NSW Committee recommends repeal of NSW Net censor Act

Last Updated: 9 June 2002

The NSW Standing Committee on Social Issues has completed its six month inquiry into proposed NSW Internet censorship laws and recommended the relevant provisions of the NSW Act be repealed. Recommendation 2 of the Committee's Report dated 6 June 2002 states:
"The Committee recommends that Schedule 2 of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Amendment Act 2001 be repealed."

(Note: The above Act is not currently enforceable. It has not been proclaimed and an unproclaimed Act is not the law.)

The Committee's Report (67 pages plus Appendices) includes 3 formal Findings and 5 Recommendations and is available online (PDF 183 Kb). It is a commendable report - comprehensive, well researched and clearly written.

It is evident the Committee members and staff spent a considerable amount of time and effort considering the policy objectives, the nature of the Internet and relevant issues. Unlike other Australian Parliamentary Committees that have inquired into Internet censorship, this Committee obviously "gets it" - they understand that the Internet is not like television and is not a movie.

The Committee said that "the regulatory scheme proposed...does not strike the right balance between the need to protect children and the right of adults to communicate freely" (p.10), "is neither effective in meeting the policy objectives of the Act nor enforceable without the allocation of an unrealistically high level of resources" (p.12) and "would be likely to restrict law-abiding content providers while doing little to deter those with malicious motives" (p.9). The Committee's formal findings are as follows:

Finding 1
The Committee finds that:

  • the proposed model for regulation of on-line content contained in Schedule 2 of the Act could have a significant effect on the legitimate use of the Internet and may affect the fair reporting of news and current affairs,
  • the major negative social impact of the on-line regulatory regime established by the Act is that legitimate use of the Internet by residents of NSW may be deterred,
  • the provisions contained in Schedule 2 may have the unintended consequence of criminalising a wide range of academic or other material which would be legal to publish off-line, and
  • Schedule 2 is more likely to have an impact on non-commercial providers of Internet content than commercial providers. This may restrict the range of material that is available on the Internet.

Finding 2
The Committee finds that:

  • the on-line regulatory regime established by Schedule 2 of the Act will not meet the policy objectives of deterring the making available of objectionable matter and protecting minors from unsuitable material in any practicable sense, and
  • the proposed regulatory model is neither effective in meeting the policy objectives of the Act nor enforceable without the allocation of an unrealistically high level of resources.

Finding 3
The Committee finds that:

  • a far better way of achieving the policy objectives of the Act would be to use a combination of
    (a) provisions in the Crimes Act 1900 for prosecuting suppliers of seriously offensive content,
    (b) the complaints/take-down notices system established by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Services Act 1992 for removing less serious content,
    (c) the voluntary use of appropriate filters, and
    (d) increased efforts to provide education and advice to the community and parents about the safe use of the Internet both for minors and adults.

The Committee has not recommended there be no censorship of Internet content, but that censorship laws be directed to preventing distribution of "highly dangerous or offensive" material such as child pornography, not restricting adults' freedom to communicate on the broad range of other topics that the proposed law would catch (e.g. material that would classified "R"). The Committee noted that the NSW Crimes Act already deals with publication of child pornography online and if there are any doubts/issues as to effective application of the Crimes Act to online content, that Act should be reviewed and amended rather than introducing another law specific to the Internet.

EFA thanks all those who actively supported and assisted EFA's campaign against the NSW Bill. It now remains to be seen whether the NSW Government will support the Committee's recommendations.

In related news, on 4 June 2002, the South Australian Attorney-General re-introduced a Net censorship Bill into SA Parliament. A prior version of the SA Bill was identical to the NSW Bill, and the latest version is the same except for two very minor amendments. See EFA's web page about the SA Bill for more detail. EFA suggests concerned persons commence contacting the SA A-AG and their local member of SA Parliament urging them to read the NSW Committtee's report and re-consider the proposed SA law in light thereof.