Communications Minister Stephen Conroy will delay the introduction of mandatory ISP-level filtering until a proposed review of refused classification (RC) guidelines is completed.
That could push the introduction of a mandatory filtering regime out until at least July or August of next year, based on the review taking a year, according to tweets by Crikey's Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane.
Conroy said today that the Government would recommend a review of RC guidelines to State and Territory ministers, following consultations with the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor.
States and Territories are responsible for the enforcement of classification decisions, according to the Attorney-General.
Each has classification enforcement legislation that complements the Commonwealth Classification Act but sets out "varying classification requirements".
Conroy said a review of the range of material included in the RC category would help determine if it "correctly reflected current community standards".
"The Government will recommend a review of the RC classification to State and Territory Ministers be conducted at the earliest opportunity," he said.
"As the Government's mandatory ISP filtering policy is underpinned by the strength of our classification system, the legal obligation to commence mandatory ISP filtering will not be imposed until the review is completed."
Conroy said RC content included "child abuse material, bestiality, extreme violence including rape, detailed instruction in crime or drug use, and incitement of a terrorist act."
Google Australia's managing director Karim Temsamani cautiously welcomed the review.
"We're heartened to see [the] Government has taken account of the genuine concerns expressed by many on the Refused Classification category," he said.
"Our primary concern has always been that the scope of the proposed filter... goes way beyond child sexual abuse material and would block access to important online information for all Australians.
"We welcome the recommendation to conduct a review of the RC classification and we look forward to the opportunity to provide input."
In addition to the initial RC review, Conroy announced plans for an "annual review of the RC Content list by an independent expert who will be appointed in consultation with industry".
He said that any content subject to a complaint by a member of the public would be classified by the Classification Board and that there would be "clear avenues for appeal of classification decisions".
That appeared to be a response to criticism leveled at the Government over the appearance of seemingly innocuous URLs that were exposed on a leaked version of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) blacklist last year.
"The RC content list of URLs provides direct access to child abuse material so it cannot be published the way a list of prohibited book titles or movies can be," Conroy said.
"The public needs to have confidence that the URLs on the list, and the process by which they get there, is independent, rigorous, free from interference or influence and enables content and site owners access to appropriate review mechanisms."
Internet users that attempted to navigate to a page hosting RC content would be served a standard "block page notification" that gave them the option "to seek a review... if they believe the decision [to block that content] to be incorrect."
ISPs agree to voluntary filter
News of the RC review came as internet service providers Telstra BigPond, Optus and iPrimus agreed today to voluntarily filter out a list of child abuse URLs.
Conroy welcomed the "socially responsible approach" which he said would reach some 70 percent of Australian internet users.
"I encourage other Australian ISPs to follow the example of these ISPs, as well as the large number of ISPs in other western democracies, who already block this abhorrent content," he said.
The block list is maintained by ACMA.
"Over the coming months we will work with other members of the internet industry and Government to implement this approach which we believe will have broad industry support," Optus director of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai said.
"We will develop a voluntary code to focus on blocking child abuse and child pornography material which will bring Australia into line with the voluntary filtering schemes being successfully implemented by ISPs in the UK, other parts of Europe and Canada."
An Optus spokeswoman said that the filtered service would be compulsory for all users and that there was no opt-out.
A Telstra BigPond spokesman confirmed similar arrangements.
In a statement, Telstra also said it "understood the Government would ensure that ISPs would not be legally liable for voluntarily blocking child pornography and abuse sites as determined by ACMA."
Wholesale customers given choice
Optus' decision to participate in the voluntary filter arrangement would not impact its wholesale customers, a spokeswoman for the telco said.
It was understood the telco was "investigating technical options" that might assist it to provide a 'clean feed' to smaller ISPs that wanted to join the voluntary scheme but couldn't afford the necessary kit.
But Optus' voluntary decision to participate would not be forced onto its wholesale customers, the spokeswoman said.
A Telstra spokesman also said it "wasn't Telstra's intention to block wholesale customers".
"The decision is at their discretion," he said.
He also said Telstra was examining the type of assistance it might be able to offer Telstra Wholesale customers who wished to join the voluntary blocking scheme.