This week, consumer organisation Choice reported that as part of the government’s attempt to get foreign online retailers to collect GST, it might give those retailers an ultimatum: pay up, or we’ll block your site in Australia.
Choice claims that the government is considering using section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to compel internet service providers to block the websites if they refuse to charge GST. This is the power that was all over the media a few years ago when ASIC accidentally blocked thousands of legitimate websites while seeking to block a single financial scam website, but it is mainly used by the Australian Federal Police to get ISPs to block child abuse websites.
After the ASIC incident, then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull commenced a review into the power, and the result was some weak draft guidelines released in April that among other things recommend agencies announce when they block certain websites, and allow “stop pages” to be put in place of the blocked sites so that people can know why they’re blocked.
The Comms Department had been keeping tabs on the use of 313 during the review, but when we asked the department about it this week, we were told that agencies had no oversight over their website blocking now, because the department wasn’t keeping track of it. As for the guidelines, the department said it was still considering submissions and couldn’t say when these guidelines would be in place.
In any case, the block can be circumvented by VPN use, so those keen to buy overseas from retailers that tell the government where to stick it on collecting GST will still be to shop to their hearts’ content.