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Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Page: 6718


Senator LUDLAM (2:19 PM) —My question to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy relates to the government’s proposed mandatory net censorship scheme. Can the minister confirm for us whether the trial results are in, whether he is still planning on releasing to the Australian public the trial results in full and whether his reliance on a small, self-selected group of internet users to trial a mass-deployed compulsory filter qualifies as evidence based policy?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Ludlam for his question. The live pilot trial into ISP level filtering has recently been completed. The report has not yet been finalised but I have undertaken—and I repeat that commitment—to release it in due course. In the meantime, the existing laws introduced by the Howard government remain in place and, I assume, still have the support of those opposite. Labor took a comprehensive cyber safety policy to the 2007 election. The internet is the most powerful platform for information and entertainment we have known. However, it also has potential dangers. That is why the Rudd government, in the 2008-09 budget, committed $125.8 million towards our cyber safety plan. This included funding for education, law enforcement and the establishment of a youth advisory group—people aged between 11 and 17 years—to help develop our policy.


Senator Ludlam —Mr President, I rise on a point of order as to relevance. I would ask you to draw the minister’s attention to the fact that I have not asked him about any of the things he is informing the chamber about at the moment. I ask you to draw his attention to the clean feed mandatory censorship proposal.


The PRESIDENT —Unfortunately, Senator Ludlam, there were those in the chamber who drowned out the latter part of your comments, which I could not even hear. Would you repeat your comments, please.


Senator Ludlam —Thank you, Mr President. My point of order went to relevance. The minister was busy entertaining the chamber with information which was completely irrelevant to the point of my question. I asked for information about the mandatory net censorship proposal and the minister’s reliance on this evidence in rolling out mandatory net censorship around Australia.


The PRESIDENT —On the point of order: I consider the minister to be answering the question. I draw the minister’s attention to the fact that there are 44 seconds remaining and, whilst I cannot instruct the minister how to answer the question, I draw his attention to the question.


Senator CONROY —As I was saying, one element of the policy includes examining the introduction of ISP-level filtering for material refused classification under the existing National Classification Code. I did recently see a comment from a university professor who knows nothing about actual internet filtering, which I think is the basis on which you are seeking to ask your question about whether or not the basis of the test was valid. I think it was dealt with quite comprehensively by the company that was doing the testing, Senator Ludlam. I think that if you go back and check the clippings, you will find that the criticism made of the validity of the statistical— (Time expired)


Senator LUDLAM —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In estimates hearings on 28 May, the minister assured the committee that he was considering additional accountability measures to guide the material submitted to the ACMA blacklist. Could you inform us of those? Also, you indicated that you would be undertaking genuine public consultation on the very important social policy issues thrown up by this proposal. Can you update us about those commitments and confirm whether they were serious or not?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you for that supplementary question, Senator Ludlam. Yes, as I indicated at estimates, I have been in discussion with some in the industry about an enhanced practical measure to ensure that there is confidence that a government minister, or a government bureaucrat, is not the sole arbiter. There have been a number of options floated. As I said at estimates, one option is that the Classification Board may consider all of the possible items for classification. I am considering another option in which an industry based body, together with the government agency involved, could go through and examine material. Another option is a parliamentary committee, which would then undertake the classification process. So there are a number of options that the government is genuinely considering. (Time expired)


Senator LUDLAM —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister tell us when those announcements will be made about the additional accountability? Also, can the minister tell us, on the basis of the evidence he has received, which has not yet been made public, what proportion of material which would be classified RC will his filter actually block in comparison with the volume of this traffic exchanged on the internet and through peer-to-peer networks and so on?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —As Senator Ludlam—


Senator Chris Evans —Why don’t you just email your questions?


Senator CONROY —I assure you I have no filter on Senator Ludlam, Senator Evans. As Senator Ludlam well knows, there has never been a suggestion by this government that peer-to-peer traffic would or could be blocked by our filter. It has never been suggested. So for you to continue to make the suggestion that we are attempting to do that just misleads the chamber and the Australian public, Senator Ludlam, and you know better than that. We are not attempting to suggest that the filter can capture peer-to-peer traffic. Regarding the statistics that you sought, I am sure that sort of information, provided that is what we were testing for as to the exact nature of the RC classification, will be available to you in the report. However, as I have not received the report yet, I am not able to give you much further information at this stage.