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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3967


Senator Ludlam asked the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, upon notice, on 5 May 2009:

(1)   With reference to the hearings of the Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee additional estimates of 23 February 2009, in which an officer of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), stated that in ‘the last financial year’ the ACMA had actioned 774 prohibited content items and that 410 of those were child sexual abuse items (Committee Hansard, 23 February 2009, ECA 95) and given that in March 2009 a list of Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) purporting to be the ACMA blacklist was published and was deemed by the ACMA to be sufficiently sensitive that the leaked blacklist was, itself, added to the blacklist, can the Minister identify by name which of the URLs on the list of URLs purporting to be the 18 March 2009 list are designated by the ACMA as not being ‘child sexual abuse items’.

(2)   Are URLs which are not ‘child sexual abuse items’ legal for Australian adults to read and view.

(3)  

(a)   Is the list itself a ‘child sexual abuse item’; and

(b)   is it legal for Australian adults to read and view it.

(4)   When did the Government’s policy change from using the ACMA prohibited content list, as documented in its pre-election platform materials, to using a new list of Refused Classification (RC) material, as documented in the latest version of the Minister’s form letters.

(5)   Does the Government intend the ACMA to use its own judgement to determine that Internet content has been refused classification as per existing practice for offshore content or does the Government intend to use the services of the Classification Board, as stated by the Minister on the Special Broadcasting Service program Insight, on Tuesday, 31 March 2009.

(6)   With reference to the Minister’s form letter on Internet filtering which states that the ‘scope of the definition of prohibited content in legislation cannot be expanded without changes to legislation being passed by Parliament, and the Government does not intend doing this’, what lawful authority empowers: (a) the ACMA to maintain a list of RC content, separate from its existing list of prohibited content; and (b) the Government to require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to maintain mandatory filtering systems on their networks.

(7)   Is it legal for Australians to possess, read and view material which has been refused classification by the Classification Board, but which has not been judged to be illegal in a court.

(8)   Is it illegal for Australians to view RC images of aborted foetuses.

(9)   Is it illegal for Australians to read RC copies of The Peaceful Pill Handbook, or view the film, The Peaceful Pill.

(10)   Will the content which the ACMA assessed as RC on the abortiontv.com website be blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis for adults; if not, what other exceptions to RC, on other websites, would be similarly permitted.

(11)   Will the content in the YouTube presentations of The Peaceful Pill which the ACMA assessed as RC be blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis for adults; if not, what other exceptions to RC would be similarly permitted.

(12)   Will the lists of URLs purporting to be copies of the ACMA blacklist on http://www.wikileaks.org, which the ACMA assessed as RC, be blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis for adults; if not, what other exceptions to RC would be similarly permitted.

(13)   Will computer games exceeding the requirements of the MA15+ classification be RC and potentially blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis for adults; if not, what other exceptions to RC would be similarly permitted.

(14)   If the Government intends to distribute to ISPs a blacklist of RC websites used by millions of end users across the length and breadth of Australia, what safeguards does it intend to put in place to prevent the list from being: (a) leaked and subsequently published; and (b) reverse engineered by one or several of those users and subsequently published.

(15)   Has the Government consulted with officials in overseas jurisdictions to determine their likely reaction in the event that a leaked copy of an Australian list of RC material is published on the Internet, and which subsequently enables criminal activity outside Australia’s borders; if not: (a) why not; and (b) does the Government intend to consult these jurisdictions.


Senator Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1)   No. The Government cannot be a party to releasing information which would weaken the integrity of the Online Content Scheme under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA).

(2)   While it is legal in the sense that it is not a criminal offence for adults to read and view material reached by some Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) blacklist, it is not legal for a person in Australia to host or provide links to such content on a website in Australia (once they have been directed to take this down by ACMA).

(3)  

(a)   The list or parts of the list lead to child sexual abuse material.

(b)   Publishing on the internet URLs which lead to child sexual abuse material would facilitate access to such material and therefore may amount to an offence. Viewing, accessing or downloading material which is child sexual abuse material is a criminal offence.

(4)   The primary focus of the Government’s concern has always been child abuse material and other Refused Classification (RC) content such as rape, bestiality, sexual violence and instruction in crime.

(5)   Internet content is classified according to the National Classification Scheme. There are existing accountability processes involving both ACMA and the Classification Board associated with the classification of offshore content. A range of possible measures to strengthen these continue to be considered for implementation of any ISP filtering policy as I indicated at the Senate Estimates.

(6)   The Government has said it will not expand the scope of the definition of prohibited content. The details of the Government’s policy regarding ISP filtering including any legislation to give effect to the policy will be considered and announced after completion of the current live pilot and further consultations on this.

(7)   How material is dealt with is governed by State and Territory Classification enforcement legislation.         It is an offence in Western Australia and prescribed areas of the Northern Territory to possess publications, films or computer games that have been, or would be, classified RC. In all other states and territories it is an offence to possess a publication, film or computer game classified RC if the person does so with intention to sell, distribute or publish it.         There are sub categories of RC material. RC (1b) relates to child sexual abuse material. It is a Commonwealth offence to view, access, download or possess this material.         There are no specific offences for viewing other categories of RC material. However RC material cannot be sold or exhibited (including displayed on a website) in Australia or imported into Australia.         Possession of RC material other than child pornography is not an offence except in Western Australia and in prescribed areas of the Northern Territory.

(8)   The National Classification Scheme does not specifically refer to images of aborted foetuses. Material is classified RC if it offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or describes or depicts a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not) in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime or violence. Material that is RC cannot legally be shown, sold or hired in Australia.         There are no specific offences for viewing RC material that is not child sexual abuse material. It is an offence however to sell or exhibit RC material including on a website in Australia.

(9)   Books that are RC have strict controls. They cannot legally be published in Australia or imported into Australia and they cannot be made available in libraries or book shops so their distribution is limited. Films that are classified RC are also strictly controlled and cannot be shown in cinemas, made available for hire or sale on DVD or video. Therefore there is no requirement for specific offences for reading books classified RC or viewing RC films.

(10)   The material of aborted foetuses that ACMA assessed as potential prohibited content was sent to the Classification Board for their determination and deemed to be R18+. Under the Online Content Scheme, this material is prohibited content because it was not behind a restricted access scheme. As this material is not RC content, it would not be subject to mandatory filtering.

(11)   The Peaceful Pill has been classified as RC material on the basis that it instructs in the commission of a crime. It would therefore be included in the mandatory filtering of RC material under the Government’s proposal.

(12)   Lists of URLs that lead to RC content such as child sexual abuse, bestiality, rape and sexual violence will be included in the mandatory filtering of RC material under the Government’s proposal.

(13)   Computer games that exceed an MA15+ rating are deemed to be RC content as there is no R18+ or X18+ rating. RC content will be included in the mandatory filtering of RC content under the Government’s proposal. Issues relating to the classification of computer games fall within the Attorney-General’s portfolio.

(14)   The Government is considering a range of measures to increase the security of any list of URLs of prohibited content that may be used for the purposes of implementing its ISP filtering policy.

(15)   The Government continues to consult on an on-going basis with officials, community and industry bodies in overseas jurisdictions on the full range of cyber-safety issues, including ISP filtering and the maintenance of blacklists used by ISPs in many overseas jurisdictions for filtering purposes.