Toxic net filters 'shelved until after election'
ASHER MOSESJune 18, 2010
The internet censorship policy has joined the government's list of "politically toxic subjects" and will almost certainly be shelved until after the federal election, Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam says.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - already facing a voter backlash over several perceived policy failures - is expected to call the election before the end of the year and the feeling of many in Canberra is that next week will be the last sitting week of Parliament.
Parliament is not due to sit again until August 24, leaving little time to introduce the legislation and have it debated and passed in time for the election.
Pushing for filters to be opt-in ... Labor Senator Kate Lundy. Photo: Elliot Woods
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said he expects legislation to enable his internet filtering policy, which will block a secret blacklist of "refused classification" (RC) websites for all Australians, to be tabled in the second half of the year.
He has said delays have been due to issues working out transparency and accountability measures.
Senator Ludlam said in a phone interview that these issues were only part of the reason for the delay, saying the policy was now "on the list of politically toxic subjects that you don't in your right mind run during an election campaign".
Senator Conroy's spokeswoman has repeatedly refused to deny claims that the legislation would be shelved until after the election, saying only that she did not yet know when the election would be.
The scheme has attracted immense opposition from Senator Conroy's political opponents, the internet industry including several ISPs, Yahoo and Google, academics, lobby groups, some childrens' welfare groups including Save The Children, the US government, Reporters Without Borders and even Labor MPs.
The opposition has failed to state a definitive position on the matter since Tony Abbott took over as Opposition Leader, and his communications spokesman, Tony Smith, has refused to comment despite several requests from this website.
However, it is likely the legislation would not be passed even if it was introduced in the near future, as the Greens are committed to opposing it and several Opposition heavyweights, including Joe Hockey, have criticised the net filtering policy in speeches.
"The industry are telling them that what they are intending to do is formidably difficult - the government won't be able to draft a bill saying 'OK ISPs, you go and make this happen', because the ISPs are pushing back telling the government 'No, you tell us how you think you can make it work,'" Senator Ludlam said.
"I don't believe he will be able to get the chamber time from his colleagues [before the election] unless he's fairly sure that he's going to be able to pass it; the government at the moment don't have time to burn a couple of days of chamber time only to have it voted down.
Senator Ludlam is on the newly formed cyber-safety committee but, in the round-table meetings, "nobody brought it [the filters] up because they're dealing with issues that are front and centre as far as child safety is concerned and the filter won't help them".
One of the main issues raised by critics of the filter is that it would impose mandatory internet censorship on all Australians and would inevitably catch content many regard as innocuous. Leaked versions of the blacklist have seen a Queensland dentist, pet-care facility and school cafeteria consultancy caught up among the child porn and sexual abuse sites.
Senator Conroy argues he is just porting censorship models applied to other mediums over to the internet but the key difference with offline mediums is that citizens know what is being blocked and why. Prominent critics feel the current policy will be the thin end of the wedge, with little stopping successive governments from expanding the scope of the filters.
Labor Senator Kate Lundy has been pushing Senator Conroy to scrap the mandatory aspect of the scheme and make it opt-in. She wrote in a blog post this month that she was working to change the policy "to better achieve the policy goals of protecting children through empowering and educating parents".
She is pushing for two key amendments:
1. Protect in legislation the availability of an unfiltered, open internet service.
2. Require all internet subscribers to make an active choice as to whether they want an unfiltered, RC filtered or additionally filtered internet service (with the latter being personally customisable at any time).
Senator Lundy said although she originally discussed making the filters opt-out, "it has become clear that the community has a preference for [an] opt-in approach, rather than an opt-out compromise".
Today, Senator Lundy said: "I have received a lot of support and constructive feedback both publicly and privately about the amendments I am proposing to this policy, and I look forward to presenting the federal Labor caucus with a constructive alternative approach that upholds the principles of open government, net neutrality, and empowers parents to take responsibility for the cybersafety of children in their care."
The filtering policy has attracted international criticism and ridicule, most recently in Time magazine, which covered the policy in detail and wrote: "Australia may soon become the first Western democracy to join the ranks of Iran, China and a handful of other nations where access to the internet is restricted by the state."
It has also been the subject of several spoof videos, including one dubbed "censordyne", created by the online activist group GetUp!. Much to the group's dismay, it was banned from being shown as an ad on domestic Qantas flights into Canberra, although it got a good run online.
Today, online electronics seller Kogan Technologies released its own parody clip featuring a supposed new product developed by two alleged engineers, Con and Roy, which will provide an alternative to the government's proposed filter.
Made from "the finest 8000-thread count Egyptian cotton", the "Portector" goes "on sale" for $2999 today.