May 23, 2007

Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007


Second Reading

23 May 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (1.59 p.m.)—I rise to speak on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007. The bill seeks to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to provide for the regulation of content services delivered over convergent devices, such as broadband services to mobile handsets and new types of content provided over the internet. The bill also seeks to amend the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 to ensure that Australia’s Indian Ocean territories can be included in regular, independent reviews of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about legislation in this area and wish to stress the importance of getting the balance right. It is believed that there are some 14 million mobile phones in Australia. That is a reminder of how fast technology can move in Australia. Just 20 years ago, this was unknown. Now it is commonplace that even very young people have access to mobile phone technology, and increasingly all sectors of the community have access. We need to make sure we have equitable access and a proper legislative framework for the expansion of telecommunications technology.

Today, hand-held mobiles and all sorts of portable devices have the capacity to deliver various types of information, including live audiovisual content, streamed information and interactive chat services. The portability of such devices means that Australians have access to the world at their fingertips—instantly and at every hour of the day and the night—allowing them to respond quickly and to be more competitive than ever before. However, left unchecked, such devices can also expose vulnerable Australians—in particular children—to information that may well be harmful to them. Concerns have been raised about the effect of exposing young people to pornographic, hateful or violent material. Such information could be dangerous and misleading. Last night on television I saw a report about the transfer of what can only be described as extraordinarily hateful material associated with the disturbances at Cronulla. When considering communications devices, we need to be not only very conscious of the positive benefits but also vigilant in making sure that there are no negative consequences in the availability in mass form of this technology.

It is critical that any legislation that is considered in the House of Representatives—and any consequent regulation—strikes a balance between adequate protections for consumers and fair access rights to providers. Without this balance we will either harm our young or legislate censorship that limits the rights and liberties of service providers—and indeed of all Australians. It is for this reason that the bill before us must be given due consideration. Members would be aware that on the day this bill was made available it was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts for examination. The committee is not expected to report back before 12 June 2007. Broadly speaking, this bill fits in with Labor’s policy to protect children from online pornography and access to inappropriate materials. As such, federal Labor will support the passage of this bill, subject to the outcome of the Senate inquiry.

I note that internationally, content services are regulated according to one of two broad principles: self-regulation or co-regulation. This bill outlines a framework for co-regulation of divergent devices, thereby allowing industry, government and consumers to come together to develop rules and regulations. I also note that there may be differing views as to whether self- or co-regulation be applied to the Australian context. It is imperative that such different perspectives be adequately considered and that we get the outcomes right. For this reason, it is imperative that the Senate inquiry be allowed to run its course and take evidence from all concerned and affected parties.

I am pleased to note that the concerns previously expressed by industry after the government released its exposure draft bill in February 2007 have been taken into account and incorporated into the redrafted bill we are debating today. I congratulate the government on that. Their concerns went to some key issues. Firstly, they included the potential for the bill to have a censorship effect and thereby limit viewing of content that would otherwise be available in its standard form, and, secondly, inconsistencies with state laws. This again highlights the importance of extensive consultation.

I look forward to the outcome of the Senate inquiry. I expect the bill presented to the Senate will strike an appropriate balance between protection and the retention of liberties for all Australians. If that is the case, Labor will certainly lend its support to this legislation.