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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19301

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (1:43 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay, thank you for giving your time to this too. I am a great supporter of the Internet and I often use the Internet, but I have four bugbears with the Internet at the moment. The first is speed—or lack of it. The second is spam—and we all suffer from an overzealous amount of spam on our computers. The third is involuntary download of adult porn sites and other Internet sites, which I have spoken about on a number of occasions in this House. Throughout Australia I have helped people try to get back their lost moneys from some of these sites. In one case, a family had a bill for $5,000. My fourth bugbear—and this is a growing problem—is what we call `chat room predators' or `cybersleaze'.

Internet chatting is a popular and fun means of communication, particularly amongst young people. People have a lot of fun with it. Most G-rated Internet chat room exchanges and experiences are indeed okay, but more and more cases are being exposed of adult predators, or cybersleazes, using these chat rooms to `whisper' to unsuspecting young people. It is a real problem. With these young chatters they arrange meetings—indeed, even elopements, which we have seen in some of the newspapers—or cybersex, and this unfortunately leads to cases of actual sex as well. It is nothing short of predatory practices on young people. Detective Sergeant Chris O'Connor from the Victorian sex crimes squad summed it up when he said:

... the anonymity and fantasy of chat rooms means they have become pedophiles' new hunting ground.

I do not wish to be overalarmist, but there are more and more examples of this predatory behaviour going on. When you start to look at the issue, as I did in relation to involuntary downloads onto the dialler services of computers in families, you start to see how much of a lack of regulation there is related to this booming, billion-dollar industry from our Internet providers. Companies like ninemsn, BigPond and Yahoo in most cases provide language filters, for instance, so that you can filter out bad language. But in actual fact you cannot filter out cybersex, so all they do is use language that it is not explicitly sexual or explicitly bad and so it goes on. If that is the extent of the regulation, control and monitoring in G-rated chat rooms—I am not talking about adult ones but G-rated chat rooms—we have a potential problem here. Indeed, in most cases no identification requirements are needed for users. So there is a real issue there.

I am taking it upon myself—and I am sure I will be joined by others in this House—to alert my electorate and Australian families in general about some of the things we can do to tighten up the possibilities of the sleazy, predatory practices that are occurring, particularly on the part of paedophiles. There is some advice we can give. I commend the Herald Sun for its articles related to this issue. One article advises children:

· Use a nickname—never reveal your personal details

· Remember, people you meet online may not be who they say they are—

that is the thing about this—

· Never agree to meet someone unless an adult goes with you—meet in a public place

· If someone says something that makes you feel uncomfortable, leave the chat room immediately and without responding

· Tell an adult or authorities if you see upsetting language, nasty pictures or something scary ...

For adults—and it is absolutely crucial in this instance to watch computer use of young people and particularly involuntary downloads of adult porn sites which you cannot get out of and so you go onto premium rates—the article says:

· Place the computer in a common area in the house

· Take an interest in what your children are doing on their PC

· Spend time together on the PC

· Lay down basic rules of use—

these are commonsense practices—

· Warn your children not to give out their personal details—

indeed, in relation to just about anything, never give out your personal details—

· Ensure your children can come to you if they feel uncomfortable—

that is very important: communicate; talk; be together for a while—

· If you are using a moderated chat channel, report abuses to the provider ...

I think it is incumbent on us as legislators, parents and citizens to make sure that this industry is better regulated and better monitored, because these sleazebags—these predators, these paedophiles—are out there and they are using this as their new means to get to our young children. We should be ever vigilant.