History of Internet Regulatory
Proposals/Activity in Australia
Last Updated: January 2000
This page contains historical information as at January 2000. More recent information is available on EFA's Internet Censorship in Australia page.
- Commonwealth Internet Censorship regime commences, January 2000
- Commonwealth Legislation passed, June 1999
- The Senate Committee Inquiry, January 1998
- The Attorneys-General meeting, December 1997
- The DoCA Framework, 1997
- The Senate Committee Inquiry, 1997
- The ABA Inquiry, 1996
- The Senate Committee Investigation, 1995
- The DCA Consultation Paper, 1995
- The BBS Task Force, 1994
Internet Censorship regime commences
The Commonwealth Government's Internet Censorship legislation, passed in June 1999 as an amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act, came into force on 1 January 2000.
Commonwealth Legislation Passed
The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston introduced legislation in the Senate on 21 April 1999 with the intention of putting in place a censorship regime for the Internet, despite earlier assurances that an exposure draft would be released for public comment. The legislation was rushed through the Senate and passed on 26 May, following a rushed Senate inquiry which totally ignored overwhelming industry and user opposition. Debate on the Bill commenced in the House of Representatives on 21 June, and the Bill was passed by the House along party lines on 30 June 1999. It came into effect on 1 January 2000.
The original Bill's provisions included:
- A complaints mechanism for offensive material
- X-rated material on Australian sites, or R-rated material without adult verification, to be taken down by ISPs, under threat of massive fines
- Overseas sites to be blocked by ISPs if X-rated
In response to the government proposals, EFA organised public rallies around the country to bring public attention to the issue.
Another Senate Committee Inquiry
The newly constituted Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies began its first inquiry entitled Self Regulation in the Information and Communication Industries, a wide-ranging inquiry which includes content regulation in its sights. This commitee has a similar core membership to the now disbanded Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies.
EFA lodged a submission to the inquiry with the committee expected to report in June 1998. No report has been tabled.
The Attorneys-General Meeting
The meeting of State and Commonwealth Attorneys-General (SCAG) in Hobart on 12th December discussed implementing tough new laws which would make ISPs responsible for Internet content. They also claim to have resolved jurisdictional problems that have plagued the debate so far. In the words of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Press Release of 12th December
"the effect of the provisions will be to extend criminal liability beyond the complicity offences, which require some degree of active participation, to a new offence of knowingly, though passively, allowing another person to commit an offence."
EFA issued a
Media Release strongly critical of these
The DoCA Framework
On 15th July 1997, the Minister for Communications and the Arts (Senator Alston) and the Attorney-General (Mr. Williams) released a regulatory proposal for Internet Regulation. The proposal contained a number of serious problems in regard to content regulation and would force ISPs to become censors. For details of the proposal, see Principles for a Regulatory Framework for On-line Services in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. See also the accompanying media release.
EFA's response to the government's proposals was submitted on 10th August 1997. EFA also organised a meeting in Sydney in August 1997 between a number of industry organisations together with ABA and DoCA officials in order to press home the concerns.
The full text of all submissions to the DoCA proposals are now
The 1997 Senate Committee Inquiry
On 26th February 1997, the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies announced that it would conduct Part 3 of an enquiry into Computer On-Line Services. The Terms of Reference included blocking software, current regulatory mechanisms, and industry Codes of Practice. The Committee conducted two public hearings, on 30th April in Brisbane and 5th May in Canberra. EFA was invited to present its viewpoint and support the EFA submission to the Committee at the Brisbane hearing. The Committee released its Part 3 report on 26th June 1997. The Committee split on the recommendations with minority reports being issued by the Labor and Democrat Senators. The majority report recommended a draconian and unworkable censorship regime for the Internet in Australia. The transcripts of the Committee's two public hearings are now available in PDF format.
The ABA Report
In December 1995, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), on the direction of the the Minister for Communications, released an Issues Paper on the Investigation into the Content of On-Line Services calling for submissions by mid-February 1996. EFA's submission is available but the official ABA page containing the full 200 submissions appears to be no longer available on the ABA website.
The ABA released its report entitled Investigation into the Content of On-line Services in July 1996, proposing a self-regulatory regime based on content rating schemes, and supported by industry codes of practice. The report also strongly endorsed the PICS standard as a means of controlling access to on-line material. Amendments to the Broadcasting Act were foreshadowed in order to extend ABA's charter to include Internet regulation responsibilies.
In October 1996, EFA submitted a detailed response to the ABA report.
The main criticisms in EFA's response were:
- EFA opposes the use of PICS as a compulsory standard for content labelling.
- The use of Industry "codes of practice" as a means of forcing compliance with censorship is unworkable.
- Voluntary labelling and codes of practice are under development, and further industry and public consultation is necessary before State and Commonwealth governments should proceed to legislation.
The 1995 Senate Committee Investigation
In September 1995 it was announced that the the Senate Select Committee on Community Standards would conduct an investigation into the content of on-line services. Public submissions were invited and the Committee produced the Report on Regulation of Computer On-Line Services. The Recommendations of the Committee betrayed some confused notions of the nature of on-line systems and a misunderstanding of the role of cryptography. It recommended that R-rated material be banned from "transmission" and that all on-line material be classified at source.
The DCA Consultation Paper
The Department of Communications and the Arts (DCA) released the Consultation Paper on the Regulation of On-Line Information Services seeking comment by 1st September 1995. EFA submitted a response to the paper but no report was ever produced by the government as a result of this investigation.
The BBS Task Force
The Department of Communications and the Arts sought submissions to the BBS Task Force in August 1994 and EFA submitted a joint response with ACS to this investigation. After considering the submissions, the government produced the Report on the Regulation of Computer Bulletin Board Systems in November 1994.