South Australian independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, has become a critical vote when the Government is looking to pass any legislation without Liberal Party support. He spoke to ARN about his rejection of mandatory filtering, his support for more laws to stop Internet piracy and the separation of Telstra.
You once supported mandatory filtering for gambling websites. What are your current views on the Government’s plans for ISP filtering?
Nick Xenophon (NX): I think it was taken out of context. What I said was if you were going to have mandatory filtering of other sites, why wouldn’t you also look at gambling? It was a throwaway comment – why single out one particular social harm and not others?
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. The money could be better spent on other things such as enforcement and tracking down the paedophile rings that are involved in it. The problem with the Government’s mandatory filter is that a lot of the most dangerous conduct takes place over peer-to-peer networks, which would be missed anyway under a filter.
If the trials reveal there are no technical problems with mandatory ISP filtering, would you change your stance to support it?
NX: You’re asking me a hypothetical and it’s dangerous to stray down that path. But from the technical details I’ve heard in the past, my understanding is it’s very problematic.
But is your opposition to the filter purely technical?
NX: No, I’m basing it on both a technical problem in relation to this and that there are issues of a better use of resources.
What do you think of the ‘three strike’ rule that would see Internet access cut off to users caught downloading illegal content three times?
NX: The question of piracy on the Internet is very important because if we don’t deal with it, then that will affect the ability of artists to be paid for their creative work, and that’s something that really concerns me. But I think people can probably get around the three strikes rule so I think it’s important there are adequate penalties in place. I’m just concerned it is something that will actually destroy the livelihood of artists and if you do that, you’re not going to get much artistic content being produced are you?
So should ISPs that don’t stop their users from downloading the content be penalised for it?
NX: Rather than talk about who should be penalised for what, I think there’s a real need for a considered approach to this as well as reform. The current system obviously isn’t working, however we do need to look at a comprehensive approach that involves ISP providers.
You’ve given in-principle support for the Government’s bid to separate Telstra. Will you vote for it in the Senate?
NX: No, I won’t vote for it in its current form because I think it needs to be improved and it needs to have a number of guarantees in terms of a whole range of issues I raised with the Minister [Senator Stephen Conroy]. I think it’s important that the benefits of separation for the consumer are maximised and I just think the legislation has got a lot of scope for improvement. I don’t think it’s healthy for any one entity to have that sort of market power and there are problems it can cause for other entrants, for competition and ultimately for consumers.