The Gillard government soon will have to decide if it is going to pick a policy fight with just about every news organisation in Australia as Labor limps towards the September 14 election.
The issue is media regulation and proposals which would add a bureaucratic layer over existing watchdog mechanisms, and intrude on the capacity of companies to restructure and survive at a time of significant uncertainty and cost burdens.
Cabinet hardliners determined to press these proposals should have noted the sighs of relief from sections of the ALP when Greens leader Christine Milne declared the party’s arrangement with the Government was over.
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It was one of the most confronting Australian news images of 2012. A little boy holding a placard reading “Behead all those who insult the Prophet”, standing among the hysterical crowd at the Sydney protests against an obscure art-house film ridiculing Mohammed.
The discussion inspired by that image was impassioned. The child and, particularly, his parents were held up as evidence that something was seriously wrong within sections of our multicultural society.
The heated nature of the discussion was not surprising at all, even if some of it was unpleasantly over-the-top. But in a free society such as ours it was still a conversation worth having.
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Senator Stephen Conroy’s decision to can a comprehensive internet filter for Australia is a win for common sense, for three reasons.
The first is that with or without a filter, the depraved goons who like to view horrid material can get their hands on it. The same technology that has forced broadcasters into fast-tracking television shows before impatient viewers download them illegally can be used among small groups of people. Files shared in this way won’t have obvious and easily-filterable names and are extremely hard to detect.
That means a national filter as a mechanism to stop distribution of child pornography was never going to stop hard cases.
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Are monopolies bad? Of course they are! Monopolies are not interested in competition and represent the ultimate market failure.
We should all know that monopolists will do their utmost to raise prices and stop new competitors. That’s why we all need to be fearful of the monster NBN monopoly.
Yes, Senator Stephen Conroy is a passionate advocate of the NBN and we all know that Malcolm Turnbull keeps the good Senator on his toes regarding the NBN and the monster monopoly that it’s fast turning into.
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Saying the NBN is it for the next 10 years is fundamentally wrong.
In its quest to sell the NBN to consumers, Stephen Conroy and his Labor colleagues took to the streets last year proclaiming that fibre-optic internet cables would set Australia for the foreseeable future, implying that no further work needs to be done.
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The commonly accepted choice between a stuff-up or a stitch-up is to go with the stuff-up. Anyone reading the Auditor-General’s report into Labor’s botched tender for the Australia Network television service will reject that accepted wisdom and conclude a stitch-up was more likely.
While the Australia Network may be Australia’s soft diplomacy channel into the Asia-Pacific, Labor’s internal wrangling over who should produce this service has involved anything but soft diplomacy. A needless internal power game saw the most senior figures in the government face-off over the future direction of the Australia Network.
Sadly, Labor wasn’t content to just battle it out amongst each other. The owners of Sky News and the ABC were dragged into the fray as proxies in a war over a contract that need not have gone to tender in the first place.
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There is a massive story going on in Australia at the moment. By massive, I mean massive in terms of the amount of space thrown at it. Massive in the level of journalistic indulgence it displays. Massively packed with distortions and sleights of hand. A massive pile of rubbish.
You would have missed the story, as it first appeared in an obscure trade journal read by rich people who collect cufflinks, and was rehashed in a marginally more digestible form by a couple of newspapers which have decided to put media game-playing ahead of their core business of providing readers with facts.
Reluctant as I am to attack a fellow Cornishman it was written by a man called Neil Chenoweth and would have made more sense if Neil had written it in his native Cornish. Chenoweth’s editor, Michael Stutchbury, relatively new to the job of running The Australian Financial Review, can use his newness to explain the fact that while the AFR ran two pages on the September 11 attacks, it ran seven pages on this story on day one and a more restrained six pages yesterday.
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Here is a quick multiple choice question. I am writing this column because:
A) Rupert Murdoch instructed me to in his morning email;
B) I am on a personal mission to destroy the ALP;
C) The regular columnist is on holiday and I had to cobble together something at the last minute to fill this giant white space.
If you are a member of the Greens, a self-proclaimed ethicist or a journalism lecturer you will of course know the answer is A. It’s perhaps best that you stop reading now, as to actually find out the truth would ruin your next six-part lecture series at the Enmore Anarchist Collective.
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Update 6am: The ABC is reporting the non-disclosure agreement has been shrunk to just two weeks, making it impossible to see how the demand for seven years, or even three, was ever justified.
Details of the National Broadband Network business plan are apparently so secret that in order to see them you have to sign a seven year confidentiality agreement. But objections by cross-benchers have now forced the Government to more than halve the terms of that agreement to just three years.
If you’re confused it’s because the Government has embarked on a confusing strategy in a bid to solve its growing NBN business plan problem that will dominate the politics of the last sitting week. The Government is blurring the line between information that is commercially sensitive and that which is politically sensitive.
In a bid to pass the NBN legislation Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told cross-benchers they could see the see the mysterious NBN business plan, but they would need to sign a seven year confidentiality agreement. Greens communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam and other cross-benchers have politely told the Government to go jump.
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The continuing insistence of the Government not to release its business plan for the National Broadband Network within the next week is hurting Stephen Conroy, aiding Tony Abbott and undermining the credibility of the project.
Stephen Conroy has suffered the political equivalent of an atomic wedgie over the NBN business plan at the hands of the Senate. Not many thought the Senate would be able to get the underpants all the way over head, but they did. Even Bob Brown joined in at one stage only to back off when he thought little Stephen had had enough.
For those who weren’t watching last night and today (can’t imagine why), the Senate passed two motions that demonstrate a majority of the upper house are opposed to delaying the release of the plan until after Parliament has finished sitting. So the Parliament is being expected to pass the bill without knowing whether the project will be commercially viable at some point.
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Depending on which way you look at it, Australia can indeed be considered ‘the lucky country’ when it comes to internet censorship.
Our browsing has always remained the decision of the user, and an entire world of possibilities have been left open – happiness, whatever your definition, has never been further than a mouse click away.
While some of the options available on the internet are morally ambiguous, many of them are legal – you just don’t want to bring up the topics loudly at dinner parties.
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A statement by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today appears to be a dramatic capitulation on his plan to introduce a mandatory internet filter to censor offensive websites.
It is a stunning turnaround for Conroy who has been so vigorously defending his plan in the face of fierce criticism from a range of quarters this year, including the US Government which took the unusual step of publicly airing concern about the Australian policy.
The legislation was due to be in Parliament by the end of the year but Conroy said today it was on hold, pending a review of the types of websites the filter will block and a number of other measures which address the long-standing concerns of opponents, including appeals for classifications and an independent review of censored content.
If a filter is now ever introduced it appears certain that it will not take the form that Conroy has proposed.
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Will we ever get a viable “national broadband network” or NBN? Well, that depends on how Senator Stephen Conroy, the Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, plays the game.
At stake are tens of billions of taxpayers’ money.
In fact, the upwards of 43 billion dollars estimated to be needed to build the NBN is simply mind boggling. Of that figure, upwards of 26 billion dollars is “government investment” or, more precisely, taxpayers’ money.
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The federal government has been told the National Broadband Network can be rolled out for at least $5 billion less than the original $43 billion earmarked. News.com.au has the story here, but a quick back-of-a-napkin calculation on what it means:
Update 2:20 PM: Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has announced today the NBN will be able to be completed for $5 billion under initial budget at $38 billion. The implementation study also found the network could be viable without Telstra, but said it would be preferable for the Government to strike a deal with the telco.
Australian households and businesses will find out today how much they will have to pay for state-of-the-art broadband when the Government finally tables long-held advice on its controversial $43 billion national broadband network.
A detailed implementation study into the proposed NBN, which promises broadband connections to virtually all Australian homes and businesses at speeds of of up to 100 megabits per second, will be released this afternoon.
The more the Prime Minister breaks his policy promises, the more Senator Conroy hides his policy homework.
For more than 2 months Senator Conroy has sat on the taxpayer-funded Implementation Study into the National Broadband Network. And he’s refusing to show how he will implement another promise: mandatory internet filtering.
This week, The Australian reported the Minister’s so-called ‘clean feed’ legislation won’t be introduced before Parliament’s spring sitting. Another Labor government “own-goal” and a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in its own policy promises.
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Attention Senator Conroy: Forget about filtering the internet. Instead please pour your energy, time and (our) money into providing Australia with an internet – and a phone system for that matter – that works, is accessible and affordable.
Many Australians are likely oblivious to the communications dark ages in which we live. In the USA I can connect my home or office to a variety of internet providers, all offering great, low-priced deals. In Australia I am given a choice of a couple of providers with a few extra resellers offering outrageous prices and slow service.
In the USA almost all internet plans provide unlimited downloads and usage. In Australia I am offered plans limiting the hours I can spend on the internet; if I exceed this I am hit with exorbitant hourly rates or a slower internet.
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Spend a little time reading the rabid, sometimes psychotic, responses to Stephen Conroy’s piece yesterday about the proposed internet filter and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Rudd Government is about to become a one-term wonder or Australia is about to turn into a society about as free as the Third Reich.
The hundreds of comments on the minister’s piece contain a mass of vitriolic, hysterical rage and delusional warnings that the plan could cost Labor power. There were personal attacks on the minister and even a hint at a death threat. “I feel like I’m living in Germany circa 1936,” wrote one contributor. “OK, Conroy, as a Catholic, it is you who believes in myths. You have a rubbish Economics degree and you weren’t born here. Go away,” said another, constructively.
What the debate almost entirely failed to reflect was the overwhelming popularity of Conroy’s plan with the general public. A recent poll put support for mandatory government filtering of child abuse material at 80 per cent. That’s a staggeringly high approval rating for any policy that does not involve handing out wads of free money.
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There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the Government’s ISP-level filtering proposal and Eliza Cussen was right to warn people they shouldn’t believe everything they hear or read (Top Ten Internet Filter Lies, 25 March 2010).
Unfortunately her article repeated some of the misinformation and I’d like to outline the facts.
The Government has always maintained there is no silver bullet when it comes to cyber safety and we have never said ISP-level filtering alone would help fight child pornography or keep children safe online.
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The Obama administration has questioned the Rudd Government’s plan to introduce an internet filter on the grounds that it runs contrary to stated US foreign policy of using an open internet to spread economic growth and global security.
The US State Department has told The Punch its officials have raised concerns about the filter with Australian counterparts, as America mounts a new diplomatic assault on internet censorship by governments worldwide.
Asked about the US view on the filter plan US State Department spokesman Noel Clay said: “The US and Australia are close partners on issues related to cyber matters generally, including national security and economic issues.
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Just in case Punch readers believe what people tell them, here are some of the things that have been said about internet filtering…and exactly why they shouldn’t be believed.
Lie # 1: The filter will help in the fight against child pornography.
I wish this were true. But it isn’t. Even child protection group, Save The Children, has come out exposing Conroy’s plan as unworkable and the wrong way to protect children online. The filter will not (and Stephen Conroy admits this) work for the areas where unwanted material actually lives, namely: peer-to-peer networking, instant messaging, torrents, direct emails and chat rooms.
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That pesky cyber-gang of hackers, Anonymous, struck again on the weekend, bringing down Senator Stephen Conroy’s website for almost 30 hours.
I know because I was there. It didn’t take much to predict that nerdy “hacktivists” against the internet filter would attack Government websites to coincide with real-life protests scheduled for Saturday.
Sure enough, a few clicks from Google led to a forum that set a date and time for the assault and, after a bit more digging, a chat room from which to watch the fireworks.
Is Stephen Conroy a patsy? Or is he merely an innocent but accomplished networker who believes in spending time with all the key stakeholders, to borrow a flaccid phrase from modern management, across the communications portfolio?
I’ll leave those elements of the debate to others. I have no valuable insight into communications policy and am mindful that any opinion ventured would be viewed by cynics as the product of the Murdoch microchip we News Limited drones apparently have implanted in our brains. But I will try to examine the perception that has been created as a result of the $250 million rebate for free to air television, and the role of Conroy and the networks in creating it.
By way of ludicrous understatement, it’s worth noting that it is certainly a spirited debate, and one which underscores Kim Beazley’s conviction that his own tenure in the communications portfolio was time spent in hell.
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Unpredictable, addictive and unrestricted. Chatroulette has sparked a cult following, countless YouTube clips, a new genre of shocked screen-grabs, and at last, mainstream coverage.
It could now draw the attention of would-be censors.
John Herrman, from Gizmodo.com calls Chatroulette, “speed-dating the entire Internet”. In an instant, you’re connected bedroom-to-bedroom with one of 20 thousand online strangers, anywhere in the world, be it dorm, cafe or basement lair.
The result is a hybrid of Skype and Peep-Show. If your chat partner is bored, they flick you to another round of spin of the bottle. It’s a return to the Internet’s Wild Wild West, argues NY Magazine - a lawless place for thrill-seekers, voyeurs, artists and freaks.
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As cynical as it might sound you can’t help but think that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy would have been relieved last week’s media scrutiny was mainly soaked up by Peter Garrett’s problems with roof insulation.
But following the Sunday Herald-Sun revelation that he went skiing with Channel Seven chief Kerry Stokes shortly before handing out $250 million to the TV stations it means he’ll at least be continuing in his role as best supporting stuff-up.
Political cliché that it is, Conroy’s decision to hang out with Stokes on the slopes goes to the Minister’s judgment and it’s that judgment Kevin Rudd must really be beginning to question.
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Government security sources have told The Punch the attacks on the official Parliament website have also spread to the Attorney-Generals, Communications and the Department of Immigration.
The attack is believed to have been carried out by a loose coalition of hackers known as Anonymous who have previously claimed responsibility for attacks on the Church of Scientology.
A couple of days ago when Communication Minister Stephen Conroy was asked about the possibility of attacks by hacker groups on Government website he basically laughed it off. One wonders whether Mr Conroy is laughing today.
Journalists tend to adopt a natural default position whereby censorship is deemed to be one of the purest forms of evil, and that we should fight any government which tries to curtail the freedom of adults to make up their own minds on what they say, watch and read.
Over the past few months I’ve found that my personal default position has been challenged, oddly enough, by the anti-censorship lobby. Lobby is a bit of a loose term - there is no formal lobby as such - it’s a pretty diverse and disorganised conglomeration of humanity, containing authors, artists, journalists, information technology experts, social media enthusiasts, twitterers and the like.
Large - and in my view, largely stupid - sections of this group have had the surprise effect of turning me into a closet fan of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Not because his internet filtering plan is a work of genius. Far from it.
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Alcoholics call it a moment of clarity. Oprah calls it an “ah-ha moment”.
Whatever you call it, a penny dropping is a wondrous thing, and yesterday amid the rabid brouhaha of Stephen Conroy’s Clean Feed catastrophe, I banked some vital coin.
Perhaps I’m slow, perhaps I’m a bit thick, but it wasn’t until reading the key findings of Catharine Lumby’s document on the proposed Internet filtering, that I realised I was operating under the false assumption that the web should be subjected to the same scrutiny as any other creative product.
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My name is Leslie Nassar, you may remember me from the side-splitting online satire of Fake Stephen Conroy, Today Tonight, and iSnack 2.0. Ah, The Internet, where even the most obvious and mediocre of writers can become a Celebretard.
I’ve been asked to write about the Harold Holtification of Fake Stephen Conroy. I only have a few hundred words to play with and every article that references Twitter must, by law, contain an excruciatingly detailed history of the author’s use of the service, so let’s not dilly-dally.
When Twitter launched in 2007, I joined the microblogging site thinking I could sate my hunger for telling complete strangers (most of them foreign) about my favourite sandwiches. Disappointingly, it turned out that people were more interested in discussing politics than listening to my opinion on multigrain sourdough breads (I am opposed to them, naturally). So I deleted my account in disgust.
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As we expected, there has been considerable online discussion about our announcement to introduce ISP-level filtering.
For those who missed it, the Government announced legislation that will require Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block web pages that under the National Classification System are rated RC (Refused Classification). RC-rated material includes child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence including rape and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use.
The Government has always maintained there is no silver-bullet solution to cyber-safety and this new measure is one part of a comprehensive suite to address the range of challenges online. For example, we have funded 91 Australian Federal Police officers to the Child Protection Operations Team, as well as extensive education programs for parents, teachers and children.
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In August this year I wrote on this site about the lunacy of the Rudd Government’s proposed mandatory ISP internet filtering.
At that stage it was a trial but on Tuesday this week Minister Conroy announced his intention to proceed with legislation to enact this mad idea.
This is a policy that is based on a fraud so much so the Minister could barely explain it with a straight face yesterday.
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“It is the government’s clear desire for Telstra to structurally separate, on a voluntary and cooperative basis.” - Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.
Let’s cut to the chase. There is nothing “cooperative” about what the government wants to do to Telstra. This morning’s announcement from Stephen Conroy, fulfilling his veiled threats to the giant company pretty much since winning government, is the end of Telstra as we know it. The 600-pound gorilla of the telecommunications industry will never be the same again.
The government’s new laws, flagged late last year when it spectacularly locked Telstra out of the national broadband network project, are designed to break up the company and prevent it from undermining the NBN. In short, Telstra can’t continue to be the dominant force in all corners of the market.
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In the past few months we have seen the highs and lows of our relationship with China on display.
Firstly we saw Australia avoid recession largely because of the strong demand by China for Australia’s resources.
Then we saw a series of diplomatic incidents including the arrest of Australian businessman Stern Hu on grounds which are yet to become clear. In addition it appears the Chinese Government has taken proactive action to show their displeasure at Australia for granting a visa to Chinese dissident leader Rebiya Kadeer.
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