Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Questions without Notice
National Broadband Network
My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I refer to the statements made by Minister Conroy in Senate estimates hearings on 20 October 2008, in which the minister said that Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand had mandatory internet filtering systems similar to those now being trialled in Australia. Can the minister explain why he made the statement in light of the fact that in not one of those countries is the filtering system mandatory and, in fact, the various systems in those countries are entirely voluntary if they exist at all?
I thank the senator for his question and further thank him for providing me with notice of the question. The government’s ISP filtering policy is one component of the government’s comprehensive, $125.8 million cyber-safety plan. This plan contains a comprehensive set of measures to combat online threats and help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material. I can assure the senator that the government will implement the ISP filtering component of this policy in a considered and consultative way. We are aware of technical concerns with filtering technology. That is why we are conducting a pilot—to put these claims to the test. We are happy to have an open debate about these technical issues.
ISPs in a number of Western countries, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France and Canada, have voluntarily introduced ISP-level filtering. The government is of course considering the experience of these countries in the development of its own policy. This international experience will also inform the government’s upcoming real-world live pilot.
On 10 November I released an expression of interest, seeking the participation of ISPs and mobile telephone operators in this live pilot. The pilot will specifically test filtering against the ACMA black list of prohibited internet content, which is mostly child pornography, as well as filtering of other unwanted content. While the ACMA black list is currently around 1,300 URLs, the pilot will test against this list as well as filtering for a range of URLs to around 10,000 so that the impacts on network performance of a larger black list can be examined. The live pilot will provide valuable real-world evidence of the potential impact on internet speeds and costs to industry and will help ensure we implement a filtering solution that is efficient, effective and easy for Australian families to use.
The pilot is intended to take a very flexible approach and will cover a range of different ISPs and types of connections. The technical testing framework for the pilot indicates that a range of speeds will be tested, based on what most households can currently access. This range is not a hard and fast limit. Some people currently have connections above 12 meg and the framework notes that consideration will also be given to testing performances above 12 meg. Should an ISP wish to extend the pilot above 12 meg, they are invited to state this in their expression of interest. The technical testing framework also notes that costs, including upfront costs to acquire and implement the technology and costs to maintain the ISP-filtering solutions will be examined during the pilot. The costs are expected to vary, depending on the size and complexity of the ISP, the type of filtering solution chosen and the manner in which filtering is deployed by the ISP. The pilot is an opportunity for the Australian industry to now come forward and engage directly with the Australian government in the development of ISP filtering. I strongly urge industry to become involved. As I said earlier, the government intends to take a consultative— (Time expired)
I thank the minister for his attempt to answer the question. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question in two parts. Will the minister be providing a retraction to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts, as the answer he gave then was substantially different to the answer that was provided to that committee? Will the minister provide us with a definition of what he meant by ‘unwanted content’ and inform us as to where we might find a definition of ‘unwanted’? Will the minister acknowledge the legitimate concerns that have been raised by commentators and many members of the public that such a system will degrade internet performance, prove costly and inefficient and do very little to achieve the government’s policy objectives? Furthermore, I suggest that the government’s proposal for dynamic filtering is the equivalent of the post office being required to open every single piece of mail.
The senator asked a very large range of questions, which it would be impossible for me to answer in one minute. I will happily get you some further information on that very long list of questions. But I just again emphasise that the government have taken a consultative approach with industry. We have invited them to participate in the trial and we have asked for the industry to come forward and work with government. That is the basis on which we are progressing. We are seeking to test the claims—and they are many and varied—and that is why we are conducting a live trial. In terms of further detail—and it was quite a comprehensive list of questions—I am happy to come back and provide the senator with further information.