'Please explain', Conroy tells Hockey on filter

The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has challenged Shadow Treasurer to explain the Coalition's opposition revealed this afternoon to Labor's controversial internet filter policy.

Hockey revealed on Triple J's Hack program yesterday that the Coalition would block the filter legislation when it appeared in parliament, in a move that signals the death of the controversial project if the Greens control the balance of power in the Federal Senate after the upcoming election in several weeks.

“Joe Hockey needs to explain why refused classification material hosted on overseas websites should be available, while RC material on Australian hosted sites is not,” said a spokesperson for Conroy last night. “The current online content regulations regarding prohibited content were introduced by the Howard Government in 2000,” they added, referring to laws against refused classification content being hosted in Australia.

Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith said a Coalition Government would not introduce a mandatory ISP filter – instead it would implement what he described as “practical and effective measures to enhance online safety and security” – including returning to the PC-based filtering approach utilised by the previous Howard Coalition government.

But Conroy's office immediately challenged such a proposal.

“Let's not forget the Howard Government's free PC filter program was a dismal failure, despite a $15 million advertising campaign,” the spokesperson said.

They then reiterated regular statements that Conroy's office has made about the filter over the past year. “The Gillard Government does not support Refused Classification (RC) material being available on the internet,” they said. “This content includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.”

Under Australia's existing classification regulations, the spokesperson pointed out, such material was not available in newsagencies, libraries, on DVDs or TV or at the cinema.

“RC material is also not available on Australian hosted websites,” they said. “The Government's policy is to introduce ISP level filtering for overseas hosted material which is RC under the existing National Classification Scheme. There's no silver bullet when it comes to cyber safety and that's why the Government has a comprehensive $125.8 million which includes education for parents and young people, law enforcement, research and ISP level filtering.”

The Coalition's policy decision is, however, already being celebrated by those who have lobbied against the policy over the past two and a half years since it was introduced – with Liberal parliamentarians, the Greens, Electronic Frontiers Australia and others all welcoming the move.