Revisiting Internet Filter Action

So, a bit over a year ago, as we edged closer and closer to voting John Howard out of office, Rudd’s team make the stupid election promise of an internet filter. Exactly a year ago, in anger and frustration, I sent off a letter to Stephen Conroy, the then new Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Twelve months later, what have we learnt?

  • Conroy is slow to respond to letters.
  • Conroy isn’t particularly good at engaging in reasoned discourse.
  • Conroy is good at staying on message.
  • The internet filter is unlikely to be completely opt-out - there’ll just be two levels.
  • Question Time is a farce and lacking in intelligent discussion.
  • Those passionate about the issue have mobilised, with the EFA, GetUp, Steve Hopkins and Elias Bizannes amongst those leading the way.
  • Trials of internet filters have focused mainly on HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Not IM, peer-to-peer traffic, or newsgroups.
  • ISPs, including iiNet and Internode, are not fans of the proposed legislation
  • The Greens and Liberals aren’t supporting it either. Nick Xenephon seems to be on the fence, and unsurprisingly Stephen Fielding of Family First wants to add legal content to be blocked by the filter.
  • Conroy insists that our filter will be much like those in Sweden and Canada - yet both of those filters, according to the Government’s own feasibility study, are voluntary.
  • There is a live pilot underway.

We’ve had petitions, rallies, phone bombs, emails and letters. It doesn’t seem to be making a dint in Conroy’s plans. I think face-to-face meetings is the best way forward. If your local member is from the ALP, then meet with them. If they’re not, you will have a Senator who is. If you’re uncomfortable about going alone, find some other like-minded souls. A group may well have a larger impact.

If you’re in Melbourne, that’s where Stephen Conroy is based - I’d love to hear some feedback of anyone who has met with him. I’m currently overseas, so I haven’t got around to that yet - I’ve only managed to meet with my then-local member (I’ve since changed electorates), and it was pretty clear that I knew more about the issue than he did.

I’d also recommend not bothering with arguments relating to civil liberties, censorship or keeping legal access to pornography. While I don’t disagree that these are important and valid, it’s not going to win over anyone. Personally, I try to keep the message about how the filter isn’t going to work, just like past filters haven’t worked, and thus it’s a waste of money and time. You need to express understanding that the Government’s goal is laudable, but the approach isn’t. The ends does not justify the means.

Also have alternative plans to suggest - whether that’s recommending parents stay aware of what their children are doing online, an opt-in filter for those who want it, or something like the previous Government’s NetAlert software. (Although that wasn’t downloaded much at all - so is there really the demand for an internet filter?)

Online action is great, but it doesn’t have anything close to the effect that face-to-face communication does. If you really want to make a difference, get into those politicians’ offices.

whoismario left a comment on 6 Jan, 2009:

Free people the world over must stop expecting governments to solve their problems. Good luck to you.

Geoff McQueen left a comment on 7 Jan, 2009:

Hey Pat,

I didn’t notice your post until your email to SBA today - thanks for the heads up. One thing I forgot to mention in my post today at was that Sharon (my local member) was wondering aloud to herself whether a better way to spend the money would be to fund education/training for parents so they’re better able to supervise their kids online.

With TAFE’s all over the place and computer labs, the concept sounds like a pretty darn good one. So, that’s another “solution” people can add to their arsenal.

Steve Hopkins left a comment on 8 Jan, 2009:

Hey Pat,

Great comment @Geoff McQueen - an excellent suggestion. Who is your local memeber and where is she based? I ask because…

…a key to running a good campaign against the filter IS actually going to be connecting some dots for the politicians behind the scenes. Pat, the fact that your local member didn’t know about the issue as you is a GOOD thing. This means that, if members get enough requests for meetings with their public, THEY will begin knocking on Conroys door asking for advice, information, briefing and recommendations. Hr Bob McMullin, who is the Parliamentray Secretary for International Development Assistance, lauded the work of the Make Poverty History campaign largley because he was innundated by calls of fellow ministers terrified of numerous upcoming meets with their public to discuss the issue.

The fact they knew nothing, and that they would be questioned, led them to seeing Bob, which enabled Bob to go to KRudd and lobby (successfully) for an increase in the % of GDP contributed to Forgeign Aid by the Australian Government.

If, as Pat rightfully points out, we can continue to meet local members and encourage them to simply ask the questions “what else could we do to meet the honourable goal of reducing the exposure of children to dangerous things on the internet” we can provide them with topics to go to Conroy with. This is why meeting with a local member is powerful…because if they get scared then the go straight to conroy and note the concerns of ‘their voters’

Hope that helps. Pat, you’re doing a tremendous job of providing this topic a lightening rod for action. Well done :)