Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Will the minister inform the Senate how the government is taking proactive measures to protect Australian children and families from inappropriate and offensive content online? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?
I thank Senator Ferguson for a very important question and for his ongoing interest in the protection of Australian families online. The Australian government will do all we can to ensure all internet users are protected from inappropriate and offensive content online. We have introduced a robust regulatory system backed by strong legislated criminal actions to ensure that perpetrators of this content are caught and punished. We have taken measures to educate Australian children and families about the dangers that lurk online. Our most recent efforts in this regard form part of the government’s $116.6 million Protecting Australian Families Online package. It includes a consumer information campaign to raise awareness about offensive content online and the centrepiece of the package, the National Filter Scheme.
This scheme will provide a free filter to every Australian family to install on their home computer. These filters can be set at different levels for each child in a family, with an individual username and a log for each user. The free filters will also be offered to Australian libraries so that they can ensure that there are child-friendly computers available for use. The government considers that PC based filters are currently the most effective means by which to protect children online. This is because they are the only filters that not only block offensive content online but also extend the protection to offensive emails, peer-to-peer file sharing and conversations taking place in chat rooms.
I received a lot of letters from colleagues, constituents and other interested parties on the issue of protecting children and families online. One letter that I received recently particularly interested me. The person was writing to urge me to consider following the United States example by implementing hardware based filters in computers in primary and secondary schools, which is akin to the government’s ISP model. The person writing the letter touted the US example as an exemplary one that had the capacity, and I quote, ‘to eliminate all access to pornographic sites as well as the sending of pornographic email’. He also drew attention to the capacity of these filters to block, and I quote, ‘unwanted communications including the internet, internet messaging and peer-to-peer technologies’. Who said this? None other than the former New South Wales education minister and the current Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, Mr John Aquilina, MP. I am always pleased to receive endorsement and support for good policy initiatives, but I am even more pleased when that support comes from the ALP itself. That is right; despite those on the other side of the chamber refusing to support our package, I have found support for our proposal from within their own ranks. I think that those opposite should take a leaf out of Mr Aquilina’s book and should abandon a policy that simply does not deliver an effective blocking of peer-to-peer and other traffic on the net. Our policy does not take a bandaid solution; it is one of the most serious issues facing Australian families, and this government has a comprehensive solution.