Independent's Day and the Censorwall

Only a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post, “Is the filter really dead?” Since that post was written in what now seems a simpler and gentler bygone political age, an update may be in order.

As of today, the ALP and the Coalition are neck-and-neck in numbers, and who forms the next Government will come down to winning the support of three of the four uncommitted independents. There are a few possible outcomes from here.

Firstly, if the country independents decide to support an Abbott government, then at that point the mandatory ISP censorship scheme we have been fighting for so long is well and truly dead. The Coalition have said publicly they would not introduce such a scheme in government. We shouldn’t forget that the Liberal party’s record on internet censorship is pretty terrible – they are responsible for the current scheme we have, which on paper makes Australia’s internet amongst the most heavily censored in the world, with R-18+ content unavailable on Australian servers and a secret blacklist of prohibited sites. (The saving grace of that scheme is that hosting material overseas is cheap, easy and completely escapes this censorship regime, so the average user is very unlikely to be affected by it.) We have to trust that the Liberal party have learned from the last few years and will think long and hard before returning to their bad old ways. In any case, a new censorship push by them is just a hypothetical possibility for the future, which seems preferable to an actual government policy, which we have now.

The second possibility is that the independents support the return of a Labor government. Yesterday, we saw the Greens enter into a formal arrangement to support Gillard to form government. Up until now, The Greens have a good record speaking out against the filter. Does “getting into bed” with the ALP mean they have softened their position on the issue? It would appear not – the Greens quickly clarified this and I have confirmed with them that the deal with the ALP only covers voting for supply (to ensure the government can function) and does not at all cover Government policies and election promises. It would have been nice to see an open internet mentioned in The Greens agreement with Labor, but the outcome is the same.

The upshot of all this is that without The Greens’ support, filter legislation would not be passed in the House of Representatives, let alone make it through a hostile Senate where both the Coalition and Greens would vote it down. It therefore looks very unlikely that, even if the country independents were to make internet censorship a high priority, filter legislation could go anywhere.

As a matter of fact, EFA sent a comprehensive packet of information on the filter to all MPs some time ago, and independent Rob Oakeshott was one of the few MPs who came back to us with thoughtful and encouraging feedback. So there’s little danger of the filter becoming one of the horses currently being traded.

The third possibility is a new election. If Labor were to achieve a majority in their own right, then Conroy’s legislation would likely remain government policy, despite the hostile senate. In my opinion, though, I don’t think Conroy’s proposal is likely to surface again in its original form. It has proved too unpopular with the Australian people, has won the ALP few friends, and has little support even in the ALP caucus. I suspect that even with a clear majority they might take this one back to the shop for an overhaul.

The question now is: What next? It’s only a matter of time before the next Government, whoever they may be, decides to clamp down on the internet in one way or another. History suggests this will be sooner, rather than later.