Senate debates

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Questions without Notice: Additional Answers

National Broadband Network

3:03 pm

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to add to an answer I provided on Tuesday in response to a question from Senator Ludlam. Specifically, the senator asked:

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?

Given that there was only one minute to answer those questions, I undertook to provide the senator with further answers to the questions at a later time. Regarding the first answer, I draw the senator’s attention to the Hansard of the hearing by the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts on 20 October. At that hearing I indicated that we are implementing ISP filtering, taking into account arrangements in countries such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. The point I made was that these countries have introduced technologies that demonstrate that filtering is technically possible. I did not claim that arrangements in those countries are mandatory. This advice was confirmed by officials at the meeting, who stated quite explicitly that the arrangements in these countries are voluntary. At no time did I mislead the committee, as alleged by Senator Ludlam.

In answer to a further question, the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s black list of sites is determined using processes set out in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. These processes involve classification of content by the national Classification Board and include classifications which are determined prohibited. Prohibited content hosted outside of Australia is added to the black list, which is provided to ISPs and filter providers. The government will also ensure that the ACMA black list includes international content of this nature identified by such agencies as Interpol, Europol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Senator Ludlam also raised issues around the impact and performance of filters. I acknowledge, as I have continually acknowledged, the concerns raised by some members of the public about the possible impact of filtering on internet performance and costs. This is one of the reasons we are undertaking the live pilot—that is, to test these issues in a real-world environment. The government intends to take an evidence based approach to this issue. The results of the live pilot will inform the government’s policy in this area.

The senator also had a question about dynamic filtering and the opening of private mail. The government have made no commitment to require ISPs to implement dynamic internet filtering. This is, however, one of the different approaches to internet filtering that we intend to test in the upcoming live pilot. The government have absolutely no intention of requiring ISPs to open private electronic communications such as email.

Finally, I go to issues raised in subsequent motions to take note of answers. Yesterday, Senator Ludlam asked further questions about the precise approach to filtering that the government will adopt. The government does not intend to make firm decisions about specific issues before it knows the outcome of the upcoming live pilot of filtering technologies and has consulted the industry. The government, as I have said, intends to take an evidence based approach to internet filtering, and the sensible thing to do is to wait for the outcome of the live pilot before dealing with detailed questions.