Petitions to parliament drove ALP’s Internet filtering policy

Photograph of Irene Graham

Here’s a nice twist linking this week’s discussion threads. It turns out that Labor’s Internet filtering policy was largely driven by petitions to parliament — the very petitions which Chairman Rudd plans to make more effective.

Irene Graham (pictured), who commented here as “rene”, has been following censorship issues for years at libertus.net. In a post to Link she reminds us that back in October 2006, Senator Stephen Conroy was presenting a petition to parliament:

In March, Kim Beazley announced that a Labor Government would require all Internet Service Providers to offer a ‘clean feed’ internet service to all households, schools and public libraries that would block access to websites identified as containing child pornography, acts of extreme violence and x-rated material.

In the Senate today, I tabled a petition signed by more than 20,000 Australians endorsing Labor’s policy… [which] clearly shows that this view is widely shared in the Australian community.

However those 20,646 signatures were gathered through churches, hardly “representative”.

Ms Graham writes:

Since Nov 2004, there have been at least 35 petitions tabled calling for mandatory ISP-level filtering (APH parlinfo site seach). 24 of them are a petition form published by the Australian Family Association (which is actually a religious right organisation), a copy of which can be found [in the Internet Archive].

Those petitions also want ISPs to be subject to “liability for harm caused to children by inadequate efforts to protect minors from exposure.”

The other 11 are copies of the ‘clean feed’ petition, as tabled by Conroy. While Conroy’s had 20K signatures, the others about ‘clean feed’ had from 18 to 145.

If Labor believes 20k signatures collected through churches justifies their policy, I’d be very worried about them paying even more attention to petitions than they already do.

The new petition regime will be overseen by a parliamentary committee including six government members and four non-government members.

I for one hope that committee, in deciding whether or not to treat a petition with Great Seriousness, will analyse the source so that petitions which obviously represent a narrow slice of the Australian demographic are given less weight than those which have garnered signatures from a broad cross-section.

How do you do that, though, if you don’t have a demographic database of voters to look up? And how do you interpret the actual content of the petition in the context of how it might have been sold to the signers?

I can imagine a petition being written in a dozen paragraphs of parliamentary legal jargon. The signature-collectors are encouraged with a cry of “Fight crime on our streets, sign the petition!” And yet buried in the text is a proposal which, when translated out of that jargon, is about rounding up immigrants and jailing them without charge.

As always, the devil will be in the details. And in the personal attitudes and skills of the committee members.

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6 comments

  1. jason’s avatar

    Well I’m on your side with this whole issue generally.

    But let’s not get too clichéd or stereotypical with the Ned Flanders do-gooders.

    An optional clean feed service is a great idea, and one that would be appreciated by many people from a diverse spectrum.

    The technology is evolving. The trick is not to be a (knee) jerk about it and try to filter the whole internet OR be overly-radical anti-censorship to the point of missing out on a technology that definitely has its place and market.

  2. Michael Meloni’s avatar

    Hey Jason,

    By optional clean feed do you mean that all ISPs do not have to implement it? Only those who choose?

  3. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @jason: Indeed, I think the whole issue is a lot more nuanced than most of the participants seem to believe — perhaps myself included.

    When writing for Crikey I sometimes get frustrated with the 400-word format, as some issues are just more complex than that. 400 words doesn’t give you much space to explore an argument and counter potential objections — and it makes sloganeering all too easy.

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