Refused classification could prove death knell for Labor filter

Labor party braces itself amid fears filter debates could lose votes in the Federal election

The Classification Board’s review of refused classification (RC) material could signal the death of the Labor party’s proposed mandatory ISP-level internet filter, pending its results next year.

Communications minister, Stephen Conroy, told Triple J radio’s Hack program that the classification board review, announced last month, could see the filter “change substantially”.

“We’ve done the test on speed and now we’re going through a process to see what’s contained in refused classification, and we’re happy to live with the outcome of that,” he said, noting that the Federal Government had no influence on the board’s decision.

Federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, told the Hack program in July that the filter could still “move in slightly different directions”.

"Stephen Conroy... has announced some changes to the filter - he's talking to industry about those now," he said. "We have responded to the legitimate concerns of many of your listeners in this area and Stephen Conroy is going through that process now.”

However, Opposition Treasurer, Joe Hockey, told the same radio program that the Liberal party would block the filter whether or not it won Government on 21 August.

Along with the filter, the Labor party’s proposed cybersafety policy includes improved education of issues around internet safety, as well as greater powers for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to address relevant issues.

To address concerns that the scope of refused classification could be expanded to other issues under future governments, Conroy announced in July that the Classification Board would review the material, to be administered in a blacklist by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Until the review is completed, internet service providers Telstra, Primus and Optus will voluntarily implement filters for the 430 child porn sites already identified, affecting around 70 per cent of Australian internet users.

Though the Labor party has been careful to steer away from the filter as a potential election issue, it remains a key point of criticism for the Labor party and the point of differentiation for alternative cybersafety policies from the Greens and the Liberal party.

([[xref:|The Internet filter policies of the three major parties compared|Computerworld Australia: Election 2010: The policies so far)

Given both the Liberal party’s and Greens’ opposition to the filter, any legislation presented to Parliament is likely to be blocked from passing. Conroy said the Labor party would simply accept any result from public debate on the issue.

“The Parliament is a robust chamber, as you’d expect, and there are many many different points of view. The debate that will be had will be a good thing and if it loses, it loses. That’s democracy.”

However, Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, told Hack that continued pushes by Labor to introduce legislation that will ultimately fail is a waste of resources.

“We’re still going to have a government department working on a proposal that has no chance of getting through the parliament,” he said. “We’d rather see those resources redeployed towards education research and law enforcement.

“People aren’t asking for changes or minor changes to the refused classification category; they’re saying they want the internet filter dumped.”