When the mandatory ISP filter got delayed last week, many detractors saw it as a big win for the anti-filter movement. But what seemed to some a humiliating back down is more likely to be a well-timed move by the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy.
Conroy’s play does two main things. The most obvious and immediate development is to stall the controversy and get it off the plate in time for an election. Labor is clearing the decks for an August or September Federal election that will be a hard slog, according to the polls.
While political experts insist that very few people know about the ISP filter, many who do understand are against it. This delay reduces the chance of it influencing a large number of votes come election day.
The party will now focus its message into clear-cut policies and slogans. Gillard will “Move Australia Forward” by focussing on the environment, economy, health, refugees and the National Broadband Network.
The second effect is a splitting of the anti-filtering camp, which was already fractious to begin with. Many were against the filter because of its potentially wide scope, with euthanasia and body piercing up for the chop under the original plan.
The eventual topics set to be filtered will be dependent on a meeting between the State and Federal attorneys-general. In the mean-time the filter debate is re-framed to just child pornography. This moves some of the bad press away from Canberra and makes filtering easier to sell and harder to dispute.
But Conroy’s cleverness is shown in the long-term game he’s played by introducing a voluntary filter. For those that argue against it for technical reasons, a successful deployment of the voluntary filter by Telstra, Optus and Primus will give the Government even more support.
In essence, the foundations for a filter will be in place with any technical faults fixable by the time a mandatory option gets onto the table – and all this has been accomplished without a single bit of legislation being drafted.
A key consideration is what this means for the Liberal Party. With the Greens against the measure and likely to hold the balance of power, the Liberal Party’s senators will most likely decide if filtering is introduced in 2011.
A mandatory filter that blocks child pornography and does not slow down the Internet is very attractive to the Liberal Party’s target demographic and is likely to find support.
Evidence of this can be found in the fact that Shadow Communications Minister, Tony Smith, has not come out against the mandatory filter and used a recent media release to praise the voluntary filter.
Long story short, Conroy ‘s move is clever and effective. In the short term, the filter will become a non-issue in time for the election. In the long term, the filter may be passed with very little controversy.