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Monday, 24 May 1999
Page: 5222

Senator ALSTON (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (9:35 PM) —I have seen some of those surveys and most of them are mickey mouse. The one that you referred to about senators telling us what to do was basically the tag line of a very one-sided effort by the Channel Nine Sunday program several weeks back. I would not for a moment take it seriously. To ask someone, `Are you in favour of senators telling you how to lead your lives or what to watch?'—this was the third question; I forget what the first and second were—is preposterous. It has got nothing at all to do with the issues at hand. I would be very surprised if many people would put their hands up and say, `I am in favour of senators—or anyone else—telling me what to do.' That tells you nothing at all about whether parents have legitimate or even unfounded concerns about what their children might be watching.

I would have thought the best way of gauging community concern is to look at what the reaction has been since this legislation was first mooted, having regard to the fact that this has been an ongoing issue over a matter of years. There have certainly been surveys that have shown that one of the big hesitation points for people having PCs in their homes or accessing the Internet is that they are concerned about what they might come across or what their children might come across. If the concerns were other than very narrowly based, you would certainly have expected a lot more rank and file outcries than I have come across.

You will always find industry speaking self-interestedly; it is not confined to this particular industry. Some of the surveys that simply ask users what they think remind me very much of Wired magazine back in the early 1990s which ran this sort of line constantly. You would have loved it, Senator Stott Despoja. It appealed to all the yuppies who regarded themselves as being the next generation. They did not believe in any form of controls. They thought the Internet was the wild frontier, that it was the best place to be and that everyone ought to get their hands off. And they ran this line for some years. Eventually, when they got around to doing a survey, they found out that even their own subscribers had the same views as mainstream America, and that was, `Yes, we do want you to intervene, we do want you to protect our personal privacy, we do not want to come across offensive material and we do want you to treat it as much as possible the way that you would treat the physical world.'

A few self-interested industry surveys, particularly those of the civil libertarians, have played a very superficial role in this whole debate, aided and abetted by some journalists who have taken the lazy way out and not bothered to read the provisions of the bill but have made sweeping generalisations about, `Isn't it outrageous that someone should be in there trying to regulate our lives?' I read one today in the Canberra Times, which said something like `Whether or not parents should be concerned about the safety of their children on the Internet, the fact remains' and away it went with the usual over-the-top rhetoric. So when people are not prepared to address the issues and to ask whether it is a matter of serious concern and whether something should be done about it rather than whether they can manufacture a way to express their outrage in such a way that they kill off the bill then you will not have a sensible discussion on the subject. I am very confident that the response of the parties in this chamber is in itself an indication.

If you honestly thought that there was a huge groundswell of opinion out there that was violently opposed to what we were doing, don't you think we would have heard a lot more about it in this chamber and in the other chamber? You have not. In fact, I think we even heard Senator Brown saying that in principle he supported doing something. He then of course went off on his usual red herring about casinos. That may be a separate and legitimate issue, but it has nothing to do with whether or not you ought to be trying to restrict access to offensive material on the Internet. When we last had this debate in this chamber, I detected cross-party support for the proposition that we ought to do what we can. That is what we were elected to do, and I certainly have not seen any community response that would say that we are on anything other than the right track.