[LINK] End of the filter? Better off without a Stalinist, censorious, Labor government.

Robin Whittle rw at firstpr.com.au
Sun Aug 8 15:52:51 AEST 2010

I think that the negative effects of a democracy such as Australia
electing a party with an explicit policy of Internet censorship, such
as the ALP's, arguably outweigh whatever arguments there are that the
Labor government would be better than a Coalition government.

If this had been a great Labor government, this might be more
difficult to argue.  However, this government has done some
free-wheeling things which are unbecoming of Labor, and in the
traditional pattern of Labor trying to make big infrastructure
programs, or be sensitive to the marginalised, I think it has made
major mistakes:

  In practical terms, their asylum seeker policies don't seem to
  be producing a better outcome than the Coalition's.  The
  people smugglers are back in business because there is, or was,
  again a benefit in turning up unannounced in Australian

  The NBN is a great idea in some ways, but it did not result from
  proper planning and so is at very high risk of being a massive
  white elephant.  The money involved is immense, and could be
  better put to use in preventive health, mental health, education,
  etc.  I am not convinced it can't or shouldn't be done, but at
  this early stage, I think there is an enormous risk of
  cost blow-outs and forcing inappropriate infrastructure on
  people, who then have to pay for it.  I don't think the last mile
  link is such a problem for most people who already have DSL.
  Costs of the Pacific data link are more of a problem in terms of
  putting up the cost of data at the ISP level.  Do we really want
  to have all our connectivity coming from a government
  organisation, when the government is hell-bent on Internet
  censorship?  Especially when it involves Telstra closing down its
  copper phone network, and agreeing not to use its HFC cable for
  Internet traffic?  Anti-competitive, grandiose, Stalinism, I
  think, in the guise of "nation-building".

  There are two instances of Labor giving big handouts to the
  building industry:

    Insulation scheme - rushed, with safety issues ignored and
    multiple injuries and deaths.  Insulation is important for
    energy efficiency and so to tackle greenhouse emissions, but
    this was too hurried and poorly planned.

    School building program.  Every school has a typically
    over-priced, poorly considered, building inserted into its
    limited grounds, reducing the free space for children to play
    and exercise.  There was no proper consultation.  Schools need
    money for many things, and this was just a grandiose way of
    subsidising the building industry, and temporarily boosting the
    economy with less than optimally productive spending while
    advertising the results in every school-yard.  Julia Gillard
    appears to be unrepentant about the widely documented failings
    and lack of consultation with schools.

  In practical terms, the government has not yet achieved any
  progress on global warming.  I think there has been too little
  support for solar thermal power, including those systems which
  store the heat overnight.

In trying to find something to be happy about with Labor, there are a
few: quarantining welfare payments and plain label cigarette
packages, both of which I think will have significant and lasting
health benefits which can't be achieved by other means.  Generally
Labor has been more supportive for Medicare and public health.

The thought of Wilson Tuckey as a minister and Tony Abbott as PM is
frightening - but I think it is a more straightforward horror to face
and deal with than having Labor in power, pretending to be the
good-guys, with the gravely destructive policy of mandatory filtering.

There is an argument that the policy is too impractical to matter in
the long term.  Also, many people tend to be lulled by the fact that
this doesn't happen in the USA.  But in the mid 1990s, two federal
Internet censorship laws were passed in the USA and both were quickly
ruled unconstitutional due to the First Amendment.

We and most other (no others) countries have anything like the First

One might hope that common sense would prevail, and that governments
would refrain from this sort of censorship.  However, that theory is
in tatters since the ALP is going to the polls with mandatory
filtering as policy.

There's no absolute limit on what most governments can or may do in
terms of interfering with individual freedoms.  So this is a really
serious matter for people all over the world.  The USA is only
different because of the 220 year old First Amendment, before
telephones, electricity etc.

There are arguments that the Greens will hold the balance of power in
the senate and with the Coalition will block the Internet censorship
legislation.  Maybe so.

I know the legislation would run into massive problems if it was ever
enforced - there would be a cat and mouse game with people
discovering what was banned, building a list of what was banned, with
links on where to find it, etc.  In some ways, it might be good if
they tried this idea and it became a national sport to make a mockery
of it.

My concern is more with the genuine practical impact of a democracy
voting in a party with a clear policy of Internet censorship:
mandatory ISP-level filtering of anything which is R rated, "Refused
Classification" etc.   Even if they alter the definitions of R etc.
it is still such a serious step towards greater state control of
individual communications, that I think we are probably better off
with a Coalition government, no matter what its failings, than to
vote in then then fight with a Labor government over this atrocious
Stalinist policy.  Internet communications have much more in common
with telephone calls, letters and the postal system and face-to-face
conversations than with printed publications, radio, TV, movies etc.
 Censorship of these, and of video games, is already highly
questionable, as is the censorship of R-rated etc. material on
Australian servers, which is the policy of both the ALP and the

Beyond Australia, there would be a serious destructive precedent for
other Western democracies would be serious, with enormous practical
implications by way of encouraging other governments and opposition
parties play to the ignorance and fears of voters with their own
Internet censorship proposals.

Arguably it wouldn't be such a bad precedent if a right-wing party
got voted in with such policies, since that might be written off as
an aberration.  But to have the supposedly worldly, well-intentioned,
switched-on, side of politics re-elected with this pernicious policy,
would be really bad.

  - Robin

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