"You can’t walk into a cinema in Australia and see certain things and we shouldn’t on the internet be able to access those things either." Does this sound reasonable to you, or does it sound a bit nonsensical? In either case, it probably won't surprise you to know that the speaker was a politician - in fact, our new Prime Minister. With those words, the PM dispelled the thin hope that a change in leadership might lead to a welcome rethink of the internet filter policy.
Speaking on Darwin radio yesterday, the PM said in full on the subject of internet censorship:
But there’s also a set of concerns about the dark side of the new technology, if I can use that expression, and, you know, clearly you can’t walk into a cinema in Australia and see certain things and we shouldn’t on the internet be able to access those things either. So, Stephen Conroy is working to get this in the right shape.
By invoking the dark side, Gillard has no doubt unleashed a torrent of Yoda-themed jokes. Unfortunately, a change in rhetoric from a newsagent to a cinema hardly represents a revision in policy. What it really represents is a continued failure of imagination.
When the prime ministership changed, there was some speculation in the IT community that Conroy could or should be replaced by Kate Lundy, who is well respected and well liked in industry circles. This was never likely to happen, but it shows the frustration many in the industry feel at the communications minister, and his predecessors - they could hardly be described as internet savvy. We recently had a field day with Conroy's gaff about "spams and scams coming through the portal", which is no doubt seen by many people as vindication of this. Clearly, with Gillard as PM the status quo will remain.
Technical leadership aside, there was some hope that the politics would work against the filter. Perhaps "clearing the decks" for the election, which has so far attempted to dispose of the mining tax, refugees and climate change as electoral issues, would lead to the shelving of filter. It appears not. Every chance the Labor government has had to distance themselves from this, they have passed up, this one included. It has always surprised me. If you've followed the debate, you know that the filter has a very shaky rationale and no clear policy goal - it amounts to interfering in the internet for censorship's sake. It is a vote loser amongst internet users and young people. Is it such a vote winner amongst other demographics?
In any case, if the Government is returned the filter will soon have its day in Parliament, and with a claimed mandate from the people. Given the stated opposition to the filter by the Greens, the filter's only chance to pass through the senate remains with the Liberal and National parties. Can we hope they will block it? Some signs are good, some signs are worrying. As the election campaign begins in earnest, we will do our best to present the tech policies of all the parties so that you can get the facts and decide how to weight these issues in your overall voting intentions.