April 1st 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The lessons of Cyclone Larry

EDITORIAL: Elizabeth and the future of the monarchy

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Beazley - federal Labor's last best hope?

INTERNET: Labor's mandatory filtering pledge

NATIONAL SECURITY: When a search warrant becomes a death warrant

ENERGY: U.S. investors head for ethanol industry

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Emperor's new clothes / Tokenism to vandalism / West Papua - here come the people smugglers / heaven help the working man

CHARTER OF RIGHTS: Sneaking through a radical agenda

VICTORIA: School textbook vilifies Christianity

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Liberal debacle in SA election

TASMANIA: Greens lose out in Tasmanian poll

AVIAN FLU: China obstructs fight against flu pandemic

OPINION: What is behind the rise of European anti-Semitism?

Not anti-capitalist (letter)

Kernot affair the start of the Democrats' rot (letter)

Forces of evil at work (letter)

Disturbance in the force (letter)

CINEMA: Brokeback Mountain - a case of sour grapes


BOOKS: THE NARNIAN: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, by Alan Jacobs

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Labor's mandatory filtering pledge

by Gabrielle Walsh

News Weekly, April 1, 2006
Australian youngsters can readily access inappropriate material from the internet at schools, public libraries and home.

Internet pornography would be blocked before reaching household computers under a future Labor Government, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has pledged.

At present, two-thirds of Australian households lack internet filters, and youngsters are increasingly being exposed to inappropriate material.

Mr Beazley announced on March 21: "Under Labor, all internet service providers (ISPs) will be required to offer a filtered 'clean feed' internet service to all households, and to schools and other public internet points accessible by kids."

"Labor's 'clean feed' system," said Mr Beazley, "would prevent users from accessing any content that has been identified as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, including sites containing child pornography, acts of extreme violence or cruelty, and X-rated material."


Liberal Senator Guy Barnett of Tasmania has observed: "There is no legal obligation on public libraries to use filtering to prevent children accessing pornography." (The Age, Melbourne, December 8, 2005).

A national survey recently conducted by the Australian Family Association (AFA) has found that 98 per cent of computers in Australian public libraries have no content filters, and that children and adults can freely download inappropriate material, including pornography and incitements to commit acts of terrorism.

A recent survey of Victorian government schools revealed that many schools used only low-grade filtering and that, at most of them, many students were able to get around the filters.

There is a huge human cost associated with today's greater availability of pornography.

In Victoria, approximately 12 per cent of males charged with accessing child pornography are minors, aged 15-17. Nine out of 76 offenders are teenagers accessing the material at home or at school. Authorities find it especially hard to track young offenders who swap material and do not use credit cards.

Police in NSW report being inundated with calls from parents who are afraid that their teenage children are being accosted online by sexual predators.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported: "Every tier of police law enforcement, as well as non-government intelligence agencies and internet watchdogs, are now receiving reports about adults attempting to groom children in chat rooms."

NSW Police Child Protection and Sex Crimes Commander, Detective Superintendent Helen Begg, speaking after a recent week-long national internet crime forum in Melbourne, said:

"There have been calls from parents, both in NSW and nationally, about children who were asked to physically meet someone."

She warned: "Children are becoming more technologically savvy and, for a parent, it's very hard to keep up. Mums and dads want to stay on top of who their children are chatting to." (SMH, February 26, 2006).

The AFA is currently campaigning for mandatory filtering of inappropriate and pornographic material via the internet generally but specifically in public libraries, child-care centres, schools and all other settings in which children have access to the internet. This is so that parents can be assured that all access to material via the internet is safe and appropriate for children.

In November last year, 62 members of the federal Coalition signed a letter to the Prime Minister John Howard calling for a ban on access to pornographic, violent and other inappropriate material via the internet.

Federal Labor member for Holt, Victoria, Anthony Byrne, late last year addressed the House of Representatives on the urgent need to legislate for mandatory filtering in public libraries and child-care centres.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has criticised the Federal Government for failing to tackle the issue, saying:

"John Howard has had 10 long years to address these concerns but instead he just defends a failing system of regulation which doesn't do enough, by advising parents to 'do it themselves' with internet filter software.

"The reality is that cost and poor computer literacy mean almost two-thirds of parents don't have internet filters on their family computers."

But the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, has claimed that Labor's plan for mandatory filtering at the ISP level would "only result in slowing down the internet for every Australian without effectively protecting children from inappropriate and offensive content".

Mr Beazley, however, disputes this, saying: "Last year a Government report confirmed that the technology to implement mandatory filtering by ISPs is feasible and won't slow the internet down."

The AFA has estimated that national mandatory filtering at the internet service provider (ISP) level would cost the user just $10 in set-up costs and $7.33 in annual fees.

The fairest scheme would be for the Government to invest the initial $45 million in the interests of Australia's children and then administer a levy scheme to ensure that the annual maintenance cost of $33 million is shared equitably. Home filtering packages such as Net Nanny are too easily circumvented.

The internet has so many positive applications, but it is now time to address some of the harmful and negative effects.

  • Gabrielle Walsh is national secretary of the Australian Family Association.

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