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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26629

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (1:43 PM) —I thank senators for their contribution to this bill, which is a very important one and by its very description indicates the broad area that it relates to. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2004 incorporates a number of provisions touching on areas which the average Australian would come into contact with on a daily basis. Of course, the provisions dealing with telecommunications are perhaps the ones which have been the most controversial. Significantly it contains reference to child pornography and its relationship to telecommunications, particularly the Internet. That one is by far the most significant aspect of this bill, one which is perhaps the easiest to deal with.

The history of this bill has of course involved a great deal of consultation, as Senator Greig has pointed out, because it not only deals with child pornography on the Internet or transmitting it by telecommunications but also deals with the question of harassing a person, menacing that person or treating them in an offensive way on the Internet or using telecommunications for that purpose. It also deals with the improper use of an emergency call service, threats and hoaxes made using a telecommunication service and modification of the international mobile equipment identity number of a mobile phone. There is also a provision which deals with credit card skimming, which is becoming more important in the daily lives of Australians who have a credit card. In addition, there is the question of contaminating goods and interfering with trade. This situation has arisen recently. There is a particular case which I will not refer to as the matter is ongoing, but internationally this issue has presented itself.

For those reasons this bill is broad in its nature. I will deal first with the most significant provision of this bill, that dealing with child pornography. We need to ensure that our children, who are more technically adept than any generation before them, are protected from those who would use the Internet, and now mobile phones, for predatory and abusive purposes. I might just touch on what Senator Harradine has mentioned. It is of great concern that children can access pornography on the Internet, or any undesirable content. This bill was not designed to address that issue. This bill was designed to crack down on those people who use the Internet for the purposes of disseminating child pornography, accessing it and downloading it, and on those who use the means of telecommunication for the purposes of child pornography.

Authorities tell us that today 80 per cent of child pornography is transmitted by, or as a result of, the Internet. That is a disturbing feature. The question that Senator Harradine raises as to filtering and the regulation, if you like, of the access of children to the Internet is a very important issue and one which we will have to confront. This bill brings into law new offences which deal with the use of the Internet to access, transmit or make available child pornography and child abuse material. Other offences involve the use of the Internet to groom or procure children with the intent of engaging in sexual activity with them. Unfortunately, this activity has been on the rise recently. These offences will ensure that paedophiles who use the Internet to access and disseminate child pornography, which not only depicts the use of young children but fuels future child abuse, could face periods of up to 10 years in jail.

Perhaps more importantly, the grooming and procuring offences will enable the Australian Federal Police to interact with and arrest Internet predators before they abuse more children that they have, or intend to have, contact with through Internet chat rooms and the like. These offenders will face even longer jail terms, of up to 15 years. What we are about here is preventative action in relation to those paedophiles, those perverts, who want to use the Internet to groom children to make contact with unsuspecting children so that they can have their evil way with them.

These offences demonstrate the commitment by the Australian government to child protection, and our zero tolerance of child sexual abuse. I appreciate the support that has been given to this bill in the Senate chamber today. As Senator Harradine has indicated, should this bill be amended, then it will not be able to pass into law—it would have to go back to the House of Representatives, and we know that is not possible.

The fact that there is a lack of controversy about this bill, which has such wide application, is indicative of the history of the bill and the consultation which has taken place. I would say, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to Senator Harradine that this bill did not originally contain provisions for filters, or the sorts of provisions which Senator Harradine has spoken of. They would find their place in separate legislation. It is not as if we have had representations about those provisions and taken them out of the bill. But we can address his concerns during the committee stage.

Other measures I have referred to concern offences dealing with the improper use of an emergency call service, the use of a telecommunications service in a menacing, harassing or offensive way, threats and hoaxes made using a telecommunications service and modification of the international mobile equipment identity number of a mobile phone.

What we have found increasingly in this day and age is the use of hoax calls. That makes it commonsense that we should have offences relating to those sorts of calls. Our authorities—those people who deal with emergency services, law enforcement and the like—have a tough enough job as it is without having to put up with hoax calls, particularly in the present security environment. It is important that we send a very clear message to the community that we will not tolerate our emergency service numbers being abused in this fashion. Unfortunately, the Internet has been used to make attacks on individuals. We have seen the Internet being used to menace and harass people. This is something which we will not tolerate in any other medium in our daily lives, and it should not be tolerated in a telecommunications service.

There are also comprehensive new contamination of goods offences. These offences reflect the economic loss and public alarm that can arise from the actual contamination of goods as well as from someone threatening to contaminate goods or falsely claiming that particular goods have been contaminated. These offences will be an important addition to the federal Criminal Code. They will complement existing state and territory offences as well as extending to threats made to contaminate Australian goods from outside Australia. This is an extremely important provision. Whilst we firmly believe, as Australians, that we should have freedom of speech, we do not believe that a protest should take the form of contamination of goods—a sabotaging, if you like, of our trading with other nations. If someone has an objection to our trading with a country or to a particular trade, then the contamination of those goods is not the way to express that opinion. This is behaviour that could cause Australia great damage economically. It could also be used to damage or harm a particular business. It is a behaviour which should be outlawed, and which will be comprehensively outlawed, by this bill.

I mentioned credit card skimming. Increasingly we are finding that credit card fraud is affecting average Australians. Out of the $1.1 billion a year worth of identity fraud, $200 million is caused by credit card fraud. In particular, we estimate that $50 million per year is caused by the use of credit card skimmers. We are seeing increasingly sophisticated attempts at ATMs and at retail outlets to skim credit cards and to transpose the details onto blank credit cards with a new identity, and we then find that an individual has been robbed of his or her credit or money accordingly; the victims are average Australians. Credit card fraud is on the rise and the Australian Federal Police are doing a great job in fighting it through their Australian High Tech Crime Centre. I have set up a group that includes representatives from banks and other financial institutions to address this very issue. There is an education program being embarked upon in relation to that. This demonstrates yet again the broad nature of this bill and the very important provisions that we have in it to protect the average Australian.

These offences not only cover credit card skimming offences but also target dishonest dealing in personal financial information without the consent of the person to whom that information relates. The possession and importation of credit card skimming devices will also be caught by new offences, with penalties of up to five years imprisonment to apply to those instances. At the borders great work is being done by Customs in the seizure of blank credit cards from organised gangs who have tried to import them into Australia. That has resulted in stopping harm that could have been perpetrated within Australia on unsuspecting small businesses in particular and also on individuals.

This bill contains provisions that are critical to law enforcement in this country, particularly in relation to the protection of children by way of the provisions that deal with child pornography. The violation of children is perhaps one of the most ghastly offences that we can contemplate. Certainly, as has been said before, it is a crime that screams out to heaven for vengeance because of the damage it can cause a child for the rest of his or her life. We heard a debate earlier in the Senate today in relation to a Senate report in which mention was made of just that, in another context.

These are very important provisions. I commend them to the Senate and urge the speedy passage of this bill. In closing I add that the Democrats have two amendments which the government has looked at carefully. The government is unable to support those amendments and I will go into the government's position in more detail in the committee stage of the bill. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.