Potential policy responses
The previous chapter outlined the key potential harms to children and
young people arising from the availability of online pornography. This chapter
presents the evidence received regarding whether a case exists for government
action beyond any current measures or policies. Following this, the evidence
received regarding specific policy proposals is examined.
On the specific policy proposals, across all submissions three broad
areas of recommendations are evident: research, education and filtering
technology. These are discussed in turn. Other suggestions that do not fit in
these categories are outlined at the end of the chapter.
Does the available evidence warrant government action?
Among submitters, there is general agreement that action of some form is
needed or would be useful, but views differ on the nature and extent of this
action. Some submitters call for further research, while others want more
immediate and decisive government policies and legislative remedies. This
section briefly outlines some of the key stakeholder positions.
Justifications for intervention
Government and government agency submissions highlighted some of the
existing work relating to the issue of children and young people's exposure to
The Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner, which is a
Commonwealth independent statutory office, advised that in December 2015, the Children's
eSafety Commissioner's Online Safety Consultative Working Group met to discuss this
issue, with representatives from industry, government and non‑government organisations
participating at the meeting.
The Office also noted that it provides information for parents about exposure
to inappropriate content on the eSafety website: www.esafety.gov.au.
The Northern Territory government's submission noted that 'mandatory
reporting of child abuse and neglect is required by law for all Northern
The submission added that the Department of Children and Families 'is often
made aware of a child's exposure to pornography through a child protection
report or through the course of a child protection investigation'. In addition,
the Northern Territory Department of Education advised that it 'has a filtering
in place that blocks all inappropriate material such as pornography in the
Northern Territory schools network'.
In light of the various harms many submitters consider are linked to
exposure to pornography, however, arguments were presented to the committee supporting
further government action. For example, the Australian Catholic Bishops
Conference's Bishops Commission for Family, Youth and Life submitted the
Children have a right to be children, away from the pressure
applied by advertising and other images on television and the Internet for them
to dress and act as mini‑adults. Bombarding children with sexualised
images can hurt their normal development...Allowing children to be exposed to
pornography is a form of abuse. The Church has its own shameful history of
child abuse and, particularly because of that terrible experience for victims,
does not want to see other forms of abuse of children such as the harms from
the increased availability of pornography.
Submitters outlined practical difficulties with the responses currently
available to parents and guardians for protecting their children from exposure
to online pornography. Given this, it was argued that specific government
measures should target children's and young people's ability to access to
pornography. For example, the Australian Council on Children and Media
(ACCM) submitted that 'it is not enough to rely on parents to regulate their
own children's access to pornography':
Unlike many aspects of parenting which are a matter of
individual, private choice, regulating children's access to media (of all
kinds, but especially pornographic content) is a highly socially significant
activity. It is appropriate for society, through its representatives in
government, to take action at the societal level for the prevention of a
societal problem....[M]edia use is one call that should not be left completely up
to parents; and this is an idea that has traditionally been accepted, as
expressed for example through the institution of the National Classification
Scheme for publications, films and computer games.
Professor Freda Briggs, who focussed on responses to child-on-child
abuse in the school environment seemingly inspired by pornography, argued that
the current responses are inadequate. Professor Briggs submitted:
When faced with allegations, schools often 'try to "shove
the problem under the carpet" to avoid facing parents and avoid a
reduction in enrolments'.
Teachers, kindergarten staff and parents of perpetrators dismiss
sexual abuse as normal sexual experimentation/curiosity.
Teachers, police and social workers do not appear to be trained
to take these behaviours seriously and respond appropriately, and that teachers
have been 'instructed not to ask questions because of the risk that they may
"contaminate the evidence"', although police are often not interested
in pursuing the allegations.
When schools act, they can encounter resistance. For example,
primary school principals advised Professor Briggs that when they confiscate
children's phones until the end of the school day, 'parents lodge formal
complaints and verbally attack them'.
Professor Briggs further noted that when perpetrators are expelled from
one school, 'these children invariably enrol at another school where, because
of "the child's right to privacy", staff may not be aware of their
histories'. Professor Briggs stated that the behaviour is likely to continue
unless effective therapy is provided.
Counterarguments and other issues
Although Dr Flood is of the view that pornography has 'demonstrable,
undeniable, effects on attitudes and behaviours', he cautioned against
'simplistic and deterministic claims regarding its effects', which he noted are
often made in the media and elsewhere. Dr Flood emphasised that pornography's
influence is not 'all-powerful and determining of individuals' behaviour', does
not have homogenous effects, and is not 'the single most important risk factor
for children's or adults' sexually coercive or problematic behaviours'. In relation
to the perpetration of sexual violence, Dr Flood described pornography as 'one
risk factor, among many', adding that '[i]t is the confluence or interactive
combination of these risk factors which has the strongest predictive power'.
Dr Flood added:
In focusing on children and
pornography, there is a related danger of assuming that the task is to protect
children from sex. Instead, the task is to protect children from sexual harm.
In fact, maintaining children's sexual ignorance fosters sexual abuse. Young
people who know their sexual rights and responsibilities are more likely to
speak up when they are being forced into sex, and they are less likely to abuse
The Burnet Institute emphasised that further research is needed, as
although 'there are associations between pornography and some harms in young
people...there is as yet no clear evidence that pornography causes these harms'.
The Institute added that many 'adolescents and young adults enjoy watching
pornography and have described positive effects of pornography use' and that
'young people should not be shamed or alienated for being interested in
sexuality'. The Institute urged responses to be based 'on evidence rather than
It was noted that 'sexually explicit material online can include useful
material that informs young people in older age groups about sexuality and
assists them in negotiating their own emerging sexual identity'. The joint
submission advancing this point emphasised that care should be taken to respect
'young people's agency in exploring their sexual identity' and 'the importance
of diversity and difference in the range of sexual identities affirmed in media
and culture' acknowledged.
Professor Brian McNair argued that 'the harms allegedly caused to young
people by exposure to pornography are elusive'. He submitted:
If sexual etiquette and ethics are changing in our time, it
is often for the better, and away from the brutally sexist standards of the
past. Far from pornography generating a 'rape culture', as is sometimes
claimed, twenty years after the internet became a mass medium, the incidence of
rape and sexual violence in general in western societies are at historic lows.
As a society Australia is making great progress in identifying and policing
sexual misconduct from whichever source it comes, and today's children will
grow up in a world where their sexual rights and responsibilities are much
better understood and respected than in their parent's and grandparents' time.
Professor McNair also noted that failures to deal with children
accessing pornography because of dysfunctional parenting 'long predates the era
of online porn...and there is no evidence that its incidence is increasing'.
Conversely, 'it can be argued that parents today are much more aware of and
equipped to deal with these issues than previous generations'. Nevertheless,
Professor McNair acknowledged that:
...the desire and right of parents and policy-makers to protect
children from age-inappropriate sexual content and exposure in all platforms
including the internet is valid, and digital tools pose special challenges to
that exercise of parental authority.
Calls for further research
There is a significant amount of support for further research into how
children and young people access pornography, the types of pornography accessed
and the implications of this access for healthy development.
Ms Maree Crabbe submitted that there 'has been no substantial Australian
research into children and young people's experiences of pornography and its
Ms Crabbe added:
Given young people's high rates of exposure and access, the
nature of the pornography to which they are exposed, and the related harms and
potential harms identified, significant further research into young people's
pornography exposure and access and its impacts is critical
Quality research can assist us to understand the extent and
nature of the issues, and how they may be addressed effectively
It is critical that research into pornography's impact on
young people is shaped by appropriate frameworks, particularly by a critical
understanding of gender, inequality and aggression.
Ms Crabbe's submission provides a detailed outline of areas that, in her
view, would benefit from further research.
The Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence highlighted how research
into pornography usage could focus on 'its influence on young people in shaping
sexual expectations and practice'.
The Salvation Army noted that it 'is highly probable that there would be a link
between the exposure to pornography and the perpetration of domestic and family
violence; however, there is limited research in this area'. The Salvation Army
submitted that it supports 'further research into the linkages between the
objectification of women through the exposure to and consumption of pornography
and the attempted control of women through violence'.
The Brisbane Women's Club advised that it 'supports further research
conducted within Australia to create a research base'.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation also supports 'longitudinal research to
demonstrate the full extent of exposure to pornography over time'.
On research on the effects of exposure to sexualised media content more
broadly, the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People commented this issue
in a literature review provided with its submission. The Commissioner noted
government inquiries and studies have 'recognised the need for further
empirical research to evaluate the potential harmful impacts of sexualised
media, advertising and products on children and young people'.
The submission advised that the Commissioner 'supports further research in
Organisations that argued the existing evidence supports the
implementation of particular policy measures—these proposals are discussed later
in this chapter—nonetheless acknowledged the benefits further research could
provide. For example, despite advocating for policy action, the Centre for
Excellence in Child and Family Welfare submitted that 'further research is
needed to show the full impact of exposure to pornography on children and young
people over time'.
Researchers cautioned, however, that study of this topic is difficult.
For example, the Burnet Institute recognised that 'further research is
required to fill significant gaps in our understanding of the potential adverse
outcomes of children and young people's exposure to online pornography'. However,
it added that this 'is not a straightforward task'. The Institute
It is inherently complicated due to the ethical, moral and
logistical constraints of researching the impact of pornography use on sexual
and social attitudes and how this plays out in the lives of children and young
people. However, the recommendations below provide a starting point for
addressing these issues by using evidence informed and participatory
In their joint submission, Professors Lelia Green, Catharine Lumby and
Alan McKee also emphasised the ethical difficulties in undertaking
research in this area. They wrote:
...it is almost inconceivable that any university-based
research would be able to directly interview children (under 18) about their
experiences with online pornography. Such a research project is unlikely to be
approved by any Human Research Ethics Committee at an Australian university.
Further, researchers in this field know that they should not introduce
problematic concepts to children and thus would never ask a child directly
about pornography unless that child had raised the term first.
Many submitters noted the utility of education for addressing the
potential harms from pornography. The following extract from the Burnet
Institute's submission sums up this view well:
...if our young people are looking primarily to pornography for
their understanding of sex and sexuality, what does this say about the quality
and relevance of our formal sex education?
Similarly, the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence linked
pornography to deficiencies in the approach to education provided to young
In the absence of conversations/education from parents and
schools about real intimacy and sex, the porn industry has begun to fill the
void. This misinformation is setting up unrealistic expectations for young
people about sexual relations and relationships.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) highlighted the benefits
associated with education-based strategies when it advised that its past
research emphasises that 'the key drivers of behavioural change among children
and young people are peer support and educative approaches, rather than simply
The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People referred to a national
survey of secondary students on sexuality education that indicated a greater
emphasis on 'consent, decision making and relationships' would be useful.
The Australian Psychological Society advised that '[s]ome excellent programs
have been developed in Australia to help parents, schools and welfare agencies
address pornography and reduce the harms for young people'. The programs it
Reality & Risk: Pornography, young people and sexuality—a
program developed by researchers Maree Crabbe and David Corlett in Victoria in
various resources produced for schools by the South Eastern
Centre Against Sexual Assault.
Submissions that suggested educational strategies generally favoured
education over other possible responses.
Several submitters also emphasised the importance of involving young people
when developing proposals in this area.
Recommendations relating to education can be separated into: (a)
education of children and young people; (b) education of parents, teachers and
others involved with children; and (c) community outreach strategies. The
following paragraphs examine these matters in turn.
Education for children and young
There is a significant amount of support in submissions for efforts to
improve the quality of education about sexuality and healthy and respectful
relationships in schools.
The Burnet Institute called for 'a national, comprehensive sex education
curriculum in Australia', which would involve adults talking 'openly to
children and young people about sex and sexuality, not merely about the
mechanics of reproduction and contraception'. It stated:
Discussing pornography and the types of images that are
represented within explicit content can be confronting and challenging for
parents and educators, but without these discussions young people are less
likely to gain the skills to navigate real life sexual relationships or to
develop a critical awareness of pornography as fantasy.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation argued that age-appropriate
sexuality and relationship education should commence 'before young children
begin to get interested in sexuality and continuing through adolescence' and
'taking account of children's developmental stages and needs but encouraging
moral and ethical growth as well as resilience'.
Dr Michael Flood reasoned that school curricula should 'foster healthy
relationships, media literacy, and related skills and which increase young
people's resistance to sexist and violence-supportive themes in pornography'.
In its contribution to the Northern Territory government's submission,
the Department of Children and Families, outlined education measures that could
be implemented regarding internet safety, noting that increased education 'may
also help with other risks associated with internet use'. The following
suggestions for educating children that could be considered for a trialled
implementation were provided:
offering children computer programing courses 'so they learn how
vulnerable they are when being active on the internet and chat rooms and using
developing targeted education packages 'where children are made
aware of the dangers by speaking with victims or reformed predators first
school curriculums 'to offer mandatory child safety
identified a leadership role for the Australian government, working with the
state and territory governments, 'to ensure critical discussion of pornography
forms part of effective, age-appropriate education about healthy and respectful
relationships and sex, delivered in schools, with parental support and
respectful sexual relationships was widely supported.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare suggested that education
on respectful relationships in schools should encompass 'awareness of rights
and responsibilities in sexual relationships'.
The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People advised that the WA program Growing
and developing healthy relationships includes components on relationships
and respect 'and may be instructive in framing' recommendations regarding the
inclusion of information on respect, consent, and relationships in sexual
education in schools.
Professor Briggs recommended that children protection programs should be
a compulsory part of the health curriculum in all states to ensure children
'know what constitutes wrong, reportable behaviour and to whom it should be
Submissions also focused on teaching about safe internet and mobile
device use. For example, the Australian Medical Association submitted that
education for children and young people on safe internet navigation is
The Royal Australasian
College of Physicians (RACP) stressed that education should cover 'the
importance of respectful interactions with potential sexual partners both in
person and over the internet, including combatting gendered power
In addition, the RACP argued that age-appropriate information on sexting
should be provided.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare called for efforts
to improve the ability to 'critique information presented on the internet,
including pornographic imagery'.
This 'porn literacy' approach was described by the Burnet Institute as
encouraging 'a critical reading of pornographic content within formal sex education'.
Although this approach has been 'widely advocated', the Institute
suggested that further research to evaluate its effectiveness
In addition, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare
argued that targeted sex education and respectful relationships education is
needed for children and young people in residential care settings, as they
'often have limited access to positive role models and information about sex
and respectful relationships'.
Education for parents, teachers and
others who work with children
Professor Briggs argued that education of parents 'is essential given
that most exposure to pornography and most sexual abuse occurs in the family
Professor McNair suggested that 'anxieties of parents and others responsible
for the welfare of children around the impact of online sexual content' could
partly be addressed by education 'of adults and parents on media literacy and
mediated sexuality, and the importance of supervising the online usage of
children in their care'. He added that this needs to 'include discussion of the
potential benefits as well as harms of sexualised culture, such as the increased
emphasis on female sexual agency and responsibility'.
Submitters argued that schools should provide parents and carers with
information about managing their children's technology use, with resources and
tuition on internet proficiency made available for parents through schools or other
organisations in the community.
The need to provide training for teachers and others who work with
children was also discussed. Collective Shout and Ms Maree Crabbe suggested
that pre-service teacher training should cover the influence of pornography and
how to address it through the respectful relationships and sexuality
curriculum. Existing school staff also should have access to quality
professional support and resources on these issues.
Ms Crabbe further submitted that a 'workforce with specialist expertise on
pornography's impact on young people' should be developed to build capacity in
workforces that deal with children, such as teachers, youth works, doctors and
the police, among others.
McNair also suggested educating teachers and other people who work with
children about the risks and benefits of the digital environment. He added that
this approach 'must include sex education, linked to the recognition that many
children will indeed be exposed to sexually explicit material of a type rarely
available to that age group pre-internet'.
As part of the Northern Territory government's submission, the
Department of Children and Families advised that efforts to increase computer
literacy for parents and carers 'could be a powerful mechanism to address the
issue of children accessing online pornography'. The department noted that, as
part of a trialled implementation, access to training could be provided for
counsellors, teachers, parents, carers and case managers regarding 'how to
address, monitor, report and educate youth especially vulnerable youth'
regarding the issue of children accessing online pornography and other risks
associated with internet use.
child-on-child abuse and other problematic behaviours, Professor Briggs
The committee should join Royal Commissions, coroners and
CEOs of education and child protection services in demanding comprehensive
practical and relevant child abuse-related training for all human service TAFE
and university graduates whose work could involve children. This should
include recognising and handling child-on-child abuse and identifying and
responding to problem sexual behaviours that indicate the influence of
pornography or suggest that the child is acting out abuse. Most university
courses only include mandatory reporting instructions.
The Victorian Commission for Children and Young People argued that
schools 'need to be required to comply with their obligations to provide a duty
of care in protecting students from the physical and emotional harm that
pornography presents' and that governments 'must ensure that schools have the
mandate and resources to do this effectively'.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare called for
community-focused strategies that 'address how pornography perpetuates rigid
gender roles and reinforces attitudes that condone violence against women'. The
Centre also called for national strategies relating to gender inequity to
recognise harmful effects of pornography on young men.
Other submissions called for the government to consider public awareness
campaigns aimed at reducing the harmful impacts of pornography on children and
However, the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People noted that a similar
program has been implemented previously, and discontinued (the Australian
government's NetAlert package, which was funded between 2007 and 2010).
Filtering pornographic content to make it inaccessible for children and
young people was a policy option canvassed in many submissions. Some of these
submissions called for both education strategies and internet filtering. Others
emphasised internet filtering as a policy solution on the basis that 'the
greater focus should be towards preventing children's access to pornography in
the first place'.
Submitters discussed both existing commercial filters and proposals for default
internet filters at the internet service provider (ISP) level.
The Communications Alliance explained that industry codes require
Australian ISPs 'to make available an accredited internet content filter
(Family Friendly Filter) at or below cost price'.
The Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner also noted the range of
parental control tools and commercial filters available in Australia, including
those offered by ISPs such as Telstra; filters offered by search engines and
social media platforms such as YouTube Kids and Google SafeSearch; and the
parental control options on iTunes, the App Store and the Google Play Store.
The Office noted that it promotes the use of these tools, although greater
awareness of them 'through improved industry cooperation and campaigns could
assist Australian families in managing internet use at home'.
Various submitters expressed support for parental and school filtering
technologies. There were also calls for improvements in such technology to be
developed, including that industry should lead these developments.
It was suggested, however, that internet filters in the home and at
school can protect children from unwanted exposure, it 'is not feasible to rely
on filters and parental supervision for young people in older age groups, who
can evade filters and access online material in multiple situations and on
The Burnet Institute also suggested that filtering software may help
prevent accidental exposure, but otherwise it appears 'to be ineffective at
stopping young people from accessing pornography online'. It explained:
Filtering software often makes
one of two types of errors: over-blocking (blocking a page that should not be
blocked) and under-blocking (failing to block a page that should be blocked).
In a survey of American teenagers,
50 of 51 participants stated no problems circumventing filters to access
pornography. An Australian study found no correlation between parents
installing internet filters and children's exposure to violent and sexual material.
Furthermore, filters often block legitimate health, educational or other
In addition to young people's ability to circumvent filters or parental
monitoring of their internet usage, the Burnet Institute suggested that such
techniques can also 'backfire' by making young people 'reluctant to talk to
their parents about risks or problems encountered online', including because of
'fear that their parents will remove [their] internet access'.
Many submissions favour the introduction, or further consideration, of
an ISP‑level default clean feed to prevent children and young people from
accessing pornographic websites.
Other submitters who anticipated that this proposal would be put forward
presented arguments against the introduction of a filter.
This section outlines the arguments presented to the committee relating to this
The idea of ISP-level filtering in Australia has gained some traction previously.
Prior to the 2007 election, Labor committed to requiring ISPs to filter out
material that would generally be refused classification or classified as X18+
under the National Classification Code. By 2010, however, further development
and implementation of the mandatory filter had been postponed and ultimately it
was not pursued.
Internet filtering is not common in western countries. Nevertheless, ISP-level
filtering was recently introduced in the United Kingdom by the government led
by the Rt Hon David Cameron. Many submissions to this inquiry, particularly
from individuals, support the adoption of the UK policy in Australia.
The UK approach
The UK filter followed an agreement in 2013 between the government led
by Mr Cameron and four large ISPs—BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media. The agreement
led to the introduction of 'network level filtering for all new broadband users
and existing internet users across home internet devices which would allow the
account holder to choose to block web-based content that could be inappropriate
for children'. The filters are designed to 'block pornography and other sites
deemed "inappropriate" for children unless users elect to opt-out'.
The filter was extended to existing customers 'through 2014, on an "unavoidable
choice" basis; that is, the customer had to choose to implement or opt out
of the filter'.
As at June 2015, between 6 per cent and 40 per cent of customers
(depending on the ISP) had 'taken up some level of filtering'.
The Australian government's Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner
advised that a January 2015 report on the scheme by Ofcom, the UK communications
regulator, found that '50% of parents reported being aware of the ISP network
level content filters, and only 21% reported using them'. The Office's
submission added that reasons indicated for not using the filters include
preference for other strategies, such as supervision, setting rules, the use of
other tools and trusting their child. The Office noted that Ofcom has not
published further research into take-up of the filters.
It was also noted that the ISPs 'were asked to introduce a network level
filter to cover web-based HTML coded services'.
The Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner noted that in June 2015, over
69 per cent of UK teens used smartphones to access the internet 'including via
mobile apps, many of which the ISPs acknowledged would not to be covered by the
Calls for the introduction of
mandatory ISP-level filtering in Australia
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) argued that Australia 'needs a
universal, by-default, ISP-level "clean-feed"...internet regime,
filtering out adult content and thereby protecting children from harmful
exposure, for both fixed line and mobile service'. The ACL added that customers
could opt out of the regime on request to their ISP or mobile provider.
The ACL argued that:
...the effectiveness of the UK system belies the objections
which have been raised to a 'clean-feed' internet service in the past. Any
system is imperfect, but the UK model has demonstrated that there are no
significant technical issues with implementing by-default ISP-level filtering,
and that it has the potential to dramatically reduce child exposure to online
In advocating for a universal regime, the ACL argued that voluntary commercial
filters are not a sufficiently effective solution. It submitted:
Telstra is to be commended for now offering an optional
ISP-level adult‑content filter (Telstra Broadband Protect). However, this
is an extra cost service for subscribers. ACL submits that to be effective in
protecting children, an ISP-level internet filtering regime needs to be at no
additional cost, universal, by-default, and with the ability of the adult
account holder to opt out upon request. A robust age verification system (such as
credit card information) should also be introduced to ensure that minors are
not able to change the default setting.
The ACL also emphasised that its proposal does not constitute government
censorship. It submitted that the 'technical process of filtering adult content
would be left entirely up to mobile providers and ISP', with a mechanism
developed for incorrectly blocked sites and sites that should be blocked to be
Several other submissions similarly pre-empted arguments they expected
would be mounted against measures that would regulate access to online
pornographic content. For example, the ACCM, which advocated for industry to
adopt measures that provide children with greater protection from harmful
online content and referred to the filters implemented by UK ISPs in its
...it does appear that there are
voices in the community that oppose regulation of access to pornographic
content, even for the protection of children. Sometimes this is on freedom of
speech grounds: whatever impact there is on children's wellbeing is simply the
price we have to pay for living in a free society. This is a profound argument
that goes to the heart of political morality and we do not propose to attempt
to resolve it here. We will say, however, that nearly all people and legal
systems recognise some limitations to freedom of speech. Obviously as an
organisation we see the protection of children's wellbeing as an important
basis for such a limitation; and we believe the broader community sees it that
On potential technical issues that could reduce the effectiveness of
measures intended to regulate access to online pornographic content, the ACCM observed
that '[n]o system of regulation is 100% effective, but regulation can help to
shape both behaviours and attitudes'.
Views on the implementation of a clean feed system differed. The ACL
called for the Commonwealth to legislate for a clean feed regime.
Collective Shout submitted that the government should work with ISPs to establish
a scheme, with legislation to impose the scheme required only as a backup if
insufficient progress occurs. Collective Shout gave a timeframe of 12 months against
which progress could be measured.
Opposition to a universal clean
feed and other comments
The committee received a small number of submissions that were critical
of proposals for an opt out clean feed, generally due to concerns:
that the proposed regime would not be technologically effective;
about an impact on personal freedom; and
regarding 'scope creep'.
Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) submitted that it is opposed to
'legislated technological measures that amount to censorship in the name of
attempting to restrict the ability of minors to access pornography and other
arguably harmful content'. The EFA opposes such measures because it
are 'almost always trivial to circumvent for anyone with basic
'inevitably restrict access to entirely legitimate content';
'have the potential to harm network performance';
'replace parental judgement with bureaucratised or corporate
'are always subject to scope creep, often very quickly'; and
'perhaps most importantly, divert attention and resources away
from responses that are likely to be more successful in addressing harm'.
In relation the restrictions on access to legitimate content and scope
creep, the EFA highlighted the example of the Australian Securities and
Investments Commission (ASIC) blocking over 250,000 legitimate websites.
The Burnet Institute argued that ISP-level filtering is unlikely to be
successful due to technical issues. Furthermore, the Institute considers
another weakness of the filtering approach is that it 'fails to deal with the
broader social context in which these materials are produced and widely used'.
The Communications Alliance noted that website blocking 'has a
legitimate place in law enforcement', and under section 313 of the Telecommunications
Act 1997, the industry assists 'law enforcement agencies with the blocking
of sites which are classed as the "worst of" (Interpol blacklist) and
other illegal content'. However, the Alliance added that 'website blocking is a
relatively blunt tool', which has the potential for 'comparatively easy evasion'
and over-blocking. In relation to circumventing a filter, the Alliance noted a
range of tools are available, including virtual private networks (VPNs) which
are already widely used. The Alliance observed:
As the examples of Netflix and other online streaming
providers prior to their official entry into the Australian market have
demonstrated, current generations of children are well capable to install and
use VPNs to circumvent blocking of websites and to access the content that they
wish to consume.
The Communications Alliance concluded:
Given the risks and
infringements of personal rights and freedoms associated with website blocking,
the high costs involved with the execution of site blocking (it requires highly
trained technical staff), the ease with which it can be circumvented and given
that there are alternative means...which equally or more effectively achieve the
objective of protecting children from potentially harmful content, the
ISP-based blocking of websites must be considered not meeting any
proportionality test and ought to be discarded in the discussion around the
protection of children from potentially harmful, but legal, content.
Some of the other matters submitters put forward for consideration
The Australian government should consult with state governments
and the community sector on the 'adequacy of current responses in supporting
children who have been sexually abused by peers and others and/or in other ways
have been adversely impacted by exposure to pornography'. Consideration should
also be given to programs for perpetrators for young people affected by
pornography who have sexually abused others.
Noting the discrepancy between the age of consent (16 or 17 years
of age) and the classification of explicit material (restricted to individuals
aged 18 years and above), the age of access to explicit material should be
'Ethical' pornography—a few submissions suggested that the
production of more ethical pornography should be considered. This pornography would
be produced with consent and have content that depicts respectful relationships
and does not include violence.
A national summit—the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence called
for a national summit on pornography. It suggested that 'a wide range of
stakeholders including researchers, practitioners, doctors, educators, police,
lawyers and violence against women services' should be invited to participate
in the summit.
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