There are reports that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has backed down on his determination to install a mandatory Internet filter to control what Australians can access. This policy has been strenuously opposed by just about every group involved and has outraged civil liberties and freedom of speech advocates ever since it was first mooted.
No reason has been given for this back flip, although the idea was generally considered unworkable. The decision was passed on to Fairfax newspapers, the last government shills in the private sector:
Despite much talk to the contrary since 2007, Senator Conroy said there would be no "mandatory filtering legislation" and instead the government would employ powers under the Telecommunications Act to target sites on the "worst of" list of Interpol.
Senator Conroy told Fairfax newspapers last night that the new arrangement met "community expectations and fulfils the government's commitment to preventing Australian Internet users from accessing child abuse material online". "Given the successful outcome, the government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation," he said.
The move is a long way short of the original intention of the filter, which was to blacklist sites, which contained content such as bestiality, sexual violence and crime and terror instruction.
Australia's main Internet service providers have agreed to block child abuse sites, which will result in about 90 per cent of users having no access to the banned material. The Australian Federal Police will instruct smaller ISPs to also block the sites.
The Internet filter was a promise from Kevin Rudd before the 2007 election. At the time the government, argued that laws governing the Internet should match those applied to print content.
The chief executive of the Internet Industry Association said the decision was a "positive step".
This move is very much out of character for Conroy, a rather curious little zealot with an odd obsession to do with controlling all of the written word, the broadcast word, the published word, and as far as possible the spoken word. While it’s possible that he has simply come to some understanding that the idea is impractical, impractibility is not something that usually deters Labor.
It is probably worth keeping an eye on just how he proposes to not do it.