Filtering out the muck and the filth

The last few days have seen a real explosion of commentary and discussion, from mainstream news outlets, to the Opposition Organ and countless blogs, about the Federal Government’s proposal to have mandatory internet filtering.

The debate so far is fairly stark, and can be characterised as:

Pro filter: “The filter will stop deviants from accessing child p-rnography and protect our children from innocently stumbling across p-rn. This is a small price to pay for slightly increased speeds. There may be some banning of legitimate sites to begin with, but those are teething problems, and the software will get better over time.”

Anti-filter: “The filter is a breach of our human rights, because it bans access to legal material that has been “refused classification”. Any attempts to stop adults from accessing this material amounts to censorship. And besides, it won’t stop pedophiles from watching child p-rnography because they use peer-to-peer networks, rather than the Internet.”

For the record, I’m anti-filter.

The main reason that I’m anti-filter is that I can’t overcome the cognitive dissonance of this Government spending $43 billion on the National Broadband Network to get Australia’s internet speeds up to a reasonable industrialised world standard, only to throttle the speeds back with a mandatory filter. (I am also aware that most/all ISP throttle speeds currently.) There are sound economic arguments to make about increasing Australia’s internet speeds (productivity improvements alone) – most of them are contained in the justification of building the NBN.

I’m less concerned about the civil liberties aspect of the filter (other than to the extent that I’m opposed to Australia’s outmoded classification system). The Australian Government already censors most material that Australians are (legally) allowed to read, watch or listen to.

Do I agree with the classification system as it stands? No. Do I think the internet is so “special” that it deserves to be the only publication medium outside of Australia’s classification system? No.

If we are going to have a debate about the category of “Refused Classification” materials, then let’s have that debate. Don’t let’s get bogged down with talking about mandatory internet filtering.

I believe that adults should be allowed to buy computer games that in other countries would be classified R18+, but which are refused classification in Australia because we only go up to M15+ (although I’ve no interest in playing games like Aliens v. Predator or similar gore-games). I believe that Australians should be allowed to read jihadist books like Join the Caravan. I believe that adults should be allowed to read or watch books or videos about how to commit euthanasia. I don’t think any of these things are related substantially to the proposed filter.

The problem with the #nocleanfeed crowd is that they’re clamouring over the civil liberties arguments, the “Aunt Gladys”, wowser arguments, and freedom of expression arguments, only when it threatens their download speeds.

Where was all the outrage when Ruddock banned Join the Caravan and Defence of the Muslim Lands back in 2006 (I was at Melbourne University in 2006, and I don’t recall seeing many people at the protests)? Where was the outrage when Ken Park was banned? Where was the outrage from these people when the Howard Government introduced sedition laws or “anti-terrorism” legislation that restricted our civil liberties in real ways?

If the debate is about the filter not stopping child p-rnographers, then let’s have that debate. If it’s about classification, then let’s debate classifications. If it’s about people not trusting this Government or a future Government not to use the filter to block political content (a la Iran/China/Nth Korea/etc), let’s debate that. If it’s about speeds, let’s talk about speeds.

It seems to me that the No Clean Feed campaign and its supporters are trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink, and in so doing, cloud the argument.

The pro-filter advocates have a very simple line. “It will prevent freaks and sickos from hurting our kids”. Simple, easy to understand, and not confused with a thousand issues. Kids. Sickos. Protect.


There’s talk around the traps that the No Clean Feed campaign could be significant electorally in 2010. Anti-filter Possum Pollytics crunches the numbers here.

In my view, bigger issues (like jobs, interest rates, climate change, leadership, the economy) are going to outweigh the filter as an election issue. There’s almost no way that the filter will affect any election, anywhere in Australia, since we’re talking about a hand full of people (a few hundred) whose impact will be countered by other minor issue groups.


The big ISPs have their say:

They believe the filter to block all material refused a classification will slow broadband speeds, including the services delivered by the much vaunted NBN.

2 responses to “Filtering out the muck and the filth”

  1. Denis Avatar

    [quote]The pro-filter advocates have a very simple line. “It will prevent freaks and sickos from hurting our kids”. Simple, easy to understand, and not confused with a thousand issues. Kids. Sickos. Protect.[/quote]but it won't prevent anybody from hurting anybody. sickos and freaks will still be out there. kids will still be hurt. the silver bullet will have zero effect here. money better spent on funding the AFP.

  2. Alexander White Avatar

    Hi Denis – I completely agree that the filter won't stop a single child s-x offender. That's the point in another post:

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