Australia Channels Orwell; Nude Art Must Be Pre-Approved

SYDNEY—Australia is said to have been settled by convicts from England, which might explain why it seems hell-bent upon treating its people as if they are criminals first and citizens second. A Western democracy apparently in name only, the Down Under continent has now turned a despotic corner in its war against sex, and is planning on forcing artists who create images of nude children to pay a fee of $500 per image to have them classified by the government as genuine art and not child pornography.

The removal of the so-called “artistic purpose defense” is one part of across-the-board changes to child pornography laws announced Monday by Attorney-General John Hatzistergos that were spurred nearly two years ago by the case of artist Bill Henson, whose photo exhibit featuring images of naked children sparked intense debate throughout the country. Despite being later approved by the classification board, the case highlighted the need for more clarity with respect to images of child sexual abuse.

"The new definition will encompass what is termed child abuse material," said Hatzistergos. "That means it covers depictions that reasonable persons would, in all the circumstances, regard offensive."

Those depictions, he said, would include "where the person is a child who is a victim [of] cruelty, physical abuse, the child is engaged or is apparently engaged in a sexual pose or sexual activity." It also will apply when the child is in the presence of someone engaging in any of these activities or "where the private parts of the person [who] appears to be a child are shown."

According to Tamara Winikoff, executive director of the National Association for Visual Arts, artists are helping develop ''protective protocols so that art experts are consulted and can advise on whether the material had been produced by a genuine artist.”

''While the removal of artistic merit may seem to make artists more vulnerable to constraints on their freedom of expression, police and the ODPP need to establish the material in question is such that a reasonable person would find it offensive in all the circumstances,'' she said.

Not everyone is pleased with the proposed new restrictions. The Sydney Morning Herald cites the case of artist Polixeni Papapetrou, whose photograph of her 6-year-old daughter on the cover of Art Monthly created a storm of controversy last year.

''I think they're barking up the wrong tree,” she told the paper. “I really think they should be going after those people who exploit children. I don't know of any artists who exploit children and if they do they should not be protected by any legal defense.”

According to the Herald, the “artistic purpose defense” has been attempted only once, by a child pornographer—unsuccessfully.

Staying true to its origins, however, the Australian government has not allowed that niggling fact to prevent it from taking a decisive lead in the World Censorship Olympics.