Legislation supporting Labor’s mandatory Internet filtering project may not hit parliament until mid-2013, according to advice provided to the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, by his department — a timeframe which may make it an issue at the next election.
The timing was outlined in briefing documents provided by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) to Conroy, outlining the current state of affairs and the action he needs to take on significant matters, following the Federal Election.
In the documents, DBCDE noted that the Government had postponed the legislation while a review of the Refused Classification category of content (which the filter is intended to block) was carried out by the Minister for Home Affairs for the consideration of federal and state Attorneys-General.
The attorneys-general are slated to meet this month to confirm the review — and then, DBCDE noted, they would be likely to consider the scope of methodology of the review in March 2011, with recommendations to then be presented back to the attorneys-general in early 2012.
“It may then take [the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General] a number of meetings before it reaches consensus on any recommendations from the review,” wrote the department. “This suggests legislation for mandatory filtering may not be able to be introduced into Parliament before the middle of 2013.”
In mid-October, a departmental official told a Senate Estimates Committee hearing in Canberra that DBCDE was not working directly on the filter project.
“At this stage, the work is all elsewhere,” they said. However, in the briefing document, the department noted there were actually several initiatives currently ongoing regarding the filter.
The department noted it would work actively with the Internet Industry Association and the Australian Communications and Media Authority on a new industry code to support voluntary filtering of child abuse material — which ISPs like Telstra, Primus and Optus have already pledged to implement.
Although it’s unclear whether it’s actively working on the matter, DBCDE discussed the issue of how reviews could be carried out by an independent expert on the processes for compiling the voluntary list — including legislation required to provide that expert with immunity from criminal proceedings for doing their job checking the list — as well as being given standing to seek review of classification decisions.
In addition, the briefing documents said DBCDE had been allocated $840,000 in funding over the next three years to develop a software tool to assist small and medium ISPs to meet their mandatory filtering obligations.
Money has also been allocated to the Attorney-General’s Department — $1.5 million in 2010/11, $1.8 million in 2011/12 and $1.4 million “ongoing” to undertake a review of ACMA’s decision’s to find an internet address to be refused classification. And $8 million has been allocated to encourage ISPs to offer customers filtering of additional material — such as general pornography and gambling sites if a customer wanted such a service.