The drive to impose unprecedented internet censorship by the Federal Government is being backed by an otherwise-disparate group of family, left-wing and Christian groups and campaigners.

The serious push for ISP-level filtering began in the last months of the Howard Government when it backflipped on a long-standing opposition to it, having hitherto preferred to support PC-based filtering. In response to Labor’s “clean-feed” policy announced by Kim Beazley, Howard announced in August 2007 that the Coalition was committing to optional ISP-level filtering in a webcast to religious groups organised by the Australian Christian Lobby, a s-x-obsessed Christian lobbying group. In response, the Rudd Opposition strengthened its own plans for mandatory filtering. The ACL remains a strong supporter of mandatory filtering and applauded the Government’s renewed blocking of ACT plans for same-s-x civil unions.

You know about the political pressures for filtering. The Howard Government and its Communications Minister Helen Coonan had come under repeated, and frequently hysterical, attack from Christian fundamentalist Senator Steve Fielding, who boasted of using his Parliament House PM to find p-rnography “two clicks away”. Fielding continues to demand mandatory filtering and a ban on internet alcohol advertising, but he is by no means alone. Tasmanian Liberal and anti-abortion Christian Guy Barnett is equally vociferous in his calls for censorship, having told Parliament, improbably, in 2005 “even in our own homes, you go home, turn on your home computer and bingo-out come the p-rnographic sites.” Nick Xenophon wants a ban on overseas gambling websites.

Family and child abuse groups are also strong supporters. The Courier Mail reported last week that the Australian Childhood Foundation backed ISP-level filtering, because “a link existed between children viewing s-xual images on the net and engaging in inappropriate s-xualised behaviour.” The ACF is receiving over a million dollars in support from the Federal Government between 2004-09, with CEO Dr Joe Tucci a favourite of ministers eager to get some family protection credibility.

The CourierMail also aired the views of child psychologist and media tart Michael Carr-Gregg, self-described as “one of Australia’s highest profile psychologists” and perhaps even “Australia’s own Dr Phil”. Carr-Gregg, a fellow Sunrise alumnus of Kevin Rudd, is a long-term moral panic merchant on youth issues such as binge drinking and internet use. Carr-Gregg told the Courier Mail that internet p-rn had made “oral and an-l s-x” “almost normalised among 13-year-olds”.

Bernadette McMenamin, CEO of Childwise, also supported ISP-level filtering in January but has since suggested she does not support the Federal Government’s proposal.

The Australia Institute has also supported mandatory filtering for several years. In 2006, Clive Hamilton accused the Howard Government of putting “the interests of the internet industry ahead of those of parents who are deeply concerned about this problem”.

And as Stilgherrian pointed out yesterday in Crikey, Australian Women Online “is not opposed to the concept of mandatory ISP filtering” and complained of being “hounded”, “harassed” and “bullied” by mandatory filtering opponents. The concerned mother cited in the Courier Mail, Bernice Watson, who supports mandatory filtering, has been an officer for the Queensland Office for Women.

The campaign for internet censorship seems to have reunited some of the element of the campaign against p-rnography, which brought normally hostile feminist, left-wing and Christian groups together to attack free speech. However, the elevation of children as the justification for censorship will make this campaign harder to stop.

Who’s exploiting the kids here?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey