The Australian Christian Lobby represents church groups from around the country. ARN spoke with its managing director, Jim Wallace, about what he wants from the upcoming election and why he thinks people against the filter are either misinformed or suffering from ‘extreme liberalism’.
What are the key technology issues you see coming up for the Federal Election?
JW: First of all there’s ISP-level filtering and we’ve got a strong position on that from the Government. The other issue that gets into this space is classification generally.
I think we now have a classification system that is broken on two levels. First of all it hasn’t kept up with technologies that we now have for conveying entertainment and advertising. And secondly that it’s a toothless tiger that has no powers to actually deter people from breaking the very weak rules it put in place.
There is a failure by the classification system to be a comprehensive system that goes across all technology media types in the same way. It is ridiculous to have billboards continue to go unclassified because they are out in G spaces. Parents shouldn’t have to explain to kids on the way to school what a billboard says because it’s conveying a message that isn’t meant for a G audience.
How would you respond to criticisms that some innocuous materials, like information on graffiti, may also get banned under a filter?
JW: I think this claim is as valid as the one run by GetUp!, which said a filter would slow the Internet down by up to 87 per cent. These people are clutching at straws and I think the misstatement and mistruths they brought into the public debate are scandalous.
Just as scandalous is the claim that we’ll end up like China or North Korea. We’re culturally not at all like those countries.
One Government Senator, Kate Lundy, is clearly well-educated on the filtering issue and yet she opposes it. How would you explain her and others like her?
JW: I think there are a lot of intelligent people that are caught up in a form of extreme liberalism. It’s an ideological position, which says nothing should be regulated. Perhaps that’s where she’s coming from.
But I think anybody who looks at the facts and that the Government is just applying to overseas-sourced sites the same restrictions we place on Australia sites, will realise that the counter argument just doesn’t hold, it doesn’t get up, it doesn’t have legs. I can only imagine that either she’s misinformed on the facts or she’s got an ideological position that means she’ll never change her mind.
Are you looking to make classification standards more stringent?
JW: No, we’re just looking to see [the filter] implemented. And all that is doing is applying the same standard that we demand of Australian-sourced sites to information that comes from overseas. In Australia if something is RC then it is issued with a takedown notice. You clearly can’t do that in the case of an overseas site, you don’t the authority to do that, but you can block to achieve the same end.
Would you be satisfied with a mandatory-filter that only stopped child pornography?
JW: No, because we’re also talking about gratuitous violence. For instance, the sort of stuff that is typified by snuff videos, which is people actually being killed for entertainment. We’re talking about incitement to crime and the detail of how to build a bomb and that sort of stuff. Clearly this sort of stuff is refused classification in Australia for a reason. I think the Government’s RC categories are appropriate.
Are you disappointed this issue didn’t get through parliament before the election, given that the Australian Greens may now hold the balance of power?
JW: That’s an unfortunate consequence, yes. But I understand why it didn’t get processed in the time. I don’t think Government was anticipating a Greens balance of power as a way to get out of this. We’ve still got to see if the Greens do get it, but it looks fairly likely.
Will you therefore increase your lobbying of the Coalition to get it to cross the floor on the issue?
JW: Yes, we will certainly want to see the Government’s proposed filtering or blocking on the Internet of RC material introduced. I don’t question the right to have a review of the RC category because I think the more confidence people have on what the Government is doing, given all the nonsense that’s been thrown up around it by those who oppose it, the better. A review of the RC category can give ordinary people out there more confidence after the nonsense that’s been thrust at them by GetUp! and Electronic Frontiers Australia.
Are you disappointed that it hasn’t even reached a draft legislation stage?
JW: I would’ve wanted it earlier, but at the same time it went through two substantive trials and had to deal with all the nonsense that was thrown up by opponents to it. I understand the wheels of Government often move slowly, but I’m encouraged to see is they’re still committed to it. We would still be looking to hold them to that commitment once they’re in Government.
Will the Government have a mandate to push through ISP-level filtering, given that it’s gone to the last two elections with this as its policy?
JW: Most definitely and I think the Labor Party hasn’t changed its policy. It’s just going to review the RC category for reasons of insuring transparency. I think absolutely it has a mandate.
Are you critical of the Coalition’s stance of not supporting or backing away from the filter?
JW: Yes, very much. I’m disappointed and there’s no doubt that the filter is justified. There’s no doubt that parents want it. As late as earlier this year we had 80 per cent of people in a McNair Ingenuity Research survey say that they favour the Government’s plan for mandatorily blocking RC material on the Internet. Back in 2003, 93 per cent of parents supported it. So even given what has been a hugely misleading propaganda campaign by GetUp! and Electronic Frontiers Australia, I think you’ve still got this huge majority of people [supporting the filter] and I would expect the Coalition to respond to that.
The National Party voted against ISP filtering at its national conference despite the opposition of its Senators. Is that a worry for you?
JW: I think it’s just indicative of how deep this propaganda campaign has reached and particularly amongst young people. If you’re told by GetUp! that this will slow the Internet by up to 87 per cent even though the reality is it will slow the Internet down by 1/70th of a blink of an eye, even I would’ve signed their petition. So we’ve had a propaganda campaign run on misinformation and lies. Of course it will have caught some people up because not everyone is looking at this in the detail that I am.
Does that mean you’re worried by the successes of your opponents on the issue if they’re reaching these people?
JW: No, I’m not because as late as this week we’ve had the report by the National Crime Commission, which has made it clear we have incredible rates of children mimicking adult sexual behaviour because they’re viewing material – some of which will be in DVDs or TVs – but most of which is on the Internet. We’ve got a real problem here and it goes well beyond the rights of adults to view what they want. It comes down to protecting the right of children to have their childhood.