It was Clive Hamilton who launched the current attempt to censor the internet

Guess who really kick started the current push for mandatory ISP level filtering?  No, it wasn’t those wretched Christian fundamentalists, it was Clive Hamilton and the Australia Institute (of which Hamilton was executive director, until recently).

They launched their campaign back in 2003 with a deliberately targeted media splash based on some rather spurious research supposedly documenting the evil effects of porn on Australian youth (more detail here).

This is all written up on the Electronic Frontiers Australia  website (here and  here) , but has remained unmentioned (as far as I can see) , by most of the “leftish” opponents of the scheme.

Back in 2003, Hamilton did manage to get the attention of the Howard government and Senator Alston promised to look into it: Internet Porn Filters May Become Compulsory

Following the launch of the Hamilton/Australia Institute campaign for mandatory filtering, various conservative and religious “family oriented” groups also joined in. These groups made extensive use of the Australia Institute material in their lobbying on the issue.

Nevertheless, in 2004, the idea of  ISP-level filtering was rejected by the Howard government:

Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified. (see the AEF site)

While Howard remained PM, the only action taken was the establishment of the Net Alert website which provided advice about net safety and free downloadable filters, for those who wanted them.  Shortly before the 2007 election, the Liberal Party tried to capture the vote of the Christian Right by offering to fund and enforce ISP-level filtering, but only  for those who wanted it (ie it was a non-mandatory filtering proposal).  That was as far as it went under Howard.

However with the election of the Rudd government last November, the Hamilton/Australia Institute campaign  was finally able to bear fruit.   The ALP under Rudd is in fact far more moralistic and authoritarian than the Liberals ever were. In his election campaign, Rudd quite consciously targeted “market fundamentalism” on the basis that it undermines traditional family values. He publically (and opportunistically) embraced some of the communitarian ideas of David McKnight (author of “Beyond Right and Left”) in his speeches to the intelligentsia, noting  in his November 2006 lecture at the Centre for Independent Studies (at which he was introduced by McKnight**), that “market fundamentalism has split the political right down the middle along the traditional fault lines of conservatives versus liberals and (how) this in turn  provides Labor with fresh political and policy opportunities for the future“.

Hamilton, like McKnight is a communitarian who believes that capitalism has made us too wealthy and too free.  In a number of his books,  he has hijacked part of  the earlier (and far more interesting) analysis developed  by Daniel Bell in his 1976 book “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism“, arguing that economic growth engenders a consumerist mentality which  destroys “normal” human relationships, creates the desire for instant gratification, manipulates us in ways over which we have no control, gives us freedoms which are bad for us etc etc.    We would be  happier and morally better if we were poorer.

Hamilton’s crusade against pornography is driven by  standard political correctness (it “objectifies women”, “subverts healthy sexual relationships”, “incites male violence” etc), as well as by  a more generally puritanical attitude toward sex.  He riles against the “pornographication” of everyday life  and chastises ‘the libertarian-left for continuing “to invest so much in the freedoms won in the sixties”:

The ideas of the libertarian left have become a reactionary force, for they have substituted an uncritical defence of the freedoms won in an earlier era for a real politics of social change.”


Like young people everywhere I thought we were freeing ourselves from the shackles of oppressive convention and sexual hang-ups. We thought we were creating a new society and we knew our opponents were being defeated. The conservative establishment lost cause after cause
and could no longer sustain the institutions of social convention. Victorian morality, women’s oppression,  and the unbearable constraints of social convention. But while the battle against social conservatism was being fought and won, the real enemy was getting on with business
and savouring the new commercial opportunities that the radicals were opening up.


In the 1950’s middle class respectability may have been oppressive but it carried with it a certain deference. Women are the subject of far more sexual objectification now than they were in the 1950s, although men have become more adept at concealing it. And even the need to conceal has been discarded by the crass exploitation of ‘girl power’. Why should a young man pretend that he doesn’t lust after the young woman who has just burned him off at the traffic lights, when nubile popstars thrust their groins at the camera and declare ‘more power to us’?

The research  conducted by the Australia Institute /Hamilton and Dr Michael Flood concludes that internet porn is a social evil associated with increased levels of mysogyny among young Australian males. (There’s a critical account of it on the EFA website) However as far as I know, there is no empirical evidence that Australian men have deteriorated in their attitude to women, and furthermore there is a reasonable body of research which has concluded  that access to porn is either neutral or actually positive in its social impact.  The work of Dr Alan Mckee (eg Net Porn Good for you and What do people like about porn? Everyone knows the answer to that) is an example in point.

Hamilton is of the view that pornography/erotica which depicts any form of sexual violence is clearly dangerous and likely to have negative social effects.  He’s  very worried about porn which depicts things such as men ejaculating on women’s faces, double penetration, male-female anal sex, bondage, rape scenes etc etc.  “Normal” sex as defined by Hamilton should be… well, I don’t know quite what…but very politically correct and restrained.  He wants the government to find a way of censoring our fantasies.

The unfortunate fact for Hamilton is that it is not only men who look at on-line material which depicts sexual interactions of a very non-vanilla type. Many women  report being drawn to  fantasies about “rough sex”.  These women are clear that in real life they have no desire whatsoever to be the victim of non-consensual sexual violence,  but nevertheless they enjoy the  idea of being safely able to engage in sexual encounters which satisfy various  primitive desires.  It’s possible that some of this even has   a biological basis. ( I hesitate to theorise about this however. The whole area of human sexuality is such a complex mix of primitive urges, emotional needs, and our higher level needs for connection on a mental level, that at present we don’t have the tools to tease it apart).

In any case, we have laws about real life  non-consensual, violent sex and I find it outrageous that people like Hamilton would like the State to regulate material which allows people to explore the fantasies which turn them on.

There is oodles of material out there showing that women appreciate having access to porn. Just a couple of examples:

The blog of pro-porn activism

Consuming porn will not turn you into a violent degenerate. Helen Razer is living proof

Of course there’s a lot of porn around which is distasteful, boring, superficial  and (to me) very off-putting.  But I don’t have to look at it, and if our young people come across it either accidentally or as part of their natural curiosity, I don’t believe that it will create dangerously “unhealthy” sexual appetites.

Hamilton really ought to be taken apart for his role in attempting to impose his own morality on everyone else. His role in this has been far more significant than that of the Christian right.

While he’s  correct when he says that market capitalism has a shallowness which  leaves us with an “emptiness” and a desire for deeper, more meaningful lives, his moralistic call for people to accept lower living standards and his (very serious) attempt to have  the State step in to regulate various atavistic desires, is just reactionary.  The yearning “for something more” is exactly the impulse which will one day lead people to want to step up, take responsibility and run things themselves.  I’m convinced that they won’t decide that they want to be poorer and have less freedom.

** I was wrong to say that McKnight actually introduced Rudd’s November 2006 CIS lecture. See the comment below by Greg Lindsay (founder and Executive Director of the CIS)

22 Responses to “It was Clive Hamilton who launched the current attempt to censor the internet”

  1. 1 Danu Poyner

    This is a fascinating post. Thankyou. This raises a whole host of questions. I am still curious as to why the Government seems so intent on pushing through with net filtering. This adds an interesting dynamic into the mix.

  2. 2 Jennifer

    Amazing.  And I thought Clive was just a mad Greenie.  He would probably work up to having global warming skepticism banned, see On Line Opinion on 2 July 2008

  3. 3 daggett

    As one who has been accused on occasions of having been a consumer of pornography, I actually found myself in agreement with Clive Hamilton, insofar, as I believe that our society places far too much emphasis on sexuality these days.

    I also agree with his views on the environment and consumerism and agreed with most of what he wrote in “Growth Fetish”.

    Nevertheless, I am horrified to have learnt that The Australia Institute has been pushing this outrageous legislation which, amongst other things, threatens to destroy free speech on the Internet and I have e-mailed them to say so.

    I hope they will come to their senses even at this late stage and come out in opposition to this legislation.

  4. 4 Sam D

    Thanks for this (and for the comment on my blog). Where is Clive Hamilton now and what is he up to? The ISP filtering proposal has cause many people to enter the political arena. For the adult industry it was the last straw – and now we have the Australian Sex Party. The IT people (over on Whirlpool) are still largely undirected, but it is only a matter of time before they register a party and make their own run for Senate. Interesting times. (Strange even).

  5. 5 Sam D

    Clive Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at CAPPE and holds the newly created Vice-Chancellor’s Chair at Charles Sturt University.I guess I can forget about CAPPE having anything constructive to say, though I know that come of their post-grad students would be very interested in the connection between Clive and the ISP filtering.

  6. 6 Sam D

    More strange connections…Using Google Scholar, you will note that Clive’s articles were featured at the Sexual Integrity Forum in 2005 (take a look at the sponsors page). Google the forum, and you find an even longer list of faith-based groups. ( I know EFA details this, but I found it educational to find it myself).On a different note, were any of Clive’s articles on Pornography etc ever published in an actual scholarly journal? I can’t seem to find any.

  7. 7 keza

    Yes, there were three papers altogether from the Australia Institute group used as resource material by the Sexual Integrity Forum.  Two were papers by Michael Flood and the other was a speech by Hamilton at the 2003 Sydney Writers Festival.

    The paper by Flood, ( Youth and Porn in Australia ) is long, (80 pages).  I haven’t had the time to study it in detail but I’ve spent about 45 minutes reading sections of it and my impression is that it isn’t particularly “scholarly”. It reports the “findings” of numerous studies with no real discussion of the methodologies used and the problems involved in disentangling cause and effect in what is almost always correlational research.   Although it acknowledges briefly that there must be many factors which predispose some men toward violent sexual behaviour , this is no more than a formulaic handwave toward the complexity of trying to discover how a single variable (consumption of pornography) might impact upon sexual behaviour.

    I managed to access one of the major studies that Flood cited as supportive of his view that access to certain types of porn leads to increased sexual violence by men.  It’s a long and complex paper based on a meta analysis of a number of pieces of empirical research and it would take me ages to read it thoroughly and critically.  However I  noted that  the main conclusion of the authors was that consumption of violent porn seemed to be an added risk factor for men who were already predisposed to behave violently toward women.  So, yes that paper did find a significant relationship between porn and negative sexual behaviours, but the finding was nowhere near as clear cut as suggested by Flood.

    I don’t have any real expertise in this particular area, but Flood’s work doesn’t strike me as at all careful and rigorous. I think I can say quite confidently that there is no evidence that his work on this topic has followed the standard academic  procedure of generating a hypothesis from a literature review and then setting out to test it.   As far as I can see, what he’s done is to form his conclusion first and then seek data supporting it.

    In that sense it definitely isn’t scholarly.

  8. 8 keza

    I’m very glad to see that Hamilton is finally coming under fire from more bloggers.  Take a look at the series of posts at Broadbanned Revolution

    I haven’t read through them properly yet, but thought I’d post the link immediately because I won’t have time to follow up until later today.

    Catallaxy has also joined in: Hairshirt Hamilton and the Internet Ban.  That post also includes a friendly wave to us.  It’s nice to come across people who are  capable of genuine interest and curiosity about the views of those who differ from them in important ways (Catallaxy is of a rightwing/libertarian bent).  But…we’ve known for ages that in general the intelligent Right is far more committed to open debate than most of the pseudo-left.

    The major p-left blogs are still leaving Hamilton alone.  In fact, the entire issue of internet censorship has hardly been addressed at Larvatus Prodeo. I did a search and it seems that their last post on it was over a month ago.    To their credit, Hoyden About Town have taken it up more vigorously (indeed it was TigTog from Hoyden who posted about it a month ago at LP).  However, as far as I can see, the Hoydens have so far let Hamilton off the hook.

    The entire issue of internet censorship doesn’t even rate a mention on the really insane p-left sites such as Resistance and GreenLeft!

  9. 9 Jon Seymour

    G’day Kerry,Yep, I am of same mind as you regarding Clive Hamilton’s position in this debate. I wrote something for Mike Meloni’s site on Saturday and posted a reply from Clive together with a criticism of that reply on my own blog ( Hamilton can’t defend his own policy (and hence that of the the ALP’s) from critcism without resorting to intellectually bankrupt polemic, it doesn’t cast a very good light on the policy itself or on the ALPs ability to distinguish good from bad policy. Perhaps the ABC needs a mandatory bad policy filter?

  10. 10 Jon Seymour

    I mean the, ALP, of course. Got a touch of the Kerry O’Briens :-)jon.

  11. 11 John Greenfield

    To quote Glenda Orgasm, “a day without porn is like a day without sunshine.”

  12. 12 Betty

    Clive Hamilton has been given way too much air time for his nonsense. Why is it often people who know nothing about what they are talking about are given so much airtime in the media? This man makes me very angry! Why is it always the people who want to restrict things that get so much oxygen?

  13. 13 ormas

    Hamilton may not be a christian, but he is certainly religous, a buddhist and every bit as conservative as christians. He’s also ripped into tim Flannery for suggesting that we should consider nuclear power to reduce CO2 emissions. There’s no doubt about it he would have us living like Bhutan.

  14. 14 Syd Walker

    In general, I share Clive Hamilton’s views on environmental issues and his opposition to rampany consumerism.

    But I am appalled that he has put so much energy into this dangerous, madcap scheme to censor the web in Australia.

    I’ve written a few articles about Clive and the Internet censorship issue on my own blog. For example, see

    The article above is very informative. Compliments to the author!

    I strongly agree with the statement:
    “Hamilton really ought to be taken apart for his role in attempting to impose his own morality on everyone else. His role in this has been far more significant than that of the Christian right.Hamilton really ought to be taken apart for his role in attempting to impose his own morality on everyone else. His role in this has been far more significant than that of the Christian right.”

  15. 15 anita

    Sadly i don’t have time to organise a Rally in SA but would be willing to mention it on the ABC soapbox time if there was somthing useful that people could be urged to do as opposed to calling for attendance at a rally?

    Anyway just thought that i would mention an article i put up in Empire Times (the Flinders Uni student newspaper) in 1994 about Pornography and Rape.  I introduced it ..

    This article is stolen from the Politician’s Guide to Sex and Censorship – Research Implications.  A compilation of articles aimed at refuting the idea that representations of sex acts or genitalia represent a sex crime.  Although a movement against pornography did not take off in Australia as it did in the United States, the matter is never off the public agenda, as recent calls to ban all pornography suggest the moral guardians are again out to do their worst.  The following article does not look at the pornography vs. erotica dichotomy, or the “theory” or practice of rape, it focuses on the relationship between demeaning or violent images and the criminal act of rape, or other violent criminal behaviour.  Those of you who think that the slogan “pornography is the theory , rape is the practice,” has “scientific” validity may be surprised with these findings.  Research by Professor Berl Kutchinsky Institute of Criminal Science, University of Copenhagen compares Crime Data in four countries where pornography is easily available.

    I just googled the Politicians Guide…It does not come up as a package that is available on the web – but here is a link on Berl Kutchinsky:

    I’ll keep looking as it is a long and comprehensive article worth looking at for ammunition.  (also this)Information not censorship

  16. 16 anita

    It turns out that Berl Kutchinsky died in 1995 but is in Hansard in 1992 this American org that campaigns around these issues

  17. 17 Sam D

    Nice work turning up the research of Berl Kutchinsky! Anything along these lines but more recent, would be very helpful in neutralising Clive.

  18. 18 anita

    Thanks SamD.I followed up the link to the Adelaide Rally and was going to offer to help out.  First I had to join face book to get details, and then I saw discussions of Dec 13 rallys and went to the Adelaide section, found myself in the middle of a Melbourne bun fight, and subsequently have not yet followed up helping organise an Adelaide event. 

    I think it is a bit weird to have it from 12-00 – 4.00 on a Saturday on Parliament House steps in Adelaide. That is far too long.  It ought not go longer than 90mins and the focus ought to be federal irrespective of where it is held.  RUDD is the focus Conroy is a factional puppet.

    But at any rate I’m not sure these rallies are too good an idea at this point.  Not because of the locations, but because the impact could be bad if this comes out poorly attended, and I suspect it may be. 

    I note that the Melbourne organising debates have questioned the venue as well with some saying that the steps are too small etc. I hope they are right but suspect they are not. 

    I’ll continue research on the pornography/rape aspect but I note  that somebody at the above link was commenting that they did not want to be associated with slogans about pornography…I agree that this is the wrong thing to focus on but if people can have this to refer to if necessary it is a useful reference.

    In South Australia we have Michael Atkinson as the Attorney General and he is a rwALPer (basically a DLP type)  There aren’t many ALP voices speaking out against it here.  I note that Mark Newton is an Adelaide person and therefore his presentation to Kate Ellis (his MP) and the inadequate response by Senator Conroy (he has accused Conroy of lying to Ellis) ought to be in the news but is not.  This could be because Adelaide seems to have many Christians in leading positions of influence. (ABC 891 morning presenter in particular was with Southern Cross media b4 this role – and he gets to pick and choose the issues.

     I am suspicious about this because in 1994, for instance when I was Empire Times Editor the Hell-fire club invited the Editor to their opening party, but within 3 days of this grand opening party the place was closed down via behind the scenes lobbying to Council and Police.   

    Yesterday,  I heard a promo for the afternoon show about a forthcoming segment on this, but then it didn’t happen…I’m wondering if this (namely MNz campaign) is being suppressed.

    I will further check out the situation re Adelaide rally etc. and report back.   

  19. 19 anita

    Still can’t find a Politician’s Guide to sex and Censorship but will check to see if I have a hard copy to scan.  I’ve pretty much reached a brick wall re refutations of Kutchinsky, or more recent research/studies on this. Have found that the earlier Kutchinsky stuff on the crime rape  pornography link is being down-played on the basis that the internet has somehow made things much worse.    (A bit like the line re marijuana use and decriminalisation…where some ALP policy makers have back-tracked and now say things like – well conditions have changed as it is sooo much stronger and more dangerous now than when we were young and not inhaling, so zero tolerance is now the go)  see the link (Unfortunately there is no free access to the articles.) 

    I am concerned about this filtering idea as I have been diagnosed with a pre-cancerous vulval condition and in the past 2 years have spent much time checking out and writing for self-help health groups as they relate to sexual and genital health issues for both women and men.  Talk about eye-opening.  It would feel like going back into the dark ages for me to have these kind of support groups blocked, or even under threat of filtering. 

    I don’t want to sound cliche but I saw Madonna and Britney on stage the other day singing express yourself, don’t repress yourself…I agree that this is an important message. On the site that I write at, we are constantly dealing with newbies – people who are at their wit’s end and completely out of their mind with sleeplessness and pain due to having genital/urinary health issues.   Many (both rich and poor) don’t have access to even basic info about urinary, reproductive or genital health, let alone access to adequate services or treatment options.  The worst are the Mums with the little ones who are having problems.  Sometimes diagnosis here is hampered because the pain and bruising closely resemble child sexual abuse indicators!! This is so often due to society’s overall ignorance and avoidance of many health issues, but especially uro/genital matters, and this goes for both men and women. 

    Why are the rates and dangers of prostate cancer so high? Because men are embarrassed to talk to the dr about their penis/genito-urinary issues.  Women are also reluctant to discuss these issues with their GP as they are embarrassed; or ashamed; or full of guilt; and so they suffer in silence and excruciating pain.  Sometimes thinking it is their deserved punishment.  (for faking it – or for not faking it – even for making it, or not making it) It is when the pain is keeping them up at night that they google their symptoms and come across the self help sites.  Even then some may find they are unable to properly talk about ‘down there’ and fully describe their symptoms and so go undiagnosed for a long time, thus increasing the incidence of cancer forming cell development.  Also, many are unable to talk about masturbation/orgasm, and don’t know the proper names for their bits.   (And when they do this cannot help with the dismay caused by their disappearance)   Even those who consider themselves quite personally and sexually liberated are taken aback about how accepting of imprecision and irritation they have been and how appalled they are by the lack of medical and public knowledge of this ‘rare’ condition.  

    Sorry this thread is about censorship and i am banging on about Lichen Sclerosis but our society and the world needs more and better internet health information, and sex sites, and they are at risk because of Rudd’s unwarranted and inappropriate policy.  When it comes to ‘inappropriate content’, I think this legislation is about allowing the government a red light to make more lists – as it isn’t about catching child pornographers; extending and improving the quality of health information on the web; or more generally internet provision or speeds.  (Re catching child pornographers i think that the inet makes it easier to catch people producing and distributing this kind of stuff) 
    We must not only try to stop those currently abusing children for profit through international Police efforts but we’ve got to change where the culture arose.   Namely through the avoidance and repression of sexuality that goes on in the Priesthood and religious orders.  I think these kind of deviations ought to be resolved when the Catholic church stops making sexual perverts, victims, and abusers of its adherents in the name of sexual abstinence – and then we will see an end over time of child pornography.  (which is by the way inflated by variations in age limit differentiation). As a society we need the internet to pull us so far from the dark ages that we can never return to a single flame flickering.  We need the internet to drive innovation, and savings, and training, and otherwise facilitating the provision a high level of medical care to the people of the world.   
    Found the following link re:Festival of Light ‘research’ refuting BK

    Re formatting issues thanks keza for fixing my comments.

  20. 20 tom

    Anita, bang on about Lichen Sclerosis as much as you like – I’m learning something and the issues are linked in so far that they are arenas where the ignorant and the prurient reek havoc unless challenged.

    Betty, the reason people like Hamilton are given so much air time on things they know so little about is that they speak from, and then to, society’s most backward attitudes regarding almost anything sexual.

    Here plain old prejudice dressed up as abstract ‘truth’ (combining the moral with the ‘scientific’ or professioal is a good tactic), is used to impress and intimidate people into silence.

    The recent broohaha around artist Bill Henson’s visit to a Melbourne primary school is a good illustration of this. The hysteria whipped up by our moral guardians, politicians, including Rudd and professionals was predictable and bizzare. None of them bothered to find out the facts because they didn’t need to – they ‘knew’. Parents at the school were outraged, (I’m one of them), at the attempt to publically upbraid and humiliate an excellent principal and use the issue of children’s safety to feather their own nests. That they objectified the children in this way was beyond their understanding or concern.

    A great irony in all this was that the best piece that appeared in the papers – in the Herald Sun in fac- was by The Footy Show comic Trevor Marmalade, who also has a child at the school. Trev had the wit to deal with the facts and his understandings were based on his concrete experience as a parent at the school.

    It is a pity, though not surprising, that those who proclaim themselves to be our moral guardians, not to mention others who are regarded as experts, so unwittingly play the foil to Hegel’s line that if something is abstract it must be untrue… We may know many things, including abstract truths but when the moralists smile and say ‘we know…’ or ‘we now know…’ it is best to listen very closely indeed and be prepared to disagree.

  21. 21 Greg Lindsay

    David McKnight did not introduce Kevin Rudd at the CIS event in November 2006.  It was Owen Harries.

  22. 22 keza

    Thanks Greg. I’ve just checked and you’re right.   I stand corrected. I jumped to that conclusion over a year ago, and didn’t bother to check it when writing my blog piece.Possibly this piece on David McKnight’s site : Kevin Rudd at the CIS: introduced by David McKnight somehow put the thought into my mind.

    I’ll cross out what I wrote above about David McKnight having introduced him.

    Nevertheless, my point about Rudd having opportunistically embraced McKnight’s views, still stands.

  1. 1 Hairshirt Hamilton and the Internet ban at catallaxyfiles
  2. 2 Beyond The Fringe » Blog Archive » A Chorus of Logical Discontent

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