The villain gets thrown off the cliff. He bounces off the rocks into the river and his limp, bleeding form is flushed downstream. Hurrah! But just as our heroes down their first celebratory drinks, the door bursts open and the villain is back — soaking wet and angrier than ever…

“The Government’s plan to introduce mandatory internet censorship has effectively been scuttled,” wrote Asher Moses last Thursday when independent Senator Nick Xenophon withdrew support for the Rudd government’s internet “filtering” plans. Opponents of Senator Conroy’s scheme popped open the virtual champagne and started sending congratulatory messages to anti-censorship lobbyists.

But as blogger Kieran Salsone’s headline put it, “Twitterati blow load over Xenophon: Lobbyists still without cigarette”. Despite Senator Xenophon’s announcement, nothing has actually changed and Senator Conroy has yet to comment.

True, any legislation would need support in the Senate from the Coalition or all seven minor party and independent senators. With the Coalition expressing grave reservations and calling the proposal insulting, and with the Greens and now Xenophon opposed too, any legislation would be blocked.

Blocked, that is, unless someone changes their mind.

While the Greens will presumably hold fast, it’s conceivable that Coalition senators could cross the floor, and Senator Xenophon’s position on almost any issue can be rather, um, flexible. Currently his highly-evolved political nostrils detect the whiff of unpopularity emanating from Senator Conroy’s direction — how could anyone miss it? But the wind may shift again. Particularly if the recently-emboldened Xenophon of the Murray is tossed another few hundred mind-changing millions.

Internet filtering could even be introduced without legislation — though that’s a more difficult path.

Dale Clapperton from Electronic Frontiers Australia reckons it’s possible through various ministerial and department actions — but it’d be hard work, requiring the cooperation of the Internet Industry Association in introducing a new Internet Industry Code of Practice. Even then it could be vetoed in the Senate.

As Peter Black, who lectures in internet law at QUT, told Crikey, “It certainly would be difficult — both legally and politically — to do without legislation, but it may be possible if the government can get the cooperation of the IIA (which may well not be forthcoming).”

Difficult or not, PM reported on Friday that “the minister is still looking into whether the filter would require legislation, or could be implemented through another means.”

Despite ever-mounting opposition, Senator Conroy isn’t saying die just yet. Not until after the trial results mid-year, anyway. Assuming he’s still Minister then.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey