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COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CONTENT SERVICES) BILL 2007

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (2.06 p.m.)—This matter has been of interest to a number of government members for a substantial time. That interest has been raised by a series of events, particularly in the area of film and literature. As indicated by the member for Grayndler, as the development of new technologies has progressed there has been an increasing concern to examine the impact of internet gaming and other broadcast factors that allow people to participate, sometimes unwillingly, in programs they would not choose to involve themselves in or in which children get caught up in processes which can lead to the satisfaction of paedophiles or to violence.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007 has been introduced by the government to deal with a range of media-rich services, including broadcasting, internet and telephone connections. I think the whole community realises that, with the introduction of the 3G environment, over our telephones we can get practically anything from anywhere in the world. Of course, the push of advertising and of people who want to push people into programs where there is a payment process is understood. At the same time, for those who are under age and for those who are susceptible to the blandishments of such programs, there is good reason why we should take care in this area.

The Attorney-General has scope to deal with material that is violent, damaging to individuals or sexually explicit under the film and television framework and in the print media as well. However, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and the broadcast and internet environment have not been brought under a consistent approach. One of the highlights of pointing out to members of the government the need for a consistent approach to both the communications and the film and literature areas is the Channel 10 program Big Brother—in particular, Big Brother Uncut, in which there were a couple of segments which were obnoxious and frowned upon and really disliked by any sensible person. In a letter to my colleague the member for Makin, Channel 10 admitted:

TEN is aware that the public is concerned about how housemates are treated. We accept ACMA’s decision that episodes of Big Brother Uncut 2005 contained sexually demeaning references to women, and that this was a significant factor in ACMA’s breach finding. We are determined not to repeat this mistake in 2006.

In July 2005, TEN commissioned two experts in the treatment of women and sexual harassment to independently review last year’s Big Brother production processes. Their report, ‘Gender, Sex and Ethics in the Big Brother House’, found that while existing production safeguards were generally good, there was room for improvement.

I say hear, hear to that. I think there is a lot of room for improvement in that program. I find it obnoxious in many areas. The people on it behave towards each other in a bad manner. I think Channel 10 themselves admitted that something like 76,000 children watch that program—even though it is quite late at night. The letter continued:

The report made a number of constructive recommendations for improving awareness of gender and sexual harassment issues amongst both housemates and production crew. TEN and ESS have implemented each of these recommendations, including improved guidelines for monitoring the house to identify potentially risky situations and intervene as necessary; providing housemates and production crew with more extensive education on sexual and gender harassment; and amending the Housemate rules to specifically ban sexual or gender harassment.

That is one area that came to the attention of the House, and there was a lot of discussion here. I know that the Prime Minister stated that Channel 10 ought to take a good look at themselves and amend their program—and that eventually happened. But we realised at that point that there were no real guidelines for television programs except a code of conduct which was agreed among people—and ACMA found that the code of conduct was breached.

This legislation brings into a more cohesive framework and makes more consistent the guidelines applying to film and television and literature, which are administered by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, under the Attorney-General, and those areas that are administrated by the minister for communications. This legislation gives effect to the government’s commitment to extend the current safeguards that apply by putting in place new measures to protect consumers from inappropriate or harmful material on convergent devices such as 3G mobile phones and through subscription internet portals—where people have the whole wide world and anybody can bombard a home with any material whatsoever.

We should look not only at the harassment and violence aspects and the encouragement to do violence but also at the dangerous terrorism factors and the construction of bombs, harmful instruments and weapons. Something every Australian should be fearful of is that somebody, out of a sense of adventurism, could gain access to material about weapons, bomb making and harmful practices. Reports that have been made available to the parliament claim that some of the mass shootings in the United States were in fact generated by programs that the young men had been watching for protracted periods which focus on nothing but an obsession with the killing of other human beings. They put this into practice by going into their schools and taking it out on their schoolmates, their teachers and the community. So there has to be a line drawn somewhere. Generally I would say that this parliament considers that adults should be free to make up their own minds, but where that freedom impacts on others who are not capable of making sensible decisions then I think we need to consider where the line is drawn—and do that very carefully.

I have before me some statements about the Big Brother show and also about how that program was dealt with. It is really interesting that, in June 2006, Channel 10 finally admitted that 76,000 children could be watching the adults only version of Big Brother during the week. I do not think that is the sort of program I want my kids to watch. If it was on at 7.30 pm I would be tearing the place down, but it should not be on at any time when that many children may be watching. Libertarians and others fail to recognise that most kids watch television unsupervised. I think the figures show that 78 per cent of kids watch television unsupervised. Parents think a program is safe, they put the television on and they let their kid watch it. Even more than that, children frequently have television sets in their own rooms, so parents do not know what is being watched. This bill is a move towards regulating exactly what is going over the airwaves on the internet, telephone and other similar electronic means of communication, because it can become absolutely open-ended with no control, no balance and no sense of what is reasonable for young people to watch.

The measures relating to the /files/includes/content.css of Big Brother lead me to look at the fact that we have telephones that are capable of taking photographs and transmitting them. According to a recent survey:

One in four people used their mobile phones to dial up a news, weather or other information report in the past year but research also suggests that /files/includes/content.css services will need to be subsidised by advertising to be cheap enough for mass appeal.

So there is a wide user pool of people wanting to use their mobile phones for information.

This legislation currently before the House was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday, 11 May, as the federal government announcing and introducing laws to make it harder for children to access adult /files/includes/content.css on the internet and via mobile phones. What this legislation is really introducing is a law that says that companies providing /files/includes/content.css that is classified as restricted 18+ and MA 15+ will need to verify the age of their customers. X-rated /files/includes/content.css is banned over those services—and so it should be. The move follows the Big Brother incident—there is no doubt about that—and the live footage of that show that was broadcast. The Herald refers to that.

There was a report late last year in the HeraldSun about violent video games being on the rise. It said:

Violent video games are hitting Australian shelves in record numbers ...

The Office of Film and Literature Classification review board has slapped MA 15+ tags on 69 computer games so far this year, compared with just 20 last year.

In the article, Dr Joe Tucci said that the rise in violent video games is harmful to youth. He also said:

We are living in a world where young people are increasingly exposed to violence, whether that be real or virtual violence ... We know it is having an impact on children’s behavioural problems, the rates of depression and aggression. We know that these violent MA 15+ games are getting into the hands of younger children through older siblings and friends, and they are being introduced to concepts well beyond their developmental capacity.

The article went on to say:

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway warned parents to keep children away from violent games.

“There is enough anecdotal evidence available linking violence among young people to the violence they are faced with in these games,” she said.

That is true. Those games can be played on a PlayStation, a personal computer or over the internet. There are a great number of people using the internet to play games which could be violent and damaging to young people.

A former judge warned the government earlier this week that we need to be careful about these laws in regard to bullying. He said that bullying can occur in the cyberworld just as much as it can occur face to face. Mr Alastair Nicholson, a former Chief Justice of the Family Court, said in his address to the National Coalition Against Bullying:

The law has not really caught up with problems that have come about as a result of the huge expansion in the use of SMS (text messaging), email and digital photographs ... It’s not going to go away and they’re certainly going to have problems in the Children’s Court with it.

His comments came ahead of a two-day ‘Cyberian’ internet and technology safety symposium at the Camberwell Grammar School. This legislation, according to Mr Nicholson, who is a very well known judge, is not adequate with regard to cyber-bullying.

This legislation is a big step ahead. Yet, on the other hand, there are reports of people saying that they are mature enough to handle anything and that they do not care what comes over the internet. One commentator, Ross Fitzgerald, said in the Australian on Monday, 24 April that he is pleased that some of George Bush’s attempts to restrict access to material have been overturned in court.

Even though to some this legislation appears not to go as far as they would like it to, the minister said on Thursday, 17 May, that:

The Internet can make a positive contribution to the way our children learn, develop and are supported ...

However, left in limbo without a proper legislative framework, technology and educational support, the Internet (and other emerging technologies) pose a genuine risk to society’s most vulnerable citizens; our children and young people.

That certainly is the case, because chatrooms, the web /files/includes/content.css of some sites, the social networking that takes place and the way in which people can enter into discussions and distract participants into a one-to-one relationship which is absolutely unhealthy are only recently coming to the attention of the government. The minister went on to say:

... SMS and MMS communications, instant messenger and emails and now, peer-to-peer networks, have all challenged the ways we go about protecting our children.

So this legislation protecting our children is not just a matter of setting something and then forgetting about it; it has got to be multifaceted and ongoing in making continual changes. The minister in her speech said:

Macabre websites are targeting vulnerable young people and encouraging them to commit suicide (and providing detailed information of how to do it)—often live online, pro-anorexia sites are setting up online support networks for sick girls to join ‘starvation clubs’—

would you believe—

and paedophiles are proving adept at exploiting new and emerging technology, now including Skype, to prey on children.

The technology is moving ahead at an amazing pace and the government has moved to warn parents by providing free, downloadable software that parents can apply to their home computers to help assist their families make better decisions.

This legislation does ban certain types of products over the internet and through telephone services. This legislation sets very definite limits on R18+ and MA15+ material which must be met by the provider and a process of verification must be entered into. If the Australian Communications and Media Authority—ACMA—is advised that there have been transgressions, the fines are extremely onerous and substantial. This is good legislation introduced by a government which is concerned for our relationships with our children and their mental and physical safety.

There are guidelines for online /files/includes/content.css. There is an online child protection squad provided by the Australian Federal Police. This new online child protection squad within the AFP goes right to the centre of websites and broadcasting over the internet to establish precisely what is going on. There is an online child sex exploitation team. There have been child pornography arrests, with even a US offender being been brought to book through the activities of the AFP. There are tough Criminal Code provisions in this act and an extension of the Criminal Code to bullying.

The rapid advances in technology are being dealt with by a government that is aware of the need to protect the health of our young people and aware of the way in which the convergence of communications can make it so easy for people to stray into areas where they can become lost and perhaps in fact lose their lives.

The minister’s explanation of this legislation is particularly useful, but at the end of the day it is everybody’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of teachers, it is the responsibility of parents and it is the responsibility of government as well to provide a framework where children in particular can be protected. There are substantial laws to uphold the decisions that are going through the parliament today. I am pleased to hear that the Australian Labor Party’s outlook is similar to our own and they will not be opposing this legislation. I, too, look forward to the report of the Senate committee which will examine this matter and trust that they will adopt high standards for the use of the internet, SMS and other types of communications. (Time expired)

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 23rd May 2007
Release Date: 23 May 2007

 
 




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