The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) is responsible for investigating complaints about inappropriate Internet content. When the ABA receive a complaint that they believe is legitimate, they refer the offending website or newsgroup article to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). The OFLC then rates the item following Australian movie classification guidelines [pdf]. A nice summary of the possible ratings is available at movie-ratings.net for those who don't wish to read about them in detail. Items rated G, PG, M, or MA are permitted to remain on the Internet without government intervention. Items rated R, X, or RC (refused classification) are deemed to warrant further action.
The problem here is that the majority of these items would be permitted if they were found in some other medium. As an adult, I can go to my local cinema and watch an R rated movie, or go on the Internet and order an X-rated video or DVD from Canberra. Yet if the content is found on the Internet, the government tries to stop me from accessing it. The action against the offending content varies, depending on the source.
For websites hosted within Australia, the ABA issues a take-down notice to the hosting ISP. However, due to the ABA's refusal to reveal the list of banned sites, it is not possible to determine whether the content is actually removed. The government has gone so far as to propose amendments to freedom of information laws to exempt information about Internet censorship. The EFA is dubious, and believes that the refusal of the ABA to reveal the list indicates that many of the sites may not have been taken down.
Websites hosted outside Australia are an entirely different matter. Naturally, the ABA has no jurisdiction over what is hosted in other countries. Instead, they provide a list of banned URLs to Australian ISPs, who are then responsible for providing blocking software to Internet users who request it, usually for an additional fee. Therefore, the prohibition of overseas sites only affects the very small proportion of Internet users who request that they be blocked from accessing it.
Perhaps the most laughable aspect of the policy is the ABA's treatment of prohibited USENET news articles. For these items, the ABA simply issues a take-down notice to the complainant's ISP. While this (if implemented) ensures that the complainant is no longer able to view the material, it does nothing for the users of Australia's other approximately 650 ISPs and is therefore completely ineffective.
The EFA report reveals that in the year until June 2001, only 13% of the material prohibited by the ABA was Australian websites over which the ABA can take effective action, a total of around 100 pages. The remainder of the prohibited content was made up of newsgroup articles and overseas websites over which the ABA has very limited control. So while the government continues to spread propaganda about the effectiveness of their censorship regime, the average Aussie can continue to download whatever they please.
Perhaps this is the best outcome for everyone concerned. The government certainly seems happy about the results, proudly reporting in their propaganda that they are helping all Australian families reap the benefits of the information economy without fear of confronting illegal or offensive material. Those who want access to filtering software can do so for reduced cost, since ISPs must provide the software at cost price. And for the remainder of Australian Internet users, the policy is so ineffective that the vast majority would be blissfully unaware of its existence.