The Coalition’s Internet Filtering Policy Backflip

  • Will there be an internet filter?
  • What was the original policy and was it poorly worded?
  • What exactly happened last night?

The Coalition has backed down on their policy to introduce an opt-out internet filter. The events unfolded so rapidly last night that it can be difficult to grasp what exactly happened. Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull assured voters last night that an internet filter will not be introduced and that an opt-out internet filter, similar to the UK approach, was not the policy of the Coalition. He concluded that the “policy which was issued today was poorly worded”.

 

The policy release, the backflip and the denial it was ever policy, all happened within hours of each other last night. The controversy itself takes place within days of polls opening for voting in the Federal Election.

The Coalition’s Policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children was published online yesterday and initially stated that the Coalition plans to have “adult content” filters automatically installed on mobile phone services and fixed home internet services. The filter would be installed by default but customers would have the option of opting out of the filter if they did not want it.

The policy was similar to the approach adopted in the UK last year. UK Prime Minister David Cameron successfully secured agreements with major internet service providers to automatically filter the content of customers. The ideology behind Cameron’s policy, and that of the Coalition, is that an automatic filter removes the need for parents to organise or purchase their own filters, which can be difficult, cumbersome or often put off. Following this logic an automatic filter would better protect children’s safety online.

Criticisms of the policy ranged greatly, from concerns about government censorship to concerns regarding the successful implementation of the policy: Cameron had the support of ISPs before he announced the filter; the Coalition appears to have not. However, the largest criticism comes from the fact the Coalition is now denying that it was ever their policy.

After no more than 5 hours of releasing the policy the Coalition was firmly stating that they would not be introducing an internet filter and that in fact the policy was poorly worded.

Confusingly, however, the author of the policy, Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, had previously spoken to online tech news siteZDNet.com.au confirming the policy. Fletcher had defended the policy of introducing an automatic filter with opt-out options to ZDNet quoting: “The key thing is it is an opt-out, so it will be open to the customer to call up and say, 'look, I don't want this.’” The interview is available in full one this website.

Even more confusingly, Malcolm Turnbull himself had also defended the policy on Triple J’s radio program Hack. The interview is also available online for listening. Now, however, the public is told there was no such policy; it was a simple error in wording. The policy has now also been deleted off the net.

What should the Australian public make of this? It’s most likely that the Coalition will not be introducing an internet filter; a fact Turnbull keeps reminding us repeatedly.  However they had initially planned to introduce a filter and then quickly retracted due to public outcry. Backflip? Definitely looks like it. Major political gaffe to add to the string of fantastic gaffes this 2013 Federal Election: 100% yes.