The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has released the report from its review of classification in Australia, recommending that the definition for "Refused Classification" (RC) be narrowed down, and paving the way for the Federal Government to restart plans for a mandatory internet filter.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced the review of Australia's classification system in mid-2010, pledging to delay the introduction of the legislation for the mandatory internet service provider-level filter of RC content until the review could be completed.
In the ALRC's report, which was handed to the government late last month and published to the public yesterday, "Refused Classification" would be renamed "Prohibited", and would be narrowed down significantly from the current definition.
Refused classification material, in addition to depictions of child abuse, includes violence with a very high degree of impact, cruel or real violence, sexual violence, bestiality, "sexual activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent", "detailed instruction in the use of proscribed drugs" and promoting, inciting or instructing in crime.
In papers provided to the review, a number of groups raised concerns about the wide range of activities that may be classified as a "fetish" or a "criminal activity", noting that pouring candle wax on a person or taking part in bondage may be considered as fetishes, while instructions for euthanasia, graffiti or shoplifting could be promoting crime.
The ALRC first recommended that RC be renamed "Prohibited" to avoid confusion.
"The plain meaning of the term is confusing, because content that is 'Refused Classification' has, in fact, received a classification. That is, the term is open to misunderstanding, because it does not make it clear that the content has been subject to a classification decision-making process."
The ALRC has recommended that the government should review prohibitions on "the depiction of sexual fetishes in films and detailed instruction in the use of proscribed drugs", as well as refining prohibition on content that "promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime" to be only limited to "serious crime".
The new legislation to cover the classification of all media in Australia, regardless of platform, would be known as the Classification of Media Content Act, and would set out exactly how content providers, including ISPs, would have to get prohibited content classified. The ALRC said that due to the sheer quantity of media online, it would not be possible to have everything classified, so providers should instead "take reasonable steps" to identify prohibited content, including allowing users to flag content online.
ISPs would only be required to block prohibited content once it has been classified as being prohibited, the ALRC said, and, given the large amount of content online, the ALRC suggested that only a sub-category of prohibited content should be blocked by the filter, such as child-abuse material.
Under other the recommendations of the review, adult X18+ content should generally not be classified. While only currently legal in the ACT and the Northern Territory, it would be made legal across Australia, but the regulation should be refined to protect minors from accessing the content. The ALRC conceded that it would not be possible for the Classification Board to classify all adult content online, suggesting that ISPs should take reasonable steps to restrict access to the content by minors, such as promoting "family friendly" filters, or potentially implementing age-verification tools for sites that the ISP knows to be classified X18+.
Overall, the ALRC has recommended that classification should be platform neutral, but that there should be a clear scope on what is classified, such as films or video games. There should be a single regulator established to enforce the new national classification scheme, which would replace state-based classification under the review's recommendations.
Conroy has indicated previously that the government will consider the recommendation report before working on legislation to introduce the mandatory internet filter in Australia. Conroy's office had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing on when this may happen.
In a statement yesterday, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare noted that the report has far-reaching recommendations.
"It will be read with interest, not just by governments, but also by stakeholders, industry and consumers," they said. "Our government, along with state and territory governments, will consider the detailed work undertaken and the range of recommendations of the commission."