Imre Salusinszky, NSW political reporter: The Australian | April 01, 2008
RACE-HATE websites could be banned under an internet censorship proposal being considered by state and federal attorneys-general.
The plan, which is in its early stages, has aroused concern among civil libertarians who fear it could be used to stifle political debate.
The attorneys-general, meeting in Adelaide last week, commissioned a report on the viability of authorising the Australian Communications and Media Authority to combat race-hate sites by ordering internet service providers to take them down.
At present, ACMA polices websites that breach copyright, promote terrorism or publish extreme pornography.
“There are racial vilification laws, but the problem with the internet is you can’t trace down the people,” NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said yesterday.
“Any material that incites vilification and hatred is of concern. Material on the internet is a particular concern because it provides a cheap and easy means of dissemination to a very wide audience.”
The proposal, which would be open for public consultation before any decision was made, followed a referral to the attorneys by state and federal police ministers, Mr Hatzistergos said. Concerns had also been expressed by non-English-speaking groups about comments on white-supremacist websites.
For the ACMA to be able to take down sites, it would require a new definition of the “refused classification” category used by the federal Government’s Classification Board to deal with violent pornography and similar material. The proposed system could affect websites such as the one operated by the Australia First party, which was involved in the civil unrest at Cronulla in December 2005.
An article on the group’s website, signed by “Joni”, compares Muslims to mould. “You have the innocent, healthy, cheese block sitting in your fridge minding its own business til one day you peel back the wrapper to see a tiny section of mould on the surface,” she writes.
“Just when you think it’s safe to appreciate your cheese in your own environment again you see it’s back. Now darker, deeper, growing, invading, insidious.”
But Dale Clapperton, from the online civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said a problem with banning such sites was that “it inevitably turns them into martyrs and gives more attention to the type of material you are trying to suppress”.
“The best cure for ‘bad’ speech is more speech,” Mr Clapperton said.