Turnbull Sells Out – When Is The Exorcism?

Time for a quick waltz down memory lane.

Who else remembers the nonsensical plan by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, for the mandatory filtering of all internet connections in Australia, to attempt to block all material online which had been classified “Refused Classification” (RC)?

The campaign against it was long and hard, and eventually Conroy shelved it once and for all in November 2012 after several attempts to save face and water it down.

Politically, Coalition MPs lined up one after the other to bag the plan:

  • Joe Hockey:

    “The filter does not work. The ISP-based filtering system does not work. Therefore it creates a level of assumption of trust that can’t be met by the technology.”

  • Jamie Briggs:

    “The Liberal party announces that we oppose the internet filter. A great victory for common sense!”

  • Tony Smith:

    “The Coalition did not implement a mandatory ISP level filter when we were last in Government because it was not workable or effective, and offered parents a false sense of security.”

Of course, one of the biggest opponents was Malcolm Turnbull, who succeeded Smith as shadow communications spokesperson, and later became Communications Minister in the incoming Coalition government in 2013.

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

Turnbull said the filter would slow down the internet and create a false sense of security, where parents would believe it was safe to let their children use the internet without supervision because of the filter. He said the filter would not catch much of the objectionable content distributed online, because it would not be funnelled through the world wide web.”

Fast forward to 2015, and what has happened?

“The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, introduced into parliament by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in March to curb online piracy of film and TV shows, passed with the Coalition and Labor’s support 37-13.”

Sorry, what? Who introduced the legislation?

Malcolm Turnbull?

Of course – (to keep the context up-to-date) – the original Conroy plan was for the blocking of RC material, which is almost exclusively highly offensive content, and this new filter is about blocking websites that direct people towards the downloading of copyright material.

Both illegal, and both a significant issue.

Major concerns at the time included:

  • The fact that people who still wanted to access RC material would still be able to do it through other means, so you weren’t actually blocking them from anything, and the filter was therefore a waste of time, money, and effort.
  • That once you have a mechanism to block websites – (even for a legitimate purpose) – you create a mechanism whereby other kinds of sites can be blocked by a government who wanted to shut down something controversial, with little or no transparency as towards what is and isn’t blocked – you’ve given them a new toy that might be abused in the future.
  • There were a number of cases where sites that should not have been on the RC list, were on the list, and would have been blocked within Australia. So-called “scope creep” was always the fear – and it happened, perhaps inadvertently, but the point was proven.

But, back to Turnbull, and his previous stance against breaking the internet in this way:

“It’s dead, buried and cremated, and if it shows any signs of revival it will then be exorcised,” a jovial Turnbull told the crowd.”

So, despite the fact that such a filter would would slow down the internet and create a false sense of security, here we are.

Will we get scope creep? We don’t know – just as we didn’t know last time around. Turnbull would undoubtedly deny that there would be, but that was one of his arguments at the time. He has given us exactly what he said was a “bad thing”.

Five years later Turnbull has sold out his beliefs that this technology is stupid, that it can’t do the job, that it slows down the internet, and introduced the same kind of filter, albeit to tackle a different kind of online content.

The filter is back – (just wearing a different colour of lipstick) – and I think we’re owed an exorcism.

My questions are – when is the exorcism, and where’s my invite?