The Filter Is Not Dead

There has been some scuttlebutt in recent days in regards to whether the ridiculous iron fist that is the proposed mandatory filtering of the internet in Australia is to go ahead or not. Certainly, there have been a lot of mixed messages, but the most important message of all is that it is not dead.

Prompted by a “quietly tucked away in the fine detail” sliver of the 2011 Federal Budget, in which funding grants towards implementing a voluntary version of the filter by a small set of ISPs – namely Telstra, Optus, and iPrimus – was completely eliminated from the budget due to a “lack of interest”, many have seen this as the death of the filter overall.

Not so.

Almost twelve months ago, Stephen Conroy signaled that the mandatory filter was to be placed on hold for “at least twelve months”, pending a review of the current classification system. I speculated at the time that in calling for the review, that he was posturing for a “save face” way of getting out of the promise to introduce the filter.

For example, the review might “conveniently” find that the filter is unworkable under the current classification system, and the legislation will either be “further delayed” while a new system of classification is drafted and gets its way through parliament, or quietly placed into the “too hard basket”.

Wishful thinking perhaps, but it does leave a potential out for the minister, and in now announcing that the voluntary scheme has been axed due to “lack of interest”, a public backflip would be more palatable, given the “public consultation” he is so fond of has shown so little interest in even a voluntary filter.

In an interview around the time of announcing the review, Conroy was 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 – given the numbers in the Senate against the proposal after July 1 2011 – and responded with:

“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.”

None of this means the filter is dead – not yet – but at a time when all the ducks need to be lining up in a row to get the plan through, the ducks just aren’t playing ball with Conroy’s plans.

With the government possibly in the process of engineering more “favourable” conditions for a back down, it is going to be an interesting few months in regards to the filtering debate.

Not dead, but the goal posts are shifting – just a little bit more.