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Labor calls on government to revisit unworkable internet content legislation



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M E D I A S T A T E M E N T Stephen Smith MP Member for Perth Shadow Minister for Communications

53/99 Thursday 2nd September 1999

LABOR CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO REVISIT UNWORKABLE INTERNET CONTENT LEGISLATION

Shadow Minister for Communications, Stephen Smith, today criticised the Government for failing to heed the concerns of industry over its unworkable Internet content legislation, and called on the Government to urgently revisit the legislation prior to its commencement on January 1st next year.

“In the last week, concerns from a diverse range of quarters have been raised over the adverse impacts of the legislation, which the Government rushed through the Parliament in June this year,” Mr Smith said.

“It is significant that major Australian companies are now attacking the Government’s legislation, including the National Australia Bank.”

In a report concerning the role of Government in developing the information economy, the National Australia Bank, and two other companies, Arnold Block Leibler and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, noted that the Act would “substantially increase the cost o f using the Internet in Australia”, and that "the Act will not achieve the outcome desired by the

Commonwealth."

“Major corporations are now questioning the workability of this legislation, and recognise the significant adverse impact this law can have on the potential development of e-commerce in this country,” Mr Smith said.

“Some analysts have predicted that industry will incur compliance costs of up to $150 million, which, in a relatively small and dynamic industry, will have a significant impact on the bottom line of many Internet Service Providers, particularly small and emerging ISP’s and

those operating in rural and regional areas.”

“The Minister for Communications has accused those who raise concerns over this law as “too stupid or too lazy to do anything about it”, yet he is doing nothing to address the legitimate concerns of a broad range of groups in industry and the community”.

“Labor believes that a workable approach to the regulation of Internet content is to empower end-users by way of information, education and access to effective end-user filter devices.”

“Labor will today move in the Senate for the Government to urgently revisit this issue. We will be joined by the Democrats in this endeavour”, Mr Smith said.

Media Contact: Patrick Bindon 0418 694 878 or (02) 6277 4108

Senate Motion attached.

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NOTICE OF MOTION - Senators Bishop and Stott Despoja

To move - that the Senate -

1. notes the range of recent criticism and developments surrounding the Government’s Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999 (the Act),

2. recognises that:

i. the Act will not achieve the Government’s stated objectives;

ii. the Act will impact adversely on the emergent Australian e-commerce and Internet industries, which are strong employers of young Australians;

iii. the Act will discourage investment in information technology projects in Australia, and will force Australian business offshore; and that.

iv. the most appropriate arrangement for the regulation of Internet content is the education of users, including parents and teachers, about appropriate use of the Internet, the empowerment of end-users, and the application of appropriate end-user filtering devices where required.

3. calls on the Government:

i. to immediately address the concerns raised by industry and the community about the unworkability of the government’s approach and the Act in general,

ii. to urgently revisit aspects of the Act, prior to its commencement on January 1st 2000, in particular, and

iii. to table a report on the effectiveness and consequences of the Act in the Senate at six month intervals from the date of implementation of the regulatory regime.

BACKGROUND MATERIAL RECENT CRITICISMS OF THE GOVERNMENT’S INTERNET REGULATION PROPOSAL

• The adverse comments of Professor Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union, that —

a) the Government's Internet censorship laws are 'draconian and repressive’; and,

b) could damage Australia's reputation and e-commerce industry.

• The findings of the Bertelsmann survey released by the Australian Broadcasting Authority which showed:

a) 90% of Australian Internet users believed end-user filtering was useful,

b) More Australians were confident of controlling access to Internet content themselves than those who were confident in control administered by Internet Service Providers, Government agencies or Web site producers.

• The comments of telecommunications analyst Paul Budde that the Internet industry faces compliance costs of $150 million associated with the implementation of the Government’s legislation, which even with complete compliance, would be less than 10% effective.

• The findings of the National Australia Bank / Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu / Arnold Block Leibler report — “Building a stronger Information Economy for Australia”, which focussed on the Government's approach toward building an information economy for Australia, and stated:

a) The regulatory approach taken by the Government on Internet content is considered to be unworkable, and places Australia out of step with the International community;

R 1 113 Parliament House ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6277 4108 Fax: 02 6277 8520

b) The inefficiencies of the Act jeopardise Australia's potential to become a regional finance centre;

c) The regulatory regime will substantially increase the cost of using the Internet in Australia, and slow down what is now practically instantaneous communication;

d) The report made a recommendation that: „

“Australia should not seek to control offensive material on the Internet in the manner proposed in the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999. Other approaches, such as coordination at an International level, and the establishment of child safe mechanisms that operate at the home computer level should be pursued”.

• The Internet Industry Association draft Code of Conduct, which places strong emphasis on the use of end-user filter devices, and encourages personal and parental responsibility for regulating access to material hosted on the Internet;

R1 113 Parliament House ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6277 4108 Fax: 02 6277 8520