Vice-chair, Electronic Frontiers Australia
Speech given at Brisbane anti-censorship protest, May 28, 1999.
China, Burma, Iran, Singapore! What do these countries have in common? They are the countries that impose government censorship on their citizens' access to the Internet. This week Australia joined that select community when the Senate passed the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill.
This is yet another example of the paternalistic attitude of the present government, which treats adult Australians as children. Recent months have seen new restrictions on television content, political interference in film classification decisions, and interference by Cabinet in appointments to the Office of Film and Literature classification. Why? Because they thought the appointments were unrepresentative of the community. Ehat they really mean is unrepresentative of the ultra-conservative elements in government.
We seem to be entering a new era of repressive government censorship. But the government is out of touch with community attitudes. Every survey that has been done in recent years shows overwhelming opposition to the level of censorship that we have in this country.
The Australian government thinks the Internet is like television, and should be controlled accordingly. They seem not to understand that most of the Internet is outside Australian borders.
There is already legislation to prosecute illegal material. There are already the means for parents to protect their children. But the government is not really interested in protecting children. The government is only interested in censoring the adult population.
The government knows this legislation is ill-conceived. That's why they rushed it through the Senate in just a month, with no real industry consultation, and certainly no community debate. This is not democracy, this is authoritarianism!
And as we all know there are political games being played. The Internet has been cast aside as a victim of unrelated political expedicncy.
Every other Western democracy has rejected content regulation of the Internet. Even developing countries such as Malaysia have seen the folly of interfering with private communications.
I put it to you that the Internet makes the concept of censorship obsolete. Governments will eventually have to live with that.
This government and the ultra-conservative Senator Harradine think parents can't make decisions in their own homes about what their children can see and read and talk about, so this government has taken those matters into its own hands.
This government is threatening the privacy of what we do on our own computers. It is asking ISPs to take responsibility for censoring their customers' communications. This is akin to making the telephone companies responsible for monitoring telephone calls. This is an offence against our human rights.
The government quite simply does not understand this new medium of communication.
And for a government that says it is the businessman's friend, it is short circuiting the very economic engine of the next century - the information industry. We now have a Minister in charge of the Information Economy who is offside with the industry that will drive it.
This Bill will not protect children but it will destroy their future.
Already we have received word that before this has even become law, information providers and developers, are setting up equipment off shore and making plans to move their development offices in the near future. This is just the start of the kind of economic damage that Canada wisely foresaw when it announced just a week ago that it would not regulate Internet content.
This is the stuff of China and Saudi Arabia and Iraq and the Old Soviet Union. People leaving Australia because of oppressive government regulations. This isn't the expected way of life in a free and supposedly democratic society.
Now what can be done. Ladies and Gentleman, the game is not yet over. The legislation is due to go to the House next week. We need to make our voices heard in Canberra, starting with our own local members of Parliament. Ring them. Ring them today! Tell them this bill STINKS.
Tell them you will remember at the time of the next election. Tell them that the power of the Internet is in our hands and we do know how to use it wisely. Tell them there are 3 million Internet users in this country and most of us vote.
If the legislation does pass, this government is going to have the greatest fight on its hands it ever saw. Already the Internet industry and the Internet community, both here and worldwide, is mobilising. Because the power is in our hands. That power is the Internet itself.
There are petitions around the place. Please sign them. Please call your MP. Get your grandmothers to write. Get your teachers and neighbours to write. This is our future, this is your kids' future. Please don't wake up in 2004 and wonder why you didn't take a stand back in 1999.
I leave you with a quote that has been adapted from another era: