Attorney-General Philip Ruddock yesterday took a small step backwards from his position on “terrorist” publications, agreeing to reconsider the question of access to certain books for academic research. This came after the news that Melbourne University had been forced to withdraw three books from its library for fear of prosecution after two of them were refused classification (and the third under review) by the Classification Review Board.

Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis protested that the ban would “stop genuine scholars from accessing material in their area of expertise”. Today’s Australian, not usually backward in anti-terror hysteria, gives him qualified editorial support, saying that “Barring access to publications should be used only as a last resort.”

As I said a couple of months ago (Crikey, 28 July), this question “goes to the very heart of what free speech is about.” Books are being banned not by virtue of charges being brought against their authors in open court, but by prior restraint: by the system directed primarily against such things as child p-rnography.

Peter Fray

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