At 2pm this afternoon, Stephen Conroy will finally announce the outcome of the Government’s prolonged deliberations over how to resolve its self-created dilemma over cyber-safety.

The dilemma was created when Kevin Rudd, prior to the 2007 election, decided to appeal to Christian lobby organisations by promising to impose a mandatory internet filtering system on Australians.

This was despite the fact that no effective filters exist, there is extensive evidence they significantly degrade browser performance for consumers, the media regulator ACMA has badly bungled its administration of the current filtering list, and the only countries that impose mandatory filters are autocracies terrified of what the Internet might show their citizens.

Conroy, who from a slow start has developed a reputation as a key reforming minister courtesy of the National Broadband Network and structural separation of Telstra, has doggedly defended the Government’s policy as it laboured over trials of internet filtering technology.  A favoured defence of the Minister has been to suggest that anyone opposed to internet filtering is a paedophile or supporter of paedophiles accessing child pornography.

At 2pm we’ll learn whether Conroy and the Prime Minister’s Office — which as with previous Government, is really the key decision-maker on media policy — has seen sense and accepted that mandatory filtering is not merely a gross infringement of Australians’ basic rights, but unworkable and an extraordinarily backward policy for a Government determined to right the wrongs of decades of failed telecommunications policies under both sides of politics.

Governments should by all means ensure parents can access filtering technology that is as effective as possible.  That was the sensible approach of the Howard Government.  But imposing it on all Australians would be a retrograde step more in keeping with regimes like China than an open democracy like Australia’s. And it will inconvenience only legitimate internet users, not the criminals it’s aimed at.

Peter Fray

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