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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13895


Ms JANN McFARLANE (9:52 AM) —Today I would like to bring to the attention of the House the issue of unsolicited child pornography by email. One of my constituents, Wendy Charnell, came to me late last year with a very serious problem. Ms Charnell was receiving unsolicited child pornography in her electronic mail. These emails were arriving almost daily, containing images of and links to images of children being abused sexually and subjected to disgusting pornographic acts. Despite my constituent's efforts to unsubscribe to the self-described service, the emails continued to arrive regularly. Ms Charnell, alarmed by the material, approached her Internet service provider, one of the largest carriers of home users in Western Australia. After sharing her problem with the firm, they informed her that they would not filter the material from her email as it was not their legal obligation. She then approached the police to complain, without success. Ms Charnell, a 61-year-old mother, then approached my office.

Possession of child pornography is a serious crime, and rightly so. But, if a law enforcement officer assessed my constituent's computer, Ms Charnell would be charged. In Western Australia, she could be imprisoned for five years. Despite her efforts to prevent the flow of illegal material to her, Ms Charnell would still be chargeable under law. Ms Charnell was worried about the situation. I wrote on her behalf to the Attorney-General's office, outlining this serious problem. This letter, dated 17 December 2002, did not receive attention from the Attorney-General's office until 22 January 2003. The letter my office received in response indicated that the matter was being forwarded to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I still await a response from the minister for communications. My office has been hounding the minister's office for a reply for the past three weeks with no luck.

My constituent is obviously distressed about her legal status. Five states and territories do not discriminate between possession and knowing possession of child pornography. Western Australia had a case go through the Supreme Court in 2001. This provided some guidance, but Ms Charnell could be hauled through the legal system and have to prove that she did not solicit this material. Looking at her temporary Internet files, which show that these files have been opened, she would have to prove that she had not accessed this material willingly. This is a nationwide problem. Should my constituent cross the border, she would be charged immediately in South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Intent does not matter there. The Internet is a borderless medium. It is not slowed down by boundaries, be they geographical, political or anything else.

I challenge any member of the government to stand up and say that they have never received unsolicited email in their time as an Internet user. However, the government's inability to create a national standard on this matter suggests that they feel unsolicited illegal material cannot be emailed by these indecent people. I am not saying anything the Howard government has not already heard. One of the major Internet users in this country, Electronic Frontiers Australia, has been raising this matter with the government for a long time. However, these concerns are falling on seemingly deaf ears. I quote the Executive Director of EFA, Irene Graham—(Time expired)