Senate Estimates hearings can often uncover some interesting, and often disturbing, revelations about the workings and thinking of Government agencies, and the current round of hearings has been no exception.

Earlier this week Donald McDonald, Director of the Classification Board, revealed to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee that paedophilia is permissible in films legally available for sale and hire in Australia so long as it is ‘simulated’.

Mr McDonald made this astonishing admission whilst receiving a ferocious grilling from Senators Barnett and McGauran about the recent decision of the Classification Board and the Review Board to classify Salo, a despicable 1975 Italian film that depicts the sexual degradation of minors, as R18+. The film had previously been refused classification on six separate occasions.

Senator McGauran, who has been a vocal opponent of Salo for a number of years, was rightly incensed by the revelation, arguing that, “if it [paedophilia] 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”.

The lengthy exchange between Mr McDonald and the Senators exposes the flawed thinking of Australia’s classifiers. Not only does Mr McDonald excuse Salo as an “archaeological artefact”, but contradicts the majority decision of the Review Board by clearly admitting that the film contains depictions of paedophilia.

Further, Mr McDonald confesses that the Classification Board has absolutely no evidence that people will watch the two hours of additional material, which is meant to place the film within its broader historical and cinematic ‘context’. The inclusion of this material was the main basis of the Board’s decision to approve the release of Salo.

These startling admissions demonstrate how the Classification Board has lost touch with community expectations. Mr McDonald even said that, “We do not seek community opinion”. Perhaps it is time that it started to do so, especially if the Board’s Salo decision is representative of how defective its reasoning skills have become.

To read the transcript of the Senate Estimates hearing, please click here.