• What happened – and didn’t happen – in Parliament this week … and what it all means

    Mar 19 2010, 1:40

    This week has been an important week for the Open Internet campaign against the Government’s proposal to censor the Internet, in part because of what was said and what happened in Parliament, but more for what didn’t happen.  Last night the Parliament adjourned until the budget week in May, bringing to an end the Autumn sittings.  For months the Government had promised that the filtering legislation would be introduced in the Autumn sittings, but without an official statement or explanation from the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, the legislation never appeared, presumably delayed until the Winter sittings in June or August.  Although we are keen to see the detail of the proposed filtering scheme, and to see this issue finally come to a vote in Parliament, the fact that the Government has felt it necessary to delay the introduction of the legislation can only be seen as a win for the Open Internet campaign and all the individuals and organisations that are opposed to the filter.

    The Government’s need to delay the introduction of the legislation demonstrates the pressure it is under on this issue.  This pressure comes not only from Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Australian Greens,  and all the other groups opposed to the filter (see here and here), but also internally thanks to Senator Kate Lundy, as well as increasingly from the Liberal Party, as we saw with Joe Hockey’s speech on liberty last week.

    Another indication of the pressure the Government, and Senator Conroy in particular, is under over this issue was also evident in the extraordinary attacks Senator Conroy levelled at EFA this week.

    During Monday’s Question Time, Senator Conroy again faced questions about internet censorship, and in his answer the Minister accused EFA of misleading the public and international organisations.  (You can listen to the exchange here.)  We posted a detailed response his allegations and challenged the Minister to provide a solid defence of this policy that references any evidence, study, or reputable expert that demonstrates this filter will help Australian children.

    As EFA Vice-Chair Colin Jacobs said at the time, “We are aggressive in educating the public on the drawbacks of this and other policies that threaten our online freedoms, but take great pains to provide factual information and analysis to the Australian public. If we have erred in any particular instance, then we welcome a correction. That said, we have carefully considered the legalities and technical issues surrounding the policy and unreservedly stand by our assessment. It will achieve nothing for parents and police, it will cost enormous amounts of money, and presents a real threat to our freedom of speech.”

    Despite our response, Senator Conory followed up on Tuesday by again using Question Time, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, to launch further the attacks on EFA and its Board, naming Colin Jacobs, Chair Nicolas Suzor and board member Geordie Guy as those chiefly responsible for a misinformation campaign being waged against the Australian public.  (You can listen to it here.)  Once again we responded to these “cowardly” attacks, with Nic Suzor saying, “I would much prefer him to respond to our substantive concerns about transparency and the scope of the filter plan rather than make these personal remarks, which I find quite distasteful.”

    Senator Conroy sought to back up his attacks by tabling a document that he said outlined some of EFA’s “outrageous misleading” comments about the Government’s policy.  You can download and read this document for yourself, and make up your own mind, here.  We are comfortable debating Senator Conory on any of the issues set out in this document. However, despite the seriousness of the Senator’s allegations, what is pleasing about this document is that it shows he is paying very close attention every time a representative from EFA speaks about the filter.  (Although we do feel a little sorry for the poor staffer or public servant who has to tune in and listen to us every time we appear on some obscure community radio station on a weekend or after hours.)

    So what does all of this mean?  We believe the decision to delay the introduction of the filtering legislation, coupled with Senator Conroy’s unprovoked attacks on EFA this week, demonstrates that the Government is on the back foot and beginning to feel the pressure of the Open Internet movement.  While this is a good sign, there is still a lot of work ahead of all of us if we are to stop the introduction of the filter.  We have a few different things planned for the coming months, but in the meantime you can help by visiting the Take Action page and working your way through the ten things you can do to show your support for an Open Internet against Government censorship of the Internet.


    1. Stilgherrian says:

      According to a story at iTWire, it's unlikely the filter legislation will be presented before June.

      "The Government will take the time to ensure that it gets the legislative framework right," a spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said.

      "Discussions with ISPs and owners of high traffic sites on the implementation of ISP filtering are ongoing. The Government is also considering the responses to the consultation paper on improved transparency and accountability measures which will feed into the legislative framework."

      I actually doubt that the delay indicates that the policy is being taken seriously. More that Conroy's office and department are overloaded with the NBN and Telstra-split legislation.

      Nothing ever seems to happen on time there…

    2. Craig says:

      The enemy of secrecy is openness. The opponents of the mandatory filter have been open and honest in their dealings (I am excluding Anonymous here), whereas the supporters have been secretive and reluctant to engage in a public debate.

      What Senator Conroy is learning is that spending his days refusing to engage on the filter – then popping up with random and unsupported accusations may be a tactic that made him successful in winning Rudd the leadership, but will not be successful in explaining why his policy platforms – all of them – are not backed by clear evidence of need or effectiveness or business cases.

      The ABC has no need to being back the Hollowmen series. We can see it unfolding in Parliament.

    3. Ben says:

      I think a major problem for the government is that they have refused to answer basic questions about the policy for so long, that introducing legislation and having all their cards on the table puts them in a weak position. There'll be no more "let's see what the trial produces" and "we're still drafting the legislation".

      Up until the legislation is introduced, every flaw in the proposal was (and still is) effectively ignored. That point ceases to exist when the legislation is introduced, because the government has to justify each and every flaw and why these flaws somehow do not outweigh the make-believe benefits.

      The Senate at the moment is showing that they demand answers and justifications based on tangible evidence, and the government's proposal so far has no solid justification, nor any tangible evidence to support their case.

      It will be very interesting to see the government's justification for the unfathomable negative implications of their policy when they are forced to provide clear answers.

    4. Dave says:

      I'm not sure how trivial this is, but I was interested in Conroy's phrasing of:

      'They have argued that there is no child abuse material traded on the open internet'

      He means, of course, the World Wide Web. He is perfectly well aware of it.

      I've never heard anyone use the phrase 'open internet' to describe the Web before. It seems a strange term to use, and it just happens that 'Open Internet' is the EFA's brand for campaigning against the censorship.

      Now why on earth would he oddly decide to say 'open internet' in a sentence about 'child abuse material'?

    5. [...]  While we are proud of what we have achieved in that campaign, the Government's decision to delay the introduction of the legislation means that it will be prolonged and ongoing campaign.  Moreover, that is only one example of [...]