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Tuesday, 9 September 2003
Page: 14592

Senator HARRADINE (12:42 PM) —I was interested to hear Senator Cherry, a Democrat senator, say that this was a matter of consideration, in other words, that it was an `on balance' decision that they have made in respect of the schedule of the Communications Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002 relating to FOI, and that there would have to be an overwhelming public interest issue to have the Democrats vote for it.

One of the greatest public interests and public issues is protection of children. We have just come from outside Parliament House, where we were demonstrating for National Child Protection Week. What is of great concern to many people is that, besides being physically abused, children are being abused by child pornographers and others. I do not excuse a number of the ISPs in that regard. This is a vital issue, where children are being exposed to pornographic and other types of abusive material.

It was only in March, I think, of this year that the Australia Institute reported, in a paper called Youth and pornography in Australia, that 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls in the 16- to 17-year-old age group have had accidental exposure to Internet sex sites. That is a grave reflection on us all, and we have to do something about it immediately. I asked Senator Alston at the time what was proposed to be done about this. Senator Alston responded, quite correctly, that the ISPs have some responsibility. It may well be, if they do not accept their own responsibility, that there will need to be legislation requiring ISPs to have an effective filtering technique which will empower the parents or other carers to make sure that children are not exposed to this material. In fact, the report of the Australia Institute indicated that there should be such a requirement on ISPs. The report also highlighted the degradation of women in Internet pornography. It stated:

... one can easily find portrayals in Internet pornography that embody forms of violence and themes of subordination and degradation. Perhaps the most pervasive form of degradation of women is the common use of derogatory language to describe the women pictured and the sexual acts done to them.

I listened to what the Labor Party spokesperson said last night just before the adjournment. I now have the printed copy of what Senator Lundy said and, going through it, I can only describe her contribution in one word: carping. It seems that all the alternative government of Australia is going to do is just have carping criticism without giving any real alternative to what is being proposed. The Australia Institute recommended that action be taken to require ISPs to have effective filtering—not some of the technology that they have now. Frankly, some of the ISPs are not really interested in doing anything about this problem, because the more that people get into the abusive pornography that is around—accidentally or otherwise—the more money they get in their pockets. We have to have a very good look at that.

I have been critical of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. I have asked questions of them on almost every occasion that we have met in estimates and their responses are very revealing. But on this particular occasion the ABA are clearly concerned that, in order to protect children and others, they need to have the power that is being proposed in this legislation. I too have frequently defended the rights of the Australian public to freedom of information. I have gone out on a limb on a couple of occasions in respect of the matter, but here I believe there is an overwhelming public interest matter involved.

Senator Lundy in her speech referred to Electronic Frontiers Australia. Of course, what Senator Lundy did not say is that Electronic Frontiers Australia are the spokespeople of the porn industry. If Senator Lundy wants to take a leaf out of their book, she should go for it, but the shadow minister has to come up with alternatives; otherwise she is failing in her duty not only to her colleagues in the Labor Party but also to the people of Australia. Let us hear from the Labor Party before the day is out: what is the Labor Party proposing to do about this?

In her speech, Senator Lundy said that there is still a need for public investment in educating and empowering Internet users. That will go down pretty well with a single mother of two teenage kids who has to work late and knock off at six o'clock at night! Something that will empower people includes this recommendation for legislation requiring ISPs to have an effective filter; that is the way to go. In the meantime, the Australian Broadcasting Authority needs to do far more monitoring of Internet content than it does at present. I recommend that, together with the undertakings that were given by the minister at the time, immediate action be taken.

People are very concerned about their children. This material is a type of abuse against children. As we were told at the gathering outside Parliament House today, in the last 12 months there have been 138,000 reported incidents of child abuse. Child abuse has many forms, of course, and one that is least recognised but talked about quite frequently is this type of child abuse—letting the pornographers and the ISPs make their money through this sort of abusive activity. We all must now direct our attention to the problem and make it a priority. We ought to commit to that this week, which is Child Protection Week.