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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 11

Ms LEY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:41 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

More Australians than ever are using mobile phones and today’s users expect their mobiles to deliver ever-increasing types of entertainment and information. Mobile phones and other hand-held devices now offer access to a range of media-rich services including broadcasting, internet and telephone content. New content services such as live streamed services are also being delivered through subscription internet portals.

Such services can be expected to bring substantial benefits for Australian consumers and new business opportunities for carriage service providers (CSPs) and content service providers; however, they may also carry potentially offensive or harmful content. The Australian government takes very seriously its responsibility to protect Australian citizens, particularly children, from exposure to illegal and highly offensive content delivered over convergent devices such as mobile handsets, and over the internet more generally.

The Review of the Regulation of Content Delivered over Convergent Devices (‘the review’) was conducted by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and released in April 2006. It found that there may be a lack of appropriate protections for users, particularly children, from inappropriate audiovisual content on mobile devices and existing regulatory frameworks may not provide an effective response.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007 (the bill) gives effect to the government’s commitment to extend the current safeguards to put in place new measures to protect consumers from inappropriate or harmful material on convergent devices such as 3G mobile phones and through subscription internet portals.

The bill establishes a framework which aims to regulate emerging content services in a platform and technology neutral manner—it strengthens the regulation of ‘stored’ content where this is delivered on a commercial basis and establishes new rules to address ‘live’ and interactive content services such as chat rooms. The immediate effect of this will be that service providers supplying content services including live, streamed services over a carriage service such as a mobile phone will be subject to these new obligations.

The main focus of the bill is to extend the general approach adopted by the government in relation to content regulation to those services where it considers adequate safeguards are not currently in place.

Much of the content for these new services is likely to be based on content created for supply in relation to a range of other existing media services. The new regulations will be aligned, as far as possible, with the regulation of traditional media content. At the same time, the framework takes account of the technical and other differences applying to the delivery of content on these new platforms including their impact on the ability of service providers to practically manage the wide range of content being delivered to users.

Under the proposed new framework content that is, or potentially would be, rated X18+ and above must not be delivered or made available to the public, and access to material that is likely to be rated R18+ must be subject to appropriate age verification mechanisms.

As a general rule, where content is provided by means of a content service that is operated on a commercial basis, and is likely to be classified MA15+ or above, access must only be made available subject to appropriate age verification mechanisms. This requirement will include content provided to premium mobile services but not to a news or current affairs service, or to electronic books or magazines.

Similar limitations relating to prohibited content and age verification mechanisms will also apply in relation to live streamed services.

In the case of electronic editions of print publications such as books and magazines, where these have been classified ‘Restricted—Category 1’, ‘Restricted—Category 2’ or ‘Refused Classification’, they will be prohibited. Electronic editions of publications which are unrestricted in print form will be excluded from the new regulatory framework and will be able to be made freely available online.

Similarly, certain types of content services, including those which provide content regulated under existing broadcasting regulatory frameworks, and the content of private users’ personal communications will be excluded from the scope of the new regulatory framework.

Carriage service providers who do no more than provide a carriage service that enables content to be delivered or accessed will not be considered to be providing a content service under the new scheme.

The new regime will be based on a take-down model as used under the existing Online Content Scheme. Under the new scheme, a content service provider will need to remove access to prohibited content or potential prohibited content if ACMA issues them with a ‘take-down’ notice for stored or static content, or a ‘service-cessation’ notice for live content, or a ‘link deletion’ notice for links to content.

Where a content service provider fails to comply with a notice from ACMA, civil or criminal penalties may be pursued.

To strengthen the ability of the scheme to respond to repeated and deliberate offences by providers of stored content, such as, for example, where stored picture or video content is slightly modified or changed but still in breach of the requirements, the bill proposes to enable ACMA to issue a notice to a hosting service provider to ensure that content that is substantially similar to the stored content already subject to a take-down notice is not made available.

Consistent with the co-regulatory approach which has been implemented for other media such as television, radio and the internet, the providers of new content services will be given the opportunity to develop industry codes to implement cost-effective mechanisms and rules for meeting their obligations under the regulatory framework.

Different sections of the content services industry will be able to develop codes of practice to give effect to certain content service provider obligations, and, where necessary, ACMA will have the power to determine industry standards where it considers that industry codes are deficient in ensuring that content services are provided in accordance with prevailing community standards.

Live content services will be regulated in a manner consistent, as far as possible, with the regulation of traditional media content and the new approach for stored or static content services provided to convergent devices.

Although pre-assessment of live or ‘real time’ services is in many ways impractical, it will be mandatory that codes of practice developed for live services provided on a commercial basis include provisions to deal with the assessment of the likely nature of these services. Under these mandatory code requirements, commercial content service providers who deliver live services must seek the advice of a trained content assessor on the likely classification before providing the service if there is a reasonable likelihood that the service would be classified as MA15+ or above. If the advice indicates that the service is likely to fall within a restricted category, it is incumbent upon the service provider to deliver the service with appropriate consumer information and age verification mechanisms.

The bill also outlines examples of matters which may be addressed in a code of practice, including complaint handling procedures, consumer information requirements, promoting the awareness of safety issues including in relation to commercial chat services, and the making and retention of records.

The bill and subsequent amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 will implement measures to require a mobile service account holder’s consent before the location of any handsets operated under the account may be used or disclosed. This will address concerns about the potential for location based services to be used to facilitate inappropriate contact with minors.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007 provides for the timely introduction of a new regulatory framework for a rapidly developing area of the communications sector. It is part of a wide-ranging package of measures introduced by the Australian government to ensure that Australian consumers have access to new, innovative services. The new framework provides appropriate protections for children from being exposed to content suited only to adults while providing industry with the flexibility to explore the potential of providing entertainment and other services over new technologies.

The government has also taken the opportunity in this bill to amend the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 to ensure that Australia’s Indian Ocean territories comprising Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, can be included in the regular independent reviews of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia. This will help in ensuring that the adequacy of these territories’ telecommunications services is appropriately assessed. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Plibersek) adjourned.