yARN: The politics of mandatory ISP filtering

Why the Government will get its filter regardless of what others want

If minister Stephen Conroy really wants to make compulsory ISP filtering a reality, he will have to pull it off without going through parliament as it currently stands.

This was made apparent through ARN’s recent Q&A series, where we interviewed party and independent members in the Federal Senate except on the opposing side of the bench. The Government needs all cross-benchers to approve the initiative in order to get it passed in the senate.

The Liberal party’s former shadow communications minister, Nick Minchin, was very keen to point out during an interview with ARN that his Government never brought on a national Net filter.

“What we know to date is that there is a huge risk of over blocking and under blocking, that you won’t deal with peer-to-peer traffic, so there are lots of reasons why you would not go down this path,” he said.

The vital cross-bench senator, Nick Xenophon, expressed outright dismissal when he said, “No, I don’t support it. I just can’t see that it’s technically feasible and I think there are better ways of dealing with the problem”. And the Australian Greens’ representative for technology, Senator Scott Ludlam, all but pushed the final nail in the coffin while promising to wait for the final results.

“I can’t see a scenario where we could actually support it,” he said. “We got off on the wrong foot with the Internet censorship. It’s just a bizarre policy and I don’t understand where it comes from and I think that was a real mistake.”

This left the leader of Family First, Senator Steve Fielding, as the only non-Government senator willing to support a filter on the Internet – even if he was careful not to openly back the Government’s.

“They’re still working through their various trials and we’ll see what they come up with in the end, but generally Family First believes there should be some sort of filtering on the Internet,” the senator said.

The omission of the Government in the series is no sign of bias – for weeks we have requested, through emails and phone calls, 10 minutes of Senator Conroy’s time to answer questions on issues deep within his own portfolio.

“Thanks for the invitation. We are not currently doing any interviews,” the minister’s spokesperson, Tim Marshall, responded in his second and last email response.

This contrasts against the limitless energy other ministers have given to answering public questions. To put it bluntly, I’ve spent more time conversing with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Chinese than I have with Minister Conroy in English – being zero.

Publicly, the ISP filtering issue has been a public relations negative for the Government, sparking concerns from tech users and civil libertarians alike. So why has the Government driven ahead when it knows a senate push would end in failure?

A week ago, the answer would have been a likely senate bypass. By making it a non-legislative decision, Conroy can skip the damaging round of public speeches and simply enact the policy.

But thanks to the very public Liberal Party stoush over leadership and the emissions trading scheme (ETS), the possibility of a double dissolution is stronger than ever and opens up a new possibility.

With the most recent results from Newspoll and The Australian showing the Labor Party under Rudd comfortably in front, a vote now would likely see both the House of Representatives and the Senate come under ALP control.

In other words, Conroy would have the numbers needed to press through a mandatory filter the same way John Howard got his WorkChoices.

As ominous as that last line sounds, the simple truth is congratulations are in order for supporters of mandatory filtering. The only things that can stop it now are Senator Conroy and the Labor Party.

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Tags Senator Steven FieldingStephen ConroyMandatory ISP filteringSenator Nick MinchinSenator Scott LudlamSenator Nick Xenophon

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