Greens Senator Scott Ludlam yesterday rose to address the Senate specifically on the subject of the Rudd government's mandatory internet filter. The speech is easily the most substantial given in Parliament to date, and was withering in its assessment of the merits of the scheme.

Calling the filter "an inappropriate and off-target attempt to engage with a series of problems that deserve a much more serious and nuanced response", Senator Ludlam outlined three major areas in which the policy was a failure. Firstly, it doesn't achieve its policy objectives such as protecting children online. Secondly, it "establishes the architecture" for future censorship, as the list is expanded in future. The third line of attack deals with the technical unworkability of the system.

Summing up the policy failures, Senator Ludlam said:

If the government has its way and if it is passed through this parliament none of the issues that parents grapple with, that teachers are concerned about, that child safety and protection advocates worry about will have disappeared as a result of the enactment of this filter. It will not result in a single prosecution, it will not close down a single illegal website and it will not result in the removal of a single harmful image from the internet. So let us be very clear about that.

Many of us in the community have long noticed that what was presented as a "cyber-safety" policy, applying to internet connections with children, has since become a plan to "harmonise" our censorship and classification scheme by targeting material only adults would see. Clearly the Government did not get a mandate from the electorate to introduce a new censorship system for its own sake.

EFA have long warned that the system, once in place, will one day succumb to inevitable pressure to make it even more broad. Senator Ludlam pointed out the following comment made by Senator Conroy on Four Corners:

"If a majority of the Parliament in the future want to broaden the classification - meaning of material caught by the filter - well then, Australians should stand up and say ‘just a minute', and I'll be one of them."

Of course, that's exactly what is happening now. If it gets to this situation, it will be too late, as Senator Ludlam points out. He goes on to say:

Once the architecture is in place, the idea that future governments will not be tempted to expand its scope is impossible to entertain. The reasons are technical, as well as political. The time for Australians to stand up is not down the track in that hypothetical vote; it is right now. People are standing up...

We expect that several parliamentarians, will be amongst the special interest groups knocking on the Government's door on day one. Given Senator Conroy's willingness to entertain a "three strikes" system for punishing internet downloaders, this is a very legitimate concern.

Of course, technically the filter is almost too easy a target. Once you appreciate the scope of web content and the scattershot nature of the blacklist, the filter can only be described as ridiculous. "The proposition that you could take a list, even with a classification scheme as vague as ours-this ‘refused classification' bracket-and somehow plug everything that would be deemed to be refused classification is quite absurd," said Senator Ludlam and we agree.

Senator Ludlam finishes by removing any ambiguity about the Greens vote on this issue. "If the government presents its mandatory internet censorship scheme to the parliament in the form that the minister has been describing to us, the Australian Greens will vote against it."

Finally, EFA got its second mention in Parliament in recent times, but a bit more positive than the first.

Electronic Frontiers Australia has done essential research and advocacy over the last couple of years. I congratulate them for their work despite the hostility that they have drawn from the government. For a number of years, they have laid the foundations for a much larger number of individuals and organisations who have added their voices to the campaign.

We're grateful for the Senator's recognition, but even more grateful that there is a parliamentarian with the energy and understanding to give Conroy's filter the scrutiny the Australian public deserves.

We recommend watching the full speech below, or reading a transcript here.

19 comments

  1. Okay, I watched the video. Hands up anyone else who was disturbed to see the room almost completely empty and who thought about the UK's recent Digital Economy bill.

    Comment by Dane on 14 May 2010 at 01:13
  2. As far as I know, it is not uncommon for statements to be made in the Senate without a large number of senators present. The important thing here is the statement Senator Ludlam made about the Greens not supporting Conroy's folly, sorry, I mean Conroy's filter. That will cause Senator Ludlam's speech to be read with great 'interest' by the government and the opposition.

    Senator Ludlam is to be congratulated for his lucid and astute statement, and of course for his stand in this matter.

    Comment by Des on 14 May 2010 at 12:04
  3. I feel saddened by the domination in Australian politics of parties that are unwilling to defend civil liberties, and am grateful to the EFA for it's efforts.

    Nominate candidates to the Senate in the upcoming elections and you will most certainly have my vote... please make such nominations.

    Comment by sean on 16 May 2010 at 11:23
  4. As much as I despise the Greens for some of their unworkable and uneconomical environmental policies, I can't help but feel that they are the only ones approaching the filtering issue reasonably.

    I also agree that there has been cultivated by some members of the government an unreasonable, and downright irrational, hostility towards the EFA and their work.

    Comment by JC on 17 May 2010 at 20:43
  5. Excellently spoken by Senator Ludlam. On behalf of the people, thank you to EFA and the Senator for fighting this.

    Comment by Philip B on 18 May 2010 at 14:42
  6. Never been a fan of the Greens, but Senator Ludlum has argued this well... so much so that the Greens will probably get my vote next time (if they give their preferences to a party other than the ALP I will definitely vote for them)

    Comment by Oram Plus on 18 May 2010 at 20:21
  7. Ludlam is doing excellent work for the Greens and all Australians.

    However, Clive Hamilton is also a member of the Greens, and a claims to be the architect of the filter, and hates Free Speech.

    Therefore simply voting Greens may not have the result you want. I suggest being very selective about which Greens you vote for.

    Comment by Womp on 18 May 2010 at 23:38
  8. I should point out the Clive Hamilton is no longer a Greens candidate, and has no role in setting Greens policy on this issue. By all means don't vote for Clive - which should be easy as he's not a candidate for any seat that I am aware of - but the Greens platform, and the stated intention of every Greens MP, is to oppose the filter. So far we haven't heard such an unequivocal statement from the opposition and we are unlikely to at this stage.

    Comment by Colin Jacobs on 18 May 2010 at 23:48
  9. I agree with what Colin Jacobs said.

    It doesn't hurt to be certain what you are voting for before you shove your ballot in the box.

    Comment by Womp on 19 May 2010 at 00:31
  10. I'm not satisfied either. ALP is a neo-socialist and unionist party informed by pragmatic necessities of adapting to a capitalist local and global economy, the Liberals are a three-way hybrid of libertarianism, conservatism and oppositionalism to their notion of ALP as socialist-unionists. Both of these parties are imbued by the moralities propagated by the judeo-christian faiths. Despite one of the greatest threats facing not only our nation but the world coming from environmental catastrophe, the Greens are unable to attract substantial voters (how do they do it at this time?) but being "new-age" might seem to be the natural party to defend secular notions of liberty, freedom and fairness - but deeper thinking will expose this to be untenable because libertarianism is at odds with environmental regulation of corporate activities.

    Meanwhile, another threat emerges. An Orwellian one, where innovators such as Steve Jobs hijack Bob Dylan to market a product that blocks unauthorised applications from being used on his devices because, in Jobs' words, among other things, they will "free us from porn".

    Stephen Conroy wants to free us from porn too. As though porn is what is destroying our planet and our relations with each other. It has nothing then to do with our desensitisations to violence dished out to children as animated combatants, and to adults with regurgitated plots that detract us from learning and communing productively with our family and friends. Sure, porn is the problem here.

    The Haneef case has all but faded from our minds as "terrorism" was produced as the justification for depriving us of natural justice. The fear-mongering that began with 9/11 still plays out as Conroy assures us that government control of what is and is not seen is in our best interests. Never mind that the people who tend to aspire and dedicate their whole being to reaching government are in fact aspiring with everything they have got to positions of power over the rest of us. Is this who you want to trust with control over the flow of information and over truth itself?

    So when we consider for a moment why there is not a party of people dedicated to the defence of our civil liberties, and who would effectively stymie this insidious intrusion into our basic human rights to communicate between each other globally, it starts to become clear. The kind of person who aspires to government is about exerting power over us and depriving us of our own powers to decide things for ourselves. That is why it is so unlikely that a group of people would take all that effort to get into power, only to free us to decide things for ourselves.

    I read yesterday that the Victorian State government has set upon a course of fining people who leave their cars unlocked. Just when the day before I thought I had heard everything.

    I read yesterday that the young whistleblower Assange who leaked the ACMA black list is being harrassed by Australian Customs and deprived of his passport. He really embarrassed Senator Stephen Conroy when he leaked that list. Those are the dots, I'll let you join them. Conroy urges us to trust him and his ACMA to censor our internet.

    In the USA they have their Bill of Rights, and further, a Secretary of State who emphatically defends the right to free speech. There is the Declaration of Human Rights, article 19 that also defends the right to freedom of expression.

    In Australia though, we have nothing but our own collective vigilance to defend us from what Senator Conroy in his infinite arrogance proposes to do to our liberal-democracy.

    I really hope that people take the time to understand what is happening, inform their family and friends of what is taking place to our liberal-democracy and punish those in government who presume to know better than us what we should and should not know or think about.

    Punish Stephen Conroy.

    Meanwhile, I cross my fingers that a party takes the mantle for libertarianism... a true "Liberalism Party" to defend these rights that we, Australians, hold so dear... or at least would if we really understood them.

    Comment by sean on 19 May 2010 at 00:59
  11. Colin's support for Scott Ludlum's efforts are fair enough but he should also support the work that other parties like the Sex Party have done in trying to knock the internet filter off. Colin was on the ABC last night saying he was a card carrying member of the Greens now and EFA needs to be careful to maintain its non aligned position, As the Womp says above, the Greens did preselect the architect of Conroy's filter in the Higgins by election against the Sex Party's President, Fiona Patten. She was the main protagonist against the filter in this election with Hamilton quietly saying that the filter was still a good idea. Colin can argue that the Greens won't preselect Hamilton again and that's fair enough but they did it once and ran against an anti-filtering party...so they can do it again. The Greens have not said they will NOT pre select him again. The Greens have also preselected Kathleen Maltzahn for the Victorian state seat of Richmond, Maltzahn is a strong feminist with strong views on online censorship and a dislike of much sexual imagery on the internet. And what about the Democrats and the LDP? They also have done good work on this issue and hardly ever get a mention on the EFA site. EFA would be well advised to make sure that they do not become an arm of the Greens and an agent for Greens policy. They should report and recognise the work done on stopping Conroy's legislation by all those involved and they should be critical of the Greens when necessary. This attitude used to be apparent when Irene Graham was to the fore in EFA but since her departure from the foreground, things seem to have changed a bit with Australia's leading online defender of freedom.....

    Comment by robbie swan on 19 May 2010 at 21:29
  12. @robbie swan: You are right - fair comments. The Greens deserve some attention because of their presence in the Senate, but in fact, we intend to publish a voting guide in advance of the election to inform people how all the parties stand on these issues. Besides the Greens, the Democrats, Pirate Party, Sex Party and Sovereignty Party are all against the filter, and Family First at least are in support. People should be aware of both the party lines and the personalities involve, and we will try and get this information across as an issues-focused organisation, not a party political organisation.

    Comment by Colin Jacobs on 19 May 2010 at 21:38
  13. Comment #10 by sean — May 18, 2010 @ 2:59 pm is really one of the best alerts to loss of our human rights, so far published in response to the Internet filter.

    Quote Sean:
    "The kind of person who aspires to government is about exerting power over us and depriving us of our own powers to decide things for ourselves. That is why it is so unlikely that a group of people would take all that effort to get into power, only to free us to decide things for ourselves."

    These words alone, should inspire a demand by the people for a Bill of Rights.
    It is only in the context of such a demand that concern about any individual candidate's biases needs to be discussed. We critically need to work for limiting the personal prejudices, power and corruption of those we elect to office, in the form of a Bill Of Rights that will protect our civil liberties and individual Human Rights.

    That such a Bill Of Rights needs to be secular is without question, if we are to avoid being controlled by belief rather than intellectual honesty.

    The Internet as it is, affords discussions on such demands for our freedoms. The opponents to individual human rights are well aware of it, indeed are actively working to limit such discussion through advancing the Net filter on the manipulative pretext of protecting the young. The sad thing is they don't realise how much damage the filter will do to the freedoms of the very people whom they claim, they want to protect.

    Comment by Des on 19 May 2010 at 22:16
  14. thanks Colin..an EFA guide would be appreciated by all I think. Such a guide could also be invaluable in informing people and micro-parties about preferencing and preference deals. Preference deals based on censorship could be incredibly important at the coming election especially between micro parties who are against the filter.

    Comment by robbie swan on 19 May 2010 at 22:42
  15. @Robbie Swan

    My opinion is still that it doesn't hurt to be certain what you are voting for before you shove your ballot in the box.

    That being said, just as there are problems with simply voting 1 Greens and expecting a favourable outcome, similar problems exist with the Sex Party.

    Before proper formation, when operating as Eros, Swan, Patten, et al, lobbied the Government *NOT* to have public consultation on introducing an Adult Games Rating. They also pledged public support for Jim Wallace and the ACL in lobbying for greater censorship of violence. Indeed, if you read the ASP published Policies you will see that their plan is to replace part of the current Classification Scheme with a Classification of "Non Violent Erotica". So, if you are considering voting ASP you may want to look beyond their Filter policy and also investigate their Policies on Adult Games and Censorship in general.

    I'm not a member of the Greens, ASP, or any Political Party. I do however use several pseudonyms on the net, including but not limited to, Womp, Reknaps, Olaf Sigerson

    @Colin Jacobs

    A voting guide sounds like a good idea, it certainly seems to work well for the ACL.

    Comment by Womp on 19 May 2010 at 23:30
  16. The Womp is correct. Before proper formation and as an industry association, we did have those policies. But as a political party we have a different policy and there's nothing shady or odd about that. Its a different vehicle. Its like driving your FJ Holden on the freeway, you'd be mad to do over 100 ks with those thin wheels and shocking weight centre. However you trade it in and buy a modern car with modern suspension etc and 100 ks on the freeway is fine. The Australian Sex Party's policy on Adult Games is that there should be an R rating AND an X rating. We are the only group pushing to have an above R18+ category for games but why not? There's an X rating for films and a Category 2 Restricted category for publications so why shouldn't we have the same in games? There's plenty of gamers out there who would really like to have sexually explicit games rather than just sexually simulated ones. all the old arguments apply.

    Comment by robbie swan on 21 May 2010 at 04:38
  17. @Robbie Swan

    Uh huh.

    You are comparing a 60 year old car with a change from supporting the ACL in less than 12 months.

    In order to not be accused of falsely attributing shadiness or oddness I will quote directly from the Sex Party Policies as published on your website.

    "Bring about the establishment of a truly national classification scheme which includes a uniform non-violent erotica rating for explicit adult material for all jurisdictions and through all media including the Internet and computer games.

    Introduce an R and X rating for computer games"

    http://www.sexparty.org.au/index.php/policies

    So, Adult Games have to somehow fit themselves into a "Non Violent Erotica" Classification.

    And, somebody is somehow going to Classify the whole Internet. Neither the current system nor Conroy's changes attempt anything like that.

    Comment by Womp on 21 May 2010 at 06:26
  18. having just reviewed the blacklist published by wikileaks I was suprised to see some of the pornsites that I have come across on the internet from time to time which are entirely legal in the US and have US 18 classification are on the list. The also contains many flash streaming porn sites which are usually free like youporn (subject to many hours of fun and laughter by me and my housemates in the UK at the time). SO the internet filter has gone from just the childporn sites which numbered around 500, to all internet porn sites in the world as well as a number of other politically sensitive subjects like euthanasia ?. So the Australian governmernt wishes to create the worlds first porn free western country ?????
    Poor old Abbywinters which is also completley legal in also on that list.
    So every site on that list comes from a complaint from a person in this country??
    ACMA is a regulator , sites that might be illegal should be given to the police internet division to look at ? If there is no child abuse ortorture or beastiality then the site should be legal ??

    As a Kiwi in Australia I am abolsutely stunned at this whole shambles , its gone completly out of control just like the mining tax which has the potential to ruin my career. What is with this labour goverment that everything they now touch is turning to s***.
    Australians come to NZ to a censorship free country we could use your skills if all this goes down. We also have a R18 rating system as well.

    Comment by Can on 7 June 2010 at 08:31
  19. there is just not enough organised action against this (or am I missing something?)

    I have written a few emails and sent them to Senators asking that they oppose any mandatory internet filter. Other than that... can't think of anything.

    I really hope people speak out and that ALP becomes convinced that this is an election loser.

    Thank you Des for honouring me with your reference... I appreciate everyone who writes here and elsewhere to voice support for Freedom of Expression.

    It's bad enough that religious fundamentalism oppresses people in the Middle East... but the Labor Party (which I once believed to be the more secular of the two) is now inextricably in the superstitious puritan trance that many Liberal members are in.

    Where can rational people turn to?

    Comment by sean on 7 June 2010 at 08:53