Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Child P-rnography is looking increasingly desper… What? Sorry? Conroy is not responsible for child p-rnography? No? “Cheap rhetorical trick,” you say?

Yes, it’s the very same cheap trick the Minister himself used in Senate Estimates on Monday night when — just as he did in December last year — he accused critics of Labor’s internet censorship policy of supporting kiddie p-rn.

Senator Conroy: […] I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child p-rnography.

Senator Ludlam: No. That is why I was interested in asking about the law enforcement side of it as well.

Senator Conroy: No, we are working both angles at it. We are just trying to use technology to enforce the existing laws.

Senator Ludlam: I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of being pro child p-rnography. That would assist.

Senator Conroy: I was wondering if I could get the questions without being accused of being the Great Wall of China.

Well, Minister, stop supporting the idea of filters at the internet service provider (ISP) which block an as-yet-undefined range of “inappropriate” material, then maybe the comparisons with China will stop too. Senator Conroy is caught between a rock and a hard place. Prior to the 2007 election, the ALP committed to “ensuring all Australian families can utilise ISP filters that block prohibited content as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Families should also be able to access filters that can be customised to block more material if they choose.”

He also inherited a timetable for trialling ISP-level filters from his Coalition predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan.

The problem is, ISP-level filters are the wrong way to go. As anti-censorship campaigner Michael Meloni points out, “Is the Government really in the best position to decide what [is inappropriate]? Does inappropriate include information on s-xual health, breast-feeding, drugs and abortion? The one size fits all approach of filtering at ISP level causes problems because young children, teenagers and adults often use the same family computer. Material inappropriate in one household might be appropriate in another, but the Government’s scheme doesn’t allow for any fine-tuning. It’s a poor substitute for the discretion and attention of parents.”

When the report on phase one of the trial was released in July, it showed the filters simply aren’t good enough. They block too much legitimate material. They can’t touch peer-to-per file sharing, which is where most of the nasties live. And they degrade internet performance to boot.

I reckon Conroy knows the filters are a dud. When that report dropped, he “welcomed” it and was “encouraged” by it, but only The Australian used the word “success”. Not Conroy — a fact his office confirmed to Crikey this morning.

I reckon he’s just going through the motions with Coonan’s timetable to keep Family First Senator Steve Fielding happy. Fielding’s Senate vote is desperately needed for other matters, as is überpopulist Nick Xenophon’s — a man who knows the value of words like “kiddie p-rn” in stirring the voters’ emotions. Until that much-anticipated double dissolution election, anyway, after which Conroy can renegotiate with the somewhat-more-rational Greens.

Meanwhile, with all the evidence running against an evidence-based policy for ISP-level filtering, Senator Conroy can only lash out and threaten his critics. It’s not a good look.

Stilgherrian writes at