The New South Wales government will not push the federal government to filter the internet, and will not switch the Safe Schools program from opt-out to opt-in.
A NSW Parliament committee dominated by conservative members last year recommended that the state government pursue internet filtering as a priority. It was modelled on the UK version — in which people have to specify to their internet service provider (ISP) or mobile phone provider that they want access to pornography in order to be exempt from it. The committee recommended it be opt-in, however, meaning parents would have to ask to have filtering, and this is something many ISPs already offer to parents without the big government filter.
The NSW government doesn’t have responsibility for telecommunications law in this area, however, so the committee said the government should advocate for internet filtering through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) process.
The government, in its response this week, said it had no intention of pursuing internet filtering:
“The NSW Government supports the current focus on providing education, information and tools for parents, children and the community to improve the safety of internet use … Many internet service providers and electronic devices such as computers, tablets, mobiles and routers already provide optional parental control tools. Filtering software products are also available for consumers to purchase.”
No doubt the push will continue, with the Australian Christian Lobby describing the government’s stance as “disappointing”.
Earlier this year, the NSW government said it would not follow the Victorian and Western Australian governments and fund the Safe Schools program after Commonwealth funding runs out at the end of June. It said it was working on an updated anti-bullying program instead. The committee had recommended that Safe Schools — which since 2016 has required schools to consult parents before the resources can be used in a class — become opt-in instead of opt-out. This would mean that parents would need to specifically say their kids should be in a class with Safe Schools.
The NSW government rejected this request:
“Safe Schools resources are one of many external resources NSW schools carefully select to complement their teaching and learning programs aligned with the NSW Education Standards Authority … Parents are able to opt out and decline their child’s participation in any lesson that includes Safe Schools.”
Much of the media reporting around the NSW government’s decision to not fund Safe Schools has stated they are replacing it with a broader anti-bullying program. But Safe Schools was always meant as a resource that could continue to be used in schools even without government funding. It is not clear whether teachers will be banned from using it after June this year — they are not banned from using it today.
The NSW government said an updated anti-bullying strategy will be released to schools in term 3 this year, built on both national and local resources, and an expert panel will peer review any new resources put into the program.
Those opposed to the anti-bullying program, such as the Australian Christian Lobby, will be keeping a close eye on the content. The lobby group has also raised concerns at any LGBTI strategy being included in the program, but did not seem to have issue with the government’s position on Safe Schools.