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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 69

Senator HARRIS (2:30 PM) —My question is to Senator Robert Hill, representing the Minister for Trade. As reported in an article in the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday, 16 November 2004:

The federal government has bowed to pressure from the US to toughen Australian copyright law as part of the free-trade agreement between the two countries.

... ... ...

The bill would also clarify the liability of internet service providers where alleged breaches of intellectual property were carried out online.

Minister, can you give the Senate an assurance that a person who is making a temporary copy of a program will not incur any criminal liability? Will the minister give a commitment that there will be no additional liabilities incurred on Internet service providers and a commitment to consult with the industry prior to the development of the legislation?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The good news, which we all heard today, is that Australia and the United States have now exchanged letters to bring the historic Australia-US free trade agreement into force on 1 January 2005. That is good news for all Australians who have an interest in a growing economy and all the benefits that flow from a growing economy—something the Labor Party knows nothing about. As part of this process, the government indicated to the US that it would introduce some amendments to the Copyright Act 1968 to remove ambiguities and improve its practical operation for all affected stakeholders. That was announced in Australia earlier this week. As I understand it, the bill has not yet been introduced but will be shortly. We are looking forward to it being debated and resolved before the parliament gets up at the end of this session. Therefore, the detail will obviously be subject to debate within this chamber and Senator Harris, who took an interest in these matters on the last occasion, will no doubt ask detailed questions in relation to those changes when the bill comes before the Senate.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator HILL —I do not know about the Labor Party. I said `Senator Harris'. The Labor Party I do not think has an interest in matters related to economic growth. The amendments do not represent a change in government policy in relation to the Copyright Act, nor any change to our agreement under the Australia-United States free trade agreement. I understand the amendments are largely of a technical nature designed to clarify Australia's implementation of its copyright obligations under that legislation.

Senator HARRIS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank Senator Hill for his answer. He omitted to indicate whether the government will give an assurance that for the home viewer there will be no criminal liability for making personal temporary copies. Also, the other area of concern relates to the providers of innovative and open source software that is accessible today. Will the minister ensure that this type of software, which communicates between different types of Internet language, remains available to providers of innovative and open source software?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Mr President, as I said, if we are going to debate legislation it is better to have the legislation before us at that time. As Senator Harris will remember, on the last occasion the concern we had, which we are seeking to guard against and which will be reinforced in these amendments, related to commercial copyright privacy activity. Senator Harris, I am sure, would acknowledge the important copyright laws which protect against commercial abuse. It is in that area that the emphasis can be expected.