Some notes from the Senate Intrnet hearing

Tom Worthington (
Thu, 8 May 1997 08:13:31 +1000

I wrote Sun, 04 May 1997 10:08:20 in "ACS at Internet Regulation Senate
hearing, Mon 5 May, Canberra":

>The Australian Computer Society will be appearing before a Senate
>Committee on the issue of Internet content regulation at 11.15 am Monday...
>...I will be taking notes for a report to members...

Overall the day was useful, but frustrating and disappointing. It is as if
the committee has forgotten much of what the ACS and others have explained
over the previous years and hearings about the Internet. While many
Australians have become used to using a data network as a normal part of
every-day life, our politicians appear stuck in some sort of Parliamentary
time-warp. They listened and asked many useful questions, but this is second
hand knowledge, far less useful than experience. Will we have to go thought
all this yet again in a few months time?

The hearing started at 9:40am:

>* 9.30 - 11.00 Department of Communications and the Arts &
>Attorney General's Department

DOCA & AGs read their written submission. Bit dull, but content okay and in
a similar spirit to the ACS submission: differences between Internet and
broadcasting, need for international cooperation. Deputy PM going to an OECD
council later this month.

General concerns from committee appeared to be: when there would be firmer
proposals from Government which could be looked at; extent has the wider
community, not just the IT industry been consulted; relevance of US
experience; will codes of practice be compulsory?; will codes of practice
solve "the problem"?; national model needed for state legislation?; states
waiting for commonwealth lead?; service v content providers.

What emerged was mention of an exposure draft by spring sittings of federal
parliament. Then consultation with states. The Government model appears to
be toying with the idea of federal regulation of ISPs and state regulation
of "content providers". However, they appear to understand the difficulties
in this model.

The bureaucrats lost points by having to admit none of them were IT experts
and could not answer any technical questions about the Internet. However,
they did quite a good job of answering the technical questions anyway.

>* 11.15-12.00 Australian Computer Society &
>Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA)
>* 12.30-1.00 WA Internet Association (WAIA)

Schedule was ammended to have us all together. AIIA didn't say much. WAIA
gave an eloquent explanation of the WA situation, from a legalistic point of

Philip Argy went head-to-head with Senator Harradine on issues of how we
could be arguing for no censorship of the Internet, but still proposing
controls and protection of minors. Senator Stott-Despoja asked helpful
questions in an attempt to help get the message across to the other senators.

>* 12.00-12.30 EdNA

Discussion of EdNA's education role and how quality control is done on
content. Unfortunately the concept that EdNA is a reference list to
educationally useful sites and does not contain the content, did not get
across. They were asked how EdNA was going to filter material which it
relayed from the rest of the Internet, which misunderstands the way the web

>* 1.30 pm ABA (Not confirmed).

ABA came in for the harshest treatment of the day from the committee, with
what was more an interrogation than questioning. At one point the ABA
representatives were asked to answer a complex question "YES" or "NO". They
coped with it as best they could, as public servants who have to remain polite.

The ABA appears to be proposing that in general only adults can have
Internet accounts. ABA is currently limited in what it can do because it
doesn't have legislative cover. They would then set up a task force, with
industry representation, issue a position paper. Also issue of Australian
content is available overseas and overseas here. Participating in EC, OECD &
UNESCO processes for labeling schemes. ABA wasn't keen to operate a hot line.

Senator Harradine's agrement was that material which could not be legally
broadcast on TV should not be available on the Internet. The ABA slipped out
by putting it on notice and that they would have to fit with the legal

Senator Tierney asked what happened if the industry based regulator got a
complaint related to illegal material would it be referred to the police.
The situation as I see it would be like a football tribunal: minor matters
are dealt will internally. If one player punches another, this may be
technically illegal but is not dealt with by the police. If a player stabs
another with a knife probably would be referred the police. It was a good
answer, but I wasn't the one on the stand at the time, so didn't get to give it.

See also:

* Media release: <URL:>
* Submission: <URL:>
* Previous ACS submission: <URL:>
* ACS submission to Senate seminar:
* Transcript of Senate seminar:

Tom Worthington <> President, Australian Computer
Society, GPO Box 446, Canberra ACT 2601
Fax: +61 6 2496419
Senate Internet Submission <URL:>