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Introduction to Majority Report


chapter 1

introduction

On 25 March 1999 the Senate resolved to re-establish the Select
Committee on Information Technologies in the 39th Parliament, having
originally established it in the previous Parliament on 27 August 1997. 
The Senate gave the Committee the following terms of reference:

evaluate the development of self-regulatory codes in the information
industries;

monitor the personal, social and economic impact of continuing
technological change created by industries and services utilising
information technologies;

examine the Government's decision to establish a regulatory framework
relating to illegal or offensive material published and transmitted
through online services such as the Internet; and

inquire into and report on such other matters as may be referred to it
by the Senate.

The Government decision referred to in term of reference (c) was the
announcement on 19 March 1999 by Senator the Hon Richard Alston,
Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, that
the Government would introduce stronger measures to protect Australian
citizens, especially children, against illegal or offensive material on
the Internet.

At its first meeting on 31 March the Committee agreed that the
examination of this matter was of the highest priority and it resolved
to immediately seek public comment on the Minister's announcement. 
Advertisements were placed in the national print media on 3 and 6šApril
seeking submissions from interested individuals and organisations by 30
April.

On 21 April, however, the Government introduced the Broadcasting
Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999 (the Bill) accompanied by
a comprehensive Explanatory Memorandum and Second Reading Speech into
the Senate.  Two days later, the Senate referred the Bill to the
Committee for inquiry and report by 11 May 1999.

The Committee resolved that, to meet the Senate's reporting requirement,
it would be necessary for it to embark on a comprehensive program of
public hearings prior to the date it had set for submissions.
Fortunately, the Committee received several submissions in advance of
the 30 April deadline and they were available to assist the Committee's
deliberations at its hearings.  Advisory material was also posted
immediately on the Committee's web page and, as might be expected,
details of the Committee's revised plans quickly became widely known in
the Internet and general community.

The Committee finally received 104 submissions, details of which are
shown in Appendix 1.  The Committee wishes to express its gratitude to
all persons and representatives of community and industry groups who
made a contribution to its inquiry by presenting a submission.

It should be noted that the authors of several submissions, in pursuit
of a desire to inform the Committee about some of the more offensive
material available online, included either copies of the actual material
that they had downloaded from the Internet or identified a potential
source.  Some of the material provided included RC- or X-equivalent
photographs, a bomb-making recipe, and allegedly paedophile and racial
vilification site address details.  While the point being made by the
sender was strengthened by the inclusion of the material in question,
the Committee resolved that it was not appropriate for such material to
be included in published volumes of submissions.  Some material was,
accordingly, excised from submissions and the senders advised
accordingly.

The Committee held four public hearings involving a total of 33
witnesses and took in excess of 320 pages of transcript.  Details of the
witnesses to the Committee's hearings are shown in Appendix 2.  The
Committee again expresses its appreciation to all witnesses who appeared
before it, some on more than one occasion.

As will be apparent from this report, the majority of the Committee has
resolved to support the Government's Bill without amendment.  Two
members of the current Committee, Senators Tierney and Harradine, were
members of the former Senate Select Committee on Community Standards
Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies. 
Those Senators have had this issue under examination since 1993 and have
noted the extent to which the Government has followed that Committee's
advice.

Finally, it should be noted that, because of the nature of the inquiry,
some matters raised with the Committee which are peripheral rather than
central to the provisions of the Bill will have to be examined in
greater detail in the course of the Committee's future activities.

On the basis of the evidence before it, the Committee recommends:

That the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999 be
approved without amendment.

However, the Committee notes that, in Alert Digest No. 7 of 1999, issued
on 28šApril 1999, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of
Bills drew attention to the fact that, as currently drafted, the Bill
appears not to make provision for the disallowance of an ABA declaration
under clause 3 of proposed Schedule 5 that 'a specified access-control
system is a restricted access system in relation to Internet content.' 
That Committee sought the Minister's advice about the disallowable
status of such declarations and, if they are not disallowable, why they
should be exempt from disallowance.  No ministerial response had been
made at the time of finalisation of this report.

Senator Jeannie Ferris

Chair

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