Senate to report on impact of online adult content on children

The upper house is concerning itself with whether accessing adult content online is harmful to children, and what other jurisdictions are doing about the issue.

The Australian Senate has announced that it will be making an inquiry and report into whether access to online adult content is harmful for children.

The inquiry, labelled Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet, was referred by the upper house to the Environment and Communications References Committee on December 2.

The report is set to track online consumption of pornography by those under 18; the impact of this on developing "healthy and respectful relationships"; what other jurisdictions are doing about mitigating harm; and the success of these minimisation strategies.

The committee will also identify steps that the government could take to implement a strategy for dealing with the harm to children of online adult content.

The Coalition had previously floated the idea of policing online access to pornography through its internet filtering policy, which it backflipped on after ZDNet uncovered the plan buried in policy documents two days prior to the 2013 federal election.

Liberal MP Paul Fletcher at the time confirmed to ZDNet that the Coalition had wanted to remove confusion for parents choosing between internet filtering products.

"What we intend to do is work with the industry to arrive at an arrangement where the default is that there is a filter in the home device, the home network, that is very similar to the filters that are available today. This is very much about protecting children from inappropriate content, particularly pornography," he said.

Shadow Communications Minister at the time -- and now Prime Minister -- Malcolm Turnbull then denied that opt-out filtering was part of the Coalition's policy.

"The Coalition has never supported mandatory internet filtering. Indeed, we have a long record of opposing it," he said.

"The policy which was issued today was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an 'opt-out' system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed-line services. That is not our policy and never has been.

"The correct position is that the Coalition will encourage mobile phone and internet service providers to make available software, which parents can choose to install on their own devices to protect their children from inappropriate material."

The Coalition government has been focused on enhancing online safety for children, this year launching its Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner, which aims to remove cyberbullying content online and deal with complaints about offensive and illegal content.

eSafety Commissioner Alastair MacGibbon has the authority to force social media companies that operate in Australia, including Twitter and Facebook, to remove content deemed to be online bullying, or face fines of AU$17,000 per day.

The eSafety office notes that offensive and illegal content could include "footage of real or simulated violence, criminal activity or accidents, promote extreme political or religious views or be sexually explicit and can include illegal images of child sexual abuse".

The office encourages parents to "be aware" of how their children use the internet, make use of parental controls and filters, enable safe search options, and ask their children to report inappropriate content to them. It also suggests that parents warn children about the legal and social implications of sexting.

The commissioner's office was set up as part of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Submissions on the Senate inquiry close on March 10, with the Senate to report its findings by December 1, 2016.