Legislation supporting Labor's proposed mandatory internet filtering project may not hit parliament until mid-2013, according to advice provided to Stephen Conroy by his department, a timeframe which may make it an issue in the next election.
The timing was outlined in briefing documents (PDF) provided by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) to Communications Minister Conroy. The documents laid out the current state of affairs and the action he needs to take on significant matters following the Federal Election.
In the documents, DBCDE noted that the government had postponed the legislation while a review of the Refused Classification category of content (which the filter is intended to block) was carried out by the minister for home affairs for the consideration of federal and state attorney's-general.
The attorneys-general are slated to meet this month to confirm the review. DBCDE noted that it would likely consider the scope of methodology of the review in March 2011, with recommendations to be presented back to the attorneys-general in early 2012.
"It may then take [the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General] a number of meetings before it reaches consensus on any recommendations from the review," wrote the department. "This suggests legislation for mandatory filtering may not be able to be introduced into Parliament before the middle of 2013."
In mid-October, a departmental official told a Senate Estimates Committee hearing in Canberra that DBCDE was not working directly on the filter project. "At this stage, the work is all elsewhere," they said. However, in the briefing document, the department noted there were actually several initiatives currently ongoing regarding the filter.
For starters, the department noted it would work actively with the Internet Industry Association and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on a new industry code to support voluntary filtering of child abuse material — which internet service providers (ISPs) like Telstra, Primus and Optus have already pledged to implement.
Although it's unclear whether it's actively working on the matter, DBCDE discussed the issue of how an independent expert could look into compiling a list of URLs. The discussion included legislation required to provide that expert with immunity from criminal proceedings for doing their job checking the list, as well as being given standing to seek review of classification decisions.
In the estimates hearing, Conroy said legislation could potentially be drafted while the review of refused classification material was being conducted but said it was "unlikely" that would occur.
The briefing documents noted that DBCDE had been allocated $840,000 in funding for the next three years to develop a software tool to assist small and medium sized internet service providers to meet their mandatory filtering obligations.
The documents also revealed that in December 2009, $17 million which had been allocated to the ISP filtering program for the next five years had been re-allocated to the ACMA "to provide increased education, awareness and counselling services".
Funding has also been allocated to the Attorney-General's Department: $1.5 million in 2010/2011, $1.8 million in 2011/2012 and $1.4 million "ongoing" to undertake a review of ACMA's decision's to find an internet address to be refused classification.
The ACMA was also allocated $400,000 per annum to review the refused classification list.
$8 million has also been allocated to encourage internet service providers to offer customers voluntary filtering of additional material, such as general pornography and gambling sites.
The department revealed that funding for wider forms of ISP filtering would be delivered via a grants program and that funding for the ISP filtering software tool would be allocated through a procurement process.