Senator Ludlam slams filter in Parliament

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.