There are no plans for Australia to follow the UK policy of requiring internet service providers to offer network-level filters that block online porn.
The option isn’t part of the government’s response to a senate committee inquiry into harm being done to children through access to pornography.
The government will wait instead for new research and will support continued education for parents and teachers.
The inquiry received 416 submissions, many of which proposed filtering pornographic content to make it inaccessible for children.
Britain introduced optional filtering for new ISP customers at the end of 2013 and it’s been extended to existing users on a rolling basis.
The committee reported that between six and 40 per cent of UK customers [depending on the ISP] had taken up filtering by June 2015.
The Australian Christian Lobby recommended blocking pornography at ISP level by default, requiring adults to opt in.
The Burnet Institute argued ISP-level filtering was unlikely to succeed for technical reasons and the committee heard that parental control tools currently exist.
The government acknowledged evidence that pornography harms children.
The Royal Australian College of Physicians submitted that one study found 28 per cent of 9-16 year-olds had seen sexual material online and 73 per cent of 15-16 year-olds.
A 2013 UK study revealed 11 as the average first age of exposure to pornography.
Evidence to the committee showed harm included pornography being used as sex education; distress for young children; addictive behaviour; changing sexual practices; consequences for body image and self-esteem; viewing women as sex objects and potential sexual offending.
The Australian Medical Association submitted the proliferation of online pornography was shaping social norms in relation to sexuality.
“The AMA believes that children viewing highly sexualised pornographic material are at risk of negatively affecting their psychological development and mental health by potentially skewing their views of normality and acceptable behaviour,” the submission said.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists told the inquiry that children exposed to pornographic material could exhibit inappropriate and distorted sexual behaviour.
“Anecdotally, exposure to pornography is an element of some presentations at child and adolescent mental health services, however more research and data is needed in this area,” the college said.
Professor Freda Briggs [dec], foundation chair of child development at the University of South Australia, submitted last year that child sex offenders used pornography to seduce targeted victims.
“There is research evidence that pornography affects the brain in much the same way as drugs,” Professor Briggs wrote.
“It can become addictive.
“There is international evidence that some children become addicted to downloading pornography and rape younger children.
“… clearly we are paying too high a price for adults’ right to view whatever they wish regardless of the consequences for young people and society.”
The committee concluded more research was needed and suggested a national forum to “build consensus on whether a problem exists that warrants government intervention, and if so, the policy options that should be pursued”.
The government’s response says having the right policy settings and programs in place is critical.
It says in July 2015 the government established the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner to take a national leadership role with education resources through a web portal.
“While significant progress has been made to increase the protection for vulnerable Australians on the internet more can always be done,” the response says.
“The government is committed to further consultation and research to ensure that our future policy responses can be even more effectively and efficiently targeted.”