The Five-Year Backflip

Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Communications in the Gillard Government yesterday announced that the Labor Party would not be pursuing a mandatory internet filter. The very proposal put forward by Senator Conroy back when Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister had always been a political problem for Stephen Conroy and now it has been resolved, but not without all that now unnecessary political pain.

Luckily for the Labor Senator, debate over the proposed mandatory filter has been absent from the headlines for some time. All the while, Conroy was still working behind the scenes with telecommunications companies on a solution to the complex issue

But was taking all this time really necessary?

In the first instance, the strong opposition to a mandatory filter should have been a big enough sign for the Minister of Communications to consider looking at other avenues for arriving at the same, or a similar outcome. Instead, the government decided to continue pursue a policy that has proved a long and drawn out problem.

The backflip performed by Senator Conroy has to be one of the longest backward steps taken by a minister that appears way out of his depth not just in the narrow area of internet regulation, but also his broader portfolio responsibilities.

After 5 years of  both pontificating about the filter and working behind the scenes to achieve an outcome, Minister Conroy announced that instead of a mandatory internet filter, he had reached an agreement with internet service providers to block sites listed on Interpol’s ‘worst of’ database. That means that approximately 1400 websites monitored by Interpol will, once the policy is implemented, not be able to be accessed from Australian computers.

This seems like a much more sensible outcome, a much smarter approach than an Australia-wide internet filter which would have been much more widespread and at the same time a very secretive process with the list of blocked websites hidden from the public view.

It is very interesting how Mr Conroy has shifted from pushing a policy of wider censorship of the internet in a secretive manner, with no published list of banned materials for public oversight, to a narrower policy of just combating access to child abuse websites.

The fact that the new policy is limited to child abuse material is a victory for common sense with concerns around the barring of a wider array of websites actually amounting the censorship.

The problem with the previous policy was not so much about what would be blocked, but the fact that we would actually never know what the government would be blocking and even why.

At the same time, the ALP need to be careful that they do not think they can combat child pornography and exploitation material just by blocking websites.

As Shadow Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull made clear in an interview today, “[the filter] would have been quite ineffective in the battle against child pornography because people who trade child pornography and other material of that kind do so through peer-to-peer networks, they’re not posting it up on websites.”

Stephen Conroy and his party can now breathe a little easier, with a needlessly prolonged problem finally off the table, but the embarrassment will be experienced for a little while yet. Luckily, in the scheme of things, this issue probably has not leaked votes for the ALP.

It has, however, exposed a poor minister.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at tbridgey@gmail.com or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Less a backflip more a digital deliquesence!

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