Another Nail in the Filter Coffin

Hot on the heels of the stunning revelation from Stephen Conroy that he intends to continue to pursue his mandatory internet filtering policy, comes what appears to be another nail in the coffin of the entire plan.

Former Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, having gained the Shadow Communications portfolio in the usual post-election hulla-ba-loo, has wasted absolutely no time in getting onto the front foot, ready to land punches in a number of policy areas within his new sphere of influence.

On the internet filtering policy, Turnbull is unequivocal, promising to maintain the Coalition’s promise to stand against the filter legislation:

“I am absolutely and utterly opposed to it — it really is a bad idea in all respects,” he said. “I have nothing good to say about the filter. The best thing the Government could do is drop it.”

In a recent interview, Conroy himself openly admitted that there was not much he could do to bring the filter in without it the legislation working its way through the normal parliamentary processes. When asked if the filter was effectively dead, and if there was any way mandatory filtering could be brought in without a vote in the Senate, Conroy responded:

“Genuinely, I don’t believe we can, I don’t think there’s a backdoor way we could do it. I think the only way we could do it is through Parliament.”

This means Turnbull’s latest comments leave little room for the filter to ever come into existence. With the way in which the numbers have now fallen in the new parliament, Labor does not have enough votes in the House of Representatives for the legislation to pass that house.

With only 72 votes of their “own”, and a pledge from the Greens, through their newly elected lower house member Adam Bandt to vote against the filter, even if the three independents who have sided with Labor to form government all voted for the filter, there is only a maximum of 75 votes in the lower house from their side of the parliament in favour of it.

Even if a number of Coalition members voted for the filter in the lower house, and it managed to get through to the Senate, come next July the Greens will hold an absolute balance of power in the upper house, and with a stated policy – reinforced a number of times since the election – to vote against the filter, the legislation appears dead.

An apparent – yet still cautious – victory for the anti-filter lobby.

This leaves one more question – why is Senator Conroy still actively pushing the proposal, even though it appears to have lost the numbers to get through parliament?

It is a question of image. His image. His own self-centred “me me me” image.

If he publicly backs down on his proposal, he delivers yet another policy backflip/failure to the Labor party, in the same ilk as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT). Both changes in policy direction were deeply embarrassing for the party, and undoubtedly cost them many votes and seats in the new parliament. They don’t want to go down that road again.

So, he publicly continues to spout the filter as a “good idea”. He appears “strong in his convictions”, appeases the fundamentalist lobby groups – such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) – by sticking to his guns, and he gains a convenient out clause.

When the filter legislation dies in the lower or upper house, he can “blame” the Opposition and the Greens. It will be “their fault” it didn’t come to pass.

Clever, isn’t it? Conroy might be “dumb”, but he’s not “stupid”.