Defeating Australia’s Internet Censorship Plans

NO Censorship!!

Last December, in the middle of the political dead season, Australia’s Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, announced that the then-newly-elected Rudd Labor Government would start up a compulsory filter of the Internet. Back then, Senator Conroy laid down the line that we will hear again and again from the Government:

“Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of
the internet is like going down the Chinese road,” he said.

“If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”

In December, Senator Conroy said that the Government’s plan included a way for people to opt-out and get a completely uncensored internet feed. However, a controversy has erupted over this point in the last few weeks, and it appears that all Australian internet users will be automatically stopped from seeing content the Government deems “illegal”, if the Government gets its way.

The No Clean Feed website appears to be one of the central points of the campaign against the Government’s plan.

It looks like there is a good chance of defeating this plan. Both the Coalition and the Greens are opposed to it, which means that the Government cannot pass a new law through the Senate unless one of those groups changes their mind. However, there is a risk that those members of the Coalition who appeal to reactionary moralism might be able to get the Coalition to change its position. If that happened, the Government’s scheme would pass. Therefore, to ensure the defeat of the Government’s censorship plans, it’s vitally important to reach people who might be convinced by reactionary arguments and try and convince them with other arguments. Most people arguing against the Government’s plans are not doing this.

For example, this article in today’s Courier-Mail by Brisbane academic and blogger Peter Black says:

As a liberal democracy Australia rightly values free speech and eschews
the notion that the government should control what information we are
able to access. Yet the introduction of mandatory internet filtering
gives the government the power to do exactly that.

Well, no, in fact. It’s only since the Internet became mainstream in Australia (that is, since about 1996) that the Australian Government lost the power to control every piece of information that entered the country. I remember a flatmate in the early nineties showing me a record that he had ordered from the USA. The Customs Department had opened the plastic wrap on the outside of the record and used texta to obscure the words “Fuck Off” on the T-shirt of one of the band members in the photo on the album cover.

When it comes to censorship, Australia is NOT a liberal country. It is in fact, a conservative, conformist country with a section of the population that has liberal opinions. Many people who have these liberal opinions often forget that others do not share them. If you do that, you will be incapable of understanding people who disagree with you and you won’t be able to come up with the right arguments to convince them.

For instance, earlier this year we saw the Bill Henson affair, when there was a huge discussion over whether nude photos of young teenagers older preteens were pornographic. Far too many of the opinions defending Henson assumed that if you opposed the photos, you were a dirty, repressed child molester yourself. This sort of smug, arrogant reaction completely refuses to acknowledge that people who are troubled by Henson’s photos might have a legitimate worry about the sexualisation of young teenagers. Fortunately there were more sensible and reasonable views from people made uneasy by censorship, such as this post at the Blue Milk blog.

Merely stating liberal ideals is not a very useful argument if you want to convince people that this Internet censorship plan is bad, because the people who don’t believe in those liberal ideals will ignore everything you have to say. Is the site going to win over a single person who does not already share its views? I doubt it.

The correct strategy is to appeal directly to people who are worried about what dangers there might be on the internet, and to show them that there are plenty of ways they can keep themselves and their children free from bad websites. A second strategy is to point out how the Government’s plan will slow down websites that many ordinary, apolitical people use regularly: Sites where you book cheap hotel rooms or plane fares, Ebay, Amazon, Australian media sites and so on.

Make no mistake. The Government will parrot the “Kiddie Porn” line over and over again. And while “people like us”, who support free expression as a basic principle, will see through that for the joke that it is, it will appeal to some people. Maybe even enough people for the Coalition to change their mind and support censorship. If that happens, the plan will succeed and we will lose. We must think hard about how we can appeal to those people, not just the ones we already agree with.

12 Responses to “Defeating Australia’s Internet Censorship Plans”

  1. 1 Married to Christ

    Judging from online surveys I think that about 70% of inteligent Australians are already of the opinion that the internet either should not be censored or that it is impossible to censor effectivley and without adverse consequences.    However, Australians that do not regularly use the internet and are not clued in are not represented in those polls.  For them, their opinion will be determined by how ACA and Today Tonight cover the issue.

  2. 2 youngmarxist

    Hi, Married to Christ, thanks for your comment.As you say, online surveys are going to be biased towards people who think that censorship is a bad thing. Also, online surveys don’t necessarily take into account things like making sure the people you survey are a good cross-section of the population in general.Indeed, the watchers of ACA and Today Tonight are the main people we need to watch in this argument. Big TV networks will have conflicting goals here. ACA and TT both make a living by stirring up reactionary opinion  on things like child pornography, but Channel 9 and Channel 7 also make money taking ads from internet service providers. I think the best way to approach these sort of people is to talk about how there are many cheap (or free), easy-to-use programs that will filter the Internet for them at home and help them keep their children safe. That also has a side benefit of making them feel stronger and more powerful instead of keeping them feeling weak and powerless. People who feel weak and powerless are more likely to react to the poison spread by ACA and TT.

  3. 3 youngmarxist
  4. 4 Bill Kerr

    mark newton has presented a series of valid points which lead to the  interesting conclusion that Conroy’s plans, if implemented, will eventually lead to increased child abuse. Conroy’s office then phoned his employer, Internode, in an attempt to silence him. (the censorship mindset).  I summarise his argument and provide annotated links to other sources here: australia’s digital counter revolution. From the Newton article and other references you get the impression that Conroy is on the  backfoot.

  5. 5 Curly

    I have just read about this and am outraged! If Australia goes down this path, the precedent will be set for other western liberal democracies to follow suit.I would fear even more for freedoms in “Big Brother” Britain, and elsewhere.

  6. 6 Arthur

    BTW There’s an interesting discussion of porn at Kasama at the moment. (It’s not directly on topic ( isolated from actual struggles such as this one), but of interest in the range of attitudes, the way they are presented, the implications about the way people think, and how to disentangle this from what they say).

  7. 7 Arthur

    Hmmm, an interesting development on the connection between censorship of porn and inability to handle political debate. Over at Kasama, they got swamped by opposition in the thread linked above on porn and started a “deep” thread on Obama with a reasonable sounding introduction  about taking a breath, surveying the landscape and avoiding past errors.I figured out where they were really planning to go, and posted this as comment 9:

    Arthur Says: November 5, 2008 at 12:07 pm  My guess is that people will take a breath, take a close look at the political landscape and then pick opposing war with the Taliban in Afghanistan as the next big focus for demonstrating complete irrelevance.

    That has been deleted with the following explanation :

    TellNoLies Says: November 5, 2008 at 12:22 pm
    [moderators: we removed Arthur’s reactionary pro-imperialist trolling. He will not be back.]

    Heaven forbid that we don’t recognize the NATO-UNOCAL-Opium Warlord Alliance as the great liberators of Afganistan that Arthur imagines they are. His snarky intentions aside, Arthur is correct both in identifying Afghanistan as an issue of pivotal importance, but also one where we will promptly encounter immense resistance from many liberals. It is actually a question where the progressive grassroots forces that rallied around Obama will prove to be very divided. A central task right now is to expose the human costs of the war — to get the pictures of the civilian victims of US military action in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) into circulation among progressives and liberals.
    At the same time we should not act like Obama has already pulled out of Iraq or that there is any guarantee that he really will. I think Iraq may prove to be the first place where illusions about Obama will be tested. The Iraqi Gov’t’s rejection of the Status of Forces Agreement with the US may force Pres. Obama to show his hand on Iraq almost immediately.
    Does anybody know of any plans for early spring anti-war mobilizations from any of the ostensible anti-war coalitions?

    This was followed by the expected flurry “mobilizing” on Afghanistan.

    It should not take more than a few weeks for that to collapse.
    Its clear both that there are people out there who will be interested in thinking things through, and that we will have to work hard to establish contact and a forum.

  8. 8 anita

    This was just posted at Kasama so there may be some debate to follow.  Given the anti-democratic nature of these refugees from the RCP who control Kasama i wouldn’t be holding my breath:


    Says: November 5, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    I saw that Arthur was removed as a troll. I don’t think that he is/was a troll. He is a part of a legitimate trend on the left. The basis of some of their ideas is a book by “Bill Warren” called “Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism” . The basic argument is that imperialism makes way for capitalism. Warren collects many quotes form Marx and Engles which support his view. Although, I do not agree with Warren I found it useful to read.

    I don’t agree with Arthur on these questions but I do think that he and his view are a variant within the left and that he falls within the parameters of unity. He has posted constructively on other issues.

  9. 9 lucychili
  10. 10 Alex

    Another thing to tell proponents of the plan is that they are going against God. God gave human beings free will because he intended us to make use of it. The brilliant thing about free will is that it allows people to learn from their mistakes. Censorship goes against free will. Censorship goes against learning. Censorship goes against God. No genuine Christian can support this plan.

  11. 11 anita

    Very interesting position put in this article. It is basically arguing that we’ve got to break down the gender dichotomy in order for the human rights of hormonally and or chromosomally ‘abnormal’ people to be legally recognised and upheld. The submission literally calls upon all feminists and Churches to cease gender and intersex discrimination.

    Just got this from GetUP

    This is our chance to ask Senator Conroy to explain his plans to censor the internet.

    The architect of the Government’s net censorship plans, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, has refused interviews on the topic for months. But at 9.30pm this Thursday night we have an opportunity to put him on the spot.

    On Thursday night the Senator will appear on Q&A on ABC TV – a program that allows viewers rather than journalists to ask the tough questions.

    Click here to submit your question.

    It’s time to hold Senator Conroy to account for his censorship plan, which will slow down the internet, make it more expensive, miss the vast majority of inappropriate content and accidentally block a range of perfectly legitimate sites.

    Record your question for Stephen Conroy today:

    Thanks for being part of this,

    The GetUp Team

    P.S. Let’s challenge Senator Conroy to justify his internet censorship plan when he appears on Q&A at 9.30pm on Thursday night. Click here to submit your question.

  12. 12 peter

    just found the the wikileaks site sunday from the tv and found out that it is on the Australian blacklisted website list as well the very fact it is on the blacklist is most distubing no porn was shown no drug recipes or fire arms manufacture instructions from what i have seen it just exposed the lies of governments big business and there military excesses things we are supposed to see on a news channel and My government wants to silence them ? whats us to trust there judgement that internet cencorship is the right thing to do? forget it put it up for a referendum to the aust people and watch them vote it down the very fact that they want to already blacklist websites like wikileaks is the very reason they should NEVER BE TRUSTED with censorship

  1. 1 Beyond The Fringe » Blog Archive » New Rudd Thoughtcrimes Proposal
  2. 2 Intersex in Australia - Australia's Internet Filtering Scheme

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