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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 69

Senator PAYNE (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan. Will the minister advise the Senate on the steps the government is taking to make the internet safer for both children and families? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Payne for a very timely question and acknowledge her longstanding interest in policy matters affecting the internet. As many senators would be aware, yesterday was international Safer Internet Day. I am proud to say that the Australian government is committed to protecting children from the scourge of illegal and offensive internet content and wholeheartedly supports the motives behind Safer Internet Day. In celebrating Safer Internet Day, NetAlert and the Australian Broadcasting Authority announced some new initiatives to complement the government’s tough policies to crack down on internet pornography. Educating the community about the technological safeguards that are available is a vital part of making the internet a safer experience for children and of course for families. That is why the Australian government recently provided NetAlert with $2 million to run the national CyberSafe program. This is a two-year information campaign aimed at educating parents, teachers and community groups about the risks children face online and how to address them. NetAlert also launched an internet safety storytelling competition as part of worldwide activities to mark Safer Internet Day.

The ABA has released a brochure entitled How to be phone smart, with safety information for children and their parents on the use of mobile phones. While NetAlert focuses on making the internet safer, the ABA has concentrated its efforts on reducing the risks associated with mobile phone use. Issues such as harassment, spam, people making inappropriate contact, and the possibility of children accessing unsuitable content are all challenges these organisations and the Australian government are very mindful of tackling. The CyberSafe program forms part of the government’s National Child Protection Initiative, an election commitment to spend $30 million to protect Australian children and families from sex criminals.

Senator Payne asked if I was aware of any alternative policies. I am certainly aware of the Labor Party’s policy of opposition to, and inaction on, this issue. The government introduced a comprehensive online coregulatory scheme, by which ISPs found not complying with the relevant code of practice can be subject to fines of up to $27,500.

Senator Lundy —Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. Senator Coonan is misleading the Senate on Labor’s policies. The government has adopted many of Labor’s policies in this regard.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Minister, I remind you of the question.

Senator COONAN —It is interesting that Senator Lundy interjects, because I remember her having criticised the government’s strong stance on taking action to protect children on the internet. She said it was the coalition’s ‘Big Brother approach to internet censorship’. The ALP has shown itself to be completely out of step with the community and families. I cannot imagine a more important matter for parents than the safety of their children and certainly the safety of their children online. Labor even attempted to block amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, which closed a loophole that could have allowed people access to lists of the most offensive content on the internet. Unfortunately, Labor has form on this. I earnestly hope—and I say this genuinely—that Senator Conroy, as the new spokesperson for the Labor Party, will work with the government to strengthen initiatives to assist parents and families to deal with scourges on the internet.