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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2730

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (22:10): I rise today to acknowledge that Friday is the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence. As the Deputy Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, I also want to note a disturbing development today in the world map of freedom, which the member for Casey was referring to before. Today, unfortunately, Australia has been listed as a potential enemy of the internet by Reporters without Borders. They have listed us with countries such as South Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka and Egypt as nations that they consider to be a threat to democracy and freedom of information online.

As an advocate of digital liberty, I am rising tonight to express my concern about Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's ongoing attempts to apparently consciously tell factual inaccuracies about the status of Labor's controversial mandatory internet-filtering project. In a press conference last week, the minister, with Prime Minister Gillard, was asked whether he was still philosophically committed to the internet-filtering project and whether it will be implemented during the current term of this government or the next. Minister Conroy answered:

Well, two companies, in fact three companies have already introduced it. It may come as a great surprise to you that the internet hasn’t slowed down or collapsed. Telstra and Optus and a small—apologies to the third company—have introduced the filter.

This is evidence, of course, of Senator Conroy's ongoing lack of transparency in relation to the government's plans on mandatory internet filtering. What has happened is that a voluntary filter has been implemented by Telstra and Optus of the Interpol list of criminal sites and material that is found to be offensive or not suitable for consumption, not the government's plans for a mandatory internet filter. Senator Conroy has been all over the shop in relation to this policy over many years now, and this led to a spate of articles with a series of inaccuracies about what the government is doing and what the government is contending about an internet filter, further undermining a transparent approach to the governance and regulation of the internet. It has been a major failing of this government.

Indeed, any attempt to impose a mandatory filter upon the internet would require a large volume of legislation. That has been pointed out by all sectors, whether it be telecommunications companies, internet service providers, industry, school groups, parent groups or academics. In all of our trips around this country listening to people, the cybersafety committee have heard that filtering does not work. Mandatory filtering would not be a solution to the problems of the dangers on the internet and would be a very expensive way to legislate in this country.

What kind of thing should the government be considering in relation to Friday and the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence? I think there is much more to be gained in encouraging corporations—in particular, social networking and social media at the cutting edge for children in Australia today—to consider voluntary regulation of their sector. It is apparent that all of the major user sites for social networking, including Facebook, Myspace and Bebo, have an age restriction of 13 as their stated voluntary policy for use of their site. It is of course a well-known fact that there are tens of thousands of children all across this country and around the world today using those social-networking sites.

This goes to the question: what is a corporation's social responsibility in relation to children using their site in violation of their stated policies that a user must be 13 or older to access their site? I raised this issue at a public hearing last year with a representative of Facebook, Mr Mozelle Thompson, who responded to questioning about why he did not acknowledge that there were children under the age of 13 using the Facebook site. He said:

I accept that there are people who lie, and sometimes those are younger people who maybe do not belong on the site. Facebook has mechanisms to try to detect them, but it is not perfect.

In response to further questioning, Mr Thompson went on to deny that there were any children under the age of 13 using the Facebook site, in blatant contradiction of the experience of, I think, every member, senator and parent in Australia today.

Instead of considering what in my view is unwieldy legislation or unworkable technological solutions like a mandatory internet filter, the government ought to be pursuing corporate social responsibility in the internet sector in relation to social networking to ensure that our children are protected and that greater responsibility is taken by these companies for ensuring that children under the age of 13 are not on their sites.