People who oppose Internet censorship in Australia – such as myself – often complain the policy was slipped through by Kevin Rudd and his team in the run-up to the last Federal Election (held on 25th October 2007).
It’s indubitably the case that the Federal Labor Party made little public splash with its Internet Censorship policy before the election – and there was no mainstream media debate. Yet it’s also true that the small print of ALP policy supported the thrust of the Government’s current policy. Censorship was foreshadowed in written policy – even if it wasn’t broadcast.
Ever since I became aware of the Rudd Government’s repugnant censorship policy – some time after the Federal election – I’ve suspected that the real goal of the folk pushing this agenda is political censorship.
Statistics that concern the most powerful criminals on the planet (Source: 'Internet Overtakes Newspapers As News Outlet' by the Pew Research Center)
I refuse to believe that the powerful lobby groups ultimately responsible for the push, throughout the western world, to censor the Internet, care a hoot about pornography. They care about control of political discourse. They have a nicely-tamed mass media but feel threatened by a free Internet that’s increasingly playing a larger role in informing the populace.
Until a few days ago, I’d found it curious that the Federal Coalition – who’d been in power under John Howard for more than a decade – had no equivalent plans to censor the net. More accurately, they’d considered a ‘filtering’ scheme a few years back, but eventually abandoned it in favour of funding support for voluntary ‘filters’.
Now I have a more complete picture of the policy options facing Australians in October 2007. Neither side of politics had declared its hand in a highly public fashion. But the Coalition also had new policy ‘on the books’ that, if implemented, would have attacked Internet Freedom directly.
In late September 2007, on the last sitting day for the Australian Senate before the election was called, the Howard Government introduced the Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007.
Here’s a media release issued by Cameron Murphy of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties shortly afterwards. It’s worth quoting in full:
On 20 September 2007, in what was possibly the last sitting day of the current parliament, the Minister introduced the Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007 (Cth).
“This Bill gives police the unprecedented power to order the censorship of the internet in Australia”, said Mr Murphy.
“This Bill is leading us to a very dark place. A place where the police decide what we can and cannot see”, Mr Murphy said.
“The federal Parliament is supposed to protect our freedom, not give it away”, said Mr Murphy.
“The government has consistently refused to give the courts the power to protect our freedom of speech, but now it’s shown itself willing to throw our freedom away and give it to the police”, said Mr Murphy.
“This Bill is just unbelievable. This Bill does not belong on the statute books of a free and democratic society”, Mr Murphy said.
Under the Bill, if the AFP Commissioner (or Deputy Commissioner or other AFP senior executive officer) believes that internet content (hosted anywhere in the world) is crime-related or terrorism-related, then he or she can order the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to direct all Australian internet service providers (ISPs) to prevent end-users from accessing the content.
Content is ‘crime-related’ or ‘terrorism-related’ if it encourages, incites, induces, facilitates or is likely to facilitate the commission of a federal crime.
“The Bill gives the police unprecedented power over what we Australians can and cannot see. Once the police commissioner has ordered the filtering of internet content, then only the police commissioner will have the power to revoke the order. That’s what they do in a police state”, Mr Murphy said.
“It’s unacceptable that the courts won’t have much power to overturn the police commissioner’s order to censor the internet”, Mr Murphy said.
The courts will not be able to review whether the content is actually related to crime or terrorism. The courts will not be able to consider issues of free speech (other than political speech). The courts will only be able to review whether the police commissioner had ‘reason to believe’ that the content was related to crime or terrorism.
“The time is long overdue for a referendum to insert a full Bill of Rights into the Constitution. Our freedom of speech is too precious to leave to the ‘protection’ of people who, like Senator Coonan, are happier abolishing our freedom,” said Mr Murphy.
The Bill has only been introduced into the Senate. The Senate has not debated or voted on the Bill. The Bill has not yet been introduced in the House of Representatives. If a federal election is called, then the Bill will ‘lapse’ and it will have to be re-introduced before a vote can be taken.
As far as I can tell, this draconian legislation was barely mentioned in the mainstream media at the time, although there was an article in ZDNet.
In summary, at the last Federal election in Australia, the electorate had a choice of two ‘major’ parties: the Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition. Neither made much of a fanfare about it – and the mass media helpfully ignored the subject – yet BOTH approached the Federal election with policies that would ultimately facilitate political censorship. The Howard Government’s Bill was crude and direct. Rudd’s method was rather more devious.
Of course, there’s no saying the Opposition, under the new leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, will necessarily pursue the same course as its predecessor. Happily, the Bill died with the Howard Government. Mr Turnbull has charted a more genuinely liberal course on civil liberties and the Opposition’s stance on Internet censorship has been increasingly positive.
Yet the fact remains that both sides of Parliament have made rather clumsy attempts to establish the legal rubric needed for political censorship of the Internet. This supports my view that it is not policy driven from within Australia’s political parties. It’s policy foisted on them from more clandestine and less ephemeral centres of power.
Ultimately, censoring information flow in society is a Criminals’ Charter. It’s anathema to what’s best in western civilization. If allowed to succeed, it would be the death knoll of western civilization.