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Hand over illegal porn at the border, please

Aussie officials want illicit smut importers to turn themselves in

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Relief is at hand for confused travellers who are not too sure what sort of smut they're allowed to import into Australia.

Previously, visitors to God’s Own Country were asked to fill out a card including a declaration as to whether or not they were carrying any pornography. Objectors said that not only did this fail to serve any useful purpose, since it was not actually illegal to bring porn into Australia, but it left many passengers uncertain as to whether to declare their collection of "artistic" pics as porn or not.

According to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor has therefore helpfully amended guidance so that the declaration form asks whether travellers happen to be carrying any "illegal pornography". As examples of this, he cites "prohibited pornography" as including "child pornography and material depicting bestiality, explicit sexual violence, degradation, cruelty and non-consensual sex".

On the surface, this is an improvement, and the Australian Sex Party were quick to claim credit for the change. Party spokesman Robbie Swan contacted Mr O'Connor's office about six months ago after receiving complaints from members confused by current guidance. They had been embarrassed after assuming that they had to show customs officers intimate and personal pictures of themselves involved in activities of the naked kind.

Swan also highlighted the problem of individuals who had felt forced to declare perfectly legal material as a result of the ambiguous wording of the card.

In practice, this changes little. It remains illegal to bring in illegal material - and there is little evidence to suggest that the vast majority of travellers ever thought differently. Penalties for evading the law are steep: a fine of up to A$11,000 for making a false or misleading statement to a customs officer and up to A$275,000 and a maximum of 10 years in jail for importing child abuse material.

One issue is that it is nigh on impossible to be so instantly intimate with a nation's laws. Mr O'Connor stated: "My advice to travellers is that if you're in doubt, find out".

Until recently, however, cartoon smut featuring the Simpsons, would have been perfectly legal to possess in the UK - but liable to attract a fine, or worse, in Australia. If something is perfectly legal in your own country, would you even think to ask when travelling to another?

Second, as Sex Party convenor Fiona Patten also points out in a recent interview, Australian law - like that of the UK - applies a different test to material imported into the country from material already present. There is a steady trickle of cases through the UK courts resulting from individuals attempting to order in films from abroad that are perfectly legal to possess once in the country - but which set alarm bells ringing at Customs.

Whether this move is helpful or not, only time will tell. In the meantime, cynics are suggesting that the question is about as helpful as the request by US authorities that travellers own up to whether they are a member of a terrorist organisation - or are planning to come to the US to overthrow the government. ®

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