MELBOURNE, Australia — An action spearheaded by the Australian Sex Party has forced the Australian Customs Service to return a private collection of Japanese manga comics recently seized from a Melbourne collector.
The Party said the case has set a new benchmark for the importation of manga and also raised questions about the ability of Customs officers to properly evaluate adult material.
Manga is a widely used media and entertainment format for many young Australians and a rapidly expanding form of media.
Eros Association and Sex Party President, Fiona Patten coordinated the classification issues around the decision and Victorian civil liberties lawyer, Greg Barnes ran the legal case.
According to the Party, Bruno Marques a member of the Melbourne-based Manga Appreciation Society last April ordered 15 manga comics online, including “The Melancholy of Marisa Chan,” “Satori Cannot Make Any Friends” and “AKI MOMO: Autumn Peach.”
Australian Customs Investigations Branch manager, Sean Quinn, wrote to Marques advising him that “fifteen (15) comic books were identified as contravening the Customs Act 1901 by depicting stylized images of sexual fetishes containing non consent or physical harm.”
Patten said that all the material Customs had seized was freely and legally available to view online. “When I saw what they had taken, I advised Mr. Marques to object and take the matter to court, thereby forcing Customs to have the material classified by the Classification Board (CB). The CB ruled that 30 percent of the material was quite legal to bring into the country and last week, Mr. Marques went and picked them up from Customs House.”
What sparked the legal move was that In October of last year Marques purchased the same publications again in Bali and was allowed to bring them into the country by Melbourne Customs.
Patten said this discrepancy raised serious issues around the uniformity of decision. “In our negotiations with Customs they claimed that they didn’t need to have the Japanese publications translated to classify them. In fact, the only translations that were put forward were provided by Mr. Marques. Customs even used the translations that he provided, against him. How reliable can decisions on foreign material be if no official translations are made? These were cartoon drawings of Japanese fantasies like 200 year old fairies having consenting sex with giant frogs, so why would Customs even consider them as illegal imports? The characters are not even human.”
Patten added that the initial decision was out of touch and culturally arrogant. “The material was never illegal to possess in Australia which begs the question as to why Customs are seizing legal material under the Regulations. Mr. Marques’ interest was for his personal use and the only way he could challenge the Customs’ decision was to take it to court."
The Sex Party head noted that even though possession of the material was legal in Australia, Customs’ actions could now mean that if someone were to draw the same images in any Australian state, that could be considered a “production” and leave the artist liable to a jail sentence. “I would advise all Australians who now get a seizure notice for any media to immediately appeal the decision and allow the courts and the CB to assess the material,” Patten said.
Patten has written to the new Customs Reform Board and the Minister to request that the Customs Import Regulations be urgently amended so that they did not contradict or work against the Classification Act.
“Material that is legal to posses in Australia should be legal to import for one’s own personal use,” Patten said. “Since 2004 it has been an offence to import media that would be Refused Classification (RC) but the RC classification under the Act has always been about commercial use — not private use. Customs have deliberately misinterpreted the Classification Act for what seems to be their own empire-building purposes and in so doing have trashed the civil rights of many Australians."