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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2157


Mr DUTTON (10:07 AM) —I rise today to offer my full support to the Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Material Offences) Bill 2004. This bill amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 to insert new offences in relation to the use of a carriage service, including the Internet, to access, transmit or make available suicide related material; and the possession, production or supply of such material with intent to make it available on the Internet. Crime and fear of crime continually rank amongst the highest concerns of the Australian community. The government share this concern and we are committed to taking a leadership role in assisting local communities to recognise local problems and find local solutions. We have delivered in full on all law and order election commitments since coming to government in 1996 and we are committed to fighting crime and violence through effective policing at a federal level, targeting issues including cybercrime, illicit drug importation, people-smuggling, organised crime, terrorism, money-laundering and fraud against the Commonwealth, and through crime prevention programs to stop crime before it happens. These programs are complemented by a host of other measures, such as enhanced intelligence collection, analysis and sharing within Australia to more effectively fight transnational and organised crime; uniform national firearms laws to ensure only those with a genuine need can own firearms; and model uniform national criminal laws.

Since 1996 we have committed $38 million for a range of initiatives aimed at reducing crime and violence in Australian society. One of our major initiatives in this area has been the National Crime Prevention Program. Building on the foundation of the program, this government committed $20 million in the 2004-05 budget to a new National Community Crime Prevention Program. This new initiative will focus on how to increase the community's capacity to respond to safety and crime prevention issues. The centrepiece of this initiative is a new National Community Grants Program. The sum of $16 million over four years will be available for a new nationwide competitive scheme, under which not-for-profit incorporated community organisations and local government associations can apply for funding to develop their own projects and strategies to tackle crime. Prevention still remains the best protection, and this new national crime prevention initiative demonstrates the government's commitment to empowering communities to deal with crime locally. We have not just talked about being tough on crime; we have implemented a tough comprehensive plan to provide a safer, more secure Australia for all Australians.

This bill introduces important new measures that will criminalise use of the Internet where the intention of that use is to counsel or incite suicide or to promote or provide instruction on a particular method of committing suicide. Internet use continues to grow, particularly in the younger age groups, and this government must protect these people from accessing such harmful information. The Internet is now used by 55 per cent of children aged between 10 and 14 years, whilst teenagers in the age bracket from 15 to 19 years have the highest use of any age group, at 63 per cent. At the moment many Internet sites are too easily accessible for these often unsupervised age groups, with some providing detailed instructions on methods of committing suicide. Some Internet chat rooms have even been found to host discussions where participants have urged others to attempt suicide online. Such potential offences highlight the urgent need for law reform in this area.

Important measures that will protect society's most vulnerable are contained in this bill, and they will help to prevent the Internet from being used for destructive purposes towards those individuals. It needs to be said as part of this debate that suicide is one of the most prevalent problems in society today, particularly amongst young males. Males aged from 25 to 29 have the highest suicide rates of any age group—over 30 per cent of every 100,000 deaths. Suicide accounts for a significant proportion of deaths amongst young people, with people in these age groups dying from few other causes.

At the moment Internet service providers are responsible for web site content. As such, they should see that they have a moral obligation to society to protect such vulnerable groups from accessing materials on the Net that might provide encouragement or assistance in relation to suicide. Currently, this industry is highly unregulated and ISPs are not taking responsibility for their sites and the contents of them. With the introduction of this bill, this government seeks to protect young individuals where these private organisations refuse to do so.

The issue of censorship will always divide public opinion. This government attempts to find a balance between the need to protect people from material they find offensive, harmful, disturbing or even dangerous and the premise that adults should be able to read, hear and see what they wish. As a government we are committed to keeping up with technology and media convergence so that people can continue to make informed choices about entertainment for themselves and those in their care. The coalition will continue its program of ongoing review of classification schemes—including those for film, video, computer games, digital versatile discs and publications—to ensure that our classification system appropriately reflects community attitudes.

Findings from the Online Content Co-regulatory Scheme in 2000—required under schedule 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992—relating to online content established that, firstly, Internet safety would be improved by more active promotion of filtering technologies by Australian Internet service providers. Options considered in the report included greater promotion of filtering to subscribers and/or requiring ISPs to provide filtering services on an `opt-out' basis. There should be greater promotion of the Australian Broadcasting Association's complaint process about offensive Internet content referenced or linked in spam emails. A revised industry code should address the delivery of Internet content on mobile devices and promote greater cooperation between ISPs and relevant law enforcement agencies, particularly in relation to investigations of potentially criminal behaviour in chat rooms.

In conclusion, such findings demonstrate that the government must take a stand against these practices where ISPs are currently unable to or refuse to. We as a government have a moral obligation to all members of Australian society to provide them with a safe environment—which, whilst this material is allowed to circulate on the Internet, we are not doing to the best of our capabilities. I therefore urge members of this House to pass this bill and protect our youth from the harmful content that they currently have access to. Through acceptance of this bill, this government will be helping to save the lives of many young, innocent individuals. For that reason, I am very pleased to commend this bill to the House.