film events I, as Attorney-General, will get heavily involved with the blue pencil.

– Caroline Schaefer (Liberal), Trevor Griffin (Liberal)
– Anne Levy (Labor), Chris Sumner (Labor), Terry Roberts (Labor)
– SA Legislative Council

Griffin would go on to be appointed to the Classification Review Board. He was part of a five-member panel that awarded the film an R18+ rating in May 2010. Presumably, he was the minority that thought the RC rating should remain.

McGauran vs. the computer

During Senate estimates, Julian McGauran (National) wanted to know why the OFLC was wasting money on a new computer system when they should be focusing on classifying films. His line of questioning resulted in him being called a ‘dork’ by Nick Bolkus (Labor).

February 24, 1994
Senator McGAURAN –Could you just explain the use of this new computer? What is it and what is it for?

Mr Reaburn –It is to replace the current system, Senator. The current system is old and starting to fall apart.

Senator McGAURAN –What does it do?

Mr Reaburn –It keeps the OFLC’s records–its financial records, its accounting records, its classification records.

Senator McGAURAN –How would it help the decision-making of the Office of Film and Literary Classification–

Mr Reaburn –How would it help?

Senator McGAURAN –In making its classifications?

Senator Bolkus –Can you actually rule questions out for stupidity? I am sorry, you are talking about the Office of Film and Literary Classification.

Senator McGAURAN –That is correct.

Senator Bolkus –And as a unit it has a computer.

Senator McGAURAN –Yes.

Senator Bolkus –And a computer is part of the process. It actually helps run the office.

Senator McGAURAN –Yes, but there are also priorities in expenditure. I have supplementary questions once I establish why you sought that as a priority over obvious other priorities within the office, such as better decision-making in making its classifications.

Senator Bolkus –Mr Chairman, I just do not know that this actually goes to the specifics of the item before us–

Senator McGAURAN –Well, allow some questions to go by and we will see.

Senator VANSTONE –Minister, perhaps if I can help here.

Senator Bolkus –Yes, you might.

Senator VANSTONE –I just think the point that the senator is making is to say you have spent $18,000. The purpose of his question is not concerned with whether you have bought a bucket of carrots, peas or a computer. What he is asking is: what were the priorities that you were not able to proceed with, or that led you to decide that you had to have this rather than something else? All spending decisions have a priority and he simply is asking you: what are the ones just under this that would have missed out? That is all. Actually, there is an assumption there that you actually have some priorities.

CHAIRMAN –The officer is trying to give a response.

Mr Reaburn –The point about it is that the current computer system, which is used for all the sorts of things that you would use a computer system in an office for–particularly in terms of record-keeping and particularly in terms of keeping the classification database, which is the record of classification decisions–is wearing out.

We have been advised by the manufacturer of the equipment that within a certain specified time it will no longer be in a position to maintain that particular old equipment and it has to be replaced. It is a simple, straightforward exercise in replacing equipment within an office with new and updated equipment when it gets old and starts to wear out.

Senator McGAURAN –How will this computer help the board itself in making its decisions towards classification of film making?

Mr Reaburn –Because the computer contains the classification database, it will help the board maintain consistency in its approach to classification decisions.

Senator McGAURAN –And expenditure on the computer is a priority over and above other matters such as those reported in the Senate standing committee which I think were greater priorities in making decisions about classifications. If you are given expenditure, would it not have been better to have taken the priorities set in this Senate committee rather than go out and buy a new computer?

Mr Reaburn –Which priorities, Senator?

Senator McGAURAN –Such as exposing the board to greater community consultation. That costs money. It costs money to broaden your consultation and to make the board more community based. It costs money to expand the consultation process. I think that would have been a–

Mr Reaburn –The board and the other statutory officers are exposed to community consultation and they do it quite extensively, so we are spending money on that particular process–

Senator McGAURAN –Extra money, over and above?

Mr Reaburn –Already.

Senator McGAURAN –Why is it not reported here?

Senator Bolkus –We are talking about supplementary estimates, you dork.

Senator McGAURAN –I know.

Senator Bolkus –Maybe if you had had a computer in your operation back in Melbourne you might still have your hotels. We are talking about the administration of an office. It has been explained to you that it was felt that the computer needed upgrading. I do not really think we can take this much further. I withdraw the word ‘dork’.

Senator VANSTONE –Mr Chairman, before you make whatever ruling you choose to make, these estimates generally are conducted in a reasonably hospitable atmosphere. There are plenty of remarks made, sometimes quite properly, when people on this side of the table do not conduct themselves in a generally pleasant and courteous manner to people on your side of the table. The remark you just made with respect to the assistance that Senator McGauran and his family may have chosen to make of a computer really sits you with some whom you would normally criticise yourself. It just does not help the pleasant flow of each of us trying to do our work.

Senator McGAURAN –I seek a withdrawal on that, Mr Chairman.

CHAIRMAN –I will go back to 3.3.

Senator McGAURAN –Mr Chairman, in the matter of fairness, I would seek a withdrawal of the minister’s comment.

CHAIRMAN –I must admit that I did not hear the minister’s comment.

Senator McGAURAN –I would ask him to repeat it.

Senator Bolkus –Just to ensure the process continues, I withdraw. There was nothing unparliamentary in what I said, but in order to make Senator McGauran feel better and for the committee and in order that we can continue, I withdraw.

CHAIRMAN –We are back into pleasant mode. Is there anything further on 3.3?

Senator McGAURAN –Yes. Have I been ruled out of order?

CHAIRMAN –No, but I think you got your answer.

Senator McGAURAN –I would say this: from the Senate committee report, the Attorney-General’s Department advised the committee that in relation to the movie SALO, where the biggest mistake has been made by this Office of Film and Literature Classification board, basically the board was unaware of its legal obligations–

Senator Bolkus –Mr Chairman, on a point of order, I think we are now very much outside the parameters of additional estimates. We are talking about a specific case, a Senate committee report-

CHAIRMAN –The questioning should really be, ‘Did the computer need to be replaced or did it not?’. I think you have got your answer.

Senator McGAURAN –Are you ruling me out of order, Mr Chairman?

CHAIRMAN –I am saying what the parameters of the question should be.

Senator McGAURAN –I guess I am just trying to set priorities. If you have got just a certain amount to spend, what should be your priority? A computer–

CHAIRMAN –I think the officers have answered that.

Senator McGAURAN –So I take it the computer was the priority over and above other serious matters within the office of the Film and Literature Board of Review classification where the same amount could be spent.

Mr Reaburn –I would not say that. The OFLC regards a lot of things as being of priority, and at this time the computer is one of them.

Senator McGAURAN –If you are given $18,000, it must be the one, because I see no other additional expenditures.

Mr Reaburn –The reason why there is $18,000 in the additional estimates is that the budget contained a sum of money for the replacement of the computer which had been arrived at as a consequence of negotiations with the Department of Finance in accordance with the normal rules about replacement of equipment like computers. Those negotiations, at the time of the finalisation of the budget, were not quite complete. This particular figure represents the final stage of the negotiations between the OFLC and the Department of Finance. It does not indicate that, in a sudden and surprising sense, the OFLC picked the computer as its only priority for this particular financial year. It reflects the particular workings out of the nature of discussions for the replacement of equipment.

Mr Rose –Perhaps it is fundamental to the way the appropriation process works that–

CHAIRMAN –I am not sure that we need to go into that detail.

– Julian McGauran (National). Nick Bolkus (Labor), Amanda Vanstone (Liberal)
– Attorney General’s Department, Alan Rose (Secretary), Norman Reaburn (Deputy Secretary)
– Office of Film and Literature Classification
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

In March, McGauran presented his sixth SALÒ petition.

March 24, 1994
McGAURAN (Victoria) —by leave—I present to the Senate the following petition, from 22 citizens, which is not in conformity with the standing orders as it is not in the correct form:

To the Honourable the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The petition of the undersigned shows that the signatories request you to exercise your authority to replace the Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Mr Evan Williams, with a more responsible and representative member of the community, on the grounds that he has lost touch with community standards, as evidenced by his support for the release of the film SALO.

– Petition – Film and Literature Board
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Queensland – The censorship state

While other states banned SALÒ, the Premier of Queensland was forced to defend his abolishment of their own Films Board of Review.

April 14, 1994
Mr BORBIDGE: In directing a question to the Premier, I refer to the film SALO – 120 DAYS OF SODOM, which starts its Brisbane season today, and I ask: why has his Government permitted, in the Year of the Family, the screening of a film described by the Commonwealth Censor as “wallowing in depravity” and which includes the torture, sexual abuse and assault of children?

Mr W. K. GOSS: The State Government has not permitted the film to be shown, or more particularly to be given an R classification. The State Government agrees with the Commonwealth Censor, who has repeatedly refused to classify this appalling trash. We agree with the Commonwealth Censor that it should not have been classified. Unfortunately an appeal to the Commonwealth Film Board of Review was successful and the Commonwealth Film Board of Review granted this film an R classification.

From the descriptions that I have heard of it, it is nothing more or less than appalling trash and we will be calling on the Commonwealth Attorney-General to look at the operation and the composition of the Commonwealth Film Board of Review. While Australia should have national standards when it comes to these matters, we do not want to see this kind of trash. The Leader of the Opposition is giving this film so much free publicity that he is likely to increase its audience substantially, and I appeal to him to stop giving the film free publicity and I urge Queenslanders to stay away in droves. SALO – 120 DAYS OF SODOM

Mr BORBIDGE: I direct a further question to the Premier. I refer to his decision to scrap the Queensland Films Board of Review, a body which would have allowed him to stop the screening of a film that the Victorian Crown Prosecutor warned could lead to copy-cat torture crimes of innocent children. I ask: will he now follow the lead of the Western Australian and South Australian Governments and introduce legislation that would allow his Government to ban this film? “Yes” or “No”?

Mr W. K. GOSS: As I said before, Australia should have national standards and the legislation that was passed by this Government back in 1990 or 1991 was designed to try to end the appalling and improper political misuse of that power by the previous Government.

– Questions without notice – Salo—120 Days of Sodom
– Rob Borbidge (National), Wayne Goss (Labor)
– QLD Legislative Assembly

By the following week, the South Australian Liberals were using the Queensland debate against Labor.

April 21, 1994
The Hon. L.H. DAVIS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Attorney-General a question about SALO.

Leave granted.

The Hon. L.H. DAVIS: Some weeks ago there was criticism of the Liberal Government’s decision to ban the viewing of the film SALO. I have not seen the film, and I do not offer a comment on it. However, I was interested to see that the Australian of Friday 15 April carried a report of some strong remarks made about the film by none other than the Labor Premier of Queensland, Mr Wayne Goss, no doubt a close colleague of the shadow Attorney-General. Mr Goss has called on his Labor colleague, the Federal Attorney-General, Mr Lavarch, to investigate the operations and composition of the Federal Government’s Film and Literature Board of Review, which he said had failed in its duty by allowing the ‘appalling, grotesque trash’ film SALO – 120 DAYS OF SODOM into Australian cinemas.

Mr Goss said that the Federal censor had repeatedly refused to classify this appalling trash but, unfortunately, an appeal to the Board of Review had been successful. Mr Goss took what I thought was the rather unusual step of appealing directly to Queenslanders not to see the film, which opened in Brisbane late last night. He said:

I don’t believe this sort of appalling trash should be shown. That’s why I think the Commonwealth’s Film Board of Review should get a good going over by the Attorney-General.

Mr Goss’s criticism of the board—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. L.H. DAVIS: Well, you should know what the position is in Queensland; you’re revealing your ignorance if you don’t; I’ll tell you later—was backed up by none other than the Queensland Labor Party’s Deputy Premier, Mr Tom Burns, a veteran Labor member (and obviously a close colleague of the Hon. Anne Levy; she is nodding her head). He said that urgent consideration should be given to appointing persons who reside in Queensland, South Australia, or Western Australia and criticised the gross geographic imbalance of the board.

The Queensland Opposition had also attacked the screening of SALO and it asked why the Government had permitted, in the Year of the Family, the screening of the film which was described by the Federal censor as, ‘wallowing in depravity’ and which included the torture, sexual abuse and assault of children. The Opposition pointed out something that I would have thought the Hon. Anne Levy, as a former Minister for the Arts would know, namely, the fact that the Goss Government ultimately had to accept responsibility for the screening of the film in public cinemas in Queensland, because that Labor Government had scrapped the Queensland Film Board of Review. So, there was no check and balance at that State level.

Does the Attorney-General have any comment on the Queensland Labor Premier’s remarks about SALO, particularly in view of the South Australian Labor Party’s criticism of the Government’s decision to ban the film?

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I think my response to SALO was more measured than that of Mr Goss. At least I acknowledged that there were some people who believe the film may have had some artistic merit, particularly in terms of film archival interest. It was, as I recollect, the last film of Pasolini and, from that point of view, to film buffs may have held some special significance.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I did. I was quite measured in my response. It is interesting to note that someone of Labor persuasion (or more than one in Queensland) was less temperate in his description of his reaction to the public exhibition of that film in Queensland. There are two points to note. First, in Queensland, as the Hon. Legh Davis has said, ultimately the responsibility has to be borne by the Goss Government because it abolished its Film Board of Review. The other interesting point that is drawn from the article is that there was a distinct bias in the membership of the Film Board of Review towards the two biggest eastern States, New South Wales and Victoria, with I think some token representation from Tasmania. All that will probably change with a significant restructuring at Federal level, which is being undertaken in consultation with the States.

That is the responsibility of the Federal Attorney-General, but there has been reasonable consultation on membership in relation to the structure being put in place at Federal level. Certainly, I take some comfort from the less temperate remarks of Mr Goss in relation to the way in which he has responded to the public exhibition of that film in that State.

– Salo
– Legh Davis (Liberal), Trevor Griffin (Liberal)
– SA Legislative Council

More questions in parliament

For the next six-months, SALÒ was referenced numerous times in Canberra. Most of these were concerning the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994’ and the ‘Community Standards Committee’ report.

John Tierney (Liberal) and Paul Filing (Liberal) were now on the case.

September 22, 1994
Mr FILING (Moore) (12.28 p.m.)
As a society, we have had enough experience by now to know where to draw the line regarding the issues of pornography and violence in relation to books and other hard publications. As far as films are concerned, there is a system in place which offers scrutiny and effective censorship in some areas in the public interest.

Occasionally the censor gets it wrong, like in the situation regarding the film SALO, which was reclassified with an R rating on appeal after being refused classification on its release in 1984 [sic]. This was a film of such depravity and debauchery that it is difficult to imagine the depiction of its litany of inhuman acts of violence and degradation. The film should have been completely banned in this country. The fact that such a film is available for viewing under any circumstances is a reflection of the inadequacies of the current classification system. But that is another matter entirely.

At least the film was the subject of some scrutiny and comment. It was a physical item which could be viewed by a group of people charged with protecting the community from that type of material.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994 – Second Reading
– Paul Filing (Liberal)
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia

November 30, 1994
Senator TIERNEY (New South Wales) (7.37 p.m.) —I rise tonight to continue remarks on the censorship matters that I was speaking about earlier today. I mentioned earlier that we have an excellent classification system that has been in operation since the early 1970s and we have had recent moves to create a proper federal legislative framework. The whole aim of this system is to balance the rights of adults to see and hear what they wish and to protect children.

However, over the last 20 years, there has been growing concern about the way in which this system has been operated. There is a widespread feeling that some of the decisions of the OFLC and the film review board do not properly reflect the wishes of the community. I think this perhaps came out best in an example last year with the classification of the film SALO. SALO would have to be one of the most revolting films ever made. It has been banned in most countries of the world, and it was banned in Australia until last year. Seventeen years ago it was first submitted, and every time it has been submitted since the OFLC has banned it. Its recent decision last year to ban it was overturned by the film review board, and it was at that time that our committee on community standards became increasingly worried about why this sort of thing was happening.

One of the main reasons is that the people who are on the boards of these various censorship bodies are not, despite the claims of the Chief Censor, in any way representative of the community. The annual report that has just come out lists the people and their occupations. Let us see what people think about how representative this is.

The board consists of John Dickie, who was previously a journalist. The Deputy Chief Censor taught drama and media. The Senior Censor, Andree Wright, was a freelance writer. Peter Mackay worked with an adolescent support group—a little out of the mould of the others. Sarah Morton, however, was a freelance journalist. Sally Stockbridge was a senior tutor, lecturer in film and related studies. Douglas Stewart was a senior lecturer in media studies. Elizabeth Alexander was a public relations officer with the Film Finance Corporation. Jennifer Rae was a senior teacher in Intensive English College. Robert Hellmers was a specialist school counsellor, and Gareth Griffith was a lecturer in legal studies.

This is the body of so-called representative people that have been making decisions for the community in this matter. We have had the chief censor and his group claim before us on a number of occasions that their body is representative, but the annual report just laid down gives the lie to that. I raise this matter because the structure of the board has recently undergone review, and the number of members are to be increased from 10 to 20. That is most welcome. But given that the chief censor claimed that the board was previously representative, what will we get this time—more film critics? Basically, of the 11 people I read out, nine people were either lecturers in journalism or journalists of some particular description.

I submit that that is one of the reasons why some of the decisions of this board and the whole direction of censorship in this country have been out of kilter with community attitudes. It was, therefore, the right move by the community standards committee to suggest a reform of the process to get much better community input. We suggested at the time of our video games report that the whole organisation be restructured, that the chief censor become the chief executive officer of the organisation, that a more representative community board be appointed with membership of only three years, that the deputy chief censor be selected from that number and that there be a wide-ranging group representing the community to review the decisions of that board where there is conflict between the Office of Film and Literature Classification and the Film and Literature Board of Review. The government rejected those recommendations at that time.

In the committee’s recent report on the classification bill, we have renewed such recommendations. I emphasise tonight the need for the government to do that because it is only through proper community representation that we will get the correct decisions made by this board. If we do not do that, we will continually find problems in the system. Our select committee was set up in 1991 for about three months to do a task and has now been running for four years. The problems are there because of the wrong structure. If we get the structure right, we will not have to keep setting up committees. I recommend very strongly to the Senate that we make such a change.

The other change that needs to be made, and this relates particularly to what will happen to this classification bill from this point on, is that there needs to be a lot more scrutiny of the whole process by the elected parliament. This report actually lists the guidelines under which the film review board and the Office of Film and Literature Classification work for the different censorship codes. Who makes up those guidelines? They come from the board. How is it scrutinised? It comes in the form of an appendix at the back of an annual report. There is no proper legislative scrutiny. There are no regulations to go through the regulations and ordinances committee.

We very strongly recommended to the minister in our report—we are not amending the legislation to do this—that, if there are any changes to the guidelines on the censorship matters, those changed guidelines lie on the table of the state and federal parliaments so that there is some scrutiny in the process. It is hoped in this way that the excellent system of scrutiny that we have in this country, the system that is set up under the Office of Film and Literature Classification which is taken worldwide to be a leader in the field, will be refined in the ways that I have indicated so that these matters properly reflect the true attitudes of the community and not just a vested interest group.

– Office of Film and Literature Classification
– John Tierney (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

December 6, 1994
Mr Filing asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 23 August 1994:

Has his attention been drawn to the availability in Australia of an ‘R’ rated film entitled SALO: 120 DAYS OF SODOM; if so, (a) does the film depict graphic images of sodomy, urolagnia, coprophagy, suicide, scalping, paedophilia and other acts of depravity,(b) did the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards (i) describe the film as a catalogue of horror, outrageous, disgusting and wallowing in depravity, horrific imagery and inhuman sadistic sexuality, and (ii) find sensational exploitative shocking perversion, strong impact of revulsion and disgust at the cruelty, inhumanity and hedonism in the film and (c) will he immediately ban the film in the interests of the community; if not, why not.

Mr Lavarch —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(a) I understand that, with the exception of paedophilia, the film contains depictions of the type described in the question. In relation to the issue of paedophilia, the past Chairman of the Film and Literature Board of Review adopted the position that the actors employed in the film were young adults and that, if child abuse or child pornography were depicted in the film, the Review Board would have ‘refused’ the film.

(b) I am advised that the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards described the film in strongly disapproving terms.

(c) The Film Censorship Board refused registration to SALO on 18 December 1992 because it was considered indecent under Regulation 13(1)(a) of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations. It was a majority decision with 7 voting for ‘refuse’ and four for an ‘R’ classification.

The Film and Literature Board of Review, on appeal on 13 January 1993, directed that SALO be registered for importation under the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations and that it be classified as ‘R’—for restricted exhibition subject to the condition that advertising matter prepared for the film by Premium Films, the applicant, be submitted to the Review Board for approval. The Review Board also directed that the consumer advice—’Disturbing adult concepts and High Level violence and sex’ appear in advertising for the film.

The Review Board said in its decision that:

‘The film is generally considered to be a metaphor for fascism and oppression and a critique of capitalist exploitation.’

‘SALO presents us with the most stringent test to date of the basic principle that adults in a free society should be able to see what they wish.’

‘…we agreed that its depictions, while frequently shocking, were integral to the filmmaker’s purposes, and therefore not gratuitous; nor were they in anyway erotic or titillating.’

The film has been classified ‘R’—for restricted exhibition which means that it may be exhibited to persons 18 years of age and over. It has not been classified for sale or hire.

While it is possible for some States Attorneys-General to intervene in the classification process and vary the classification of SALO for their jurisdiction, it is not, I am advised, possible for the Commonwealth Attorney-General to do the same.

This is because the Film and Literature Board of Review’s decision to classify SALO as ‘R’ (for restricted exhibition) is made under State legislation. The State law confers the power to classify, on appeal, to the Review Board and, in the cases of Western Australia and South Australia, the power to intervene, as has occurred, to the responsible State Minister.

Under the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations, the power to prevent importation, ceased to apply once the Review Board directed that the film be registered for importation and it was released from the control of Customs.

The Commonwealth Attorney-General cannot intervene in the Review Board’s decision regarding SALO.

– Question on Notice: Salo – 120 Days of Sodom
– Paul Filing (Liberal), Michael Lavarch (Labor)
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia

February 9, 1995
Senator TIERNEY (New South Wales) (7.02 p.m.) —

To give an example of two films that showed the range of problems, there is a delightful movie that has an R classification called WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. It has an R classification but the reasons for the R are reasonably subtle and you would probably be reasonably comfortable with most teenagers and children watching it..

On the other hand, the horrific movie SALO that has been banned around the world and has been banned in Australia for 17 years finally slipped through the Film Review Board and is now available with an R classification. Admittedly, it has some restrictions but we are finding increasingly that those restrictions are broken. I am reasonably confident that this material will end up on pay TV some day. What are people to make of it as they both have an R classification?

– Committees: Community Standards Committee report
– John Tierney (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (1982) has always been M-rated in Australia, so Tierney was mistaken.

However, his prediction that SALÒ would one-day screen on pay-TV was eventually proved correct. Twenty-one years later, on 7 September 2016, it premiered on the World Movies channel.

Next on board was the devout Catholic, Brian Harradine (Independent). The Tasmanian senator was involved in several censorship battles during his long service.

February 9, 1995
Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (7.16 p.m.) —Let me go to the question of violence. According to the OFLC, graphic, realistic and bloody violence is allowed, but not if it is brought upon to an extent that invites vicarious pleasure from the viewer. That, of course, is to be a subjective judgment by the OFLC.

I saw the film SALO. SALO has an R classification. In the part of our report entitled ‘Video and computer games and classification issues’ which dealt with classification issues, we indicated briefly what SALO was all about.

Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (7.20 p.m.) —As I was saying, we described SALO as depicting sexual degradation and torture by four high-ranking functionaries of a group of young prisoners. They were teenagers of both sexes who were rounded up by the fascist authorities during the closing stages of the Second World War. The degrading and offensive acts range from perverted sexual practices, such as urolagnia and coprophilia, through to brutal violence and murder.

I saw that film in a theatre as part of my duties. I must say that I have seen numerous R and X classified films and videos. I looked at that film with one half of my mind on the actual classification guidelines and the other half on the screen. At the same time I was attempting to assess the technical merit of the film. In my view, that film clearly should not have received an R classification. To its credit, the OFLC did not give it an R classification, but the Film and Literature Board of Review did. Therefore, the themes and depictions contained in that film can be included in the R classification.

When we asked a representative of the Film and Literature Board of Review whether that film would get an R classification if were submitted as a video, the response was that it would probably not receive a classification. In other words, it would be refused classification. That is very interesting. Obviously, that presumably meant that the board saw a difference between an R category that could be shown in the cinemas and an R category that could go into the home environment. How this suggestion makes sense under existing laws is yet to be fully tested.

I have also seen other R-rated films, one of which did include sexual violence. To my mind, it was a serious treatment of the particular issue involved. To my mind, it was appropriately classified R. It appears that the word ‘extent’ used by the OFLC to qualify the R category guidelines depends on the particular interpretation the censor places on it on a particular occasion.

What we are saying is that the classification presently encompasses too broad a range. We have said that the OFLC should undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the R classification to define, with greater precision, the criteria to be used in rating violent, sexually violent, realistic and degrading, demeaning or exploitative sexual material, taking into account its intensity and extensiveness, to ensure its appropriateness for viewing in the home environment—bearing in mind that children, as well as persons of disturbed or immature minds, are inevitably going to view the material.

I have referred to violent material and sexually violent material. We also refer to material that is realistic, degrading and demeaning or exploitative sexual material. There is some R classified material which is not physically violent but is demeaning and degrading. For example, a number of the R classified films have the same theme content and intent as the X classification, save only that they have been taken at a different angle.

Some of these films have themes of sexual harassment involving workplace sexual favours. In my view, they are demeaning and degrading. There are also films in the R category which, whilst not physically violent, could be termed ‘exploitative sexual material’. That material commodifies and objectifies women, mainly. Rather than treating them as free and responsible initiators of human activities, that sort of material, although non-violent, treats women as sexual commodities to arouse the sexual desires of its target audience. Group sex scenes depicting diverse sexual activities are a feature of much of that material.

– Committees: Community Standards Committee report
– Brian Harradine (Independent)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Despite the SALÒ decision, John Tierney (Liberal) praised Australia for having ‘one of the best censorship systems in the world’.

March 1, 1995
Senator TIERNEY (New South Wales) (6.02 p.m.) —I rise to indicate that the opposition will be supporting the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994. The bill proposes to provide the classification of publications, films and computer games for the Australian Capital Territory. When this is through, it will form part of a national system for classification and enforcement of these classifications.

“snip”

Before I outline what those reforms are, I will just give an example of why such reform is needed. A few years ago a film called SALO came into this country. It is a horrific film. It has been banned in most countries; it was banned in Australia 17 years ago. But when it came before the OFLC it was initially, by majority decision, decided not to classify it as R, but the Film Review Board overturned that decision. I think this points to the nub of what is still the problem in the censorship area.

What we have done is set up a system that is not really representative of what the community feels is needed in this area, and we have also taken out some degree of parliamentary scrutiny of the process. In the report of the community standards committee we did recommend that these two things again be put into the legislation initially and, as the government has not done that, we would urge the government to review that decision.

When I first read this bill I was very disappointed to see that the current structure of censorship pretty much stayed the same. What the committee had recommended was that we have a chief censor and a deputy chief censor who are drawn from the community. The person who is currently the chief censor would become the chief executive officer and he would perform a role something like the head of other statutory authorities in terms of administering that particular area but that the actual final decisions as in a chief censor and a deputy chief censor be drawn from a board that is far more widely representative than the one we have currently.

On the record in a number of committee hearings I did ask about the representative nature of the present board. It is a great disappointment to me that public servants involved tried to hide the real situation on a number of occasions. We have a board that is highly unrepresentative. If you look at the occupations of the 10 people involved up until the latest change from 20, they include journalists, film critics, teachers, lecturers in media studies, public servants, school counsellors and a fitter. If you want someone perhaps representative of the community, the fitter was probably the closest you will get out of that group. Unfortunately, when the board was reformed and it was to go to 20 people—

Senator Harradine interjecting—

Senator TIERNEY —I am just about to make that point—when the board was to be made up to 20 people the fitter went but there are still not 20 names. We went through the latest report and the board was only up to 11. Again, it was still the same sort of group. I am sure these people are very learned in these matters relating to film but the question is: do they really reflect community standards? When we asked the Attorneys-General offices and the OFLC questions on this from time to time, they claimed that these people, by their own community interaction, form a group that is reflecting community standards. I think that is drawing a pretty long bow.

What we need to do is set up a wider group, and the committee welcomes the fact that it has gone from 10 to 20. But again, the way in which these people are selected and the types of people who are selected need to be very carefully analysed. They are all very highly academically qualified, but if you had a truly representative cross-section of the community, you would not be using academic qualifications as your first and, I suspect in some ways, only criteria for selection. So we urge that that aspect of the board’s work and structure certainly be changed.

The other thing that we have recommended twice in committee reports—which is still being ignored—is that there should be a community group to review what happens with decisions of this reconstituted board. We recommended that any decisions of the board to do with classification at a particular level which were not unanimous be reviewed by this wider community group. The other part of this was that, when there is disagreement between the OFLC and the film review board, this wider community group review the decision of the board.

I think that will put in a mechanism which will solve a lot of the problems that we tend to have in this area. Suddenly, in an area that is fairly dynamic and rapidly changing, something happens—such as the SALO case—and the community gets outraged that this has happened. If these structures had been set up in the first place, those sorts of problems would not have happened. Part of the art of government is getting your structures right so you do not have to constantly set up committees and have inquiries and reviews. If you get the structure right in the first place, you stop that sort of thing.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994 – Second Reading
– John Tierney (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Grant Chapman (Liberal) was also upset about SALÒ and the ‘unacceptable level of violence, sex and horror on the ABC and the SBS’.

March 1, 1995
Senator CHAPMAN (South Australia) (6.20 p.m.) —The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill, which sets up a national classification code, is a timely reminder of the need for greater public scrutiny of what is considered suitable in the areas of publications, films and computer games which are now available in Australia. A commitment by the government to ensuring that community standards and family values are not usurped by the ever increasing flood of pornography and unacceptable material which appears to be creeping into every facet of life in our society does provide a glimmer of hope for many Australian families.

“snip”

Last year, this government—in particular, the Attorney-General (Mr Lavarch)—gave carte blanche for the controversial film, SALO, to be shown in Australia. I note that my colleague Senator Tierney a few moments ago also referred to the issue of this film.

On 5 August 1994 I wrote to the federal Attorney-General, following the public outcry and distress about SALO being shown in South Australia after it had received an R(18+) classification by the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board on 18 December 1992. Peter Duncan MP, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General, replied by letter dated 22 September stating:

That decision was appealed to the Film and Literature Board of Review which, on 13 January 1993, upheld the appeal and directed the Censorship Board to register the film with a ‘For Restricted Exhibition’ (R18) classification and the consumer advice ‘Disturbing Adult Concepts and High Level Violence and Sex’.

That was it. That was how concerned the federal Attorney-General was about the content of this film and the process used to give it an R classification.

In July 1994 a constituent of mine in South Australia raised the issue of the disturbing content contained in the film, SALO. What I understand to be an accurate description of degrading forms of behaviour and acts perpetrated in various scenes in this film which he detailed in his letter are too filthy and too abhorrent to repeat in this place. But there can be absolutely no doubt that such presentations should be banned completely.

When this Labor government allowed this film to be shown in my home state of South Australia, Mr Richard Read, a Victorian crown prosecutor for 14 years who has prosecuted many violent sex criminals, had this to say about it:

SALO is, without exception, the most horrific sexually violent film I have ever seen. Two of the people I was with when I saw it (at the request of the Herald-Sun newspaper) were police officers and both of them had to leave the room as they felt ill. It escapes me how SALO meets any of the statutory guidelines and I agree that we must await the copy-cat torture crimes of innocent children.

That is what Mr Richard Read said about a decision for which this government is responsible. Yet we have the Prime Minister strutting the stage saying that he wants a family television channel. What absolute hypocrisy from this government; what hypocrisy from this foul-mouthed Prime Minister!

Should this legislation be passed, and I hope it will be, I will be among the first to call for this film, SALO, to be banned in Australia under the government’s new RC—refused classification—category. The government’s proposed RC classification deals directly with publications which:

‘… describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards or morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or

described or depicted in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a minor who is, or who appears to be, under 16 (whether the minor is engaged in sexual activity or not); or

promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence—’

a very accurate description of the film, SALO. In South Australia we saw the former state Labor government—in this case, Attorney-General Chris Sumner—coming out publicly and actually defending this film, SALO, on the pretext that it served a useful purpose in our community as a measure of protecting our civil liberties. What a joke! I struggle to fathom the former South Australian Labor Attorney-General’s thinking in his defence of the film, SALO, and in allowing it to be shown. I was very glad that the new Liberal Attorney-General, Trevor Griffin, overturned that decision when the film was attempted to be shown again later.

This bill will establish the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board. The government in its second reading speech has also indicated that the Law Reform Commission recommendation for community consultation will be adopted. Given the SALO controversy, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the existing board has become desensitised to the increasing levels of violence and pornography in our society. Consequently, this proposed community input is indeed welcome.

The arguments for regular reviews of the boards’ membership and tenure are obvious. One must query the ability of any censorship board member to judge acceptable community standards, when desensitisation over time must be an inevitable consequence attached to this role. This was one of the recommendations of the ‘Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies’. Recommendation 11 of that committee stated that the length of tenure of censorship board members needed review.

Clause 51 of the bill, which sets out the terms and conditions of appointment to the Classification Board, provides that a member, other than a temporary member, may be appointed for up to five years and may be reappointed; a member’s total period of appointment may not exceed seven years. Clause 76 of the bill similarly sets out the terms and conditions of appointment to the review board, also with a maximum term of seven years.

The Minister for Family Services, Senator Crowley, in presenting the government’s response to the community standards committee recommendation 11, stated that the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations regarding tenure have largely been adopted. The existing tenure periods are three years, with a further three years, and a maximum appointment period not exceeding six years.

It seems to me that the tenure period has actually been increased with a term of five years, with a provision for reappointment and a maximum not exceeding seven years. This should be contrasted with evidence given to the committee during its public hearings where community groups requested a tenure period of two years. We have a situation where we currently have a maximum tenure period of six years, the community wants a tenure period of two years—and the government has extended it to seven, thereby increasing the capacity for members of this board to be desensitised and make false judgments about what ought and ought not to be available on television and other communications media. In that respect this bill does nothing to improve the situation; in fact, it worsens the situation.

This bill will have little effect in cleaning up the mess we are in if changes are not made on the censorship board which reflect a more appropriate degree of suitability of films, publications and computer games. If the government does not examine board membership and further review the tenure of board members, this bill will be nothing more than Clayton’s legislation, paying lip service to the issue with little else on offer than the politically expedient portrayal of the Labor government’s touted concern for families and protection of our children. That is the real concern about this legislation: that it is about creating a perception and an image and denying the reality that this government is doing nothing about the pornography, unacceptable films and other programs that are becoming more and more evident on television and other means of media communication.

On the one hand, the Prime Minister wants to give the impression that he is concerned about family standards and values; on the other hand, his government—the government for which he as Prime Minister must take primary responsibility—appoints people to the Office of Film and Literature Classification Board who refuse to stand up and be counted when it comes to maintaining decency. The Attorney-General and the government should move to ban the film SALO. It recently refused to do this despite public condemnation. Only if it does this will it prove its commitment to the stated aims of this legislation.

“snip”

I simply conclude by saying that I hope this legislation will have some beneficial effect on restricting the expansion of opportunities for pornography to be viewed through our various media. If the government really wants to convince the community that it is fair dinkum in its approach to families and children on this issue and it is not, as I said earlier, merely trying to create the perception that it cares about families, and is thereby trying to match the undoubted and recognised commitment of the Liberal and National parties to family values and family standards, then it needs to go further than is provided in this legislation—much, much further. In particular, in a practical way in terms of decisions that have to be made immediately, that film SALO needs to be banned. More importantly, the government needs to deal with this issue of bulletin boards.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994 – Second Reading
– Grant Chapman (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

The following day, Brian Harradine (Independent), gave his speech on the bill.

March 2, 1995
Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (9.49 a.m.) —My view is that it is the themes, as much as the explicit depictions, that are of concern. It is the themes that tend to engender a callous and manipulative orientation towards other human beings. That is one of the major problems. It is those themes that are included in much of the R material. A lot of the R material is exactly the same in content, intent, theme and title as the X equivalent. That is a matter that the Senate also needs to be aware of.

Much has been said about the film SALO. I went to the theatre and saw that film. I do not see how the producer of that film, SALO, could see that as an appropriate way to express oneself. I admit that you have to have a balance between the rights of persons to freedom of expression and the rights of others in the community. Normally speaking I would go down heavily on the side of the rights to freedom of expression, but this material acts the same way as racial vilification does. It vilifies a whole section of the community and portrays that section of the community as highly promiscuous and available. That is the message that comes across.

As to SALO, yes, I did see it. I viewed the film with part of my mind on the guidelines and the other part on the film itself, and I tried to work out how this film could possibly fit within the current R guidelines. I came to the conclusion that it could not. The description of the material is, I think, in our report; certainly, it is in Hansard, so I will not describe it now. It was a maniacal film—I suppose that is the only description that one can use.

In any event, under the existing provisions of the law, the Film Censorship Board can do something about it now. Its two years is up. I hope the board takes that under consideration because I will be asking the question in the committee stage. Perhaps the board should go back to the books and look at the timing.

“snip”

Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (11.34 a.m.) —We had a very strong discussion and debate about the film SALO being given an R classification. It must be said that it was not given an R classification by the Film Censorship Board, because the Film Censorship Board refused to classify that film and, therefore, it was not available for public exhibition. It then went to the Film Board of Review, and the Film Board of Review overturned the decision that was taken by the Film Censorship Board, and it did so in a rather strange way.

At one particular stage we had Mr Williams, the Chairman of the Film Board of Review, before us. He came to give an explanation, and I understood the erudite nature of his explanation. There was some intellectual sense in it, and one could appreciate that. I am not trying to denigrate Mr Williams because he would be far more intelligent and far more of a film buff than I am—although I very much like going to films and have seen some very good ones over the last six months, and some which have been not all that crash hot.

But I do say this: yes, this is a problem though. Here we have a situation whereby decisions like this on criteria that we are establishing do not properly reflect what the public itself would consider to be a proper application of those criteria. That is the problem. The public itself does not even have standing when it comes to appealing a decision made by the Film Censorship Board. That is another question.

In this particular case of SALO, the Film Censorship Board refused it a classification. The importers—I think it was the importers, I may be wrong here; certainly persons with ‘an interest’, and in this case a monetary interest—had standing to appeal to the Film Board of Review. That is how the film got there.

The whole point about this is that, if the Film Censorship Board, for example, had placed this film into the R category and the public itself became appalled at that, the public under the previous legislation did not even have standing to appeal that decision; and under this legislation, the public itself still does not have standing, as I understand it—and correct me if I am wrong; I would like you to answer that—to appeal a decision of the Film Censorship Board. That is of some considerable concern.

“snip”

Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (12.31 p.m.) —One big thing that I would like to see is the turnover of the board to save the problem of desensitisation. There is no risk about desensitisation. I look at films now—for example, SALO—and I suppose I was desensitised, because I did not walk out feeling sick and I wondered afterwards why the heck I did not. The reason was that I had one half of my mind on the actual screen—the depictions and so forth—while the other half was thinking, ‘How could it possibly fit into the R category,’ et cetera. It does depend very much on who is involved in the decision making. That goes for the Attorney-General, each of the state ministers, the Film Censorship Board and the boards that are established under this legislation.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994 – Second Reading
– Brian Harradine (Independent)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Despite their SALÒ decision, Barney Cooney (Labor) praised the Film and Literature Board of Review. He also spoke about ‘Poor Mr Dickie’, the Chief Censor who had suffered stress while doing his job.

March 2, 1995
Senator COONEY (Victoria) (10.17 a.m.) —I have heard some films mentioned in this chamber. Senator Harradine mentioned SALO. I have not seen it; perhaps I should. I am willing to concede for the purpose of argument that it is a very nasty film. I am willing to concede for the purpose of this argument that it should not have been released.

In fact I noticed that the Film Censorship Board did not release SALO. It was released on appeal. I am willing to admit that the Film and Literature Board of Review members should not have released it. I then say: so what? What do you conclude from that? Do you conclude that they made a mistake? And they very well may have made a mistake. One film or even six films hardly show a course of conduct that ought to be brought against the people who fill these boards to show that they should be driven, as it were, into eternal darkness.

I would suggest that everybody who has had anything to do with Mr Dickie, for example, who is our chief censor, would regard him as having done outstanding work in this area. I notice there is nobody presently in the chamber who would disagree with that—Senator Harradine, Senator O’Chee, Senator Ian Macdonald and Senator Herron. Ms Wright has nobly done the task we set her and so has Peter Mackay and so on. I think Senator Harradine no doubt would agree with me that to err is human and that is the condition we are all in.

Senator Faulkner —Very rarely in your case, senator.

Senator COONEY —Very rarely but even members of this chamber can make the odd mistake. Given the fact—

Senator Harradine —They were on different sides on the SALO issue—the chief censor and Ms Wright.

Senator COONEY —That is what I am saying. I am willing to concede for the purpose of this argument that the people who let SALO in were wrong.

Senator Harradine —One of whom was not Mr Dickie.

Senator COONEY —I know. As I said before, Mr Dickie did not want to let it in. I think he is probably anti-Italian but, leaving that aside, he did not want to let it in. All I am saying is, even if there are one or two instances where films were let in, so what? All that says is that mistakes can be made. I was reading from the Bible and Shakespeare to show that you cannot condemn a particular group or a particular person on the basis of even a dozen errors. They do not say that in those terms but that is the thrust of it. You have to look at the course of conduct.

When you get into this area, which is a very emotional area, and so it should be because it is a very emotional subject, there is a tendency for people who make the decisions to oftentimes most unfairly be in the firing line. I am sorry for hitting the microphone with a piece of paper and making a terrible noise. That is a mistake I have made, but I should not be thrown out of the Senate for making that mistake.

Senator Faulkner —That is the first one you’ve made this sitting.

Senator COONEY —And I should not be thrown out of the Senate because I made it. We should remember the situation in which we put people who have to censor these things. I want to put on the record that it is my belief that the Film Censorship Board, so ably led by Mr Dickie, has performed an outstanding function over the years and I think it needs praise. The Film and Literature Board of Review—

Senator Harradine —Did you say they needed prayer?

Senator COONEY —No, needed praise. We all need prayer. I went to the ceremonies yesterday—I hope you went to the ceremonies yesterday, Senator Harradine; I did not notice any ashes on your forehead this morning. The Film Censorship Board needs praise and so does the Film and Literature Board of Review. Poor Mr Dickie. I have known him for many years now. He has suffered with the stress of having to make these decisions. I just want to say that Mr Dickie has done a good job. I see Mr Reaburn in the advisers’ area, too. He has done an excellent job in the Attorney-General’s Department.

I see the Minister representing the Attorney-General (Senator Bolkus) is in the chamber, and I want to know why we are letting so much of the work which was formerly done by the Attorney-General’s Department go out to private practitioners. But I think that is straying from the topic, so I will conclude on that point.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994 – Second Reading
– Barney Cooney (Labor), John Faulkner (Labor), Brian Harradine (Independent)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Hard R vs. Soft R

John Dickie, the Chief Censor, was summoned to Canberra to appear before a senate select committee. He discussed SALÒ and the refusal of IN A GLASS CAGE (1986) and DEAD MAN (1995). His prediction that the latter would be censored and resubmitted was incorrect. Like SALÒ, it had a successful appeal with the Film and Literature Board of Review and was passed with an R-rating.

November 27, 1995
CHAIR —We have always found that we have had some difficulty with the scale of films being included in the R category. I think on one occasion–and I do not have it with me–you provided a list of hard, soft and medium in the R category. That was always very fundamental to our recommendation relating to pay TV–the breadth of R, and when an R is of no particular concern and when it is a SALO. Under these new guidelines, how is that conundrum about when it is a hard R or a soft R addressed?

Mr Dickie —Under the new guidelines, SALO would be refused. Under the old guidelines, in my view, SALO should have been refused. I can speak for my board when I say that it does not matter what guidelines you put down, it is always open to an appeal body to reach a different decision. The ones that we have discussed are ones that we gave a high level consumer advice to, which would have included films such as PULP FICTION. I cannot remember the list but that was the basis on which we submitted the list of films. There are some which just get into R. DISCLOSURE was one which was given an R classification on a 6 to 5 vote of the board.

Senator TIERNEY —As opposed to MA.

Mr Dickie —Yes. I think that that was a good borderline case. For all sorts of different reasons it just scraped into R. Another one on at the moment, SEVEN, is, in our view, clearly within R and clearly a film to be viewed by people aged 18 and over.

Senator TIERNEY —It absolutely terrified my 19-year old daughter. I have not yet seen it but, on that basis, you have made me curious so I might go and see it.

Mr Dickie —Yes. It has been compared to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS but I do not think it is quite as powerful a film as SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. A lot of people are going to see it and we have not had any complaints about that. There are a couple of gruesome scenes in it but it is essentially a thriller and detective story. I think something like that should be seen by people 18 and over. Disclosure is a softer film but, in our view, that also should be seen by people aged 18 and over. We would not have made it an R otherwise. That is the sort of dilemma you have. SEVEN would be in the medium to top of the R range, DISCLOSURE would be at the bottom and BASIC INSTINCT would be medium to high, I suppose–closer to medium.

CHAIR —You said that SALO would be refused classification. What about the provision for film festivals and serious study? Would that preclude SALO being shown at a film festival?

Mr Dickie —If it were my decision, I would say yes, because in my view SALO is a refused category film under any circumstances.

CHAIR —Under any circumstances?

Mr Dickie —Under any circumstances, yes. We had a situation earlier this year in regard to a festival, with a film called TIRAS CRISTAL [IN A GLASS CAGE]. This was being shown by the gay and lesbian film festival. We called that in and knocked it back. That was a film that we said contained child sexual abuse. In my view, festivals get maximum licence, but there are still some films where we have to draw the line, and TIRAS CRISTAL [IN A GLASS CAGE] was one.

Mr Reaburn —And withstood legal challenge.

Mr Dickie —It finished up in the Federal Court.

CHAIR —And it was–

Mr Reaburn —There was a legal challenge to that decision, Senator.

CHAIR —And it was upheld.

Mr Reaburn —Yes.

CHAIR —What else apart from SALO would be refused classification?

Mr Dickie —It is strange that you should ask. On Friday afternoon, there was a mainstream one. I did not see it on Friday afternoon, but our board knocked it back because of sexual violence. What they will do with that, I do not know. They will probably edit it and bring it back. It was called DEAD MAN. That is the first time that a mainstream film has been knocked back for yonks.

– Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies
– Chair: John Tierney (Liberal)
– Attorney General’s Department: Norman Reaburn, OFLC: John Dickie (Chief Censor)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

A Review Board of our own

The SALÒ controversy would see the establishment of the South Australian Classification Council. This unnecessary organisation would go on to be used against such films as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), 9 SONGS (2004), BIRTH (2004) and MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2005).

November 29, 1995
Mrs KOTZ (Newland): I also recall the debate on the film SALO which depicted child sexual abuse, child pornography and bestiality, and presented it as an art form. It was classified for restricted public viewing by the Commonwealth Censor, even though it had been banned in most countries for over 17 years. State action by the Attorney-General relegated that film offering of pornographic depravity back into its can and out of our State, hopefully never to be revived again.

I raise the recollection of the film SALO to question the powers being retained by the State in accepting national uniform legislation. SALO was classified in the past by the Commonwealth Censor, which meant that the film could be publicly shown, albeit with restriction, in our State. The public outcry against the showing of the film was quelled by the Attorney-General’s invoking State powers. The question was, ‘Have we retained those powers?’ Again, I am pleased to note that the South Australian Classification Council will operate as a board of review in the same manner as the previous board operated. Clause 17 provides:

The council or the Minister may classify a publication, film or computer game despite the fact that it is classified under the Commonwealth Act.

The State will have the right to review the classification if considered necessary, the Minister has the right to review the classification of a film, and the board may review the classification of a film, video or a publication.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill
– Dorothy Kotz (Liberal)
– SA House of Assembly

The conservatives are back

In March 1996, Australia elected a Liberal-National Coalition. This meant that Julian McGauran and the other SALÒ opponents now had real power.

May 9, 1996
Senator McGauran —What about SALO?

Senator SCHACHT – SALO I would restrict, as the film censor has, to R-rated, limited to cinema and not to be shown on television. I think there is a different case there. I overwhelmingly support the film Chief Censor Mr Dickie and his staff and the members of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. Generally they have done a good job in balancing the interests of the various groups in our community, with their various views. To let SALO be shown as an R-rated movie under certain restrictions in a cinema was a reasonable decision, rationally taken. The classification for SCHINDLER’S LIST Is a reasonable classification. I may disagree with them in that allowing some of what I call the RAMBO movies to be shown on television is not exactly my view. But then my view is only one.

Senator Harradine and I have a difference about this, but I think Mr Dickie and his board and his committee have done a very good job for Australia. I would hope that Mr Dickie, after discussions with the film stations about the episode last week where they took off the programs, can indicate that there is going to be some tightening up for television. If you classify a RAMBO style movie as an R-rated movie to be shown only in a cinema, where it is much easier to control who goes to see it, that is different from putting it on television, even at a later hour of the night when clearly people do have some ability to see the movie and under-age people cannot be completely stopped from seeing it, and it is harder to control.

– Film and Video Guidelines: Motion
– Julian McGauran (National), Chris Schacht (Labor)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

One of the newly elected moral crusaders was Trish Draper (Liberal), who would go on to campaign against LOLITA (1999), BAISE-MOI (2000) and HANNIBAL (2001).

June 20, 1996
Mrs DRAPER (Makin) (1.15 p.m.) – With a young family to raise in a society where there is much peer pressure, I am concerned about the amount of pornography that is readily available. I recently raised an issue with the Office of Literature and Film Classification. In a sports magazine that young children purchase to read about their basketball heroes were four photos taken from editions of American Playboy. As the magazine concerned is a sports magazine, it is not required to pass through the classification process. Many parents raised their concerns that a magazine promoting sport should be allowed to print pornography, regardless that some people regard the photographs as ‘soft porn’.

Some may recall the film SALO and the controversy that arose around that film. I actively opposed the screening of that film in Adelaide. What message do we convey to our young people when we allow such pornographic films portraying the brutalisation and the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children to be screened? We have seen and heard much about sexually abused children in recent times and yet we do little to limit the number of pornographic films and the amount of pornographic literature available.

I also believe that the time has come to take a firm stance on violence in films, on television, videos and in electronic games. To that end, I commend the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, for setting up the ministerial committee to look at the portrayal of violence in the various forms of electronic media. I look forward to any recommendations that committee makes stemming the availability of violence being portrayed by the electronic media.

– Governor-General’s Speech: Address-In-Reply
– Trish Draper (Liberal)
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia

Denver Beanland’s failed censorship

By 1997, SALÒ had exhausted its theatrical run. The R-rating did not allow for a video release, so it was slowly forgotten, but not by conservatives.

In mid-1997, Denver Beanland (Liberal), the Attorney General of Queensland, succeeded in having the Classification Board look at it again.

On 18 August, the 113-minute print was awarded it an R (Adult themes of high intensity, Strong depictions of violence, Strong sexual references). The previous consumer advice, awarded by the Films Board of Review in January 1993, had been ‘Disturbing adult concepts and high level violence and sex’.

It was reviewed under the title SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA/PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM.

Government film school

One of the Board members who rated SALÒ in August 1998 was Damien Power, the future director of the excellent KILLING GROUND (2016). During the promotion for that film, he spoke about his time at the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

August 26, 2017
Power’s path to making a feature film is a roundabout one. His first encounters with cinema came through membership of a film society that he attended with his grandfather in his home town, Launceston. He studied arts law in Hobart before getting a job with the Film Classification Board. Between 1994 and 1998 he was a full-time board member and watching movies was his daily occupation.

“So I’ve had a long professional interest in how we represent violence, how we watch violence and what watching it does.” He continued to be a temporary board member through the years. While he was on the board, he says, he was involved in some controversial decisions: “I saw IRREVERSIBLE there, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, SALO. I was on the board that passed SALO.” He also worked in classification for the Australian Communications and Media Authority. “And when I was making the film I was actually working in classification at Foxtel. I took leave from the job to shoot the film.”

– Killing Ground gives Aaron Pedersen the chance to be a villain
theaustralian.com.au

KILLING GROUND (2016) was passed with an MA15+ (Strong themes, violence and coarse language) rating in May 2016.

Killing Ground (2016) - Australian poster 1
Poster – Mushroom

Like Power, David Haines was a former censor who moved into film production. He had joined in July 1981 and rose to the position of deputy to John Dickie. In 1994, he quit after becoming disenchanted with the increasing censorship and interference of Christian groups. He went on to become a lobbyist for the Australian adult industry.

In the late 1990s, as CEO of the AXIS Group’s Redstone Pictures, he produced BUFFY DOWN UNDER (1998). He followed this with REVENGE AUSSIE STYLE (1998) which he also directed. His former employer classified both with X-ratings. Modified versions were also prepared and received R-ratings.

Buffy Down Under (1998) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – AXIS Group

Haines was almost certainly one of the classifiers who viewed SALÒ in June 1992. In that case, the Board was divided, with seven of the eleven members voting to continue the ban while four recommended an R-rating. Although it is not known for certain, his later career would point to him being one of the four.

The moral crusade continues

The most outspoken critics of SALÒ were now Julian McGauran (National) and Trish Draper (Liberal). Both were unhappy about the decision of the Classification Board.

September 22, 1997
Mrs DRAPER (Makin) – Paedophilia and sexual abuse of children has, in the past, not been a popular cause to fight against or highlight. Since 1992, with the screening of the film SALO, I have endeavoured to highlight the plight of children sexually abused by paedophiles in my home state of South Australia. Since being elected in March 1996, it has been a difficult battle to continue, but I am pleased to note that others in this place are now beginning to take on this issue.

– Paedophilia
– Trish Draper (Liberal)
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia

October 28, 1997
Senator McGAURAN (Victoria)(7.26 p.m.) – Anyone who picked up today’s Sydney Morning Herald to read the grim news that in the past 11 months six young women and teenage girls have been kidnapped or murdered or have disappeared along the New South Wales coastal highway would feel grief for the families and grave concern for society. There have been other like tragedies over the years and of late—for example, the missing 11-year-old boy from Western Australia—that make us think just how unsafe society has become.

Our concern is not just restricted to Australia. Who can forget the pictures that ricocheted around the world of the Belgium ‘house of horrors’ where a paedophile ring [Marc Dutroux’s case] was involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of children as young as eight years old? At each tragedy a family suffers and a society is damaged. At each tragedy society fundamentally changes for the worse as once enjoyed freedoms are taken away, none less than life itself.

Therefore, if we were asked, ‘Is there something society can do to help rectify these seemingly irreversible changes?’ we would answer yes. If we were told that there was a movie currently showing that graphically displays a story of kidnap, sexual abuse, torture and murder of adolescents in the style of the above incidents I have mentioned—indeed, a movie described as a handbook for the Mr Cruels of this world—would you believe that it should be banned? The answer from society would be yes.

I therefore bring to the Senate’s attention the movie SALO, which is currently under review by the Film and Literature Board of Review. The review has been prompted by an application by the Queensland government to re-ban the movie. The movie SALO was made in 1976 and banned in this country for some 17 years but was released into the mainstream theatres in 1993. The storyline begins with the kidnap of 16 adolescents in an Italian village, eight of each sex. For the remainder of the film, they are subjected to every form of violence, sexual humiliation and torture before being mass slaughtered in a most bizarre fashion. The movie has been condemned outright by every film critic of any note, being described as vile and a treat for sadists and psychopaths.

I make reference to the hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies in Sydney on Thursday, 5 August 1993 to try to encapsulate the depths and darkness of the movie SALO. The committee transcript reads that the movie:

‘Contains constant nudity, masturbation, forced sodomy, forced urolagnia, coprophagous, humiliation and degradation, anilingus, suicide, candlewax burns to breasts and male genitalia, a man’s tongue cut off, an eye explicitly gouged out with a knife, a woman partially scalped, a boy’s nipples branded with a hot iron, being forced to eat excreta, torture and killing during the “Cycle of Blood” canto. Naked male and female youths forced to behave as animals going on all fours to beg for food—eventually betraying their fellows in an attempt to survive, hanging, whipping, accompanied by raconteurs’ stories based on offensive, fetishes and paedophilia, a woman’s verbal accounts of sex experiences as a child and of matricide…’

And there is much, much worse. Other descriptions are so graphic that I am prevented from citing them to the Senate. It is legitimate then to ask: according to whom and under what criteria was the movie SALO released into Australian society? In essence, the movie was released in 1993. The words of the Chairman of the then Film and Literature Review Board were that ‘adults in a free society ought to be allowed to see whatever they like’. He also said the movie has artistic merit even though the same chairman stated that the adolescents suffer sexual torment and sadistic humiliation of the extreme kind.

Thankfully it is a very different Film and Literature Review Board in 1997 from what it was in 1993 when the ban was lifted on the movie. In fact, the board is in transition, with three new members soon to be appointed. The pending decision before the new review board will be to either redraw the line in the sand on censorship or continue to ride the pendulum of censorship towards the outer limits. I am sure that if the board were to use the community as their touchstone on this issue the movie would surely be re-banned.

The time has come to say the censorship decisions in this country should not be underpinned by the motto ‘adults should be free to see whatever they like without regard to the cost to society’. For that matter, the time has come to bury that other reason the movie was released—artistic merit. This so often used catch phrase to release movies like SALO is an indulgent, sectional and narcissistic view and hurts the general good of society. Both tenets of faith are now discredited, particularly given the belief and evidence that a diet of violent and sexually abusive videos and movies will trigger the disturbed mind. Both tenets can no longer underpin our censorship philosophy to the exclusion of protecting a decent and accepted social standard. Therefore, each member of the Film and Literature Board of Review should vote to re-ban SALO.

– Film Censorship
– Julian McGauran (National)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Fellow travellers on the board

On 19 December 1997, four new members were appointed to the Classification Review Board. Also, the membership of Michael Elligate, a Catholic priest, expired on December 31.

With their new-members in place, the conservatives wasted no time in again challenging the R-rating. The submission was once more made by Denver Beanland (Liberal), the Attorney General of Queensland.

In February 1998, they succeeded in having SALÒ once more Refused Classification. It had held an R-rating since January 1993.

February 13, 14 & 17, 1998
Applicant:
The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP, Commonwealth Attorney-General, at the request of the Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon Denver Beanland MLA, pursuant to subsection 42(2) of the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995’.

Business:
To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign the classification ‘R’ under the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995’ to the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM), with the consumer advice lines ‘Adult themes of high intensity, Strong depictions of violence, Strong sexual references’.

Decision and Reason for Decision

1
Decision

The Classification Review Board decided to set aside the decision of the Classification Board to classify the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA ‘R 18+’, with consumer advice lines ‘Adult themes of high intensity, Strong depictions of violence, Strong sexual references’, and to classify the film ‘RC’.

2
Legislative provisions

The ‘Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995’ (the Act) governs the classification of films and the review of classification decisions. The Act provides that films be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code and the classification guidelines.

Relevantly, section 11 of the Act requires that the matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of…a film…include:

a. the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults; and

b. the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the…film…; and

c. the general character of the… film…, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character; and

d. the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.

The National Classification Code (the Code) requires that classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:

a. adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;

b. minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;

c. everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;

d. the need to take account of community concerns about:

i. depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and

ii. the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

Paragraph 1 of the Table under the heading ‘Films’ in the National Classification Code provides that films that:

a. depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime or cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or

b. depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult a minor who is or who appears to be, under 16 (whether engaged or not in sexual activity); or

c. promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence are to be classified ‘RC’.

3
Procedure

3.1
Six members of the Review Board viewed the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA at its meeting on 13 February 1998, and further discussed the film by teleconference on 17 February 1998.

4
In reaching its decision the Board of Review had regard to the following:

a. the request to review the classification of the film from the Attorney General, the Hon Daryl Williams;

a. the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA;

b. the relevant provisions in the Act;

c. the relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended in accordance with Section 6 of the Act; and

d. the current ‘Classification Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes’ determined under Section 12 of the Act.

5
Finding on material questions of fact.

The plot

5.1
Four powerful Fascists in World War 2 Italy make a pact to explore the theme “all things are good when carried to excess”. They select and abduct a group of 16 young teenagers to pursue this end.

The content

5.2
As indicated by the consumer advice lines assigned to the film by the Classification Board, the film contains a number of depictions of strong violence, strong sexual references and adult themes of high intensity.

In a majority view of the Classification Board:

a. these themes and depictions occur in the context of a film which is unambiguously anti-violence and makes a strong statement about the abuse of power;

b. the film’s treatment of sex, violence and power is not exploitative but requires an adult’s perspective;

c. the film’s depictions of violence are not gratuitous as they are justified in the context of a defensible story line, a film of considerable artistic merit;

d. the film’s depictions of violence are not excessive as they do not exceed reasonable limits in terms of detail, duration or frequency; and,

e. the actors who play the victims do not appear to be under 16 years of age.

5.3
The Classification Review Board considered the scenes and themes cited by the Classification Board as being appropriately accommodated by assigning an ‘R’ classification to the film.

A majority of the Review Board differed from the majority of the Classification Board in that, in its view, many scenes in the film not only depicted violence or sexual violence, but additionally depicted cruelty and portrayed persons in a demeaning manner.

Violence is usually defined as physical force inflicted with the intent to seriously hurt or kill, or the outcome of such. Cruelty on the other hand involves delight in the infliction of, or indifference to another’s pain. In the Review Boards view the following scenes depicted cruelty. Further, the Review Board found these scenes were of high impact (i.e. had a very strong effect on the viewer), and were offensive (i.e. likely to cause outrage or extreme disgust to most people).

Scenes of offensive cruelty with high impact

31mins: prolonged scenes of a boy being whipped

32 mins: girl eats cake with nails in, screams, and blood runs from mouth

63 mins: girl forced to crawl across floor and eat faeces

71-73 mins: all the dining room are forced to eat faeces as a meal

102 mins; girls tied up in a vat of filth (faeces and urine)

105-111 mins:

> boy has penis burned with a candle

> girl has nipple burned with a candle

> boy has tongue tip cut off

>girl endures forced anal sex and is hanged

> boy has eye gouged out

> girl endures forced anal sex

> girl is scalped

> girl and others are whipped

> boy is branded with a branding iron

5.4
The age of the young people

A majority of the Review Board believed that the apparent youth of some of the abducted teenagers was a matter for concern. Some of the young people who were sexually abused throughout the film could have been under the age of 16 years. Further, there were many scenes in the film in which they were dressed as school children, and gave this emphasis to their youth.

However, in the view of a majority of the Review Board, the age factor by itself was not considered to be of sufficiently certainty to cause the film to be refused classification, as would have been required if any of the abused young people had “looked like they were under the age of 16 years” (National Classification Code). The youthfulness of the abused was nevertheless seen by the majority to be an important factor, and one that should be taken into account when considering the issue of “offensiveness”.

5.5
Further, the Review Board found the film to contain a number of scenes of sexual violence which were offensive (in the sense of likely to cause outrage or extreme disgust to most people), and of sexual activity accompanied by fetishes which were offensive.

The scenes of sexual violence, sexual activity accompanied by offensive fetishes included:

29 mins: a girl forced to urinate on the face of a male aggressor

49-52 mins: girl forced, with screams, on all fours, for extended (with some scene cutting) anal intercourse with a soldier

62 mins: girl cries, is stripped under extreme duress, with dialogue “the little slut’s howling is the most exciting thing in my life”

77mins: girl forced to urinate on face and into mouth

5.6
A majority of the Review Board found that the film contained many offensive depictions of cruelty with high impact, sexual violence, and sexual acts with offensive fetishes.

A majority of the Review Board also found many of the scenes of cruelty and sexual violence to be demeaning to the young persons portrayed (i.e. were depictions directly or indirectly sexual in nature, which debase, or appear to debase the persons or character depicted). Such scenes included the young persons being forced to act like dogs, being forced to eat faeces, being forced to urinate on the faces of their oppressors, having faces smeared faeces, being forced to line up naked and on all fours so that the best “arse” could be chosen.

6
Reasons for the Decision

6.1
The Review Board based its decision to set aside the Classification Board’s decision to classify SALO O LE GIORNATE DO SODOAM ‘R’ on the content and findings as described in 5.3 to 5.6 above.

6.2
A majority of the Review Board found the film to contain depictions of cruelty (defined as delight in inflicting pain or indifference to another’s pain) which had a high impact, and which would be offensive (i.e. cause outrage or extreme disgust) to most people. Such depictions included the forced eating of faeces by young people for sexual gratification of their captors, and the extended sequence of torture of young people from 105 to 111 mins.

Further, the film contains a large number of offensive depictions of both sexual violence and of sexual activity with offensive fetishes, the offensive of which was increased by the involvement of young people who, if not clearly under 16 years, nevertheless looked like persons under the age of 18. The film would not therefore fall into the ‘R’ category.

6.3
The Review Board was mindful of the requirements of Section 2 of the Act, to take into account, in classification, the literary, artistic or educational merit of a film. The Review Board recognised that the film was Pasolini’s last and as such has importance in the study of his work

The film is said to have been intended as a serious work of art, aimed at making a metaphorical statement about fascism and the corruption engendered by absolute power. It has been argued that the film’s depictions of sexual violence inflicted on young persons, and the portrayal of young persons in a demeaning manner, are justified in the context.

The majority of the Review Board considered that this metaphor was not clearly established (for example, the connections of the acts with fascism alone, rather than generalised corruption, were tenuous). As a consequence, this intention cannot be used as a justification for the inclusion of scenes which do not meet aspects of the Code or Guidelines. In the view of the majority, such an intention could also have been achieved without the degree or density of cruelty and sexual violence, and without overall depth of offensiveness, to which the Guidelines clearly refer.

The majority of the Review Board considered that, while the film could be said to have artistic merit, it was not such as to outweigh the clear prohibitions in the Guidelines against offensive and high impact depictions of cruelty, against offensive depictions of sexual violence, and against offensive depictions of sexual activity accompanied by fetishes which are, and which are often offensive, and of which there were a number.

Further, the majority of the Review Board took the view, based on scenes described in 5.6, that there were a number of portrayals of persons which were demeaning. The preamble of the National Classification Code requires consideration, not only of the principle that adults should be able to see, hear and read what they want, but also of community concerns about depictions that portray persons in a demeaning manner.

In the view of a majority of the Review Board, the film deals with matters of sex, cruelty, and abhorrent phenomena in such a way that it offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified. It is therefore classified ‘RC’.

7.
Summary

7.1
The Review Board’s majority decision is to classify the film SALO ‘RC’ (Refused Classification).

The decision is taken after full consideration of the applicant’s submission, and after assessing the film as a whole against the relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code, and in the current ‘Classification Guidelines for Films and Videotape’s determined under Section 12 of the Act. A minority of the Review Board do not agree with the majority. The minority’s report follows.

Minority Report

A minority of the Review Board had the view that SALO should be classified ‘R18+’ Restricted accompanied by appropriate consumer advice.

The minority had regard to principles in the Code that “adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want”, and to that classification decisions should take account of community concerns about “depictions that condone or incite violence particularly sexual violence; and the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.” In the minority view the film condemns violence and its portrayals do not “demean” the victims, rather their Fascist oppressors do. At no time does the filmmaker allow any possibility of identification on the spectator’s part with the Fascists or their activities.

Another possible ground for refusing the film classification is on the ground that it contains exploitative or offensive depictions involving a person who is or who looks like a child under 16. In the minority view, whilst young people are certainly involved, the filmmaker does not intend those people to be under 16 years of age and their appearance would not entitle a reasonable viewer to conclude that any person is or looks like a child under 16.

The other relevant grounds for refusing the film classification are that it contains depictions of a sexual or violent nature proscribed by the Code and which are “gratuitous, exploitative or offensive” as these terms are defined in the Code.

In assessing the application of these definitions to SALO, the context of the film is significant:

> Is director, Pasolini, is one of the most important filmmakers of post war Italy.

> The film is based on DE SADE’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM updated to 1944 when Italy had fallen to the Allies. Its theme is terminal Fascism. It has been generally accepted by major critics to be a metaphor for the oppression of Fascism and the corrupting effects of absolute power.

> It has been analysed and discussed both in its own right and in the context of Pasolini’s work and the development of post-war Italian cinema by respected critics and film historians in many publications dealing with the art or history of cinema.

> It has been permitted public screening in many countries with which Australia have an affinity, including Britain, US, France, Japan and many others. In recent years it has been screened with an “R” certificate in Australia.

Turning to the definitions in the Code, in the view of the minority:

> The relevant depictions were not gratuitous in that they were not excessively prolonged nor detailed within the context of the storyline.

> The film is not exploitative in that it does not lack moral, artistic or other values.

> The film is not offensive in that whilst the material would cause outrage or extreme disgust to many people, it would not do so “to most” people who elect to see it bearing in mind the storyline, theme and artistic seriousness of the film.

Accordingly, the minority agreed with the findings of a previous Board of Review that the film “whilst certainly challenging from a classification stand point, could not nonetheless be accommodated in the Restricted Category, defined as this is to encompass material considered possibly offensive to some sections of the adult community…although the film deals with indecent or obscene phenomenon, it does so in a manner which is neither indecent nor obscene in itself when viewed in the context of a film of merit where even the most problematic of elements clearly serve the director’s metaphorical purpose. For the minority, the film is neither exploitative nor voyeuristic, but a powerfully realised political statement on the violation of innocence and freedom”

– Classification Review Board report

Howard Government censorship

The refusal was an important victory for the Liberal-National coalition. Two years later, censorship would again increase when they succeeded in rewriting the guidelines for the X-rating.

Despite the ban, SALÒ would continue to be referred to in Parliament.

July 2, 1998
In its October 1993 ‘Report on Video and Computer Games and Classification Issues’ and its November 1994′ Report on the Consideration of the Provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill 1994′ the Committee recommended the establishment of a community committee, which it saw ‘as a means of assuring the general community that the voting system on both Boards did not lead to the oppression of a sizeable minority by a slim majority’.

I note this recommendation was rejected by the previous Government with the support of State and Territory Censorship Ministers.

I am informed that one of the factors that led to the Committee first recommending a ‘community committee’ was the decision taken by the then Film and Literature Board of Review to release the film SALO on appeal from the then Censorship Board’s decision to retain the longstanding ban on its release. This decision was, however, taken in 1992 and much has changed since then. The fact that concern is expressed by some about one particular decision among the many thousands that have been made both before and since does not, in my view, lead to the conclusion that the system under which classification decisions are made is flawed.

In its latest report the Committee calls ‘for a restructuring of the OFLC to make it more reflective of community standards’. It also considers that establishment of a community committee, in conjunction with a review of the composition of the two Boards and the continuation of the OFLC’s program of research into community standards ‘should lead to more appropriate classification decisions’.

The assertion that the Boards are delivering ‘inappropriate’ classification decisions is not supported by the evidence provided by research, by analysis of complaints received by the OFLC, or submissions received from members of the public during the recent review of the guidelines for the classification of films and videotapes.

– Community Standards Committee: Report: Government Response
– John Herron (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

December 9, 1998
Mrs DRAPER (Makin) (12.27 p.m.) – But, of all the achievements of the Howard government’s first term in office, perhaps the area in which I take the greatest personal pride is the work that has been done to create a safer environment for our children. Prior to entering parliament, I had taken an active role in opposing the screening of a film in Adelaide called SALO, in which were depicted various acts of sadomasochism and sexual abuse of children.

Since that time, the government has taken significant steps to strengthen Australia’s approach to the fight against child exploitation. We played a substantial role in the declaration and agenda for action against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, in Stockholm in August 1996. Our own law and justice amendment legislation in that year tightened the criteria for classifying certain advertisements which may contain child pornography. The same legislation also made it harder for sensitive material to be hidden in sophisticated computer games and ‘click on’ access films.

– Governor-General’s Speech: Address-in-Reply
– Trish Draper (Liberal)
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia

March 9, 2000
Senator McGAURAN (Victoria) (11.05 a.m.)—I wish to speak for a very short time and thank the minister for giving me this time to respond to Senator [Chris] Schacht’s address to the Senate in which he raised the whole issue of censorship. It is a broad issue and a grey area, because views range from one end of the spectrum to the other. It should be noted that since this government came into power in 1996 there have been many changes to our censorship laws. I suppose on any analysis they have been made more conservative and certainly more understandable than they were prior to us coming into government. We believe that those changes have been, on any analysis, community based, and in fact, community accepted, if not community demanded.

A great deal of those changes were prompted by the movie SALO, which was the movie that explicitly showed minors being exploited. That was the line in the sand and since then there have been many reviews of our censorship board and censorship laws. For example—and what could be wrong with this?—the censorship board has been changed so that it is far more community based. More people are being appointed to the board from the community than previously. Previously the board was far more representative of the arts community and critics. The board did not have community based people and it lacked a number of women. That has also changed. There are now more women on the censorship board and the review board. What can be wrong with that?

Further to that, the government has looked at the classifications. I am not so sure that they have been as much tightened up as better defined, more crystal clear. More commonsense has been brought to the censorship debate. Senator Schacht thinks that is a trend, that we have gone too far. We would object to his analysis and say it is far more community based and responsive to the community. We believe the community wants a line drawn in the sand. We do not win them all. Senator Harradine does not win them all. Recently, the movie ROMANCE was released to our screens. There was an outcry in relation to that movie, that it is more explicit than we have ever seen, but it falls under the threshold, I would say, of SALO, which was exploitation of minors.

Interjection Senator Forshaw—That wasn’t the outcry at all; the outcry was because the movie was banned.

Interjection The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Order!

Continue Senator McGAURAN—I am being properly and rightly advised to ignore that. But my point is we do not have draconian censorship laws in the community at all. Of late there has been in the press information or news that the coalition is reassessing its classification of X to NVE. We have simply pulled that legislation out to reassess it, to discuss it, to get a greater community response. If there is any doubt on it we will look at it again. We are simply re-studying it. The National Party are unashamed—always have been; I do not know why you think we would change or why you would want us to change—social conservatives. There are all types in this parliament. There are the Senator Schachts and then there is the National Party, and the two will never meet. It is as simple as that.

I would not get too excited about the re-examination of the classification, because we simply want to make the labelling far more commonsense, far more understandable, so when you pull it off the shelf in the ACT or the Northern Territory you know what you are getting. That is community based, that is community responsive and it is commonsense. As for Senator Schacht’s attack on the whole of the Catholic Church, I would say that is utterly irrelevant to this debate and says more about the man than the issue.

– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Charges Bill 1998
– Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment Bill 1998: Second Reading
– Julian McGauran (National), Michael Forshaw (Labor)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

MUFF no show

In 2001, Richard Wolstencroft programmed SALÒ at the second Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF). It, and seven other titles, were to be part of a ‘Censorship 2001’ series. The plan immediately ran into problems.

June 27, 2001
Eliza Anderson, of RMIT University Corporate Affairs, said the Melbourne Underground Film Festival had been asked to give assurances it would not show banned films SALO and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

However, late yesterday festival organisers and RMIT appeared to be locked in a stalemate over the issue.

In a statement voicing disapproval about screening the banned films, Anderson said yesterday: “All individuals and organisations that hire RMIT University venues are required to use them in line with all relevant laws and regulations.”

Later Mr Wolstencroft said: “We knew we were probably going to run into trouble, but we are going to do our best to fight this, and bring public attention to censorship issues.”

“It’s a David and Goliath situation,” Mr Wolstencroft said yesterday. “And the truth is Goliath always squashes David — and we are David.”

“In this day and age, I find it totally hard to believe that the Melbourne Underground Film festival, or a representative thereof, would be jailed for playing Pasolini’s final masterpiece.”

– Banned films to screen at festival
heraldsun.com.au

June 27, 2001
ELEANOR HALL: Well the organisers of a break-away film festival are throwing down the gauntlet to Australia’s chief censor today as they attempt to screen an entire program of banned films.

The Melbourne Underground Film Festival is deliberately goading the censor with a program of five sexually explicit and violent cinematic offerings, including the notorious anti-fascist film SALO by Italian director Paolo Pasolini.

LUISA SACCOTELLI: SALO is top billing at this year’s Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Director Richard Wolstencroft says it deserves an outing.

RICHARD WOLSTENCROFT: It’s often considered at a level of Felini, Kubrick, and say a Luis Bunuel…it was really quite a masterpiece film that was produced in the mid ’70s. That was his final film, he was murdered soon after the completion of editing of the film. Often it has been rumoured because of actually what the film was about.

Anyway, Pasolini made this film and did move the action from around the time of the revolution and he set it in SALO which was the northern Italy fascist occupation during World War II and he drew the parallels very clearly between this kind of dark nature of man and what Dessard was talking about, and he produced a stunning film.

LUISA SACCOTELLI: But the film is also sexually explicit and involves boys and girls in orgies, masochism and eventually murder.

RICHARD WOLLSTONECRAFT: It’s, you know, very, as I said disturbing, unsettling, but not necessarily that different to say something like SCHINDLER’S LIST, except whereas SCHINDLER’S LIST has a, has nice characters in it and has somebody who is a redeeming figure, this film is entirely dark.

LUISA SACCOTELLI: Are you being deliberately provocative by attempting to screen this along with other banned films though?

RICHARD WOLSTENCROFT: I mean, I think if standing up for freedom of speech, freedom of expression is being deliberately provocative, I’d agree with you. I mean I think these things are important and that, you know, we are a very comfortable society.

We have a certain standard of living in this country, that these are the kind of things that, these freedoms that get taken away from us, these are the things you know, it’s like, it’s like the analogy of the frog in the water you know – if you throw a frog into boiling water he will jump out immediately, but if you put him in and you cook him slowly over the fire he’ll just end up dieing in there – and I think this is exactly what goes on with our society when these freedoms get taken away from us.

LUISA SACCOTELLI: It’s the perceived inconsistencies in Australia’s censorship laws which bother Richard Wolstencroft, though he denies he’s trying to goad the censor into taking action against the festival, guaranteeing it a blaze of publicity.

RICHARD WOLSTENCROFT: Well it is, it’s totally insane, like that recent they wanted to ban THE EXORCIST on Good Friday. I mean I think THE EXORCIST is one of the greatest advertisements for the catholic church I’ve ever seen. I mean, like, you know it’s a great film and it’s like entirely within the context of catholic theologies, so it entirely makes sense. Yeah, there, there’s something going in the world of censorship at the moment.

LUISA SACCOTELLI: At this stage is it your intention to screen these films unless the police turn up?

RICHARD WOLSTENCROFT: We would love to screen them yeah, that’s our position at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival this year, amongst other things, we’ve decided to focus on censorship.

LUISA SACCOTELLI: Australia’s Director of Film Classification, Des Clark, has been invited to the forum. His office says he won’t be attending. Mr Clark was in Tasmania this morning and unable to come on the program. His office says he’s standing by the current censorship rulings and the Melbourne Underground Film Festival does indeed risk prosecution under Victorian law if they go ahead with the program.

– Banned film festival
article @ abc.net.au

Neither SALÒ nor the other seven ‘banned’ titles screened. All that remained was a forum on censorship.

July 2001
We did want to bring you “Censorship 2001”, a selection of films banned in Australia like SALO, NEKROMANTIK, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 amongst others. MUFF has approved organisation status to receive exemption from classification for our films (provided everyone who enters is over eighteen). Alas this dream has been shattered dear film goers. Censorship is VERY REAL.

If we show these films we will be fined and possibly jailed, no bullshit. Personally I’d like to see them really jail a person in the year 2001 for playing films readily available worldwide on video/DVD…but wiser souls at MUFF have convinced me that such a course of action is self-destructive and self-defeating (…but you never know what we will do now do you!). Instead we will hold two special Forums on censorship and invite government representatives, industry heads, film critics and intellectuals and nuts like myself to try and raise public awareness to the absolute non existence of the freedom of creative expression in this country.

Crusaders, are you going to allow THEM to dictate what you can say, hear, do and think? If not be at our “Censorship 2001” forums.

– Crusaders
– Message from the Festival Director -Richard Wolstencroft
muff.com.au

July 11, 2001
So much for liberal society. So much for the notion of a mature citizenry that can decide for itself what is appropriate and what is not. The decree has come down from above that we are all children who should not speak out of turn and who should want only what we are told is the decent thing. Our moral betters have told us we must not watch, must avert our gaze from that which offends certain sections of our community by its very existence. Like the protesters waving their placards outside cinemas where THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST was showing a few years ago, they are offended not for themselves (because they would never dream of watching such a thing) but for the lack of offense on our part.

SALO may be a tale of perversion and degeneration, of a caste of nobility which believes itself above the common man and above the law or of a situation in which absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or it may be an allegorical tale of political absolutism in fascist Italy. Why do we not level the same criticism at SCHINDLER’S LIST? Of course the answer to this is obvious. SALO has no redeemer, no heroic Samaritans – it is not a feel good film. It simply points to the evil repressed in all cultures and psychologies, possibly even an innate facet of ‘the human condition’ and it pulls no punches, it stares it in the eye an asks you to come to your own conclusions. It is not a feel good flick.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST may be a story of abject horror, of a world that is far from our comfortable bourgeois existence in the Antipodes, a world we want to believe never existed, and if it did, could not exist today. It may be a snuff movie, the only one to have made it even close to a mainstream audience. And yet, apart from its visual design, isn’t it actually a much less disturbing picture of humanity than LORD OF THE FLIES, another comment on the thin veneer of civilisation that has more in common with SALO than CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST?

There is something in all of this, an ostrich attitude, that if we pretend none of it exists it really doesn’t. Depiction and comment and exploration of the all too real darker side of humanity as the cause of humanity’s ills. Film as scapegoat. Comically, as both cause and effect of its deficiencies and its decadence.

In all of the OFLC’s guidelines (and in general public debate) there are certain scenes which are offensive. As we see from all classification systems, sex and violence are the main offenders. We always hear talk of gratuitous sex and violence, ‘it’s OK if it’s in context’. When someone makes a film about sex or violence it is banned (unless it is classified X in which case it can be sold in a couple of territories, keeping them and manufacturers of brown paper bags in business). Anyone who has taken the time to look through the OFLC’s guidelines or has followed debates about film censorship over the past while will know that everything is couched in terms of offense, there is hardly a word on any perceived harm that watching such films might cause, picture the OFLC’s original cuts to DEAD MAN or the trivial controversy over the screening of THE EXORCIST on Good Friday in Victoria.

There are eight film of this nature that were to be shown in MUFF this year. This rant is filling in for the brief blurb on each film that might have been here had we not been censored ourselves. I have chosen to defend only two of these (and admittedly they are the most defensible). Do I really care if I never get the chance to see TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 on the big screen? Not really, because of the nature of the film itself and because in the days of internet shopping I know that anyone who wants to see it really doesn’t have to try too hard. I care that we are not allowed to screen it to those who come of their own volition.

The others we were intending to show were EVIL DEAD TRAP, Wes Craven’s first film LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, STORY OF RICKY, NEKROMANTIK and Lucio Fulci’s slasher, NEW YORK RIPPER. They are a mixed bunch. Not one of them is a feel good film. They all explore the boundaries of human experience, the margins of reason. None of them is CITIZEN KANE, but even old Orson knew a thing or two about censorship himself after that one.

We live in a dream world in a dream country where nothing goes wrong except on the news. Curiously, this reminds me of the furore over Pauline Hanson, where in typical fashion, little Johnny came out and defended her right to free speech. In his small-minded haste, he forgot that incipient in this right there was also the right to admit she has moronic ideas, in a word, was wrong. Someone once said that incipient in true freedom was the right to be offended. Only blind dogmatism – intolerance of intolerance, could not insist on the need to be offended. If we are not free to be offended by depictions of Nazi atrocities, what is the point in declaring ourselves other than them?

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” J S Mill

Only a defence against harm caused. Surely there is no need for a defence against examining any justification of proper human existence in thinking its other.
Wednesday 11 July 7pm, Kaleide.

– Censorship 2001 forum, Matt Boyle
muff.com.au

In total, eight movies were dropped. Interestingly, within a few years, the majority would be released.

By the mid-2000s, the previously banned titles, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) were all uncut on DVD.

NEKROMANTIK (1987) was the subject of several customs confiscations, but by 2016, it was screening uncut on World Movies.

EVIL DEAD TRAP (1988) was another title that was seized by customs. In this case, it was also forwarded to the OFLC who banned it. If it were now [2005] picked up for Australian distribution, then it would undoubtedly be granted an R-rating.

The odd title on the list is RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY (1991). At the time, it had never been submitted for an Australian classification, so was never banned. In 2004, it would be awarded an R-rating for a DVD release.

Three previously censored films were shown as part of the ‘New Zealand Unbound’ and ‘Peter Jackson Retrospective’ sections. Cut versions of BAD TASTE (1986) and David Blyth’s ANGEL MINE (1978) and DEATH WARMED UP (1984) all held R-ratings. The prints screened at MUFF were presumably uncut.

Caught by customs

There are two reported customs confiscations of SALÒ.

2002 – DVD – British Film Institute.

2002 – DVD – British Film Institute.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - DVD cover 1
DVD – BFI

These are the reasons as detailed on one of the seizure notices.

2002
1x DVD titled SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA containing offensive depictions of cruelty, and sexual activity accompanied by practices which are offensive.

The above items are prohibited and subject to regulation 4A(1A)(A) of the customs (Prohibited Imports) regulations 1956.

– Seizure Notice
– Australian Customs Service

Worry in the West

In September 1993, Western Australia became the first state to ban the newly rated SALÒ. Concerns were raised in 2002 when a new law was proposed that would remove the Attorney-General’s power of veto.

Here is Katie Hodson-Thomas (Liberal) with talking points supplied by the National Viewers and Listeners Association.

June 13, 2002
Resumed from 20 February. MS HODSON-THOMAS (Carine) [4.07 pm]: In terms of it being more liberal, I shall use the following exposé. I understand that the film SALO, which was classified and released in 1993, caused much angst in the community. I understand that the critics claimed it was a vile and degrading film and that it contained acts I cannot begin to describe fully. I am sure the member for Kingsley, when she has an opportunity to make her comments, will add to the detail in this debate. Some notes that I received from the National Viewers and Listeners Association state:

‘The content of this film was described by the Senate Committee of Community Standards thus:

Contains constant nudity, masturbation, forced sodomy, forced urolagnia…’

I cannot pronounce the next word.

‘…coprophagous, humiliation and degradation, anilingus, suicide, candlewax burns to breasts and male genitalia, a man’s tongue cut off, an eye explicitly gouged out with a knife, a woman partially scalped, a boy’s nipple branded with a hot iron, being forced to eat excreta, torture and killing during the ‘Cycle or Blood’ canto. Naked male and female youths forced to behave as animals going on all fours to beg for food – eventually betraying their fellows in an attempt to survive, hanging, whipping, accompanied by raconteur’s stories based on offensive, fetishes and paedophilia, a woman’s verbal accounts of sex experiences as a child and of matricide, live rat forced into a girl’s vagina, whilst various adults engage in sexual acts.’

Mr McGowan: What was that movie?

Ms HODSON-THOMAS: That was a description by the Senate committee of the movie SALO in 1993.

Mr McGowan: Was that banned by the federal committee?

Ms HODSON-THOMAS: I am getting to that. This was claimed to be a violent-grade film. The minister responsible for censorship at the time was the member for Kingsley. She was certainly aware of the community unrest and was able to have the film banned, given her powers, which will be taken away as a result of this legislation. She subsequently overturned the Commonwealth’s decision to release the film for viewing in this State. I also understand that South Australia followed our lead. This is a perfect example of how the current regime responded to public outcry, and rightfully so. I would not like to think that a film such as that was available to the general community, or to anybody in the community. Others may have a different view.

On the other hand, in Queensland where the Queensland Film Board of Review had been abolished, there were no state provisions to prevent the film being shown in that State, despite the community’s opposition. The Queensland Premier at the time, Wayne Goss, called on the federal Attorney-General to examine the operation of the Queensland Film Board of Review and, after a significant and lengthy time, the matter was resolved, but much later, because they did not have the same powers as Western Australia. That clearly shows that a central body does not respond to community concern in the same prompt way. That is the point I am trying to make.

Mr McGowan: I might have missed the point. That movie sounded fairly awful. Did the commonwealth censorship committee not permit the movie to be shown?

Ms HODSON-THOMAS: No, it did permit the movie to be shown. The minister at the time, the member for Kingsley {Cheryl Edwardes], used her powers and prevented it from being shown in this State.

Mr McGowan: So it was shown in other States where they did not have a state law?

Ms HODSON-THOMAS: That is the point I am trying to make.

– Censorship Amendment Bill 2002: Second Reading
– Katie Hodson-Thomas (Liberal), Mark McGowan (Labor)
– WA Legislative Assembly

Cheryl Edwardes (Liberal) was the Attorney-General who nine-years earlier had kept SALÒ out of Western Australia.

June 19, 2002
Resumed from 13 June. MRS EDWARDES (Kingsley) [3.31 pm]: In 1993, I banned a movie called SALO. I was able to do that because of the powers of veto that the Western Australian minister had. Subsequently, the Commonwealth also banned that film. Western Australia has provided the lead in this area in Australia for a long time. This legislation proposes to ensure that this State will become a follower rather than a leader in the area of censorship.

It is argued that the abolition of the censorship office will save $27 500 a year. However, that is not as important as protecting our children. For $27 500, I would prefer the power of censorship to be kept here in Western Australia to ensure that children are protected and that mums and dads are able to have their concerns addressed quickly. That is not a significant cost to retain the community’s confidence in the censorship laws of Western Australia. It is a small price to pay for retaining our independence and to retain our position as a leader in this area as against being a follower in the future.

The Attorney General basically indicated in quite a cavalier manner what he thought that teenagers should be able to do to enjoy themselves. I am not so sure that he would be so cavalier today and make comments similar to those he made during the early days of his portfolio responsibilities.

– Censorship Amendment Bill 2002: Second Reading
– Cheryl Edwardes (Liberal)
– WA Legislative Assembly

Mystery refusal

In March 2003, the Classification Board ‘declined to deal with an application for reclassification’. There is no entry in the National Classification Database as it was not examined. The applicant is unknown.

October 10, 2003
In March 2003, the Board received an application for classification of the film SALO – 120 DAYS OF SODOM made under the Classification Act. The Board consequently declined to classify the submitted version of the film.

– Classification Board
– Annual Report, 2002 to 2003

McGauran vs. the OFLC

In 2005, Julian McGauran (National) was still bringing up his SALÒ victory. Here he is questioning Des Clark from the OFLC on the film IRREVERSIBLE (2002). In 2004, it too had been subject to a Christian-backed campaign to have it banned in Australia.

May 24, 2005
Senator McGAURAN—But moving on, Madam Chair, many years ago I was involved in a movie called SALO, which was eventually banned.

Senator LUDWIG—Did you appear in it?

Senator McGAURAN—Pardon?

Senator LUDWIG—You said you were involved in it.

Senator McGAURAN—I was involved in getting it banned.

Senator LUDWIG—I see.

Senator McGAURAN—There was a scene of a 16-year-old girl or under raped and the movie was banned. What has changed so that Irreversible, which has I think under any viewing a worse scene, is allowed?

Mr Clark—I was not involved in the decision regarding that film, Senator, and I do not have access to the board report on that film at the moment. As you have described it, a 16-year-old girl would heighten the impact of a scene such as that. I cannot give you a detailed answer, but certainly that would be part of the consideration by the board.

Senator McGAURAN—So the 16-year-old girl’s scene is a worse scene—

Mr Clark—A child, under the age of 18, yes.

Senator McGAURAN—than what is depicted in IRREVERSIBLE—a mature woman?

Mr Clark—The detail of the scene in IRREVERSIBLE is not high; it is not a detailed scene. Yes, it is long, but it is not detailed. As I do not have knowledge of the other scene, I am unable to make a judgment on it.

Senator Ellison—I point out that if you had a depiction of a sexual act in that situation with a person under 18, it could well infringe the child pornography laws that we have enacted. I can get back to Senator McGauran on that if he is interested, but I think our new laws could catch a situation of that sort where a child is being abused in that fashion.

Senator McGAURAN—That is exactly why the movie was banned. Whatever laws exist now regarding the classification scheme also existed then.

Senator Ellison—I raise that to point out the current status—

Senator McGAURAN—You have told me what has changed since the banning of that one—that the difference regarding the rape scenes relates to the age of the person. Under those circumstances, the Report on the review of the operation of the 2003 guidelines for the classification of films and computer games—I forget who undertook that review—

Mr Jordana—The report was undertaken by a consultant named Kate Aisbett.

Senator McGAURAN—One of the key findings of the report was:

‘There is no discernible shift in the nature of permissible material within particular classification categories…’

So from the old category to the new category there has been no discernible shift.

Mr Clark—From the old classification guidelines to the new guidelines, the 2003 guidelines, her finding was that there has been no shift in the standards contained within the guidelines.

Senator McGAURAN—And you agree with that?

Mr Clark—Yes, Senator, I do.

– Julian McGauran (National), Joseph Ludwig (Labor), Chris Ellison (Liberal)
– Des Clark, Director, Office of Film and Literature Classification
– Miles Jordana, Attorney-General’s Department
– Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

The story so far…

In 2005, Des Clark, the Director of the OFLC, gave a speech at the Melbourne Workers Theatre. Part of it focused on the 29-year Australian censorship history of SALÒ. Interestingly, there is no mention of the March 2003 application, which they had declined to even deal with.

July 23, 2005
Artistic Merit
Under Section 11 of the Act, artistic merit is one of the many considerations that must be taken into account when making classification decisions. P

Some people believe that artistic merit is given too much weight and is used to justify R decisions for films such as Gasper Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE and more recently Michael Winterbottom’s 9 SONGS.

Such assertions are incorrect – a film is always considered in its entirety.

Artistic merit is a long standing and legitimate consideration which is important for ensuring fair and appropriate decisions.

– Of course there have been films, arguably of artistic merit and by critically acclaimed directors, which have been refused classification – such as TRAS EL CRISTAL, BAISE MOI and, as you all know, SALO.

1 Does not include decisions made in relation to enforcement applications

2 Does not include decisions made in relation to enforcement applications

As I understand it, these films were not considered to be of such artistic merit as to otherwise override the other requirements of the Code and Guidelines.

Despite recent criticisms there is no intention to remove the concept of artistic merit as a consideration in classification.

History of the classification of SALO
Released in Australia in March 1976, SALO was first screened at film festivals.

When it was originally submitted for classification by United Artists, the English dubbed film was refused registration under the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations and classified RC under State and Territory legislation.

An English subtitled version of the film was submitted for classification in 1992 by Premium Films but the ban continued. Premium Films applied for a review of this decision.

On 13 January 1993, after a 17 year ban in Australia, the Film and Literature Board of Review classified the film R with the consumer advice “Disturbing adult concepts and high level violence and sex”.

In a unanimous decision the Board of Review argued that while the film was shocking, it was not erotic, titillating or gratuitous.

It was during this period that SALO was brought to the attention of the Senate Committee on Community Standards.

The Committee, which was officially conducting an inquiry into R-rated material on Pay TV, was critical of the Boards’ handling of SALO alleging that members lacked accountability and were out of step with community values.

Senator Julian McGauran (NPA Victoria) used SALO as an example of the type of R-rated material that could potentially be made available through Pay TV.

In 1995 new legislation was introduced which established the fully cooperative National Classification Scheme.

Amongst other things, the legislation required that “In appointing members regard is to be had to the desirability of ensuring that the membership of the Board is broadly representative of the Australian community”.

The objective was to influence, in particular, the composition of the Classification Review Board. On my Board, I am the only arty farty and there is only one on the Classification Review Board.

In 1997, Queensland Attorney General, Denver Beanland, requested the Commonwealth Attorney General seek a reclassification of the film. Reclassification is a statutory process that requires calls for and analysis of public submissions.

Following the receipt of a number of submissions, the Classification Board rated the film R with the consumer advice “Adult themes of high intensity, strong depictions of violence, strong sexual references”.

In 1998, the Queensland Attorney General sought a review of the film’s R classification. The Review Board classified the film RC – the ban continues today.

Community Standards
Although it has not been formally tested, in my view, community standards appear to be fairly rigid around sexual violence and sex more broadly due to increasing concerns over the sexual abuse of children.

Conclusion
The history of SALO in this country is a reflection of an evolving classification system, community standards which shift over time (not necessarily in a linear fashion) and the dynamic nature of the Boards which make decisions on behalf of the community.

– Does Art Censorship Create a More Decent Society?
– Des Clark, Director, Office of Film & Literature Classification

Who will protest for us now?

Two months before the 2007 election, Trish Draper (Liberal) declared her various censorship campaigns were among her proudest achievements. Her eleven-year moral crusade ended when she decided not to recontest her seat.

September 18, 2007
As I look back over the years, I cannot help but recall how my political journey began. Two catalysts got me involved in politics: firstly, the student campaign I was involved in to save Salisbury Campus after the announced closure by the then Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Simon Crean, and, secondly, the reversal of the longstanding ban against the film SALO.

My very public stance against SALO led to my interest in classification issues, which I have continued to work on in my career in politics. Over the years, I have spoken up for my community, which continues to raise concerns about the content of films, television shows and video games. It has been a great honour to have been elected and to have served as chair of the coalition classification issues group during the last few years, and I thank my colleagues for their support.

I strongly believe the community faces new concerns with the growth of reality television, and I hope that community standards are able to be most vigorously defended. Music video clips, incorrectly classified TV shows and movies and the continued exploitation of young women and men are exposing our children to inappropriate behaviour, which is then replicated in our schools.

– Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007: Second Reading
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia

Banned DVD

The Howard Government lost power at the November 2007 election. It was under the Liberal-National Coalition that SALÒ had its classification withdrawn. Perhaps sensing that some of the critics were now gone, Shock Entertainment decided to resubmit it on DVD. However, in July 2008, the RC-rating was reconfirmed.

July 9, 2008
Film 1(a)&(b): The film is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Films Table, 1. (a) as films that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified,” and
(b) “describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not).”

– Classification Board

The following reference to it being a ‘modified version’ does not mean it was censored. Instead, it indicates that it contained DVD extras.

In February 2011, the Attorney-General’s department did refer to it as being an ‘edited version’ in their submission to the ‘Senate Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme’. Presumably, they should have said ‘modified’.

September 21, 2009
A modified version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (also known as PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM or SALO) was classified RC . In the Classification Board’s view, while the film purports to have some degree of artistic merit and justifiable context (taking into consideration the notoriety of the director, the narrative structure of the Marquis De Sade’s 120 DAYS OF SODOM and the portrait of human degradation which serves as an apparent metaphor for fascism), the context does not sufficiently justify the content of the film to the extent that it can be accommodated at the R 18+ classification.

The film also dealt with matters such as violence with a very high degree of impact which is excessively prolonged frequent and detailed, child sexual abuse, offensive and exploitative depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be under the age of 18 years, fetishes which are offensive and abhorrent and cruelty which are expressly prohibited under the Classification Guidelines.

– Classification Board
– Annual Report, 2008 to 2009

Here is Paul Syvret’s opinion piece published following the ban.

July 19, 2008
And so it is with SALO: 120 DAYS OF SODOM, one of the singularly most powerful and deeply disturbing films ever made. And one of the most censored.

After the distributors withdrew the DVD from circulation in 1998 because of copyright issues, it became one of the most sought after discs in the world, with genuine copies selling for upwards of US$500 on eBay.

The film, however (unless you want to risk running the gauntlet of Australian Customs), is deemed by the moral guardians at the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification far too extreme for Australian sensibilities – even though it was produced more than three decades ago.

SALO is Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s controversial masterpiece, and his final film (he was murdered in mysterious circumstances shortly after completing it in 1975). And a decade-long Australian ban on the film – which is to be re-released internationally on DVD by Criterion later this year – has just been re-affirmed by the OFLC, which has awarded it ”Refused Classification” status.

SALO is Pasolini’s intense and confronting metaphor for the excesses of Italian fascism during World War 2.

It adapts the Marquis de Sade’s 18th century novel to tell the story of four senior Fascists who, over the course of 120 days, systematically torture, debase and violate a group of adolescent boys and girls.

Their intent is to explore the theory that ”all things are good when carried to excess”. Yes, it is very strong stuff, and not a film for a quiet night in with a cup of tea. But in terms of potent metaphors about the human condition and the corruption of power, it is one of the most towering achievements ever committed to celluloid.

And before you ask, yes, I have seen it (just don’t ask how, and no-one gets into trouble ok?).

For a few brief years of enlightenment in the mid-nineties, Australian audiences were allowed to view SALO after the censors lifted their ban in 1993.

Then in 1998, at the request of then Borbidge government Attorney-General Denver Beanland – who appealed the rating on the grounds that it should never have received an ‘R’ classification in the first place – the OFLC again reviewed its decision. Beanland and the moral minority (most of whom I sincerely doubt would have actually viewed the material they were frothing at their mouths about) succeeded, and the forces of artistic darkness triumphed.

Few films, perhaps with the possible exception of so-called’ ”video nasties” such AS CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, have ever caused our censors so much bother.

The irony here is that those three particular films could all be classed as exploitation, and all in recent years have now been passed, uncut, with ‘R’ certification. No-one of sound mind, however, would possibly watch SALO for any prurient reasons, or in the hope of some schlock thrills. It is not grindhouse material for the raincoat brigade, or cheap thrills for the gore hounds.

Beyond the likes of child pornography (which SALO is not), animal cruelty and snuff films, it beggars belief in the age of the Internet that we even bother banning films in the first place. Any manner of potentially objectionable material is available on the web.

Key this film’s title into Google and within seconds you can be watching excerpts – or if you are one of those thieving grubs who indulge in piracy – be downloading the entire movie.

Classify film by all means, and advise viewers of content, but then let free-thinking adults make up their own minds.

– Notoriety can be a killer
couriermail.com.au

July 20, 2008
Melbourne music and DVD distributor Shock Entertainment acquired the rights to the film and wanted to distribute it on DVD. It submitted the film for classification by the OFLC’s Classification Board, which last week voted to refuse classification (RC).

“The film is classified RC because it deals with issues in such a way that they exceed the R18+ classification category and offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults,” Classification Operations Branch project officer Claire Bowdler said.

“The board is of the opinion that the film contains gratuitous, exploitative and offensive depictions of sexual activity accompanied by abhorrent practices.”

Made by acclaimed Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, SALO or 120 DAYS IN SODOM , was viewed by 13 board members who voted 7-6 in favour of the ban, with the minority stating that the film could warrant an R18+ rating.

“The minority felt that the age of the film and the careful construction of the narrative serve to mitigate against a higher impact,” Ms Bowdler said.

The move to maintain the ban has outraged freedom of speech campaigners Watch on Censorship.

Watch on Censorship committee member and respected film critic Margaret Pomeranz decried the ban as yet another attack on artistic expression, coming after the controversy over Bill Henson’s photographs and the July edition of Art Review Monthly which had a naked six-year-old girl on the cover.

“SALO is a film by a significant filmmaker but there are some confronting scenes in it,” she said. “It’s the same old argument: adult Australians have the right to make up their own minds.

“Really what they need to do is be informed about the content in a film which is likely to offend them so they can decide for themselves.”

Ms Pomeranz said it was unprecedented for a film to be banned three times in Australia. “I can’t stand the idea of this nanny state, which says, ‘We’re not going to let you see something, it’s too revolting.’ This is outrageous.”

Shock Entertainment declined to comment.

– Sadistic sex movie ban ‘attacks art expression’
article @ smh.com.au

New Director of censorship

In 2007, Donald McDonald replaced Des Clark as the Director of the Classification Board. He was controversially appointed in place of the recommended candidate. McDonald was a former chairman of the ABC and a close friend of John Howard.

Here he is explaining the reasons for the most recent SALÒ ban.

August 28, 2008
I refer to your enquiry of 20 July 2008 regarding the classification of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (also known as PASOLINI’S 120 DAYS OF SODOM) (SALO).

The Classification Board (the Board) classifies films (including videos and DVDs), computer games and certain publications using the tools of the National Classification Scheme, a cooperative scheme involving the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments.

When making decisions, the Board applies the Classification (Publications. Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines. Australian Government and State and Territory Government Ministers with censorship responsibilities agree to the Code and the classification guidelines. The Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games (the Guidelines) are available at www.classification.gov.au.

As you may already be aware, SALO has had a complex and controversial classification history in Australia and a number of different versions of the film have been submitted for classification over a long period of time.

The most recent classification decision regarding SALO was made on 9 July 2008, when the Board classified a modified version of the film RC (Refused Classification).

Films classified RC cannot be legally sold, hired, advertised or demonstrated in Australia.

In the Board’s view this film warrants an ‘RC’ classification in accordance with items 1(a) and (b) of the films table of the Code whereby:

“1. Films that (a) depict. express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified;” will be Refused Classification,

and “1. Films that:

(b) describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity . or not);” will be Refused Classification.

Also, pursuant to the Guidelines, films will be Refused Classification if they contain:

“Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive depictions involving a person who is, or who appears to be, a child under 18 years,”

In addition, the Guidelines states under the ‘RC’ section – Films and computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain any of the following:

[“Crime or Violence”] “Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of; (i) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed; (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have a high impact; (iii) sexual violence,

In addition under “Sex” – “Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of: (i) sexual activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent [will be refused classification]”.

In the Board’s view, while the film purports to have some degree of artistic merit and justifiable context (taking into consideration the notoriety of the director, the narrative structure of the Marquis De Sade’s 120 DAYS OF SODOM and the portrait of human degradation which serves as an apparent metaphor for fascism), the context does not sufficiently justify the content of the film to the extent that it can be accommodated at the R 18+ classification. The film also deals with matters such as high impact violence, child sexual abuse and cruelty which are expressly refused classification under the Guidelines.

It is the opinion of the Board that the film deals with the issues described above in such a way that they exceed high in impact and offend against the standards of morality t decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. Owing to the widely differing views held in our community it is not always possible to make decisions which satisfy everyone. I assure you that the Board takes its responsibilities seriously and reflects current community standards when making decisions.

I hope this information assists you.

– To: Mick
– From: Donald McDonald, Director, Classification Board

Twelve-year ban lifted

In April 2010, a DVD of SALÒ was passed with an R18+ (Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity).

The consumer advice had once again been tweaked. In January 1993, it was ‘Disturbing adult concepts and high level violence and sex’, which was changed to ‘Adult themes of high intensity, Strong depictions of violence, Strong sexual references’ in August 1997.

The other change was this version would be available for home viewing. The previous R-rating, held from January 1993 until February 1998, was for theatrical release only.

Predicting a backlash, the Classification Board decided to issue one of their rare media releases.

April 14, 2010
The Classification Board has classified the modified version of SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO) in DVD format R 18+ (Restricted) with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

Films classified R 18+ are legally restricted to adults. Some material classified R 18+ may be offensive to some sections of the adult community. Consumer advice is additional information which is intended to help consumers decide if they want to view this type of material.

SALO has had a complex and controversial classification history in Australia and a number of different versions of the film have been submitted for classification over a long period of time.

The Director of the Classification Board, Donald McDonald, has advised that this version of SALO could be accommodated within the R 18+ classification due to the inclusion of 176 minutes of additional material which provided a context to the feature film, mitigating its impact.

Mr McDonald wishes to draw attention to the fact that the film is classified R 18+, a classification category that is legally restricted to adults. “This is a film that is unsuitable for a minor to see.”

The Classification Board wishes to emphasise that this film is classified R 18+ based on the fact that it contains additional material. Screening this film in a cinema without the additional material would constitute a breach of classification laws.

Consumers can check the classification and consumer advice for every film and game classified in Australia by searching the classification website.

– Classification Board classifies a modified version of Salo o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma R 18+ (Restricted)
– Classification Board

This is not the only time that the addition of extra material resulted in the passing of a previously refused title. It appears to have been first used with the lifting of the six-year ban of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978).

In that case, Des Clark, the then Director of the OFLC, said it was awarded an R-rating because the DVD had ‘…contextual information supplied through such additional material as the directors commentary (which examines the film in a serious context)’.

Call for review

On the 15th, the Review Board received an application for review from Brendan O’Connor (Labor). He announced his intentions the following day.

April 16, 2010
Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, has applied to the Classification Review Board for a review of the most recent classification of the film SALO.

The Classification Board classified a DVD version of SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA SALO, with extra material R 18+ (Restricted) on 13 April.

The decision included the consumer advice ‘scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity.’

The previous version of the film SALO was classified ‘RC’ Refused Classification in July 2008.

“I have asked for a review of the reclassification because I believe a review is in the public interest,” Mr O’Connor said.

“There are likely to be sections of the community who will have different views on the content of this film so it is appropriate to have an independent review.

“This film has a controversial classification history in Australia and even on this occasion the Classification Board was not unanimous in its decision.”

The Classification Board concluded that the impact of the version classified R18+ this month was reduced by its age and the inclusion of 176 minutes of additional material of behind-the-scenes footage which served to give the film context and reinforce its fictional nature.

A minority of the Board was of the opinion that the film should be classified ‘RC’.

Screening this film in a cinema without the additional material would constitute a breach of State and Territory classification laws.

– Minister Requests Review of Salo Classification
– Brendan O’Connor (Labor), Home Affairs Minister

The final sentence indicates O’Connor was worried that old theatrical prints would be dusted off and fast-tracked back into Australian cinemas.

This was the first time that a Federal Labor government had been involved with trying to stop the film from showing. Previous attempts had always come from the right; and MPs such as Julian McGauran (Liberal). He had been opposing SALÒ even before his defection from the National Party, Once again he was outraged.

April 16, 2010
A call was made today for the Chairman of the Classification Board, Mr Donald McDonald to resign or be sacked from the Board following its decision to re-release the formerly banned movie SALO onto DVD.

Victorian Liberal Senator, Julian McGauran and long time campaigner against the movie said today SALO was first banned in Australia in 1975 [actually March 1976] but cleared for showing in 1993 and again banned in 1998. The movie depicts every form of sexual fetish against minors (children under 16 years). It shows graphic scenes of sexual torture, rape and murder.

“This movie is a paedophiles treat. It is a hand book for deviants and could trigger crazed minds,” Senator McGauran said.

“Our chief censors have just made the job of vice squads around the country harder.”

“The lifting of the ban of SALO by the Classification Board is divorced from community standards and leaves no line in the sand in regard to our censorship laws.

“The Board can no longer be trusted to defend public standards.

“Mr McDonald must take responsibility as Chairman of the Board for the re-release of SALO. Any decent Chairman could not accept the release of this movie under any criteria.

“If Mr McDonald was in the minority on the Board who disapproved of SALO’S release then he ought to have courage of his convictions and resign in protest. It is a defining movie in regard to the boundaries of censorship in Australia”.

“SALO is not another pornographic movie with consenting adults but a movie that depicts children.

“The movie is an open and shut case of paedophilia and breaches every classification code”, Senator McGauran concluded.

– Classification Board Fails Community Standards Test
– Julian McGauran (Liberal)

April 17, 2010
Liberal senator Julian McGauran requested a review through the Attorney-General’s office. He has also called for the resignation of Classification Board director and Howard government appointee Donald McDonald, if he opposed the majority decision.

“If he didn’t support this decision, he should step down in protest,” Senator McGauran said. “This film meets absolutely no community standard. This is the most open and shut case ever. There is no context for pedophilia.”

– Minister seeks review of sadistic film’s release
theaustralian.com.au

Appeal date set

O’Connor’s application was determined to be valid, so a review was approved.

April 19, 2010
The Classification Review Board (the Review Board) has received an application to review the classification of the recently submitted, modified version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO).

This modified version of SALO was classified R 18 + by the Classification Board on 14 April 2010.

The review is in response to an application received from the Minister for Home Affairs. Under the Commonwealth Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the Minister for Home Affairs may make an application for a review at any time.

The Review Board will meet on 4 and 5 May 2010 to consider the application. The decision and reasons will be published on www.classification.gov.au once finalised.

If an individual or organisation wishes to apply for standing as an interested party to this review, please write to the Convenor of the Review Board.

The closing date to lodge your application for standing as an interested party and any submissions is 29 April 2010. Please note that the Review Board can only consider submissions about the film SALO itself and not any other matters relating to film classification policy or issues generally.

Submissions should be emailed to crb@classification.gov.au or sent to:
The Convenor, Classification Review Board, Locked Bag 3, Haymarket NSW 1240

The Review Board is an independent merits review body. It makes a fresh classification decision upon receipt of an application for review. The Review Board decision takes the place of the original decision made by the Classification Board.

– Classification review announced for the film Salo o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma (Salo)
– Classification Review Board

Christians say no

The Australian Family Association had been active throughout the 2000s protesting against films such as ANATOMY OF HELL (2004), MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2004) and 9 SONGS (2004). This would appear to be one of their first comments on SALÒ.

April 2010
The Classification Board has decided to re-release the formerly banned movie SALO DVD, sparking protests from family groups and Federal Senator Julian McGauran, who dubbed the film “a paedophiles treat”.

“This is not just another movie – it is a defining moment in regard to the boundaries of censorship in Australia,” said Senator McGauran.

“The movie depicts every form of sexual fetish against minors (children under 16 years). It shows graphic scenes of sexual torture, rape and murder. Even the minority report of the Classification Board states the reason for opposing the release is due to it ‘involving minors throughout’.

Page 13 of the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games states that media must be RC – Refused Classification – when it includes the following content: “Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.”

“The lifting of the ban is detached from community standards and leaves no line in the sand – sending our censorship laws into outer space,” Senator McGauran said.

An application by The Minister for Home Affairs, Hon. Brendan O’Connor MP, has prompted the Classification Review Board to further consider the R 18+ classification of SALO. The Review Board will meet on May 4 and 5.

Write a letter protesting the re-release of SALO and its degrading content. Explain that by allowing its release this will open the door to other films which sexually exploit children.

Address letters to:
1) Victoria Rubensohn, Convenor Classification Review Board, Locked Bag 3, Haymarket, NSW 1240
Email: enquiries@classification.gov.au

2) The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Minister for Home Affairs, PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
Email: Brendan.O’ Connor.MP@aph.gov.au

– Salo movie re-release sparks protest
– Family Update Vol.25 No.2
– Australian Family Association

McGauran was now in a frenzy with his calls for Donald McDonald’s head.

April 20, 2010
A call was made today for the Chairman of the Classification Board, Mr Donald McDonald to break his silence and make a full public explanation as to why the Board saw fit to release the controversial movie SALO.

Victorian Liberal Senator, Julian McGauran who previously called on Mr McDonald to resign or be sacked following the release of the movie in Australia onto DVD said Mr McDonald’s silence is an insult and an evasion of his public responsibilities.

“Mr McDonald must know the consequences and controversy that surrounds the release of this movie – yet he hides in his office,” Senator McGauran said.

“This is yet another senior figure in a government authority refusing to take responsibility for their actions.

“Mr McDonald cannot run from his responsibilities and must make a full explanation on the SALO release. It is not sufficient for the Chair to rely on a flimsy two-page report. The weight of this decision deserves an open and honest discussion with the public. Mr McDonald needs to give further explanation given the gravity and public concern for the movie.

“This is not just another movie – it is a defining moment in regard to the boundaries of censorship in Australia.

“This movie breaks every guideline concerning the use of minors in films. Page 13 of the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games states media must be RC – Refused Classification when it includes the following content:

Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.

“The movie depicts every form of sexual fetish against minors (children under 16 years). It shows graphic scenes of sexual torture, rape and murder. Even the minority report of the Classification Board states the reason for opposing the release is due to it ‘involving minors throughout’.

“SALO is supporting the paedophile and deviant culture.

“The lifting of the ban is detached from community standards and leaves no line in the sand – sending our censorship laws into outer space,” Senator McGauran said.

– Classification Chair Called to Break His Silence
– Julian McGauran (Liberal)

R18+, but only with DVD extras

In May 2010, the R18+ of SALÒ was confirmed by the Classification Review Board. The consumer advice of ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’ remained unchanged.

May 5, 2010
A five-member panel of the Classification Review Board (the Review Board) has in a majority decision determined that the film SALO is classified R 18+ (Restricted) with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

In the Review Board’s majority opinion SALO warrants this classification because the inclusion of additional material on the DVD facilitates wider consideration of the context of the film which results in the impact being no more than high.

The minority were of the view that the film should be Refused Classification.

The Review Board strongly advises consumers to consider whether this is a film they wish to see as it contains scenes of torture, degradation, cruelty and sexual violence that may offend some sections of the community.

Films classified R 18+ are legally restricted to adults. Persons aged under 18 years cannot be admitted to films classified R 18+. Some material classified R 18+ may be offensive to sections of the adult community. Consumer advice is additional information which is intended to help consumers decide if they want to view this type of material.

The Review Board convened today in response to an application from the Minister for Home Affairs to review the decision made by the Classification Board to classify SALO R 18+ with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

In reviewing the classification, the Review Board worked within the framework of the National Classification Scheme, applying the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games. This is the same framework used by the Classification Board.

The Review Board is an independent merits review body. It makes a fresh classification decision upon receipt of an application for review. This Review Board decision takes the place of the original decision made by the Classification Board. The Review Board’s reasons for this decision will appear on the Classification website when finalised.

Note: Screening this film in a cinema without the additional material would constitute a breach of classification laws.

– Salo classified R 18+ upon review
– Classification Review Board

The Deputy Convenor, Trevor Griffin, had previously been the Liberal Attorney-General of South Australia. In 1994, it was he banned SALÒ from screening in the state. In this case, he was likely one of the minority who was of the view it should be Refused Classification.

May 4 & 5, 2010
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, NSW

MEMBERS:
Ms Victoria Rubensohn AM (Convenor)
The Hon Trevor Griffin (Deputy Convenor)
Ms Ann Stark
Dr Melissa de Zwart
Mr Alan Wu

APPLICANT
The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Minister for Home Affairs

INTERESTED PARTIES
Shock Records (the original applicant for classification)
Australian Family Association (AFA)
Family Voice Australia (FAVA)
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSW CCL), and
Flinders University Film Animation Comics and Television Society (Flinders FACTS)

BUSINESS
To review the Classification Board’s decision to classify the modified version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO) in DVD format R 18+ with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION

1. Decision

The Classification Review Board (the Review Board), by a majority, classified the modified version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO) in DVD format, along with accompanying material, R 18+ with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

2. Legislative provisions

The ‘Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act’ 1995 (the Act) governs the classification of films and the review of classification decisions. Section 9 provides that films are to be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the Classification Guidelines.

Relevantly, the Code in paragraph 5 of the Table under the heading ‘Films’ provides that:

Films that:

(a) depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or

(b) describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not); or

(c) promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence, are to be classified ‘RC’, and

Films (except RC films and X 18+ films) that are unsuitable for a minor to see are to be classified R 18+.

The Code also sets out various principles to which classification decisions should give effect, as far as possible.

Section 11 of the Act requires that the matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of a film include:

(a) the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults; and

(b) the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the film; and

(c) the general character of the film, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character; and

(d) the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.

Three essential principles underlie the use of the ‘Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2005’ (the Guidelines), determined under s 12 of the Act:

– the importance of context

– the assessment of impact, and

– the six classifiable elements – themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

3. Procedure

The Review Board received an application for review from the Minister for Home Affairs on 15 April 2010. On 19 April, the Review Board determined that this application was valid.

The Minister for Home Affairs advised that he would not be making written or oral submissions on the application for review.

Prior to the Review Board’s meeting, the Convenor granted ‘interested party’ status to the NSW CCL, the AFA, FAVA and Flinders FACTS. The original applicant (Shock Records), FAVA and Flinders FACTS provided written submissions to the Review Board prior to their meeting.

On 4 May, five members of the Review Board viewed the 292 minute DVD including the film and additional material described below.

On 5 May, the Review Board heard oral submissions from two persons representing the NSW CCL, and one person representing both the AFA and FAVA.

The Review Board then considered the matter.

4. Evidence and other material taken into account

In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following:

(i) The Minister’s application for review

(ii) The written submissions from Shock Records, Flinders FACTS and FAVA

(iii) The oral submissions from the two persons representing the NSW CCL and one person representing the AFA and FAVA

(iv) the relevant provisions in the Act, the Code and the Guidelines, and

(v) the Classification Board’s report

5. Synopsis

Set in the Italian village of Salo (a seat of Fascist Government) during

World War II, this film follows four sadistic fascist males (representing the four pillars of the Italian establishment: the Church, Politics, the Nobility and the Judiciary) who detain 16 young males and females and subject them to torture, degradation and sexual violence before executing some of them. A group of young ‘black shirts’ accompanies the captors. The film follows the narrative structure of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 DAYS OF SODOM and is divided into chapters including Anteinferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit and Circle of Blood.

This two-disc DVD release contains substantial additional material including the Italian trailer for the film, a music film clip entitled OSTIA – THE DEATH OF PASOLINI by Coil and documentary features entitled OPEN YOUR EYES!, AI PASSI CON PASOLINI…WALKING WITH PASOLINI, SALO: FADE TO BLACK, WHOEVER SAYS THE TRUTH SHALL DIE and OSTIA (with director’s commentary).

6. Findings on material questions of fact

The Review Board found that the film contains aspects or scenes of importance under various classifiable elements:

(a) Themes – The R 18+ classification contains virtually no restrictions on the treatment of themes. The film is intended as a political allegory, critiquing both the corruption of fascist Italy and the consumerist commodification of Italy in the 1970s. The film is intended as a serious study of the corruption which accompanies the exercise of absolute power. Within this broader context, the highly stylised film follows a narrative of four fascist pillars of society (a bishop, nobleman, judge and politician) who detain 16 young males and females during World War II, and subject them to acts of degradation, torture and sexual violence.

(b) Violence – The film contains both mental and physical violence that is high in viewing impact and implied sexual violence that is high in impact but justified by context.

Examples include but are not limited to:

At approximately 32 minutes a nude female servant is tripped in a banquet hall containing the characters of the film. One of the young male ‘black shirts’ is depicted unzipping his fly and approaching her. He then has implied anal intercourse with her, although his actions are obscured by the banquet table. A close-up of the servant’s face shows her screaming.

At approximately 40 minutes there is a mock wedding scene involving one young male as the groom and a young female as the bride. The couple are then undressed by their captors and commanded to caress each other. Two of their captors then rape them and a third captor has anal sex with one of the captors. These sex acts are filmed at a long distance and without close-up shots or shots of genitalia.

At approximately 51 minutes a large group of young males and females are shown naked, leashed and on all fours. They pant and bark like dogs and are forced to compete for food that the captors throw onto the ground or provide in dog bowls.

At approximately 53 minutes a young female is forced to eat pastry containing nails and blood runs from her mouth as she screams.

At approximately 63 minutes one of the captors, obscured by a banquet table, squats and impliedly defecates. A shot of what appears to be faeces on the floor follows. A nude young female is given a spoon and repeatedly commanded by the captor in a screaming tone to ‘eat’. In long shot, the young female is shown placing the brown substance in her mouth, then retching and crying. She is shown in close-up eating another spoonful of the substance. Two scenes involving urolagnia also occur in the film.

At approximately 83 minutes the captors arrange a contest for the best behind of the young males and females, announcing the prize to be instant death. The four captors inspect with a torch the bare buttocks of young males and females arranged in a circle. However, the detail of the buttocks is obscured by editing and various camera angles. A gun is placed at the temple of the young male winner and the trigger pulled, but the gun is not loaded.

From approximately 107-115 minutes the captors take turns sitting at a window in a high building, looking through binoculars as those young males and females who have transgressed the ‘rules of the house’ are subjected to implied sexual violence, torture and in some cases, execution, in a courtyard below. The captors listen to classical music, laugh, quote poetry and one captor appears sexually gratified by the activities in the courtyard. The impact of the violence is muted and mitigated by it being viewed mostly at a considerable distance and elevation, in extreme long shot through binoculars and the soundtrack consists of the classical music only. There are no lingering close-ups of the violence and torture. The impact of the violence and torture is further mitigated by the age and relative lack of technological sophistication of the visual effects.

The courtyard sequence includes the implied anal rape of a young female followed by her hanging (no detail of the rape is shown) at approximately 108 minutes. At approximately 110 minutes, a young male’s penis is burned with a candle and a young female’s nipple is burned with a candle. The tongue of another young male is sliced and the eye of another young male is gouged with a short knife. At approximately 113 minutes, a young female is shown being scalped, with blood and tissue depicted. A young male is branded with a branding iron and others are whipped. Some of these courtyard depictions are also shown in the accompanying documentary features, in the context of an exploration of the director Pasolini’s intentions and use of cinematic technique.

(c) Language – Language in the film can be readily accommodated within the R 18+ category, as there are virtually no language restrictions in that category.

(d) Sex – The film contains sex that can be readily accommodated within the R 18+ classification as sexual activity is implied.

(e) Drug Use – There is no drug use in the film.

(f) Nudity – The film contains nudity that is of high viewing impact. Full frontal nudity occurs throughout the film in the context of scenes of torture, degradation and implied sexual violence.

National Classification Code and Guidelines

The National Classification Code states, inter alia (in Item 1, sub-paragraph (b)), that films that:

(a) describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not)

should be refused classification.

The Review Board notes that in two submissions to its review there are differing claims which relate to this issue. The submission of Family Voice Australia claims that one of the actors playing a young male was under the age of 18 at the time the film was made, citing a website as a source. However, the submission of the film’s distributors, Shock Records, states that the actors are over the age of 18. Further information has not been available to the Review Board on this matter. In terms of whether the actors playing young males and females ‘appear’ to be under 18, the Review Board observes that this is a subjective judgement and notes that all the relevant actors are clearly sexually mature. The Review Board does not consider that the latter part of this provision requires that the actors appear to be mature adults, rather, it requires that they neither be under 18 nor appear to be under 18. The Review Board is of the view that the potential for community offence caused by either the description ( in stories related during the film) or depiction of such a ‘person’ is mitigated by the context, purpose and the stylised, detached cinematic techniques of this modified version of the film.

The Guidelines for Refused Classification also state that a film is to be refused classification if it contains, among other things:

‘Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18.’

In respect of these Guidelines, the Review Board reiterates its comments above relating to the relevant section of the National Classification Code, as to whether an actor is 18 or ‘appears’ to be under 18. It is the view of the Review Board that the film does not contain descriptions (in stories related during the film) or depictions of child sexual abuse which are exploitative or offensive, or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving such a ‘person’ given the context, purpose and cinematic techniques of this modified version of SALO in DVD format referred to below in these reasons.

7. Reasons for the decision

The Review Board notes that the original film incorporated in this modified version of SALO in DVD format has experienced a varied and lengthy classification history in Australia, a previous version of the film having most recently been refused classification in July 2008. From 1993-1998, the film was classified and shown in Australian cinemas.

It is the opinion of the Review Board that the inclusion of additional documentary features in this modified DVD format version of SALO facilitates wider consideration of the historical, political and cultural context of the film, and this would mitigate the level of potential community offence and the impact of classifiable elements to the extent that the film can be accommodated within the R 18+ classification.

According to the Classification Guidelines:

‘Context is crucial in determining whether a classifiable element is justified by the story-line or themes. In particular, the way in which important social issues are dealt with may require a mature or adult perspective. This means that material that falls into a particular classification category in one context may fall outside it in another.’

SALO, made in 1975, applies the structure and events of Marquis de Sade’s 18th century novel 120 DAYS OF SODOM to Fascist Italy during World War II. The additional material in this modified DVD version explores exhaustively the film’s historical, political and cultural context, the thematic foci of the film and the director’s intentions and cinematic techniques. These extra DVD features provide the viewer with salient interpretations of the film’s narrative, as well as additional context and elaboration of the purpose of the film. For example, in the documentary SALO: FADE TO BLACK, the director, Pasolini, explains the film as ‘a metaphor for what power does to the human body’, and describes the film as exploring consumerism and fascism’s attempts to reduce the human body to a ‘saleable commodity’. The film is intended to deliberately shock its audience in order to powerfully illustrate its themes of the evils of fascism and the corruption inherent in the exercise of absolute power.

The Review Board also considers that the impact of SALO, now 35 years old, is reduced by its age, its dated and sometimes technically unconvincing visual effects and construction of the film’s narrative through mostly obscured long or extreme long shot visuals and editing techniques. The extensive, discordant usage of classical music, ornate costumes and highly stylised mise-en-scène gives the film a surrealist quality. The film employs a detached style, which is totally devoid of any sense of titillation. Overall, the characterisation and tone of the film encourages viewer distance rather than engagement.

The additional material included on the DVD, especially of extensive behind-the-scenes footage revealing the director’s approach to filming and his attention to detail in his camera shot-making, supports this view. During the documentary feature OPEN YOUR EYES! Pasolini is shown on set carefully selecting camera angles and staging scenes in a meticulous manner. The extensive footage also reinforces the fictional and highly stylised nature of the film.

SALO is high in viewing impact and ‘may be offensive to sections of the adult community’. It therefore warrants an R 18+ classification.

8. Minority view

A minority of members of the Classification Review Board is of the view that the DVD should be classified RC (Refused Classification).

There are two principal grounds on which the minority reached that view.

The first ground relates to the National Classification Code, Item 1, sub-paragraph (b) under the section relating to films. That provides:

‘Films that

… (b) Describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18(whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not):

are to be classified RC’.

This provision is also referred to under ‘Crime or violence” in the Guidelines for Refused Classification. A film is to be refused classification if it contains, among other things,

‘Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.’

The second ground relates to the classifiable element of sexual violence, the Guidelines for R 18+ under ‘Violence’ providing that ‘sexual violence may be implied if justified by context’.

In respect of the first ground, the youthful appearances of the victims – no facial hair on the young males’ faces; at approximately 11 minutes the boy victims, being lined up, have trousers pulled down and shirts up, displaying youthful genitalia; repeated references to the victims as ‘boys and girls ‘and addressing them as such; reference at approximately 16 minutes to a young female victim as a girl taken from a convent school; young naked female victims consistently showing pink nipples as opposed to the darker, developed nipples of a mature woman are some of the features which, in the opinion of the minority, involve depictions of a person who is or appears to be under the age of 18 years .

In addition, from approximately 24 minutes, an older woman prostitute speaking to the ‘boys and girls’ (Senora Maggi) relates the story of her mother offering her as a seven year old virgin to an adult male, which heightens the sense that the young victims are children under 18. (The story telling would, of itself, offend against the provisions of the Code and Guidelines.) Thus, in the opinion of the minority, SALO, and excerpts from the film such as the theatrical trailer on the second disc, contain exploitative and offensive descriptions and depictions of child sexual abuse not justified by context, irrespective of the age of the actors playing the young people.

With respect to the second ground, the minority is of the view that, while much of the sexual activity would fall within the description of implied sexual activity, when taken as a whole and when combined with the violence which accompanied that activity, the cumulative impact is very powerful and very high and therefore the DVD must be Refused Classification as the impact of material classified R 18+ should not exceed high.

The minority is also of the view that the additional material on the DVD following the film does not mitigate the impact of the classifiable elements of the film to the extent that it can be accommodated at the R 18+ classification.

9. Summary

The modified version of SALO in DVD format is classified R 18+ with the consumer advice of ‘Scenes of torture, degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

– Classification Review Board report

Angry Christians

Family Voice Australia (FKA The Festival of Light) was one of the groups given standing as an interested party to the review.

May 6, 2010
“Yesterday’s confirmation of the R18+ rating for the DVD of SALO – Pasolini’s film revelling in teen torture and sex abuse – hits a new low in Australian classification decisions,” FamilyVoice national policy officer Richard Egan said today.

FamilyVoice Australia was the only community group to make a submission and personally present a case to the Classification Review Board that the ban – first applied in Australia in 1994 [actually March 1976] – should remain.

“SALO appears to clearly breach the classification guidelines, which say that films must be refused classification if they contain:

– descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years;

gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:

– cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have a high impact;

– sexual violence,” Richard Egan said.

“The young captives in SALO who were sexually abused, raped, tortured and forced to eat excrement were portrayed as being under the age of 18. One of the actors was only 17 when the film was made.”

The Classification Review Board decision to overturn the ban, like the Classification Board decision last month, was not unanimous. Both boards claimed that the new SALO DVD’s inclusion of additional material explaining the film’s background would mitigate the impact on the viewer.

“This claim doesn’t make sense,” Richard Egan said. “Even SALO supporters concede that additional material on a DVD usually goes unwatched – so it would not affect the extreme impact on the viewer of certain scenes in the film.”

The Review Board suggested that the consumer advice on the film – that it contains “scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity” – would prevent viewers from seeing the DVD if they are likely to be offended by it.

“Offensiveness is not the issue,” Richard Egan said. “This consumer advice could act as an inducement to paedophiles or others who take pleasure in viewing the extreme degradation of others. Yesterday’s Review Board ruling has set a very dangerous precedent.”

– Salo decision goes so low
– Family Voice Australia

In October 2009, Julian McGauran (Liberal) had been made a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. As a newly minted ‘soldier of Christ’, he now had Brendan O’Connor (Labor) in his sites.

May 6, 2010
A call was made today for the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Brendan O’Connor to override a decision by the Classification Review Board to release the formerly banned movie SALO onto DVD.

Minister O’Connor is responsible for both the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board. The Minister had initially appealed against the decision of the Classification Board to release the controversial movie SALO. Yesterday the Review Board rejected the Minister’s case and upheld the decision to release the movie.

Victorian Liberal Senator Julian McGauran, a long time campaigner against the movie said the Minister must now step in and have the courage of his convictions. If he believed the movie was worth appealing he must believe the movie is worth stopping. The Minister has power with the State Attorneys to block the release of this vile movie.

“If the Minister does not act then his objection to the movie was a political stunt”, Senator McGauran said.

“The Minister will lack integrity if he does not act. He cannot have it both ways, object to the movie but allow it to be released.

“The release of the movie since its last rejection in 2008 clearly reflects the change in the majority of Board appointments in 2009, appointments made by Minister O’Connor and cleared by the Labor Cabinet.

“If Minister O’Connor sits on his hands and allows its release to go ahead then it can only be taken that this was his intention in the first place. Not to act will allow his Board appointments to be free to continue releasing movies that clearly depict paedophile activity and the worst cases of sexual violence.

“This movie is a paedophile’s treat. It is a hand book for deviants and could trigger crazed minds. The movie depicts every form of sexual fetish against minors (children under 16 years). It shows graphic scenes of sexual torture, rape and murder. SALO was first banned in Australia in 1975 [actually March 1976] but cleared for showing in 1993 and again banned in 1998.

“Our chief censors have trashed community standards. The release of SALO has removed any line in the sand for censorship in this country, it breaches every classification law.

“Unless the Minister makes a tough stand, our children are in for a roller coaster ride into the outer limits of morality”, Senator McGauran concluded.

– Film degrading minors sparks call for review of classification system
– Australian Christian Lobby

May 7, 2010
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has called on the Federal Government to conduct an urgent review of the classification system following a review board’s decision to clear for release the controversial SALO film.

“In rebuffing the Minister, who clearly had concerns with the initial decision, the board has thrown out its own rules which prohibit the sexual degradation of minors,” ACL National Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton said today.

“How can any Australian have confidence in the national classification guidelines anymore?

“The Government in conjunction with the States should either rewrite the guidelines or it should act to ensure that the boards it appoints follow the rules.”

Mr Shelton said the Classification Review Board’s decision to clear for DVD release a sadistic and graphic film about the sexual abuse and degradation of teenagers makes a mockery of Australia’s classification system.

“The decision to classify the DVD of the film SALO as R18+ clearly breaches Australia’s classification guidelines and is completely out of touch with community standards.

“Even fans of this film say it is sadistic and full of unspeakable misery and sexual depravity. But far worse than that, this depravity and abuse is inflicted on captive teenagers who are apparently depicted as being under the age of 18,” Mr Shelton said.

“At a time when child sexual abuse is reaching alarming levels, what kind of justifiable reason can there be for permitting a film about young people being raped and tortured to go legally on sale in Australia? Adding three hours of additional ‘context’ material people can easily skip through is a ridiculously inadequate excuse.”

Mr Shelton said the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board have a responsibility to protect the community from this kind of abhorrent material.

“The classification guidelines are weak enough, but for the Classification Board and its review body to both disregard the guidelines in approving this film is reprehensible and shows how ineffectual the classification system has become.”

– Film degrading minors sparks call for review of classification system
– Australian Christian Lobby

Twelve days after his first attack on Brendan O’Connor (Labor), McGauran was back.

May 18, 2010
A claim was made today that the Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor’s failure to take action against the release of the movie SALO to DVD shows his placid acceptance of its release into the community.

Victorian Liberal Senator Julian McGauran said the Minister has failed to protect the most basic of community standards by not stopping this movie. The movie delves into explicit and degrading sexual behaviour against minors (under 16).

First banned in Australia in 1975 [actually March 1976], SALO has been denied classification on six occasions due to disturbingly strong depictions of torture, degradation, sexual violence and nudity including masturbation, forced sodomy and urolagnia, coprophagous, suicide, flesh mutilation including partial scalping and branding as well as paedophilia and bestiality.

“The release of the movie will redefine the definition and acceptance of paedophilia”, Senator McGauran said

“SALO is not another pornographic movie with consenting adults but a movie that depicts children. The movie is an open and shut case of paedophilia and breaches every classification code.

“The Minister is allowing a complete override of community standards and the trashing of the censorship laws of this country.

“It is no argument to say that he cannot act. The Minister has authority over the Classification and Review Boards and the classification standards. In essence he is the chief censor.

“The Minister must draw on the power of his office and Government along with rallying the State Attorney – Generals to stop the movies’ release”, Senator McGauran said.

“The release of the movie since its last rejection in 2008 clearly reflects the change in the majority of Board appointments in 2009, appointments made by Minister O’Connor and cleared by the Labor Cabinet. Not to act will allow his Board appointments to be free to continue releasing movies that clearly depict paedophilia activity and the worst cases of sexual violence.

“If the Minister does not act to ban the movie then he is placing our children on a roller coaster ride into the outer limits of morality”, Senator McGauran concluded.

– Minister O’Connor Fails To Defend Community Standards
– Julian McGauran (Liberal)

Christian tag-team

In May, Julian McGauran (Liberal) was able to grill both Donald McDonald and Trevor Griffin about the classification of SALÒ. He was joined by Guy Barnett (Liberal), a man who described himself as ‘pro-family with Christian values’.

McGauran continually loses his cool, but only because SALÒ was ‘…a personal movie’ to him. Meanwhile, McDonald and Griffin have to put up with outbursts such as ‘you are incompetent’, ‘do not get smart’ and ‘you are threatening me, are you? You are a real smart alec’.

Ironically, both could be described as conservatives, McDonald as a friend of John Howard and Griffin, as a former Liberal member of the South Australian Legislative Council.

Some of the most interesting exchanges concern the reason for passing the film only with the extras included. This is quite a battle and is worth reading in full.

May 24, 2010
Mr D McDonald – One recent classification decision of the board that I know has attracted the attention of some senators is the R18+classification for a modified 292 minute DVD version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO). The film, in a number of different versions, has been variously classified R18+ and RC—that is to say, refused classification.

Before making that decision, the board most recently classified a version of the stand alone feature SALO as RC in July 2008. This latest version is a two-disk release, which contains additional documentary material, a trailer and a music clip. The Classification Board, in a majority decision, classified the film R18+, with the consumer advice ‘scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

At the request of the Minister for Home Affairs, that decision has since been reviewed by the Classification Review Board, which also classified the modified version of the film R18+ and left the consumer advice unchanged. The board readily acknowledges that this is an extremely controversial film with a difficult classification history. Beyond that, the decision of the board speaks for itself and, in any case, has been superseded by the decision of the review board. I can provide a copy of that decision, should senators require it.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, do you have questions for the Classification Board?

Senator McGAURAN —It is in regard to the movie SALO. My colleague Guy Barnett will also follow up with questions. In your introduction you rightly made the point that it is a controversial movie. I give this as background to a question: it is a vile movie and the act of releasing it is a vile act. It was first banned in 1975 [actually March 1976] and as late as 2008 the ban was upheld. I quite understand the debate about censorship. It has a very wide spectrum between belief and interpretation, but there are two factors. This is my question: Do you agree that there are two factors which are agreed upon as a bedrock community standard? The first is that there is a line in the sand that we do have some form of censorship in this country and it is reflected in the Classification Code? That is the first point. The second point is that paedophilia is out. They are two bedrock community standards. Do you agree with that, Mr D McDonald?

CHAIR —They are in fact against the law.

Mr D McDonald —They seem to be two statements. Could you clarify what you are asking me?

Senator McGAURAN—I am asking you about the premise which the board itself would work off. Is it a bedrock community standard that first of all there is censorship in this country—there is a line to be drawn—and that it is reflected in the Classification Code? Secondly, that paedophilia in films or moves is out; there is no interpretation of it?

Senator Wong —Sorry, I do not understand what the question is. Is the question whether paedophilia is illegal? Yes.

Senator McGAURAN —I want to know what premise the board works off.

Senator Wong —What is the statutory basis of the board?

Senator McGAURAN —No.

Senator Wong —I am genuinely trying to assist here. I do not think Mr McDonald understands what is being asked, and I certainly do not.

Senator McGAURAN —I will try again; I will rephrase it. Is paedophilia on film refused classification?

Mr D McDonald—Paedophilia is a serious social issue that can be dealt with in a film. What cannot be tolerated in a film is actual paedophilia. That is the bedrock. There is a range from actual paedophilia to dealing with a social issue.

Senator BARNETT —What about simulated paedophilia?

Mr D McDonald —Simulated paedophilia could be acceptable in the context of a particular film.

Senator BARNETT —Really?

Senator McGAURAN—The context of this movie, as you would well be aware, deals with the sexual abuse, degradation, torture and humiliation of minors. Now, according to the Classification Code, a minor is under 18. But anyone who views this movie knows the implication of the children on the screen is definitely that they are between 13 and 16 at the max. But we only have to deal with under 18. That would be a viewer’s point of view. Just looking at it, you know it is minors. But, more than that, the minority of your board said the same and the majority of the review board said the same—that this movie deals with minors, people under age. Yet, in your own report, you did not even mention that the core objection to this movie, SALO, is that it deals with minors. It is not even in your report. Are you reading your own report now?

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, if you want an answer, you need to give the person a chance to answer.

Senator BARNETT —What is the delay? In the majority report of your board you do not mention anything about the core objection against this movie, yet the minority of your board does, the majority of the review board does and the minority of the review board does.

Mr D McDonald —The minority view of our board is part of the board report. They are of a piece.

Senator McGAURAN—So you have grabbed onto that, have you? They say it deals with minors in the minority report. Why have you not gone to justifying that? This deals with under 18s—in fact, younger.

Mr D McDonald—I repeat that the board’s report is a total report. It includes the majority and the minority views. I am struggling to understand.

Senator McGAURAN—So we will establish that this movie deals with paedophilia. If the minority report is part of your main report and it states that it clearly deals with minors then this movie is all about the degradation, torture, humiliation and abuse of minors, or they are part of the movie. Yes or no?

Mr D McDonald —You are stating something.

Senator BARNETT —Is that correct?

Senator McGAURAN —Is that correct and does this movie deal with paedophilia?

Mr D McDonald —That is one of the themes in the film, unquestionably.

Senator BARNETT—Can you confirm that the victims of the scenes, the torture and degradation, are depicted as minors in the movie? Can you confirm that?

Mr D McDonald —Yes.

Senator BARNETT—You have just not put it on the record. I am just confirming that. Can you also confirm that in the majority report there is no mention of the fact that these depictions of torture and degradation involve minors? Because the contrast is the minority—

Mr D McDonald —The report uses other language; it talks about young males and females.

Senator BARNETT—The minority report specifically says, ‘numerous depictions of realistically simulated sexual activity, sexual violence and torture involving minors throughout, including depictions of coprophagia and urolagnia?’ Is it not relevant to advise consumers that minors are depicted in these scenes?

Mr D McDonald —The board report is a totality and I believe that speaks for itself.

Senator McGAURAN —This is foolish.

Senator McLUCAS—I do not know whether this will help, but when we write committee reports from Senate reference committees and there is a majority report and a minority report, our differentiation is that those two reports are written by different parties. By way of assistance, I think Mr McDonald’s reports are written in a different way to our mindset. I do not know if that assists.

Senator McGAURAN—It does. I am again in admiration of you. But it is again a slippery answer. The minority report is the objection to the majority in Mr McDonald’s report.

Senator McLUCAS —That is not what Mr McDonald is saying.

Senator McGAURAN —The objection is that it deals with minors. There is a certain number on his board that did not want that movie passed.

Senator McLUCAS —I think that is a statement of fact.

Senator Wong —No-one is disagreeing with that.

Senator McGAURAN —But he is trying to say it is just one report.

Senator Wong —No, I do not think that is a correct indication of Mr McDonald’s evidence.

Senator McGAURAN —All right.

Senator Wong —I think he has indicated that there was a majority and a minority part of the report, as I understand it.

Senator McGAURAN—Correct, and in the majority side of the report, which justifies the release of this movie, they do not even mention—cowardly so—that this movie deals with minors in the worst form. Is that correct?

Mr D McDonald —No, I could not possibly agree with the use of the word ‘cowardly’.

Senator McGAURAN —Why did you not refer to it?

Mr D McDonald —It is completely inappropriate for the processes and the attitude that the board brings to its work.

Senator McGAURAN—Under the Classification Act, it requires you to seek community opinion. It also says the board has to consider the standards of morality, decency and propriety when classifying SALO, which means you must use the community standards as a touchstone. That relates to my first question: how did you do that in relation to SALO?

Mr D McDonald —I need to ask you to focus that into a question that I can answer.

Senator McGAURAN —What community opinion did you seek?

Mr D McDonald —We do not seek community opinion.

Senator McGAURAN —You do not? You are required to under the act.

Mr D McDonald —I am sorry, that is not the case.

Senator McGAURAN —Yes, you are.

Mr D McDonald —We are obliged from our various backgrounds to seek to reflect community opinion.

Senator McGAURAN —The act says that you are required to protect minors from harmful material; you are to seek standards, morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. It is referring to a community standard. You are saying that in regard to SALO, let alone other movies, there is no community touchstone in your decision making?

Mr D McDonald —The board is the community touchstone. The board is chosen to be as representative of the community as it can be, given the numbers.

Senator McGAURAN —The code also says:

(d) the need to take account of community concerns about:

(i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and

(ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

It uses the phrase ‘community concerns’. What community investigation did you undertake? Was it all in-house; were you all breathing the same oxygen inside your own cinema? Every other board I know has used the community as a touchstone. I know this well because I go back to 1993 in relation to this issue. I know that the fundamental change to the board, at least when the coalition was in government, was to have community advisory boards. What happened to them?

Mr D McDonald —I have not the faintest idea. I have been director for—

Senator McGAURAN —You are incompetent.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, I ask you to withdraw that.

Senator McGAURAN —Why?

CHAIR —I think that is not a reflection on Mr McDonald’s expertise and the role he is asked to play.

Senator McGAURAN —If you knew what this movie was about—

CHAIR —I am asking you to withdraw that

Senator McGAURAN —You would be as horrified as I am.

CHAIR —I am asking you to withdraw that comment. Senator McGauran, I am asking you to withdraw that comment.

Senator McGAURAN —I am reluctant to, Madam Chair.

CHAIR —We will have a private meeting, if that is the case. I am asking you to withdraw that comment.

Senator McGAURAN —I withdraw that comment.

CHAIR —Are there any other questions of Mr McDonald?

Senator McGAURAN —Yes, there certainly are.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, I am reluctant to call you but, if you have some more questions, keep going.

Senator McGAURAN —I will give a few questions to Senator Barnett while I cool down.

Senator BARNETT —Can I ask about the logic of the board’s decision where you say that a screening of a film in a cinema, without the additional material, would constitute a breach of the classification laws. Is that correct? That was in your media release.

Mr D McDonald —Correct.

Senator BARNETT—To me it makes no sense if on the one hand it is prohibited in a movie theatre but allowed at home on a DVD so long as on the DVD it has that extra couple of hours—all that additional background to the movie that puts it into its so-called context, according to the board. It makes no sense because have you got any evidence to say that people will actually look at all those hours of background, bits and pieces to the content, and then watch the movie? Have you got any evidence that people will do that, or is all the evidence before you based on past experience that they will simply watch a movie in their own home, without the extra bits and pieces?

Mr D McDonald —We can have no evidence one way or the other about what people do in their own home.

Senator BARNETT—Then how on earth would you require as a board that on the one hand you prohibit it in a movie theatre but on the other hand it is okay in somebody’s home only on the basis that they watch the couple of hours of background screening about the making of the movie, SALO?

Senator McGAURAN —You say in your own report—

Senator BARNETT —Can I just hear Mr McDonald’s response to that?

Mr D McDonald —I am sorry, I have lost the question.

Senator McGAURAN —Do not get smart, Mr McDonald.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran! You continually interrupt.

Senator Wong —I understand your views about this but you are interrupting your own colleague and frankly being quite rude to Mr McDonald. You may disagree with the position of the board, but it is not appropriate for you to deal with this in this way. If Senator Barnett has a question we would like to hear it and the answer being given without Senator McGauran deciding to jump in.

Senator McGAURAN—I will say to the chair that I will be more respectful. You are right, Senator Wong, except to say that the reason I am so heated is that I have no respect—none at all. That is what is driving me, but I will try to control myself.

CHAIR —Is this for Senator Barnett you are talking about? Who are you referring to here?

Senator McGAURAN —For Mr McDonald.

CHAIR—The least you could do is give him the opportunity to finish answering his questions. Senator Barnett, you might want to reiterate your question to Mr McDonald.

Senator BARNETT—Mr McDonald, I cannot see the logic of the board’s decision, where you have one rule for cinemas and what can be seen at a public cinema compared to what can be seen in a home. My question is: what evidence was before the board, or what reasoning led the board to assume, that all or most people who purchased or rented a DVD of SALO would view all or even any of the additional material? Was there any evidence before your board to persuade you accordingly?

Mr D McDonald —I can only repeat what I have already said. We can have no evidence of what people do in their own homes, but we classify the product that comes before us as a totality.

Senator BARNETT—Can I just say to you that that confirms in my view why I believe this decision was an appalling decision by the board and why I support an appeal to this decision and why, on behalf of the community, I can understand their concern, their angst and their upset—including people like Senator McGauran, who are so enraged by the fact that this decision has been turned on its head by the board. You do not have to respond to that question, but you are welcome to do so.

Mr D McDonald—I will respond and say that, if the Classification Board was in error, it is the function of the review board process to deal with that.

Senator BARNETT—Yes, indeed. And the minister has a particular opinion, which obviously has been disregarded by the review board and indeed by the Classification Board, because the views of the minister were known to the board.

Mr D McDonald—I beg your pardon; I have no idea what the minister’s view of this film is, and it would have been quite inappropriate for him to have indicated such a view. Frankly, I find that an astonishing suggestion.

Senator Wong—I presume, Senator Barnett, that you are referring to the fact that there was a request by the minister for a review of the classification, which went to the Classification Review Board.

Senator BARNETT —That is right.

Senator Wong—And the decision in relation to that application was made, I think, on 18 May. Is that correct, Mr Griffin? The reasons were published on 18 May, I think, from various people saying things around me.

Senator McGAURAN —Asking the same question, what evidence did the review board have with the additional material on the making of SALO that people would watch it and therefore that the would mitigate the offences of the main movie?

Mr Griffin —If I go back to the Federal Court decision in VIVA EROTICA [2006 attempt by Adultshop.com to get hardcore rated R18+ instead of X18+], that issue about community standards was raised and the Federal Court did not overrule what the Classification Review Board had done in that case, and that was to assess it from the board’s own perspective of its experience within the community. But the review board, in its operation, particularly in contentious matters, tries to engage with bodies such as the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, as it did in this case, as well as, in this case, FamilyVoice Australia and the Australian Family Association. It was endeavouring to get two perspectives—possibly different perspectives from opposing points of view—not just on the issue of community standards but also on the issue of acceptance of the particular film, video or publication that is being subject to review.

Senator McGAURAN—In both your report and the report of the Classification Board, the sole reason that differed from any other occasion for the release of this movie was the second DVD in the packet, which would go into the making of SALO—behind the scenes, so-called. That is the sole fundamental difference. You have not really answered the question. What evidence is there that people will watch this? This is the first time that this has happened, isn’t it?

Mr Griffin —I think there have been other occasions.

Senator McGAURAN —What other occasions?

Mr Griffin —I do not know. So far as the review board is concerned—

Senator McGAURAN —Because there have not been. [Incorrect, see I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) decision in June 2004]

Mr Griffin—The review board has a very limited number of applications for review before it each year. This year, so far there have been seven. In the previous year there were 10. Our job is to review a particular decision of the Classification Board and not to get involved in the administrative background to the administration of the classification act by agencies, state and federal. In respect of this particular movie, as in respect of other reviews, in the press release that goes out there is an indication that submissions will be received from interested parties. There is a conscious effort to endeavour to get differing points of view presented to the review board, and I have indicated the nature of the agencies or bodies that in this instance made submissions.

We rely also on the decision of the Federal Court, as with an administrative review of the decision of the Classification Review Board in the case of VIVA EROTICA, where it indicated that the experience of members of the Classification Review Board itself was a relevant basis upon which it could make a decision about acceptance or otherwise from the perspective of community standards.

Senator McGAURAN —If you do not watch the second disc in the package of this movie, it is a paedophile’s treat. I think it is, anyway, given that it is worse to release it on home viewing, ironically, when you think of the fact that people at home have their own privacy, than it is in the arthouse cinemas, when it was first released and then rebanned in 1993. At least in the arthouse cinema you have someone at the door checking, and people have to pay for it. They cannot freeze-frame it as they can at home. They cannot relish it as they can at home. Children may well walk into the room or use the video themselves. So, in fact, you have spread the audience—you have expanded the audience—more than if you released it to arthouse cinemas. Did you take that into account?

Mr Griffin—The majority of the review board took the view that that additional material was a relevant consideration in determining the impact of the initial part of the DVD. The minority, on the other hand, took the view that it would have a bearing. So there are differing points of view which are reflected in the reasons that have been published. The hearing was on 4 and 5 May, not 2 May as previously indicated, and I apologise for that error. The reasons are now publicly available and up on the internet.

Senator McGAURAN—In your report, the minority view, to its absolute credit, whoever the minority is on your board [possibly Trevor Griffin himself], lays out—in excruciating detail, I should add—exactly how young these people are. You have read the report, which states in absolute detail why they really are, to the viewer, probably aged 13 to 16, maximum. This is a movie about the degradation of children and minors. Both of you never considered the community standard, but did you at least consider, for example, the state laws in Victoria? There are child pornography laws on material that describes or depicts a person who is or appears to be a minor engaging in sexual activity or depicted in an indecent sexual manner or context—section 67A of the Victorian Crimes Act. Did you consider any of that in regard to SALO?

Mr Griffin —The majority view of the Classification Review Board was that the young persons were not or did not appear to be under 18 years of age. The minority had the contrary view. So the issue was considered but the decision was divided.

Senator BARNETT—Mr McDonald, you accepted that they were underage. You just said yes to that. Maybe I misunderstood your answer, Mr Griffin, but Mr McDonald certainly accepted that the actors in the film were under 18 at the time the film was made.

Senator McGAURAN —And the minority report was part of his report.

Mr Griffin—And the minority in the review board report concluded that they were or appeared to be under the age of 18, but the majority said at the bottom of paragraph (6) of its reasons—

Senator McGAURAN —No, that is not true.

CHAIR —Mr Griffin, please finish your answer.

Mr Griffin —It states:

‘In respect of these Guidelines, the Review Board reiterates its comments above relating to the relevant section of the National Classification Code, as to whether an actor is 18 or ‘appears’ to be under 18. It is the view of the Review Board that the film does not contain descriptions (in stories related during the film) or depictions of child sexual abuse which are exploitative or offensive, or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving such a ‘person’ given the context, purpose and cinematic techniques of this modified version of SALO in DVD format referred to below in these reasons.’

From that, I conclude the majority decision did not conclude that they were or appeared to be under the age of 18.

Senator McGAURAN —This is how I understand it. You spent an unnecessary amount of time saying that the actors were not under 18 in your opinion and, as historically as you could get, were not under 18. That was at one point an accusation too. Then you go on to say that if they are under 18, not the actors but just the depiction of them, and blind Freddy can see they are—

Senator BARNETT —The victims in the scenes?

Senator McGAURAN—Yes, the victims in the scene as depicted, not the actors themselves. You say it will be mitigated by the context of it all. So you are in fact admitting that on the screen they are taken to be under 18—under 16 really—but it is all mitigated by this extra DVD, ‘The making of SALO’. You are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by stating that the actors are not under 18.

Mr Griffin —With respect, my view differs from yours. I cannot take it any further. The majority view in the review board’s decision was not saying that the actors or the persons portrayed were, or appeared to be, under the age of 18 years. What they are saying is that, if they were, there was no exploitative or offensive depiction.

Senator BARNETT—Mr Griffin, do you mind me asking you straight out the same question I asked Mr McDonald? Are any of the victims of the scenes of torture and degradation depicted as minors?

Mr Griffin —All that I can do—

Senator BARNETT —It is not a tough question. It is a very simple question.

Mr Griffin—All that I can say is that the majority held the view that was not necessarily the case. The minority held the view that it was. There were five members of the review board and the majority took the view that I have indicated.

Senator BARNETT —What is your view?

Mr Griffin—With respect, I would prefer not to indicate that. The review board has traditionally over the years taken—and prior to that the Film Review Board took—the view that the identities of those who approve or disapprove of particular matters do not have their identities disclosed for the obvious reasons.

CHAIR —Mr Griffin, we respect that answer.

Mr Griffin—For the obvious reason that they might be picked off and targeted by other groups within the community for reasons other than those which are honourable.

CHAIR—Thank, Mr Griffin. This committee would not be asking your personal view. You are here representing the review board, so that is the position from which we would ask questions.

Mr Griffin—The fact of the matter is that the convenor—in this case the acting convenor—has to defend the decision of the review board. There are occasions when the convenor holds a different view which has to be subjugated to the majority view.

Senator McGAURAN —Can we expect now that we can pick up this movie in Blockbuster or Video Ezy? Is that where it is headed?

Mr Griffin—I would be surprised if that were the case, but I can do no more than speculate. It would be unwise of me to speculate because my job as a member of the review board finishes when a particular review is finished. It is subject to review by the Federal Court. There have been occasions when the Federal Court has reviewed it under the administrative decisions legislation. It may be that it will occur in this case; I do not know. If it does, we can be assured that it will get the same sort of review that VIVA EROTICA got in the Federal Court.

Senator McGAURAN —Is there anything to prevent it from going to Video Ezy or Blockbuster? Is it general release?

Mr Griffin —I would prefer to flick that across to the agency. I am not responsible, and the review board is not responsible, for the day-to-day administration of the act.

Senator McGAURAN—But you should know, when you release a movie or classify a movie, where it is going and to what audience. In fact, not only do I say that as general moral principle but it is in the act. You have to know where it is going and who it is affecting. The act requires you to know that.

Mr Griffin—In classifying films and computer games, one of the matters which have to be taken into account is the class of persons amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published. Of course, that has some sinister connotations as well as creditable connotations. The review board methodically goes through each of the requirements of the act, the Classification Code and the guidelines in endeavouring to reach a conclusion. Because there are people from different backgrounds on the review board, there will from time to time be different conclusions reached.

Senator McGAURAN—But why have you avoided the fundamental question which, as you would well know, would pull down the whole classification of this movie—that is, the age, as depicted, of those on screen? Why, in your own report, have you avoided that?

Mr Griffin —With respect, I do not believe it has been avoided. I believe it has been addressed by both the majority and the minority.

Senator McGAURAN—The minority addressed it very well, including the minority on Mr McDonald’s board. They say clearly it is. This is the key. You have both skipped around it, as if you wanted to see the movie up and running and out in Blockbuster.

Mr Griffin —I think that is unfair, with respect.

Senator Wong—Senator, I understand your views about this movie, and there are people in the community who hold that view. Imputing malevolent motives to officers at the table is really not fair. These gentlemen are exercising their obligations under legislation which, to my recollection, existed under your government. People may have a view about the way in which that legislation operates and has operated in relation to this particular film, but that is not an issue which goes to an improper motive by anybody sitting at the table.

Senator McGAURAN—Thank you for constantly checking me, because I am passionate about it and I will try and get through the list of questions. Not to correct you or anything, but for the record: this movie was rebanned under the Howard government. The classification laws were tightened under the Howard government because of this movie. It was released in 1993 and rebanned in 1998. The classification laws were tightened, the board was reshaped and the movie was banned. This is an icon. I am not just being some sort of—

Senator Wong —Sorry, Senator. We might be at odds on this, but I understood that there had been no change by this government to these laws.

Senator McGAURAN—No. I will tell you where the changes came in. In 2008 this movie was refused classification yet again. In 2009 half the board—half of both the review board and the Classification Board—were turned over and reappointed by the minister and the cabinet. I think that says it all.

Mr Griffin —I do not think—

Senator Wong —So you are impugning the appointments. That is the political tack, is it?

Senator McGAURAN—Yes, basically I am. They have reinterpreted the laws. In fact, they have not even reinterpreted them; they have just walked over the top of them. It is so blatant. I could excruciatingly go through each point of the grounds for refusing classification, and SALO would match every single one of them. You have not even acknowledged that. You found this new concept called ‘context’ in the making of SALO, put it in the DVD cover and pushed it out. One of the reasons you gave—I will not say it is a reason why you released it, but it was part of your report—was the age of the movie. It was first filmed in 1975 and was never released. Where is the statute of limitations on paedophilia, on rape or on torture? The fact that it was filmed in 1975 does not make it any more correct. Mr McDonald, where is the statute of limitations?

Mr D McDonald —I am taking that as a rhetorical question.

Senator McGAURAN—No. The issue is that, in your report, you mention that the age of the movie was a mitigating factor against the horror and the degradation. I am saying to you that in the movie there is degradation, rape and so on. I will not go through each point, but what does age have to do with it, just because it was filmed in 1975?

Mr D McDonald—Let me first repeat, that this film does not contain actual paedophilia. These are depictions of paedophilia, which is part of the theme of the anti-fascist intent of the film. The age is relevant because the documentary material, if I could just correct your impression, is not solely about the making of the film. There is documentary material about the political background to it and the context in which the film was made. Its age is relevant because of the time in which it was made in Italian history and what it was seeking to critique. Its age is also relevant in that it is available in every developed country in the world. Anybody who was a student of this film could have bought it in New Zealand on holidays any time in the last 10 years. For instance, they could have bought it in Ireland any time in the last 15 years. To watch it now is as though one is looking at some sort of archaeological artefact. It is not a film of current notoriety in the minds of the public and its likely audience will be people who are seriously interested in film history.

Senator McGAURAN—I beg to differ, and I have police expertise to back up my statement from many years ago—and currently too. When it was first released in 1993, it was described rightly by a Victorian police profiler as a handbook for the Mr Cruels of this world. This is not an artistic movie. Is that what you are trying to sell it as—some sort of art piece?

Mr D McDonald —I have not used that word at all.

Senator McGAURAN—That is the implication I take. But anyway, you said it is not real paedophilia. Of course it is not; it is implied and it is depicted to be so. Again, coming back to the classification and the law, if it is implied, that is a ground for refusal of classification. It only has to be implied or acted or depicted. Of course you will never get actual paedophilia: that is a ridiculous statement to make.

What was the other thing I was going to mention? Again, you have rewritten the rules and just walked over the top of them. When you classify movies—and this has always been the case—you classify scenes. Some scenes stay in and some scenes stay out. If you pull out a scene or two, an R becomes an MA and an MA becomes an M. That is how movies are usually classified—according to the scenes. Therefore, every one of these scenes—but enough of them—warrants an RC classification. You are talking about the context of the whole movie. You are trying to sell us the whole movie along with the second DVD. You call that all ‘in context’. But you have a responsibility to classify as much as that, scene by scene, don’t you?

Mr D McDonald —That is your interpretation, Senator. We are required to look at the whole product and to deal with the context of the complete film.

Senator McGAURAN —Do you ever recommend that a scene come out?

Mr D McDonald—I am sorry, Senator; you are mistaken. We do not censor films. We do not say, ‘This film will be passed if you take out that scene.’ We simply make a decision about the film as it is. Perhaps under the old legislation—

Senator McGAURAN —But you do classify—

Mr D McDonald —What you are suggesting applied, but it does not apply now.

Senator McGAURAN—But you do classify having regard to the impact of classifiable elements or scenes. You do classify according to the scenes and the impact of certain scenes?

Mr D McDonald —As part of the total film.

Senator McGAURAN —Would you say that within SALO there are certain scenes with a high degree of impact?

Mr D McDonald—It is to state the obvious that there are. That is why it is classified for adults only, and that is why it is given the consumer advice that it has.

Senator McGAURAN—No, it is an R-rated movie if there is high impact. Did I say very high impact? If it has very high impact it is rated RC. If it has high impact it is rated R. Are there very high-impact scenes?

Mr D McDonald —No. It is high.

Senator McGAURAN —Again I come back to the classification.

Mr D McDonald —The board’s view was that it was high impact.

Senator McGAURAN —High impact? It was not very high? There were no very high scenes within that movie?

Mr D McDonald —I have answered the question.

Senator McGAURAN—No very high-impact scenes? You are going to force me to describe every scene. We do not have the time. There are very high-impact scenes. I will probably be asked to withdraw this but for you to say that there are no very high-impact scenes in that movie is a disgrace.

CHAIR—We are at afternoon tea time. Senator Barnett and Senator McGauran, have you finished your questioning of Mr McDonald and Mr Griffin, or will we ask them to come back after afternoon tea?

Senator BARNETT —No, I just needed to respond to the minister, so I do not have further questions for the Classification Board.

Senator McGAURAN —I would like—

CHAIR —Do you, Senator McGauran? Just a yes or no answer, as we need to go to afternoon tea.

Senator Wong —They can come back. We are just trying to clarify whether or not you have finished.

Senator McGAURAN —Yes, I would like them to come back.

Proceedings suspended from 3.30 pm to 3.46 pm

CHAIR —We are continuing with questions of the Classification Board and the Review Board.

Senator McGAURAN —I am still reeling, even after the break, from your comments, Mr D McDonald, that SALO is a movie that does not have high-impact scenes. I am compelled, actually, to mention such scenes. The refused classification—

Mr D McDonald—Chair, Senator McGauran, as I understood him, said that I said there was no high impact. There is high impact, which is why it was classified R18+.

Senator McGAURAN —Very high impact.

Mr D McDonald —Sorry.

Senator McGAURAN —I left out the ‘very’, which is key, ironically, to R or RC.

Mr D McDonald —Indeed.

Senator McGAURAN—For this movie or any movie to be refused classification, let us go to the violent scenes. I regret that I have to do this, but this is the gravity of the release of this movie. I will ask two questions, one relating to its violence and the other relating to its fetishes. The classification system says this about RC:

… gratuitous, exploitive or offensive depictions of:

(e) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed…

But the key there is ‘very high degree of impact’. In your own report you say:

‘At 110 minutes a young man has his penis explicitly burnt with a candle. Another young man has his tongue explicitly sliced. At 111 minutes a young man’s eye is explicitly gouged out with a short blade. At 113 minutes, a young woman is explicitly scalped, with blood and gore depicted.’

The word ‘explicit’ in your own report would have to confirm ‘very high degree of impact violence’, would it not?

Mr D McDonald —The view of majority of the board was that it was high impact. Your view that it was very high impact is a view that is reflected in the minority view. It is a perfectly valid view; it is just a different view.

Senator McGAURAN —That was with regard to violence. The refused classification category says about sex:

… gratuitous, exploitive or offensive depictions of:

(h) sexual activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent.

In your own report, in regard to fetishes, at the 65-minute mark it relates to—I cannot even read it out, but I am sure you know what it relates to. It may have to be read out to make the point publicly:

‘At the 65-minute mark, obscured by a table, a male squats and implicitly defecates what appear to be faeces. The male hands a nude young female a spoon. He tells her to eat it. She retches and cries.’

It goes on, but I will leave it at that. Would that not then fall into the refused classification category of activity accompanied by fetishes offensive and abhorrent?

Mr D McDonald —That is a view that some would have. Indeed, the minority of the board probably had that in mind, in part, when forming their minority view. Others, perfectly validly, had a view that this was high-impact material, not very high impact. One perhaps does not need to repeat that none of this is actual. This is a fictional construct which is a critique of fascism in Italy. It is not an actual sex film.

Senator McGAURAN—Correct. But the classification code does not define the difference between ‘actual’ and ‘acting’. It just says if it is at all implied. That is what you must be guided by. I do not think that is any ‘out clause’ at all.

Mr D McDonald—Senator, I am not looking for an ‘out clause’. The board formed a view and it did so seriously and honestly, and no inappropriate motives should be attributed to the board. If the board was in error in its majority view then that was a matter to be addressed by the review board.

Senator McGAURAN — I could ask the review board the same questions that I just asked Mr McDonald. In fact, I will to get that on the record. Do you want me to repeat them or do you recall them? The first one is in regard to the violence, which is very high impact. I described several screens that were explicitly very high impact.

Mr Griffin—I am not prepared to enter into a debate about each particular scene. The reasons of the majority and the reasons of the minority in the review board have to stand or fall as a whole. The matter may go to the Federal Court under the administrative decisions review legislation.

I think it would be quite unfortunate if I were to express views in respect of particular scenes referred to in the reasons for either the majority or the minority. That may be regarded as a cop-out, but I do not think it is fair that I should now be asked to analyse again the various scenes which are referred to in the reasons.

Senator McGAURAN —That is absolute rubbish. You are here to answer questions, fair or not fair. You are paid to do a job and we are paid to ask you questions here.

Mr Griffin —You can ask the questions—

Senator McGAURAN —If you do not answer them then I would consider that a breach.

Mr Griffin —You can take me up before the full Senate.

Senator McGAURAN —You are threatening me, are you? You are a real smart alec.

CHAIR —Senator!

Senator McGAURAN —Minister, pull him into line.

Senator Wong —I think that was actually the other way round.

Senator McGAURAN —You do not have to defend him.

CHAIR—Do you have another question? If you listened to Mr Griffin, he was not talking about and did not provide a view about not answering questions. You asked him about his opinion. We have already said that it is not appropriate for these people to provide their personal opinion. If you have a question of Mr Griffin, please ask it.

Senator McGAURAN—I will finish on this point. In relation to your nonanswer, it is obvious now that you cannot answer about the details of the movie, scene by scene. You have become a coward on this issue.

Senator Wong—Senator! There is really a difference between having a difference of views about the decision of the board or the review board and that kind of personal accusation about people sitting at the table.

Senator McGAURAN —It is a personal movie.

Senator Wong—Then, there are a whole range of way in which you can deal with that. But we are in an estimates hearing and it is not appropriate for you to be impugning personally officers at the table. You have a view about the decision, and you are entitled to that view.

CHAIR—Senator McGauran, I will ask you to withdraw that comment about Mr Griffin, thank you. It is not appropriate and you know it is not appropriate.

Senator McGAURAN —He gave as good as he got.

CHAIR —I am asking you to withdraw that reflection on Mr Griffin.

Senator McGAURAN —I withdraw the reflection and I have finished my questioning.

Senator Wong —I do not think that ‘he did it, too’ is quite what we should aspire to.

Mr Griffin—The difficulty is that the reasons, whether of the majority or the minority, are combined representations of the views, in this instance, of a majority and a minority. Each member will have different reasons for making a judgement about particular scenes. I think the issue about the administrative decisions review legislation being applied to this in the Federal Court are very real. If they are, I do not think it is appropriate to be answering questions which anticipate what may or may not have been the basis for what those members of the review board had in their minds when they made these decisions. We may like it or not, but I think that is the fairest way of dealing with it. If we are wrong, either in majority or minority, the Federal Court will tell us.

Senator McLUCAS—I think it would be speculative for Mr Griffin to answer that question. I am not sure that he actually knows the answer to that question and it would be speculating.

CHAIR —Do members have any further questions.

Senator BARNETT—First, with respect to the letters from the Minister for Home Affairs to the law enforcement agencies of every state and territory [regarding the sale of adult magazines]. The letter was dated 4 February. We have had two responses, both from Victoria. The first from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services dated 4 June and then from the Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, Simon Overland. They say similar things, but they confirm that in Victoria, at least, Bob Cameron MP Minister for Police and Emergency Services says, ‘Although I am cognisant of the matters raised in your letter, I can appreciate the chief commissioner’s view that increasing policing effort should not be directed at the enforcement of classification laws at this point.’

That is part of the letter and that is on the public record. Please have a look at it. That disappoints me greatly in terms of the Victorian response. But what disappoints me even more is the fact that we have received no response from any other state or territory to that letter of 4 February. That confirms in my mind, and I think in the minds of many others, that the views of the state and territory governments around this country with respect to this being a priority and something of a serious matter are very poor indeed.

So we have an issue here where there is a system failure where there is advice that goes to the law enforcement agencies and they do nothing about it in the states and territories or they consider it as a very low level of priority. They received a letter from the federal minister and here we are in May, some three odd months later, and there is still no response. I appreciate, Mr Wilkins, your officer, Kim Duggan’s work. Thank you for that. You have written back to our committee dated 22 May where you say that you will follow up to see if any further responses can be obtained. Thank you very much. But you should not have to do that.

It is a deplorable lack of a response. It confirms in my mind that the system is broken and it needs fixing. So, my second point in conclusion is that we have a lack of response to the call-in notices; the prevalence of publications that contain material that should be refused classification, including child pornography, for sale in petrol stations and general stores; the issues raised by Senator McGauran, which I entirely agree with, regarding SALO; we have the display and sale of restricted publications in areas accessible to children and we have a lack of follow-up information following referrals to the state and territory law enforcement agencies by the Classification Board. We have a system breakdown and it needs fixing. All I can do is put on notice this disturbing evidence that is now confirmed, yet again, at this Senate estimate committee regarding these matters. I am happy to have a response; otherwise I am happy to move on.

CHAIR —Mr McDonald, do you want to respond to that?

Mr D McDonald —No, it was a statement by the Senator.

CHAIR —I thank all the officers.

Mr D McDonald —I have not had the occasion in this hearing to introduce my companion on my left, the acting deputy director, Jeremy Fenton. I would like to record the fact that his term with the Classification Board finishes this Thursday. He will have completed seven years’ service, which as you probably know is the statutory maximum that can be served. I and the board have been extraordinarily well served by Mr Fenton and I am very grateful for that.

CHAIR —Thank you for that, Mr McDonald. Mr Fenton, all the best in your next endeavours.

– Donald McDonald, Director, Classification Board
– Trevor Griffin, Acting Convenor, Classification Review Board
– Guy Barnett (Liberal), Julian McGauran (Liberal)
– Penny Wong (Labor), Jan McLucas (Labor)
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

The final challenge

With the SALÒ rating now confirmed, its opponents had one final avenue of appeal, the Federal Court of Australia.

This new push was supported by Julian McGauran (Liberal), Guy Barnett (Liberal), Family Voice Australia (FKA The Festival of Light) and the Australian Christian Lobby.

June 15, 2010
A coalition of [Christian] community groups and [Christian] public representatives have today appealed to the Federal Court against the release of the movie SALO.

Victorian Liberal Senator for Victoria Julian McGauran said the Rudd Government has failed to protect the most basic of community standards by not stopping this movie. The movie delves into explicit, degrading and violent sexual behaviour against minors (under 16 years of age).

The joint objectors to the Federal Court are:
FamilyVoice Australia
Senator Julian McGauran
Senator Guy Barnett
The Australian Christian Lobby

The group of objectors will argue that the Classification Board and Review Board have transgressed process and law.

“The Rudd Government’s failure to object to this movie has allowed our censorship laws to be trashed and is allowing paedophilia and sexual violence to become acceptable on our screens,” Senator McGauran said.

“Our chief censors, by releasing this movie, have redefined paedophilia and its acceptance.

“The movie classification has been rejected on six occasions, the last in 2008. SALO’S 2010 release clearly reflects the change in the majority of Board appointments in 2009, appointments made by Minister O’Connor and cleared by the Labor Cabinet.

“The movie shows disturbingly strong depictions of torture, degradation, sexual violence, mutilation, including a live rat being forced into a girl’s vagina.

“If the horrors of this movie have not motivated the Government to act to the fullest then it can only be judged as an endorsement of the movie’s release,” Senator McGauran concluded.

– Salo To Be Taken To The Federal Court
– Julian McGauran (Liberal)

June 16, 2010
FamilyVoice Australia has today filed an appeal in the Federal Court against the decision of the Classification Review Board to classify as R18+ the child abuse and torture film SALO OR 120 DAYS IN SODOM.

“This film is based on the perverted writings of the Marquis de Sade,” said FamilyVoice research officer Ros Phillips. “For many years it has been refused classification because of its scenes of young teen boys and girls being physically and sexually abused in horrible ways.

“But last month, the Classification Review Board removed the SALO ban on the extraordinary ground that the film now comes in a package of two DVDs – one of the film itself, and another DVD containing additional material including an interview with the director Pasolini. The Board claimed this additional material would reduce the impact of the film.”

Ros Phillips said online comments indicate that people who hire DVDs generally watch the main film only, not any additional background material.

“In any case, how can additional material justify scenes of sadistic child pornography in the main DVD?” Mrs Phillips said.

FamilyVoice Australia is not alone in objecting to the film.

Senators Julian McGauran and Guy Barnett quizzed officers from the Classification Review Board at recent estimates hearings. Dissatisfied with the answers they received, the two senators wrote to the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor – who said he would not appeal the Review Board’s decision.

The senators have encouraged FamilyVoice Australia to pursue an appeal. Together with the Australian Christian Lobby, they are supporting the Federal Court action.

– FamilyVoice appeals Salo ruling
– FamilyVoice Australia

June 17, 2010
Senator BARNETT (Tasmania) (6.23 pm)—I wish to speak on the Australian Communications and Media Authority—Communications report for 2008-09. It makes a number of observations with respect to what films and different types of media can and cannot be banned in this country. Tonight, I want to specifically refer to the movie SALO, which I find despicable. It is derogatory and demeaning in the most awful, awful way. This movie is no longer banned. It was initially banned in 1975 [actually March 1976] and then under Labor was released in 1993, but it was re-banned under the coalition in 1997 [actually February 1998]. In recent weeks that has been overturned. That is a great shame. Senator Julian McGauran and I wrote to Minister Brendan O’Connor asking for the government to appeal the decision of the Classifications Board to release that film into the community. It is now available publicly. The minister did not get back to us within the appropriate time and the government has decided not to proceed to appeal the Classifications Board’s decision.

The movie SALO is one of the most awful movies that one could imagine. Our censorship laws, in my view, are broken. The classifications system in this country is simply not working. The laws have been trashed, allowing paedophilia and sexual violence to become acceptable forms on our screens—in the movie theatre, on the television and on our video screens. The fact is that this movie SALO has been rejected previously but is now available. There was a majority decision of the Classifications Board and a minority decision. I know Senator McGauran and I both supported the minority position, which was to reject this movie being allowed into our community. It shows disturbing, strong depictions of torture, degradation, sexual violence and mutilation—including with underage children. The protection of our children should surely be the top priority for us as members, senators and decision makers in the community. It is simply horrific and why the government has not decided to appeal and to fix the system, I do not know.

I want to commend Family Voice Australia for its leadership in lodging an appeal with the Federal Court. It is supported by both Senator McGauran and myself and by the Australian Christian Lobby. I hope that appeal is successful. I do not know what will happen; that remains to be seen. That is a matter now for the courts. That appeal has been lodged with the Federal Court and has our full support. Since that appeal was made I have certainly received feedback—and I know Senator McGauran has—supporting that effort because of the horrendous and awful nature of this particular movie.

I simply say that in the Senate. I put it on the record. It should be taken to the Federal Court. If the system was not broken, then of course we would not need to go to the Federal Court to remove this movie, SALO, from the view of members of the public. The Rudd government does stand accountable. It has made this decision not to proceed to an appeal. It is overseeing a systemic failure of our classification system and it is not good enough. On the record, I would like to say that I am proud to support the appeal in the Federal Court and I seek leave to continue my remarks. Australian Communications and Media Authority

– Guy Barnett (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

June 20, 2010
ACL has joined fellow pro-family group Family Voice Australia, and Liberal senators Julian McGauran and Guy Barnett, in a Federal Court appeal against the release of the disturbing 1975 film SALO. The film had previously been refused classification on six separate occasions, the most recent in 2008.

SALO, which depicts the kidnap, torture and sexual abuse of minors by a group of four Fascists in Mussolini’s Italy, was recently approved for DVD sale in Australia accompanied by two hours of additional material, which is meant to place the film within its broader historical and cinematic ‘context’.

In recent Senate Estimates hearings, chairman of the Classification Board Donald McDonald admitted that the Board had no evidence people would actually watch the contextual material, which formed the basis of the decision to approve the DVD’s release.

Mr McDonald also confessed that, “Simulated paedophilia could be acceptable in the context of a particular film”. He further admitted the film contained “depictions of paedophilia”, contradicting his classifiers, who had argued otherwise. Clearly the Classification Board have erred in allowing the sale of SALO – if paedophilia doesn’t overstep the boundaries, do any boundaries actually exist? ACL has called for an overhaul of classification laws to restore the public’s trust in the system.

– ACL joins legal action against film containing ’simulated paedophilia’
– Australian Christian Lobby

Here are the evils of SALÒ being explained by a pastor from small Queensland Baptist church.

August 2010
In 1975, Italian film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini produced the movie SALO, sub-titled 120 DAYS OF SODOM. This disturbing film depicts the kidnapping, torture, and sexual abuse of teenagers – both male and female – by four Fascists during Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. The film portrays disturbingly strong depictions of torture, degradation, sexual violence, mutilation, and murder, all perpetrated by adults on minors. SALO is therefore a film about paedophilia, and especially violent in its portrayal of the sexual abuse of the teenagers.

The screening of this film was legal in Australia in the early 1990s, with an R-rating. However, by 1998, the then Office of Film and Literature Classification had imposed a RC-rating (Refused Classification) on SALO, effectively banning the screening of the film. The classification guidelines state that a film must get a RC-rating if it contains “descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years…”. SALO definitely includes such depictions and was rightly banned.

This ban has been upheld on five subsequent occasions, the most recent in 2008, as film distributors have sought permission to re-release the film for screening in theatres or release it on DVD for home viewing. Each time, the Classification Review Board has ruled that SALO falls outside of the guidelines, and refused it classification. Until now!

SALO has now been released with a R18+ rating. In May 2010, the Classification Review Board acceded to the request of a film distributor for a removal of the ban. Had the guidelines been liberalised? No. Had the film been edited to delete the more horrific scenes? No. What had changed? The distributor had added an extra disc featuring two hours of background information designed to place the film in its broader historical and cinematic context (although, of course, there is no guarantee that anyone watching the film will first watch the background disc). And the other change is that most of the members of the Classification Review Board are new, being appointed in 2009 by the Labor Federal Government, and are approaching their role in a more ‘open’ manner.

In recent Senate Estimates hearings, the Chairman of the Classification Board, Mr Donald McDonald, was grilled by Coalition Senators about the removal of the ban against the distribution of SALO. Mr McDonald admitted that the Board had no evidence that people would actually watch the contextual background material, the presence of which formed the basis of the decision to approve the film’s release on DVD. He also acknowledged that, in his opinion, “Simulated paedophilia could be acceptable in the context of a particular film.” He admitted that SALO did contain depictions of paedophilia, something which the members of the current Classification Board had argued otherwise.

The Australian Christian Lobby and FamilyVoice Australia, along with Senator Julian McGauran (LIB – Victoria) and Senator Guy Barnett (LIB – Tasmania), have now launched an appeal in the Federal Court to have the ban reinstated. Senator McGauran said, “Our chief censors, by releasing this movie, have re-defined paedophilia and its acceptance.” ACL, FAVA, and the two Senators are arguing that the classification authorities, by approving SALO with a R18+ rating, have defied proper process and reinterpreted the law. Mrs Ros Phillips, Family Voice Australia, said, “For many years it has been refused classification because of its scenes of young teen boys and girls being physically and sexually abused in horrible ways.” She the [sic] went on to say, “… how can additional material justify scenes of sadistic child pornography in the main DVD?”

While it is not possible for us to influence the hearings in the Federal Court, it would be appropriate to contact the Classification Review Board to state that the decision to grant SALO a R18+ rating was wrong and to request that the Board review its own decision in this matter. Ask the Board to reinstate the ban on this film.

Write to the Chairman, Classification Review Board, Locked Bag 3, Haymarket, NSW, 1240 [telephone (02) 92897100, or fax (02) 92897101, or email by going to the website www.classification.gov.au].

If the R18+ rating is allowed to stand for SALO just because it has been released as a two disc package, there will be a series of other graphic films currently with a RC-ratings being re-released with accompanying discs of background material. If this is allowed to stand, our nation may as well abandon any attempt at film classification!

Who will stand up for me against evildoers?
Who will take his stand for me against those who do wickedness?
Psalm 94:16

This monthly release is prepared by to inform Christian people about issues within our society. “Action Alert” does not promote any one political party, but encourages its readers to be “salt and light” by speaking out on some of these matters.

– Action Alert: Salo Coming to a DVD Store Near You
– Pastor Brian Robertson, Coral Coast Christian Church, Bargara, Queensland
– coralcoastchurch.org

Free to enjoy at home

On September 8th, five-months after being classified, SALÒ was finally released by Shock as part of their ‘Distinction Series’.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - Advertisement 1
Ad – Shock

The Blu-ray and double-disc DVD were the same as the 2008 British Film Institute reissue.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - Blu-ray cover 1
Blu-ray – Shock

Some video stores even added their own warnings.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - Advertisement 2
Ad – Rental Warning

The reason for the film being passed was due to the inclusion of the following documentary extras. In May, the Classification Review Board had found that they facilitate a ‘… wider consideration of the historical, political and cultural context of the film, and this would mitigate the level of potential community offence and the impact of classifiable’.

DVD 1

SALÒ
111:50 (PAL) uncut version of the film.

OSTIA: THE DEATH OF, PIER PAOLO PASOLINI (2008)
7-minute music video by Peter Christopherson for the track from Coil’s album HORSE ROTORVATOR (1986).

DVD 2

OPEN YOUR EYES! (2008)
IMDb – 21-minutes of behind the scenes footage and interviews with those involved in the film. This was discussed in the May 2010 Classification Review Board report.

OSTIA (1987)
IMDb – 26-minute student film about the death of Pasolini. Also includes an audio commentary with the Director, Julian Cole.

SALÒ: FADE TO BLACK (2001)
IMDb – 23-minute documentary about the film by UK film critic Mark Kermode. This was discussed in the May 2010 Classification Review Board report.

WALKING WITH PASOLINI (2008)
IMDb – 21-minute documentary about Pasolini and how SALÒ was received by the British Board of Film Censorship.

WHOEVER SAYS THE TRUTH SHALL DIE (1981)
IMDb – 58-minute documentary on the life and death of Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Complaints & comments

Predictably, SALÒ was one of the main topics discussed in the Annual Reports of both the Classification and Review Board.

September 7, 2010
A total of 24 complaints were received about the Classification Board’s R 18+ classification for the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO). Four of these complaints were received after the Classification Board’s decision but prior to the Classification Review Board’s R 18+ classification which was made following an application for review from the Minister for Home Affairs.

A further 20 complaints were received after the Review Board’s R 18+ classification decision. Only one of these 20 complaints referred specifically to the decision of the Review Board as opposed to being a general complaint about the film’s availability with an R 18+ classification.

Most complainants expressed the view that SALO should have remained in the RC (Refused Classification) category. This film has had an extensive and controversial classification history since it was made in 1975. One correspondent expressed support for the R 18+ decision.

– Classification Board & Classification Review Board
– Annual Report, 2009 to 2010

September 7, 2010
One classification decision of the Board that attracted some public debate is the R 18+ classification for a modified 292 minute DVD version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO). The film, in a number of different versions, has been variously classified R 18+ and RC (Refused Classification). Before this decision, the Board most recently classified a version of the standalone feature SALO RC in July 2008.

This latest version is a two-disc release which also contains documentary material, a trailer and a music clip. The Classification Board, in a majority decision, classified the film R 18+ with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

The Board readily acknowledges this is an extremely controversial film with a difficult classification history. Beyond that, the decision of the Board speaks for itself, and in any case has been overtaken by the decision of the Classification Review Board which classified the film R 18+.

An application was made to the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 on 16 June 2010 regarding the Classification Review Board’s R 18+ classification of SALO. I understand the matter is to be heard by the Federal Court in 2010–11.

– Donald McDonald, Director’s Overview
– Classification Board
– Annual Report, 2009 to 2010

September 1, 2010
The film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO) and the Review Board’s R 18+ classification with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’, received significant media attention and public debate.

In making our decision, the Review Board considered submissions from a number of interested parties including Shock Records (the original applicant for classification), Australian Family Association (AFA), Family Voice Australia (FAVA), NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSW CCL), and Flinders University Film Animation Comics and Television Society (Flinders FACTS).

– Victoria Rubensohn AM, Convenor
– Classification Review Board
– Annual Report, 2009 to 2010

A censor laments

In September 1993, thanks to Cheryl Edwardes (Liberal), Western Australia became the first state to ban SALÒ. Seventeen years later, it was back and now available for home viewing.

September 14, 2010
…former attorney-general Cheryl Edwardes, who banned the film in WA, said she was shocked and disappointed that approval had been given for the film to be released.

“I was censorship minister for eight years and there is no doubt this film contains the worst level of sexual violence I have ever seen,” Mrs Edwardes said. “Some of the scenes are indescribable. They are bizarre and depict victims referred to as ‘boys and girls’.”

– Banned sex and violence film on DVD
thewest.com.au

Censorship played a big part in the political career of Edwardes. In a series of interviews, conducted between 8 May 2010 and 20 November, she spoke about restricting the display of adult magazines, threatening WOMAN’S DAY over the Sarah Ferguson toe-sucking images, violence in cartoons and internet filtering. She also regretted that the state had now given away its power to ban films.

November 20, 2010
I think it comes back again to the family. I was the longest serving minister for censorship in the whole of Australia. Not many ministers actually seem to understand its value. The value is to the family. You are protecting families, particularly kids, from material that should not be forced in front of them or they should not have access to. In the beginning when I first took over the role, we had our own legislation here. It was eventually handed over to the feds. As such, back in those early days, I had to sign off on magazines [and] films, or restrict them. Going through them et cetera, there was some horrible stuff out there that most of the time we restricted. They had to be under the shelf. They couldn’t be in full view of people when they visited newsagencies. They weren’t available.

SALO was a film that was absolutely horrific in terms of its level of violence and outrageous activities that just couldn’t be justified in putting on the big screen. There was a bit of an outcry over that in terms of me actually censoring what the community could see and couldn’t see. Well, too right! My view was that that was the case.

– Interview with Cheryl Edwardes
– Oral history collection. State Library of WA

McGauran’s time is running out

At the August 2010 election, Julian McGauran (Liberal) lost his Senate seat. However, he did not have to stand down until June 30 of the following year. This meant he still had time to pursue his crusade against SALÒ.

The May 24 Senate estimates had been a fiery encounter. It included him accusing Donald McDonald, the Director of the Classification Board, of being incompetent. He went on to allege Trevor Griffin, Acting Convenor of the Classification Review Board, was threatening him.

This time, he was repeatedly warned not to discuss the film, as it was the subject of an on-going Federal Court case. This did not stop him from again trying to find out who was the ‘minority’ member of the Classification Review Board who had thought the film should have been refused. As previously theorised, this may have been Trevor Griffin, as he was the one who banned SALÒ in South Australia in early 1994.

October 18, 2010
Senator McGAURAN —I would like to direct my questions to the convener of the Classification Review Board, Ms Victoria Rubensohn. The annual report just recently tabled states:

‘Films containing descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years, will be classified RC’—

That is a restricted classification. It continues:

‘The majority of films that are classified RC are sexually explicit films containing these prohibited elements.’

I take it that the majority of films contain the prohibited element of a person who is 18 years and under. In the cases that you have handled, when coming to that conclusion do you report how you came to that conclusion that there are children under the age of 18 in the movie? Do you set out that description in your report?

Ms Rubensohn —Senator, we address all the required criteria that are in the guidelines whenever we do a report. Where it is pertinent we would address that.

Senator McGAURAN —In relation to exactly why you think those persons in a film are under 18, you would give your reasoning or your methodology?

Ms Rubensohn —I am not sure about methodology, Senator. But if it was pertinent we would address the issue. How we address it I suppose might vary from time to time.

Senator McGAURAN —Tell me how you would address it if there is not a methodology or a reasoning behind it? How do you come to those conclusions?

Ms Rubensohn —Senator, do you have a specific example in mind?

Senator McGAURAN —No, I am looking at it fairly generally at the moment.

Ms Rubensohn —In my experience, since I have been the convener, it is an issue that has arisen only once.

Senator McGAURAN —What is that once?

Ms Rubensohn —That once was the film SALO.

Senator McGAURAN —Why does your annual report then state:

‘The majority of films that are classified RC are sexually explicit films containing these prohibited elements.’

Ms Rubensohn —In my time there has been only one film.

Senator McGAURAN —Of course. I suppose I should go soon to Mr McDonald.

Ms Rubensohn —Yes. The Classification Review Board handles only reviews. We get only a small proportion of the number of films that are classified. Since I have been the convenor of the board we have not had much experience of that particular issue.

Senator McGAURAN —But you would still go into the theatre with a set of criteria relating to those who are over 18 and those who are under 18. It would not just be seat of the pants stuff, would it?

Ms Rubensohn —We go in to the theatre with the guidelines, the act and all other related material. But no list in any of those documents sets out the criteria for making judgments about—

Senator McGAURAN —How do you make your judgments?

Ms Rubensohn —One does one’s best, Senator, as a matter of common sense.

Senator McGAURAN —That is subjective.

Ms Rubensohn —That is about as much as I can say. I cannot speak for my panel; I can speak for the way I would approach that sort of issue.

Senator McGAURAN —There is no guideline at all. When you walk into the theatre it is all subjective as to what constitutes someone over 18 years and what constitutes someone under 18 years?

Ms Rubensohn —No. On that issue there are no set criteria in the legislation or the guidelines for making that judgment. Of course, we do not participate in the making of the legislation or in the making of the guidelines.

Senator McGAURAN —Then it is subjective. You raised the matter of SALO. What were your reasons for not refusing classification? You would know that one of the main controversies, if not the main controversy, of the movie SALO is the age of the victims.

Ms Rubensohn —Senator—

Senator Ludwig —As I understand it this matter is currently before the courts.

Ms Rubensohn —Senator—

Senator Ludwig —Let me finish. What I was going to suggest—

Senator McGAURAN —I was not interrupting.

Senator Ludwig —I was interrupted.

Ms Rubensohn —I did.

Senator Ludwig —Let me make this plain—

Senator McGAURAN —You said “Let me finish” but I was not interrupting.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, Minister Ludwig is trying to clarify something for us.

Senator Ludwig —Thank you Madam Chair. I was going to say that I note we are now going to an issue. The SALO film, as I understand it, is currently before the courts. I ask the committee to take that into account in questioning in relation to that issue and that responses may be unable to be given as the matter is currently before the courts. We would not want to prejudice any of the proceedings before the courts.

Senator McGAURAN —Indeed, we would not and we will not. Please let me know, Madam Chair, if I transgress.

CHAIR —I am sure that the minister is advising you.

Senator McGAURAN —I assure the minister that I do not want to talk necessarily about SALO, although it seems to be the prime example raised by the convener herself. I want to keep it on the classification itself, the criteria, the rules, and even those that we appoint. What are they thinking when they walk into the theatre? How do they make their judgments of, ‘That person is 18 and that person is 17’? We have a right to know and the public have a right to know. So far we have heard from the convener but she cannot even tell me her own personal view about how she judges whether or not someone is 17 or 18. That is what I am trying to get at, Minister. I say to the convener that I am absolutely shocked: you cannot tell me whether you or anyone on that review board uses any methodology to determine who is aged over 18 years and who is aged under 18 years, according to the standards.

Ms Rubensohn Senator, I reiterate that since I have been convener my only experience has been the film that is the subject of court process at the moment. In relating my personal view or experience I have nothing to refer to other than the one that I am unable to discuss.

Senator McGAURAN —Let me put it another way.

Ms Rubensohn —Could I just say—

CHAIR —Let Ms Rubensohn finish.

Ms Rubensohn —Insofar as the code, the guidelines or the legislation address this issue, under films and the RC classification are these words, ‘describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18.’ It then refers to some other things. However, as I said before and I reiterate my statement, it says nothing about how one makes the judgment as to whether a person is or appears to be a person under the age of 18.

Senator McGAURAN —That is what I want to know from you. You tell me.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, just let the witness finish her answer.

Ms Rubensohn —In which case, as I said before Senator, one can only apply common sense in approaching that question. I think all those who are appointed to positions like this have to proceed in that manner. There is no magic formula that we are given from any source, including the legislature, as to how to go about that task.

Senator McGAURAN —If it were a controversial movie and you thought the victims were over the age of 18 and one part of the board thought they were under the age of 18, I suggest you would be required to report. But would you report why you thought they were over the age of 18 if the rest of the board descriptively and in detail told you why they were under the age of 18. Do you not have a duty to report why you thought they were under the age of 18?

Ms Rubensohn —Unfortunately, Senator, you are referring again to SALO.

Senator McGAURAN —No, I am not.

Ms Rubensohn —I am sorry, in that case I do not know what you are referring to.

Senator McGAURAN —I am talking about your processes.

Ms Rubensohn —There has not been such a split on the board—

Senator McGAURAN —I know that there has been a split in the Classification Review Board. I know where your vote went and I know it was ghastly. I am asking about your processes.

Ms Rubensohn —Senator, we do not discuss on the board or publicly whose vote went where.

Senator McGAURAN —Why do you not?

Ms Rubensohn —For the obvious reason, Senator.

Senator McGAURAN —Well tell me. Put it on the record.

Ms Rubensohn —That my panel would be—

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, it is not very helpful to keep interjecting in the way in which you have. I understand that you are trying to make a point but it would be most useful if you could just let the witness complete her thought patterns in answering the question and then you can then ask subsequent questions. Ms Rubensohn?

Ms Rubensohn —Senator, may I say that I was not here in May but I note that there are 15 pages of Hansard from the May hearings of this Senate estimates committee in which you asked my deputy convenor [Trevor Griffin] the same questions about this issue—questions about why the names and the votes of the panel were not revealed. He quite properly said—and I can add nothing to it—that it is a protective measure to protect those members of the panel from being victimised and harassed by whoever might disagree with their vote. To my understanding, that is the way in which this body has always proceeded. I cannot imagine that it could proceed in any other way and have anyone willing to serve on it.

Senator McGAURAN —I am dealing only with process. I am asking you about process. Your own report states that most of the RCs are issued on the grounds that depictions are of persons under the age of 18 years. I am not sure whether I got an answer relating to process.

Ms Rubensohn —Senator, that is not our part of the report; that is a general statement in the report.

Senator McGAURAN —Well—

Ms Rubensohn —I could not make that judgment because we have had only the one case, as I have pointed out to you. Most of it is an expression that is not relevant when there is only one case.

Senator McGAURAN —But you would have to be prepared for more than one case coming to you.

Ms Rubensohn —Indeed.

Senator McGAURAN —In your role you would have to be prepared to make these judgments?

Ms Rubensohn —Indeed, but it has not occurred.

Senator McGAURAN —Albeit that they are rare you still have a job to do.

Ms Rubensohn —Yes.

Senator McGAURAN —Why is it that I have seen reports from the minority on your board that has a methodology, that has a reasoning and that states in excruciating detail I might add why it made a judgment that those victims, for want of a better word, were under the age of 18, and why the movie was depicting persons who were under the age of 18? Some of your minority reports go into methodology, reasoning, process and common sense as you would have it. It is not seat of the pants to them. Yet in your own majority report you do not even go there. You do not even mention it.

Ms Rubensohn —Senator, you are referring again to the film about which I cannot make a comment. It is the only example where there was a minority view on this matter. I am afraid that I am precluded from commenting on it while it is before the courts.

Senator McGAURAN —Generally speaking, if you believe that the depictions are of children over the age of 18, do you give a detailed report as to why you think that is so?

Ms Rubensohn —We have never had cause to do so while I have been on the board—except for the film about which I am not able to make a comment. So I have no “generally” to report to you on, I am afraid.

Senator McGAURAN —Then I would like to approach Mr McDonald on the same grounds. But before I do so, I put this question to you: is there any moral line that you would draw and would you stand by it in your role as the convener of the Classification Review Board? Is there any movie that would come to your table on which you would draw the line and you would resign?

Ms Rubensohn —I am afraid that I could not answer that question. It is an issue that has never occurred.

Senator McGAURAN —Where do you draw the line?

Ms Rubensohn —It is my job and my role to apply the legislation, the code and the guidelines. I am required to do that and that is what I do. I cannot make a hypothetical judgment based on your question. Until I address the issue applying the relevant legislation, code and guidelines, I am sorry; it is an impossible question for me to answer.

Senator McGAURAN —You cannot tell me whether, in your own mind, when you go into that theatre, at some point there is a line that you will draw and you will even resign from your position?

Ms Rubensohn —No, I cannot tell you whether that—

Senator McGAURAN —If the rest of—

Ms Rubensohn —I cannot tell you whether that situation might or would ever arise.

Senator McGAURAN —Let me put to you the case of paedophilia.

Senator PRATT —It is an inappropriate question.

Senator McGAURAN —If your review board happened to clear a movie that you thought was outrageously delving in paedophilia would you say, ‘I am resigning if that is the case’? Do you have any moral line?

Ms Rubensohn —I cannot imagine that that occurrence would eventuate, but if it did I would have to consider my position, as anybody would. We try very hard to have the relevant discussions around the table before we come to a judgment. It is there that we discuss our positions on various films. So far under my tenure at the review board there has never been an issue that brought things to that place.

Senator McGAURAN —Are you aware of any of the resignations that Mr McDonald was talking about? I suppose that you cannot speak for him but there have been one or two on the review board, have there not?

Ms Rubensohn —No. There have been no resignations. We had two people whose terms ended and we are one down on our complement.

Senator McGAURAN —Mr McDonald, you heard the questions to the convener. Do you and your fellow board members use a set of criteria, a methodology or a rationale when judging which persons are over the age of 18 and which persons are under the age of 18?

Mr D McDonald —I might ask Mr Scott to answer your question as he is involved with the details of these more frequently than I am.

Mr Scott —From time to time we have to make decisions and judge the age of participants in films. We are appointed as general representatives of the community and we bring our own personal experience into those matters. As the director of the review board said, we have to apply common sense. From time to time, in the majority of time in these films, we have to assess the ages of participants in the films, generally in films that are classified X-18 plus. So we ascertain whether people involved in these films and in the sexual activity in these films are aged 18 or otherwise.

We do not prove whether or not they are adults but quite often we discuss our reasoning as to why they are not adults. Some of the things that we use—which is not a checklist but which I guess is a more common sense approach that reasonable adults can use and apply in their day-to-day business—would be things such as props in a room or in a scenario; the physical development of a participant in the scenario; the costumes that the participant may be wearing; and the vocalisations that a participant may be making. Those things may contribute to the age of a participant in a film.

If a reasonable adult considers that those items contribute to such an extent that they cause an offence, the film will be refused classification. Our reasoning and our view of why a person or a participant is under 18 will be detailed clearly in a decision report when we make it.

Senator McGAURAN —Why was it not clearly detailed? In fact, it was not even mentioned in your reasoning in regard to SALO. You did not even mention the issue of persons aged 18 or over.

Senator Ludwig —I think we have gone there again, Senator McGauran. That matter is currently before the courts as I understand it.

Senator McGAURAN —Would the courts be discussing these sorts of things?

Mr Wilkins —Yes, that is the central issue before the court.

Senator McGAURAN —Is it?

Mr Wilkins —Basically it is a question of law.

Senator McGAURAN —But these hearings cannot be used by the court.

Mr Wilkins —Basically it is a question of law under the Administrative Decisions Judicial Review legislation, which goes to the nature of reasons given. The various grounds for appeal might be precisely the sorts of issues that you are canvassing.

Senator McGAURAN —Let me put the question another way. When reporting on such matters your report states:

The majority of films that are classified RC are sexually explicit films containing these prohibited elements.

In other words, descriptions and depictions of children under the age of 18. That is the reason you place an RC classification on these films. When making those reports do you report on such matters? Do you give descriptions as to why you believe a child may be under or over 18?

Mr Scott —Yes, we justify why we have gone RC1(b) under the national classification.

Senator McGAURAN —I suggest that you do not.

Mr Scott —I think you are referring to a film that was classified—

Senator McGAURAN —Can you give me an example of where you have?

Mr Scott —There is a raft of films. We could take that question on notice and give you the decision reports on films that were classified RC.

Senator McGAURAN —Thank you, I will take that.

Mr Scott —I think the film that you are referring to that was classified R18 was deemed not to contain any explicit sexual activity. It can be offensive to members of the public. If you read what the R18 classification allows you will find it contains a raft of themes that can be addressed in a number of ways, as long as they are contextually justified. We were referring to films that were classified X-18 plus and that contain sexually explicit material, which the majority of films that are classified R18 plus would not contain.

Senator McGAURAN —I am not talking about sexually explicit material; I have kept away from that. I am talking only about the age.

Mr Scott —You did mention it.

Senator McGAURAN —The age is enough to get it banned in itself.

Mr D McDonald —On a point of clarification I believe you were quoting from the section of the annual report on page 45 which is under the section headed X-18 plus.

Senator McGAURAN —That is right. Still, it holds true.

Mr Scott —For X-18 films.

– Julian McGauran (Liberal), Joe Ludwig (Labor), Louise Pratt (Labor)
– Donald McDonald (Director), Greg Scott (Deputy Director), Classification Board
– Victoria Rubensohn, Convenor, Classification Review Board
– Jane Fitzgerald, Assistant Secretary, Classification Operations Branch
– Senate estimates

Court case update

SALÒ was on briefly mentioned in the first Senate estimates of 2011. The court hearing was just days away, so Guy Barnett (Liberal), kept the questions to a minimum. Had his fellow objector, Julian McGauran (Liberal), been present, it would have likely developed into a clash similar to 2010.

February 22, 2011
Senator BARNETT — Are you participating in the SALO court case?

Mr D McDonald —No. The review board are the respondents because the subsequent decision by the review board becomes the decision. Ms Rubensohn can help you.

Senator BARNETT Are you preparing for the court case?

Ms Rubensohn —Yes. The hearing is on 4 March, which is at the end of next week.

Senator BARNETT —I will not go into particular questions, because it is before the court, but I will clarify that you are appearing for and on behalf of the—

Ms Rubensohn —No, I do not appear.

Senator BARNETT —You are a respondent, aren’t you?

Ms Rubensohn —We are one respondent and the minister is the second respondent—there are two respondents—and the Australian Government Solicitor appears. I do not appear.

Senator BARNETT —Will you be there?

Ms Rubensohn —I hope so.

Senator BARNETT —Thank you

– Guy Barnett (Liberal)
– Donald McDonald, Director, Classification Board
– Victoria Rubensohn, Convenor, Classification Review Board
– Senate estimates

Censorship history 1976 – 2011

Here is where SALÒ stood just before the Federal Court hearing. It includes a rare reference to the March 2003 event where the Classification Board refused to even deal with an application from an unknown, distributor.

February 2011
The film SALO is a 1975 Italian drama written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. It has a long and complex classification history going back to 1976.

For a time, SALO was unavailable in many countries. It is now available, uncut, on DVD, in the United Kingdom, France, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Austria and Germany.

There have been a number of applications for classification of versions of this film since the 1970s. The applications relate to the same film with minor edits and changes to the running times.

In March 1976 it was Refused Registration under the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations.

In June 1992 it was refused Registration by the former Film Censorship Board.

In 1993 it was classified R 18+ by the former Film and Literature Board of Review.

Between 1993 and 1997 it was available except in Western Australian and South Australia where restrictions applied.

In June 1997 it was reclassified R 18+ by the Classification Board.

In 1998 it was classified RC (Refused Classification) by the Classification Review Board. The Commonwealth Attorney-General lodged an application for review after receiving a request to do so from the Queensland Attorney-General (as required under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.)

In 2003 the Classification Board declined to deal with an application for reclassification.

On 9 June 2008 an edited version of the film was classified RC by the Classification Board.

On 13 April 2010 the Classification Board classified a modified 292 minute version of the film SALO R 18+ with consumer advice for ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’. This version included additional background information providing an historical context which, in the view of the Board, mitigated the overall impact of the material submitted to no greater than high.

On 15 April 2010, the Minister for Home Affairs applied for a review of the Classification Board’s R 18+ classification. The Minister sought a review of the classification because he considered it was in the public interest to do so, as there was likely to be sections of the community who would have different views on the content of this film.

On 4 and 5 May 2010, a five member panel of the Review Board met to consider the Minister’s application.

– Senate Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme
– Attorney-General’s Department submission
– Parliament of Australia

Deliver us from evil

The SALÒ Federal Court hearing was held in early March.

March 4, 2011
FamilyVoice Australia, backed by two senators and the Australian Christian Lobby, has argued in the Federal Court that the Classification Review Board erred in its decision to overturn the previous ban on the DVD of the child abuse film, SALO –120 DAYS OF SODOM.

Justice Margaret Stone has reserved her decision after hearing both sides of the case.

“We believe that the Classification Review Board did not take into account all the relevant factors required by the law and film guidelines to be considered when coming to its majority decision last year,” Ros Phillips, national research officer for FamilyVoice Australia, said today.

“Our concern is about how bodies charged with administering the classification law go about their business,” Mrs Phillips said. “This film and its DVD were previously refused classification because they showed young naked teens being physically and sexually abused. We believe that the Board, in its decision to release the DVD with an R18+ classification, did not follow due process.

“It has been a big step for a community group like ours to mount this case against a government body. But there comes a time when someone needs to say, Enough is enough!” Mrs Phillips said.

– Salo appeal heard in the Federal Court today
– Family Voice Australia

David Marr had been covering the SALÒ controversy since the early 1990s.

March 5, 2011
Senator McGauran and FamilyVoice Australia moved against the film again, this time in the courts. The barrister Anthony Tudehope accused the board of a long list of failings when judging the film, in particular the failure to separately identify and assess elements of violence, cruelty and fetishes – even bestiality, though SALO contains no congress with animals.

But the controversy surrounding SALO has been the age of the victims and the actors playing them. Along with a minority of the Classification Review Board, Mr Tudehope argued they are children being subjected to child sexual abuse, which was ”simply not acceptable”, he told the court.

But that was not the view of a majority of the board, which found Pasolini’s victims ”clearly sexually mature” and that their fate at the hands of the fascists would not offend reasonable adults given the ”context, purpose and stylised, detached cinematic techniques” of the film.

The solicitor Nick Gouliaditis denied any failures of process in SALO’S release. He told the court that assessing the merits of a film required ”highly subjective” judgments which ”the Classification Review Board has been entrusted to make”.

Justice Margaret Stone has reserved her decision.

– Here we go again: Christians give voice to outrage over film
article @ smh.com.au

McGauran & his chums

In late March, Julian McGauran (Liberal) had the opportunity to put some leading questions to Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. The senator and the ACL were two of the four parties that were appealing against SALÒ in the Federal Court.

The exchange took place during an inquiry into Australia’s censorship system. The final report, titled ‘Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance’, would be released in June.

March 25, 2011
Mr Shelton—The Classification Board and the Classification Review Board last year demonstrated what a farce they have become with the green-lighting, against their own guidelines, of the film SALO, which, in the words of Classification Board chair Donald McDonald contains ‘depictions of paedophilia

Senator McGAURAN—You mentioned that Donald McDonald—for the record this is the chairman, the longstanding chairman of the Classification Board—said that the movie SALO, which was passed for distribution, had paedophilia in it. What is the source of that?

Mr Shelton—His words were ‘depictions of paedophilia’ in testimony he gave to Senate estimates.

Senator McGAURAN—He said to Senate estimates that the movie SALO had ‘depictions of paedophilia’ but depictions is meaningless. It had paedophilia obviously in it, yet it was released. I am asking for a lot of knowledge from you but feel free to give an opinion. Is it your understanding that the existing classification system would rule that out if that was the case? Well, it is the case. The chairman of the Classification Board tells us a movie has paedophilia in it, yet it is released. Do you think that breaches the Classification Board guidelines system?

Mr Shelton—Yes, absolutely. I believe it is in direct contravention of the guidelines and as a lay person, in my reading of those guidelines, I cannot for the life of me understand how the board and then the review board could green-light this film based on its own standards. I believe this has been a long running battle, but eventually those who support this film’s release for distribution have chipped away and chipped away until they found a board that will, somehow, find a convoluted way to allow it, something to do with providing extra documentary material. It seems like it would be a breach of the guidelines. In one sense, if there was a proper application of the guidelines, there would be almost no need for reform in this area but of course the guidelines are not applied and so the whole thing is made a farce.

Senator McGAURAN—That is my very point actually. We make the point that we can put more red tape, we can put more regulation, but maybe what is there already is not too bad, a bit of tweaking would not hurt, but it is those who are appointed to make these judgements?

Mr Shelton—Absolutely, Senator. Obviously there are certain guidelines that apply to film classification. As we were saying earlier it is different for television and that is where inconsistencies arise in the minds of the community. That is why I think the Australian Law Reform Commission looking at the whole thing across all media is valid. It gives us a chance to look at the failings, yet again, and hopefully to apply some consistency across the board.

– Australian film and literature classification scheme
– Lyle Shelton, Chief of Staff, Australian Christian Lobby
– Julian McGauran (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

On the same day, McGauran questioned Barbara Biggins, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM).

Between 1994 and 2001, Biggins had held the position of Convenor of the Classification Review Board. In February 1998, she was part of the hearing that overturned the R-rating of SALÒ and made it Refused Classification.

March 25. 2011
Senator McGAURAN—You would have kept yourself updated on the classification rules and laws, but certainly the principles have not particularly changed. From your experience, is it possible to have it both ways—to have a movie that concedes paedophilia yet be released? Was that okay in your day?

Ms Biggins—No, it was not. The principal reasons when I was Chair of the Classification Review Board for SALO being given an RC rating—and I am speaking here as an individual, of course, not as the ACCM—really revolved around cruelty and torture and degrading portrayals, because there was some ambiguity around the ages of the persons involved. The review board at the time thought that there was a very clear case for extreme examples of gratuitous cruelty and torture, that those quite definite criteria were contravened by the film, and that the artistic merit as some claimed for the film was certainly not sufficient to override that clear prohibition in the criteria.

I guess my observation over the years—and I think this is really an important issue for the Senate committee—regards the change in the wording that has occurred since the wording that was in force when the Classification Review Board last looked at SALO, which I think was 1998. The wording then was much clearer than it has been since the amalgamation of the film and computer games guidelines in 2003, making those guidelines much more subjective and relying a great deal on impact and context. I could probably read the wording that applied at the time. For example, the R18+ category in the 1999 guidelines stated:

‘Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of cruelty or real violence will not be permitted. Sexual violence may only be implied and should not be detailed. Strong depictions of realistic violence, but depictions with a high degree of impact should not be gratuitous or exploitative.’

With that degree of detail, that was why the Classification Review Board at that time thought the film warranted an RC rating.

I suppose if I could just move slightly sideways while we are on this issue to something that we did draw attention to near the end of our opening statement. One of the issues that concerns us greatly about the more recent decision about SALO is one that has very wide implications way beyond SALO. That issue is the view of both the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board that the version of SALO which was put on a DVD with a whole lot of other material was deemed to be a modified film because of the presence of the additional material on the DVD. We find that principle quite worrying because that then says that if you put a very strong film on a DVD and you perhaps put a ‘making of’ or a short documentary on why the director did what he did, then somehow or other that downgrades the classification of the main feature. This is a most worrying precedent and one that should be very carefully examined.

Senator McGAURAN—Just to get it clear, between 1998 when you first judged SALO and when the rules were changed, if you like, in 2003, there has been a softening and a greater emphasis on the context element of it, all things in context—is that right?

Ms Biggins—With the introduction of the 2003 guidelines, it was changed to examining impact and context as being the most important elements. When you were examining those, you were required to look at frequency and close-ups and detail and all of those things, but a much more subjective approach. Whereas in the guidelines that were in force from 1996 to 1999, it actually spelt out the types of material that should not be NR18+ and which should be NRC.

Senator McGAURAN—If we got the 1999 guidelines and cross-referenced them with the 2003 guidelines, we would actually see the written difference? It is not subtle, it is actually written in there—impact and context in 2003?

Ms Biggins—Yes.

Senator McGAURAN—But it is not written in 1999?

Ms Biggins—Yes.

Senator McGAURAN—That would be something beneficial to see how words have tilted the whole interpretation of the classifications system. We will actually find in 2003 where they write emphasis on impact and emphasis on context?

Ms Biggins—That is right. That change has had a ripple effect throughout all of the classifications. It is resulting in material which perhaps would have belonged in MA15+ that has gone to M, or it would have been in R18+ and has gone to MA+, simply because the context has been interpreted as, well, it is a fantasy context or it is a horror genre or it is an action and adventure movie, and therefore put in that context, this very violent material is deemed to not have the same impact. The wording of the guidelines allows that interpretation.

Senator McGAURAN—If we wanted to keep it simple and said, ‘Let us just go back to the original 1998 guidelines’, do you think that would have a profound effect on the existing board’s interpretation?

Ms Biggins—It certainly would have a profound effect on my interpretation of the guidelines were I in their position.

Senator McGAURAN—That is an excellent answer. You have been before estimates before, I am sure; that is a real estimates answer. You are right, and that leads me to the next point. If that would have an impact on you reading it, and I have always admired your work over the years, it does bring us back to the point that it is who you appoint as much as what you write, is it not, on these boards, or is it?

Ms Biggins—I do not actually agree with that statement. Who you appoint is important, in that certainly there should be people on those boards who have a good understanding of child development and can understand impact on children in particular. Certainly it needs a crosssection of the Australian community there, but the words are all important. If you are in a classifier’s position, you are not at liberty to bring your own personal interpretation of what should be an M or MA+ or R18+; you are obliged to apply the guidelines as approved by the state and territory and federal ministers. It is those state and territory and federal ministers who bear the responsibility for the form of the criteria that are being applied. The classifiers are the servants of the ministers, and they do their job according to the criteria. The wording is all important.

Senator McGAURAN—That is a good and interesting answer. On the same issue, and I hate to keep saying ‘in your day’ or anything like that, but I recall with the developments in 1998— and you can correct me if I am wrong—was it not written into the guidelines, when making the decisions, a need to reflect and seek counsel, if you like, from the community? You almost needed a community advisory board as a touchstone. Am I correct that that was a requirement?

Ms Biggins—Not that I recall. We were really obliged to think through the sort of networks and the associations that we had and bring our experience and our knowledge of what people thought about certain issues in the community. We would have that as a background, but there were no requirements for community consultation. Mind you, that might not be a bad idea. I have been quite a fan of the New Zealand wording which requires ‘consideration of material that might be injurious to the public good.’ I know that that allowed the New Zealand classification board to then go and consult with psychologists and child abuse specialists or sexual violence specialists about whether certain material would be injurious to the public good. It brought a broader view and a very informed view to that concept of harm and injury to the public good.

Senator McGAURAN—That is very interesting. The New Zealand model might be something that this committee can look at and reflect on. That might be a new clause we can insert into the classifications system. Thank you.

– Australian film and literature classification scheme
– Barbara Biggins, Australian Council on Children and the Media
– Julian McGauran (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Am I going to win?

Over the next couple of months, Guy Barnett (Liberal) continued to seek an update on his Federal Court hearing.

April 7, 2011
CHAIR—We are a bit tight for time so I just indicate to you that Senator McGauran was an apology today and that he and I obviously have an interest in SALO. Do you have anything further to add to that matter, bearing in mind where it is at in the court system?

Mr McDonald—I certainly have nothing to add. Of course, as Mr Griffin has made clear, the decision that the Federal Court is dealing with at the moment is the Review Board’s decision—not that it varied in any particular significance from ours. In my view it is with the court, and that is where it belongs at the moment.

CHAIR—Fair enough. Mr Griffin, do you want to add anything?

Mr Griffin—No, Chair. It is with the court, and the review board has always made a rule of relying on its published reasons, which are the considered views of the review board, rather than publicly debating some nuance or other aspect of those reasons. Also, having regard to the fact that the matter is before the Federal Court, we have taken the view both in this case and in several others—I think VIVA EROTICA [2006 attempt by Adultshop.com to get hardcore rated R18+ instead of X18+]was one of those, several years ago—that it is sub judice and in that respect inappropriate to comment on.

– Australian film and literature classification scheme
– Guy Barnett (Liberal), Chair
– Donald McDonald, Director, Classification Board
– Trevor Griffin, Deputy Convenor, Classification Review Board
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

April 27, 2011
Chair: Let us move on. A-G’s, can you provide an update to the committee on the SALO proceedings in the Federal Court? I realise that it is before the court, but are there any updates in terms of where things are at? That would be appreciated.

Mr Collett: Certainly, Chair. As you are probably aware, the matter was heard on 4 March. Her Honour Justice Stone has reserved her judgement. There is nothing further we can add at this time.

– Australian film and literature classification scheme
– Guy Barnett (Liberal), Chair
– Chris Collett, Acting Assistant Secretary, Classification Branch, Attorney-General’s Department
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

May 25, 2011
Senator BARNETT: Finally, on another matter, can you provide a status report on the Federal Court matter regarding SALO—where that is up to? I understand judgment is pending. Do you have any further information you can give the committee?

Mr Govey: That is a matter for the Attorney-General’s Department.

Mr Wilkins: Notice was addressed to the Classification Review Board this morning.

Senator BARNETT: You do not have an interest in the matter, Mr Wilkins, as Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department?

Mr Wilkins: I have an interest in lots of things.

Senator BARNETT: It has significant implications for your department and the Commonwealth.

Mr Wilkins: There was a half-day hearing on 4 March but the judgment has not been handed down yet.

Senator BARNETT: Thank you; that is most useful.

– Guy Barnett (Liberal)
– Roger Wilkins AO, Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department Management and Accountability
– Ian Gove, Chief Executive Officer. Australian Government Solicitor
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

‘Flawed in a number of key areas’

Predictably, the ‘Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance’ report had much to say about SALÒ. The committee’s thirty recommendations were heavily in favour of tighter restrictions, including a ban on the X18+ rating.

They also supported the South Australian ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (R 18+ Films) Amendment Act 2009’ that had been sponsored by Dennis Hood of the Family First Party. This had come into force on 10 January 2009 and had put new restrictions on the display and promotion of R18+ titles.

Many of the submissions had come from pro-censorship groups such as Salt Shakers, Collective Shout, the Australian Christian Lobby, and Family Voice Australia.

The members of the committee, four Liberal, two Labor and one Green, are listed below.

June 2011
R18+ films

5.13 Term of reference (g) for the inquiry specifies the ‘classification of films, including explicit sex or scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity as R18+’.

SALO

5.14 Much of the evidence and submissions on the issue of classification of R18+ films centred on the 2010 decision by the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board to classify the film SALO as R18+. The Attorney-General’s Department (Department) summarised the film as ‘a 1975 Italian drama written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini based on the book THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM by the Marquis de Sade’.

5.15 The Department’s submission provided details in relation to the ‘long and complex classification history’ of SALO, going back to 1976. Briefly, the film was Refused Classification in Australia until 1993. In 1993, the film was classified R18+ by the former Film and Literature Board of Review, and between 1993 and 1997 it was available in all jurisdictions, except in Western Australia and South Australia where restrictions applied. In June 1997, the film was reclassified R18+ by the Classification Board; and, in 1998, the film was classified Refused Classification by the Classification Review Board. In 2003, an application for reclassification was declined by the Classification Board and, in June 2008, an edited version of the film was classified Refused Classification by the Classification Board.

5.16 The Department’s submission described the events pertaining to the latest classification application for the film:

On 13 April 2010 the Classification Board classified a modified 292 minute version of the film SALO R18+ with consumer advice for ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’. This version included additional background information providing an historical context which, in the view of the [Classification] Board, mitigated the overall impact of the material submitted to no greater than high.

On 15 April 2010, the Minister for Home Affairs applied for a review of the Classification Board’s R18+ classification…because he considered it was in the public interest to do so, as there was likely to be sections of the community who would have different views on the content of this film… In a majority decision, the Review Board classified SALO R18+ with consumer advice for ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’.

5.17 The Department’s submission noted that FamilyVoice Australia had taken legal action in the Federal Court of Australia under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. In their appearance before the committee, officers from the Department noted that the matter has now been heard in the Federal Court and that a decision has been reserved.

5.18 As this matter is still before the courts, it would not be appropriate for the committee to engage in a deliberative analysis of the Classification Board’s or the Classification Review Board’s reasons for their decisions in relation to the SALO matter. For this reason, the discussion below is a general consideration of the issue of classification of R18+ films.

Should R18+ films be available in Australia?

5.29 Similarly, and in the context of the film SALO, Mr Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby made the following point:

I do not agree with the proposition that adults should be able to watch and see whatever they like…[W]e have a category called ‘Refused Classification’. There are just some things that we judge as a civil society that go beyond the realms of civil liberties, and I think that is appropriate particularly when it comes to the protection of children.

5.31 Mr Matthew Whiteley highlighted in his submission the full range of graphic content which is permitted in the R18+ category. In particular, Mr Whiteley referred to the film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST which ‘contains several scenes of actual animal killing and dismemberment filmed specifically for the film’. This film was released in its entire cut form in Australia with an R18+ rating from the Classification Board. In noting the controversy with respect to SALO, Mr Whiteley observed:

[While] much has been made of such sexually explicit films such as SALO which depict simulated sexual violence, it’s rather strange that no one seems to get outraged at the release of a film which contains real animal cruelty leading to death.

– Committee Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance
– Guy Barnett (Liberal), Chair, Stephen Parry (Liberal), Russell Trood (Liberal)
– Julian McGauran (Liberal), Participating Member
– Patricia Crossin (Labor), Deputy Chair, Mark Furner (Labor), Scott Ludlam (Green)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Pier Paolo Pasolini boxset

In June 2011, Shock Entertainment released THE FILMS OF PIER PAOLO PASOLINI as part of their ‘Distinction Series’.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - DVD cover 2
DVD – Shock

This boxset included THE DECAMERON (1971), which in 1972 also had censorship issues, as well as CANTERBURY TALES (1972), ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974) and SALÒ.

This is final

In August 2011, Justice J. Stone dismissed the Federal Court appeal.

August 31, 2011
The Court Orders That:
The application be dismissed.
The applicant pay the second respondent’s costs.

The applicant’s objections to the Board’s decision are, in my view, objections to the merits of the decision and do not point to any error of law. For these reasons the application must be dismissed with costs.

– FamilyVoice Australia v Members of the Classification Review Board [2011] FCA 1014
– Federal Court of Australia
full judgement @ austlii.edu.au

The judgment was made in favour of the Classification Review Board and the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, that the application is dismissed. Justice Stone found the Review Board had acted correctly in the application of the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995’, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines without error of law.

This finally brought to an end Australia’s 35-year censorship issues with SALÒ.

A vocal minority

The Australian public’s view on SALÒ was not as strong as the moral police had lead people to believe. Between July 2010 and June 2011, the classification and release resulted in only twenty complaints to both Boards.

September 1, 2011
One classification that has continued to attract some public debate in the reporting period is the R 18+ classification of the controversial film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO). The film, in a number of different versions, has been variously classified R 18+ and RC (Refused Classification).

In the previous reporting period, the Classification Board classified the film R 18+ with consumer advice of ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’. Also in the previous reporting period, the Classification Review Board, on referral from the Minister for Justice, assigned the same classification and consumer advice for the film.

The Classification Review Board’s R 18+ classification of SALO was the subject of an application made to the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. During the reporting period, there was a half-day hearing on 4 March 2011 and the presiding Judge, the Hon Justice Stone, reserved her decision.

– Donald McDonald, Director
– Classification Board, Annual Report 2010-2011

September 1, 2011
Judicial decisions
An application was made to the Federal Court on 16 June 2010 under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth) regarding the Classification Review Board’s decision to classify the modified version of the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO) in DVD format, R 18+ (Restricted) with the consumer advice ‘Scenes of torture and degradation, sexual violence and nudity’. There was a half-day hearing on 4 March 2011. The presiding Judge, Justice the Hon Margaret Stone, reserved her decision.

Complaints
Fifteen complaints were received about the R 18+ classification of the film SALO. All 15 complaints were that the film was classified too low and should be RC (Refused Classification)

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2010-2011

September 1, 2011
Complaints
There were five complaints to the Review Board in relation to the film SALO O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (SALO). In addition, there were two complaints in relation to membership of the Review Board.

– Classification Review Board, Annual Report 2010-2011

Back for more

On 4 February 2015, Shock reissued SALÒ on Blu-ray and DVD as part of their ‘Cinema Cult’ range.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - Advertisement 3
Ad – Shock

The cover image was now rather more explicit than their plain white 2010 release.

The only extra on the single-disc DVD was the Coil music video and a trailer.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - DVD cover 3
DVD – Shock

Only the two-disc Blu-ray contained the full extras that had previously been available on both 2010 releases.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - Blu-ray cover 2
Blu-ray – Shock

In their retail dealer guide, Shock recommended one of the sales points to be ‘BANNED, CENSORED AND REVILED the world over since its release, Pasolini’s final and most controversial masterpiece is presented here fully uncut and uncensored’.

Australian pay-TV premiere

On 7 September 2016, SALÒ was screened by World Movies. This was when it was still a pay-TV channel, which allowed it to show R18+ rated content.

September 2016
This September, World Movies explores 40 years of sexual evolution in cinema, with 40 thought-provoking and erotic films whose subversive content challenged social norms, from the 1960’s right through to the present day.

Starting Monday 5th, we’re bringing you two game-changing erotic films each weeknight from 8.30pm, culminating in weekend marathons, all through September.

Confronting sexual images became a weapon to provoke political debate by director and intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini. His movie SALO (Wednesday 7 September) is one of the most controversial movies ever made, and before now, has never before been seen on Australian television. Banned for many years, it weaves sex with the politics and power of fascism into a cinematic experience that is shockingly unforgettable.

Monday 5 September – Friday 30 September 8:30pm

– The Sexual Evolution
– World Movies

Despite them drawing attention to the long censorship history, it screened without any issues.

September 7, 2016
#Salo, one of the most controversial movies ever made, is airing for the 1st time on Australian TV tonight 10.45pm.

– World Movies ‏@WorldMoviesAU
– twitter.com

In February 1995, John Tierney (Liberal) had predicted this would happen. During a ‘Community Standards Committee’ report, he had said ‘I am reasonably confident that this [SALO] material will end up on pay-TV some day’.

Twenty-one years later, World Movies made this a reality.

Further reading

Rebecca Huntley’s thesis, ‘Censuring Salo: The Unbanning of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo’, is essential reading. She interviews many of the main players and provides background to events up until 1995. A copy can be accessed on Libertus.net via Trove.


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