Committee findings a ‘nose of wax’

Russell Powell

The phrase 'a nose of wax' is one of my favourites and it seems so apt for the goings on in Canberra this week.

A nose of wax is a blob of wax used in the 16 th century for sealing documents, and it has come to mean 'something that can be twisted or shaped whatever way you want'.

The reports of Parliamentary committees are like that. Sure, some are deliberately vague, but others are quite clear and are just used by others to back up whatever they want to say or do.

There was a supreme example of this in 1988, when the 'Joint Select Committee on video material' reported its findings. This was an inquiry into X-rated video material and there was a suggestion that standards be relaxed and that a new category of 'non-violent erotica' should be established. 

The committee was split on this. In fact, in the committee of ten members, plus a chairman, six senators issued dissenting reports which wanted stronger action on porn. (Research since the 1980's backs the dissenters on this - there's now a wealth of material contradicting claims that 'non-violent erotica' does no harm)

Yet the chairman was on the side of the minority report and of course he received much of the media attention. So by the end of the coverage, many were convinced that his views had won the day. 

I relate this history because a similar thing is happening with the reports on same sex marriage brought down on Monday.

The reports themselves say "The purpose of this advisory report is for the Committee to scrutinise the two marriage bills before the Parliament. It is for the Parliament to determine whether a bill legalising same-sex marriage will be passed." and "The Committee chose not to make a recommendation in this report."

However, the chairman has received most of the media attention and he wrote the foreword to the report in which he declares he is not an impartial observer in the debate "..... I fully support the legalisation of marriage for couples of the same sex and the intent of both the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012." 

It is not until the additional comments that we read that four of the seven members of the committee do not agree with same-sex marriage being legalised at this time.

Yet in the media we have "Parly inquiry gives gay marriage the nod" SMH online and "Inquiry gives gay marriage the nod" Sky News.

I wonder if this will ever make it to media watch?