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on the
Senate Select Committee
on community standards
relevant to the supply of services
utilising electronic technologies.

by Karl Auer
President, PC Users Group (ACT) Incorporated


On Tuesday 4 April I attended a hearing of the above Select Committee as a representative of the PC Users Group (ACT) Incorporated and presented a Position Statement. Three other user groups had seen the position statement and had given permission for me to represent them - these were the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth PC Users Groups. BrisBUG and the Adelaide PC Users Group were also contacted, but were unable to reply in the short time available.

I stress that the opinions offered here are mine alone, noted for the interest of those whom I represented at the hearing. The full proceedings are recorded in the Senate Hansard if anyone wants to read exactly what was said!

Unfortunately I was scheduled as the last speaker and due to time constraints was not given an opportunity to read my prepared material in full. I read only the summary, and the section entitled "Confusion about the technology". I was also able to direct the Senators to several other areas of the document in response to their questions. The complete text was accepted as a submission to the Select Committee and should be recorded as part of the proceedings however.

Format of the hearing

The hearing was chaired by Senator Margaret Reynolds. Also present were Senator John Tierney, Senator Bryant Burns and Senator Brian Harradine. Senators Reynolds and Tierney were present almost the entire day, Senator Harradine somewhat less, and Senator Burns barely.

There were seven speakers on the day each taking about half an hour (that was the theory, anyway). After a brief presentation, the Senators would ask questions. At the end of the day there was a very brief panel discussion.



In spite of in theory being there to cover the technology rather than to offer a viewpoint, Roger Clark clearly had a view and expressed it, particularly later in the day. His explanation of the technology was an excellent introduction for a complete lay person.

The AG's Department and the Department of Communication and the Arts did not really have much of interest to add to the debate itself, although they did explain why they went for a self-regulatory model; basically to avoid unwitting crimes. It also became clear later in the day that they really were very pressed to develop the Task Force Report, and that they were working from a position of great technical ignorance. I believe their testimony lent credence to the position several speakers took, that the Task Force Report was technically naïve.

Mr Wakeley produced a depressingly predictable hard-line censorship position. I had had higher hopes for a church so committed to technology. His submission was a highly emotive one, very short on comparative facts (a fault it shared with the Task Force Report). A surprisingly draconian position was taken on possession of pornography - according to the LDS submission, mere possession of pornography on a computer hard disk makes the owner a "potential pornography distributor". This is used to support possession of pornography being made a criminal offence.

Mr Worthington's presentation suffered very badly for being developed at short notice and for being presented on very poor projection equipment, but he got his major points out - that the Report was technically naïve, that further consultation is needed, that all material pertaining to the discussion should be available online, that BBS operators should not become scapegoats, that users not carriers should be the ones held responsible for content. Unfortunately Mr Worthington spent much time introducing the ACS. The submission being presented was supposed to have been a joint ACS and EFA submission, and I felt that the time was both wasted and confusing to the Senators.

AARNet put a very dense case which basically said that they carried bits and bytes and had no control over or interest in content. The presentation was heavy going for those of us technically able to understand it - I suspect it was gobbledegook to the Senators. Efforts by the Senators to establish a link between content and carriage were bluntly deflected. I got the strong impression that the Senators were unimpressed and unconvinced; I do not think AARNet is off the regulatory hook yet.

The Internet Industry Association of Australia presentation, and their later contribution to discussions, were low points. The two representatives did not appear to have done even nominal preparation and did not address the issues particularly well. Their basic premise seemed to be that enlightened self-interest would solve all problems, but they gave no convincing arguments to support this theory. They made the statement that "there's no money in porn", which I'm sure would surprise Hugh Hefner. They told the Select Committee it was being "snowed" by the AG's Department. They stated that suitable legislation could be drafted in "a couple of days" and offered to help do so! In short, I felt that they put the Committee, the AG's Department and the Department of Communications and the Arts totally offside in a most unproductive manner. However, if a position could be discerned, it would broadly agree with the idea of self-regulation rather than enforced legislation.


I would say that there was a broad consensus that the speakers wanted self-regulation with some legislative bite in the background OR legislation that incorporates elements of self regulation. There was also broad agreement that there should be a distinction made between carrying proscribed material and distributing it. AARNet and Mr Wakeley were obviously not in accord with this - AARNet by regarding the issue as irrelevant to it and LDS stating unequivocally that it should be up to providers to control "bad" material.

The Senate Select Committee was perilously close to having made up its mind at the start of the day. I feel most strongly that that changed over the course of the day, as the Senators became aware that there were deeper problems than the Task Force Report would suggest. Tierney and Reynolds seemed most receptive. I am not sure that Senator Harradine either had or obtained much of a grasp of the technical issues; he seemed to be seeking confirming responses rather than information. He also seemed offended at the thought that the Task Force might have been less than effective. Senator Burns was not present nor active enough for me to make a guess at his position.

There was certainly a clear consensus (again excepting AARNet and Mr Wakeley) that the Task Force report is technically naïve, academically poor, and its legislative options seriously flawed. Along with that however went the general feeling that it was a good first try. There is keen anticipation of a much better Task Force Mark II, with the primary new ingredient being better consultation and full online publication. I offered the services of the PCUG to assist with the promulgation of requests and output from any other enquiries that might be set up.

The bottom line

There is no doubt that the Select Committee will require a legislative response. I feel this was to be expected, whatever the more radical amongst us would have hoped for. I am optimistic that they will see the scope for self-regulation, and I am convinced that they see the need for far better consultation than the first Task Force achieved.


This document is available at

The PCUG submission to the Select Committee is available at

The ACS/EFA submission is available at

Similar legislation in the USA is being discussed at

The proceedings of the hearing are available in the Senate Hansard.

The Broadband Services Export Group's final report is available at

The "Creative Nation" report is available at

The Task Force Report on Regulation of Computer Bulletin Board systems can be obtained by calling the Senate on (06)2777300.

If you would like hard copy of the RAAP/LDS submission, LDS can be contacted at