THE federal government has abandoned its long-standing commitment to introduce a national internet filter and will instead ban websites related only to child abuse.
Following years of debate about trying to censor the internet, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the government would no longer proceed with ''mandatory filtering legislation''. It would, however, use powers under the Telecommunications Act to block hundreds of child abuse websites already identified on Interpol's ''worst of'' list.
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Dumped: internet filter goes
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy angers the Australian Christian Lobby by backing away from his internet filter plan.
Senator Conroy said blocking these sites met ''community expectations and fulfils the government's commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online''.
''Given this successful outcome, the government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation,'' he said.
Australia's main internet service providers have agreed to block the child abuse sites, meaning about 90 per cent of web users will have no access to them. The Australian Federal Police will begin issuing notices to smaller ISPs to have them block the sites as well.
The decision falls short of the original intention of a filter, which was to blacklist sites beyond those relating only to child abuse. It will please internet lobbyists who have argued against censorship and protested that a filter would be ineffective and would slow net speeds.
It will anger groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, which only on Thursday renewed calls for the filter to help prevent ''explicit sexual practices'' among teenagers.
The internet filter policy was a promise Kevin Rudd took to the 2007 election when Labor won government and was controversial from the outset. The government argued that laws governing material on the internet should be no different to those that applied to printed content.
The policy also lacked political support, with the Coalition and the Greens opposed.
The government policy was to legislate for an internet filter that would have required every Australian ISP to block overseas-hosted ''refused classification'' material as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
This would have included child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and material that advocated terrorist activity.
The list of banned sites would have been based on public complaints to ACMA.
The chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, Peter Lee, welcomed the decision as ''a positive step''.
The Australian Christian Lobby said a filter was needed after ''revelations'' that ''teenagers view explicit sexual practices as normal''.
"Talking to students about what they see online is important, but is too little too late,'' said the lobby's spokeswoman, Wendy Francis. ''It is important to prevent unwanted access to pornography in the first place.
"We must protect our children from forming unhealthy attitudes towards women and sex."
Senator Conroy said some Australian ISPs had already blocked Interpol ''worst of'' sites without any impact on speeds or congestion. Nor had there been any complaints about users being inadvertently denied access to legitimate content.