Extract from:

Speech by Hon. Carolyn Pickes, Leader of the Opposition


Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 6 December 2000. Page 836.)

The Hon. CAROLYN PICKLES (Leader of the Opposition):

The opposition supports the second reading, but merely to try to progress this bill to a select committee. This bill has generated much controversy in the community and in the industry. From the moment this bill was tabled I and many of my colleagues have been inundated with letters of opposition and concern. The interesting thing was that many of these letters were from interstate, and obviously, because of the nature of the bill, many were by way of email.

I hope that this bill does successfully progress to a select committee, but I will outline briefly the intentions and aims of the bill.

[...snipped section on aspects of bill re offline material...
Full text of speech available by typing "classification" into search at http://www.parliament.sa.gov.au:8080/LC-hansard.htm#menu then selecting 30 May 2001]

The second aspect of the bill proposes a model for online content regulation that complements the 1999 amendment to the federal Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Basically the bill seeks to make illegal online material that is illegal offline. I believe that it is that aspect of the bill that is causing controversy. Can the Attorney advise whether any other states have introduced similar legislation as is proposed in this bill?

It would seem that the intention of this legislation is worthy; however, the means by which the bill proposes to deal with the issues is problematic. That portion of the bill is further complicated for members of the opposition as some aspects represent a conscience vote. However, it is the fundamentals of the legislation that pose the greatest concern for the opposition at this stage. Provisions of the bill refer to objectionable matter which consists of online computer games or films which would be classified X or RC. That may include child pornography but it depends on what is termed `objectionable'.

Secondly, reference is also made to matters unsuitable for minors, which is material classified R and may be available to adults on a restricted access basis. As the Attorney reports, the provisions in this section of the bill intend to catch the content provider, not the internet service provider or the content host. However, I believe that that is where there is some cause for concern and clarification is required.

From my understanding of the issues, the concerns regard the practicality of the legislation's implementation. For instance, although the legislation intends to catch the content provider, the bill has enormous ramifications for those in the middle, like the internet service providers. For instance, it has been put to me that there is no practical cost effective means by which a classification can be obtained for internet content prior to its being provided online. I understand that the Office of Film and Literature Classification has not provided classification fees for internet contents. I ask the Attorney whether that is correct.

If unsatisfactory legislation is implemented without adequately addressing these practical concerns, the effect will be to drive these online businesses interstate or overseas, which defeats the legislation. Even the Attorney acknowledges that this bill cannot be a complete solution to the problem of offensive or illegal internet content, much of which is made available from outside South Australia, and that begs the question: why are we trying to do this? As this is a relatively new area of the law, or one that is certainly new for this parliament, I propose that the bill would benefit from the careful scrutiny of a select committee. I hope that the select committee will help distil the issues for further public consideration.

In a contribution from a constituent in relation to this bill, some thoughts were put up which I would like to include in my speech because I think that they are sensible suggestions. The document states:

Some suggested means of improving the scheme proposed by the Bill follow. These are general and preliminary suggestions only, and I do not put forward a solution to the issues, but only to make the point that other approaches are available that may not have been canvassed due to the lack of industry consultation.

That has been an overlying theme, that there has been no industry consultation. My constituent suggests that the methods could be to:

- Introduce a cost-effective `pre-vetting' process, allowing organisations to obtain a ruling as to the classification of material before providing it online.

- Encourage the use of technology- based solutions, such as content-filtering software packages that block inappropriate sites to minors at the user's end.

- Look at the R classification and query whether it is sufficiently fine-grained to allow for freedom of speech while also protecting minors from inappropriate material; when discussion of divorce and suicide are lumped in the same category as sex, swearing and violence, one would wonder whether these categories are appropriate.

- Query whether a film classification scheme is appropriate for internet content and, if so, how the anomalies caused by deeming internet content to be a film can be addressed.

- Greater industry education as to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate content and advertising to promote South Australia as a place to do business in relation to the internet are other strategies that could be pursued.

This bill is out of step with the realities of the internet. It will penalise legitimate local content providers and ISPs while having little effect on the real offenders, who may get around the bill with ease. The bill's adverse impact should not be underestimated. Given this, and that it is unlikely to provide any short or even medium term benefits to the community, I believe that its passage should be delayed and its regulatory model re-assessed and, if possible, improved. This is why we have suggested that a select committee be established. I put on record questions I would like the Attorney to answer when he responds to the second reading debate. My questions are:

1. What assessment has been made of the economic impact of this bill on the South Australia IT&C industry?

2. What assessment has been made of the actual practical benefits of the proposed legislation?

3. What alternative methods and models of regulating this content have been examined?

4. What assessment has been made of the volume of information that will no longer be available on the internet if this bill is passed?

I urge honourable members to consider this bill very carefully and adopt the opposition's suggestion that it be referred to a select committee for further fine tuning. We have heard in a previous contribution that a delay sometimes makes quite substantial improvements to legislation. I believe that a select committee is the best mechanism to do that. Labor Party members are not keen to progress this bill beyond a select committee because of the reasons expressed in my second reading contribution, and many others. It is felt that it is such a complicated and complex issue with many implications that have not been looked at carefully by the government.

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS secured the adjournment of the debate."

Debate continued 5 June 2001...