Xenophon opposes mandatory ISP filtering, but fight not over yet

Asher Moses reports that “The Government’s plan to introduce mandatory internet censorship has effectively been scuttled, following an independent senator’s decision to join the Greens and Opposition in blocking any legislation required to get the scheme started.”

This news has set the blogosphere and twitter alight with celebration. Unfortunately, that may all be a bit premature.

While it is true that a mandatory filtering proposal is likely to require legislation to implement (especially without the support of the Internet Industry Association and a voluntary code of conduct), it is not clear that any future legislation is dead in the water just yet.

The current makeup of the Senate requires either the support of the coalition or the support of all seven minor party and independent senators. Scott Ludlam, the Greens’ spokesperson for communications, had already made it clear that the Greens will not support mandatory filtering. The Coalition has indicated that it has ‘grave reservations’ about Labor’s mandatory filtering plan, with Senator Minchin releasing an op-ed criticising the plan as insulting to parents.

This leaves two other senators, Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding. Fielding, representing Family First, has stated that he would support a mandatory filter, and would like to see its scope increased. Xenophon is now said to have ‘withdrawn all support’ for the plan, saying “the more evidence that’s come out, the more questions there are on this”.

So far, this all sounds like pretty good news for opponents of the mandatory filter. However, the process is not over yet. As several commentators have already noted, the fate of any proposed legislation is still unclear.

It has only been a short time since we saw Senator Xenophon support the Government’s stimulus package in exchange for an agreement to fast-track $900 million for water buy-backs in the Murray-Darling Basin. There is no guarantee (apart from a budget deficit) that similar deals will not be on the table in the future.

There is also no guarantee that Liberal or National Senators will not cross the floor in support of Labor’s filtering scheme. A notable feature of Howard’s last term was the the power of the small number of Coalition Senators who were prepared to cross the floor and vote with Labor on certain policies.

Finally, while on the subject of Howard, we have to remember that we will have a half Senate election in the next 18 to 26 months. There is a distinct possibility that Rudd, like Howard, will consolidate his position and gain a double majority by winning a few extra seats in the upper house. If this happens, the Government may not need the support of the cross-benchers to introduce mandatory filtering.

Until there is an indication that Conroy and the Labor party have dropped their ill-thought out proposal for mandatory internet filtering, there is still much work to be done.

[ cross posted from nic’s blog. ]