This page discusses content regulation agencies in Australia
and New Zealand.
It covers -
introduction - the regulatory
- strategic directions and episodic responses
the OFLC and state classification
and the Post Office - border control
and the BSA - broadcast and internet content regulation
- the AFP, NZP and other police forces
- trade practices
Content regulation in Australia is sometimes conceptualised
in terms of action against offensive material by a single
government agency, typically characterised as "the
censor" or "the censorship office". In
practice we can differentiate types and degrees of content
regulation, with a regime that involves the interaction
of a range of federal and state/territory agencies. Content
regulation - including restriction of child pornography
- does not involve a single agency with overarching policymaking,
identification and prosecution powers.
Instead it is more effective to conceptualise content
regulation regimes as an environment that features different
agencies with varying capacities and priorities. Some
of those agencies, such as Customs and Australia Post,
have little recognition.
That environment also features the advocacy bodies highlighted
on the preceding page of this profile.
In both Australia and New Zealand there are tensions in
government ministers (or merely their departments),
with varying priorities, 'capture' by advocacy groups
and perceptions of what is administratively/technologically
and policymaking bodies, with some operational bodies
on occasion driving policy because of opportunities
for institutional aggrandisement or because a corporate
culture is less liberal than that of the parent department
agencies and advocacy groups, with for example disagreement
between competing advocacy groups about policy directions
and enforcement by broadcast regulators
primary policymaking departments at the federal level
in Australia are the Attorney-General's department (AGs)
and the Department of Communications, Information Technology
& the Arts (DCITA).
They are influenced by the Prime Minister's Department
(PMC) and, less directly,
by various parliamentary committees. They are also influenced
by intergovernmental bodies such as the Standing Committee
of Attorneys-General (SCAG), the federal and state/territory
law ministers. Trade practices concerns fall within the
Treasurer's portfolio, which includes the Australian Competition
& Consumer Commission - noted below.
In New Zealand the salient departments are the Ministry
of Justice (MJ)
- which administers the Films, Videos, and Publications
Classification Act 1993 - the Department of Internal
Affairs (which includes the Censorship Compliance Unit),
responsible for enforcement of that Act.
the OFLC and state classification agencies
The salient federal government content regulation agencies
are the Office of Film & Literature Classification
- a Sydney-based agency with administrative responsibilities
- and two associated boards: the Classification Board
and the Classification Review Board. In aggregate they
employ around 48 staff.
The Classification Board is a statutory body consisting
of the Director, Deputy Director, Senior Classifiers and
other members. It operates under the federal Classification
(Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995,
discussed in the following page of this profile. It formally
classifies publications, films (including videos and DVDs),
and computer games. The Board also classifies internet
content referred by the ABA and provides advice to the
Australian Customs Service on importation of publications,
films and computer games. The Board's Director is also
Chief Executive of the OFLC and of the the Review Board,
which as its title suggests reviews disputed classification
In New Zealand the Office of Film & Literature Classification
operates under the Films, Videos & Publications
Act 1993. It boasts that it has classified many types
of publications, including films, books, posters, video
games, t-shirts, jigsaws, billboards, paintings and weekly
newspapers. It is headed by the Chief Censor of Film &
Literature, with around 30 staff. Decisions may be appealed
to the Film & Literature Board of Review. Compliance
is underpinned by the Censorship Compliance Unit (CCU)
- formerly the Censorship Board - within the Department
of Internal Affairs.
Customs and the Post Office
The Australian Customs Service (ACS)
is a federal government agency responsible for decisions
on the status of material imported into or exported from
Australia. It is one of the oldest federal agencies, dating
from the beginning of last century through amalgamation
of the colonial customs offices at the time of Federation,
and operating under the Customs Act.
The Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956
describe classes of goods that must not be imported into
Australia, with the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations
1958 describe classes of goods that must not be exported
The ACS can detain or seize any material it believes may
contravene Regulation 4A of the Prohibited Imports Regulations
or Regulation 3 of the Prohibited Exports Regulations.
Criteria for those Regulations are consistent with the
'refused classification' criteria in the Code identified
by the OFLC. The ACS may refer an item intercepted at
the border to the Board for advice on application of customs
regulations dealing with classification standards. Under
the regulations the ACS may grant requests for permission
to import/export prohibited goods.
In New Zealand the NZ Customs Service (NZ)
has around 1,000 staff and a budget of NZ$79.9 million.
It is responsible for restrictions on import of books,
magazines, video recordings, films, sound recordings and
other items that are objectionable under the Films,
Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.
Enforcement occurs under the First Schedule of the Customs
& Excise Act 1996.
Although they now attract little attention, for past two
centuries post offices were
a major regulatory choke point for interdicting and identifying
the distribution and production of offensive or otherwise
In Australia most mail (by volume and value) is still
handled by Australia Post (AP),
a federal government business enterprise. Its NZ counterpart
is New Zealand Post (NZP),
established under the Postal Services Act 1998.
As of 2005 it had revenue of around NZ$1.2 billion and
some 17,000 staff. Both AP and NZP continue to intercept
prohibited publications, in particular items from overseas,
consistent with their conditions of service and international
ACMA and the BSA
The Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA),
is a federal government agency established in 2005 through
the amalgamation of the Australian Communication Authority
(ACA) and Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). Its
content regulation powers centre on the Broadcasting
Services Act 1992, which covers television, radio
and the net.
As discussed in the following page, the Act establishes
a 'co-regulatory' scheme for broadcast services (including
radio and television). That scheme is founded on codes
of practice developed by industry and registered with
ACMA. In relation to content screened on television, the
Act requires that codes of practice apply the film classification
system administered by the OFLC , including the Board's
classification guidelines and classification symbols of
the Board. That is meant to ensure consistency of classification
information across films, DVDs, videos and television
broadcasts (whether terrestrial, by cable or satellite).
If ACMA receives a valid complaint about Australian-hosted
online content it may, under Schedule 5 of the BSA, refer
the material to the Board for classification. The Board
then classifies the content using the Guidelines for the
Classification of Films and Computer Games 2003.
In New Zealand the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA)
is the national agency established under the Broadcasting
Act 1989. Its objectives are the determination of
complaints, review and approval of codes of broadcasting
practice, and communications/research about broadcasting
standards. As of 2004 it had nine staff and a budget of
around NZ$1.6 million.
In Australia the national police force - the Australian
Federal Police (AFP)
is primarily concerned with offences against federal law,
with most offences involving state law enforced by the
state police forces. It was established by the Australian
Federal Police Act 1979. As of 2005 the AFP had 4,800
employees and a budget of $1.02 billion
Across the Strait the New Zealand Police (NZP)
has around 8,800 staff and a budget of NZ$900 million.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)
is a federal regulatory body that oversees business and
competition practices under Trade Practices Act 1974.
It can take action on misleading and deceptive conduct