Greens lobby for power in Senate

Melbourne-based Greens senator, Richard Di Natale, could see Greens gain more power over tech-related bills in the Senate

The Australian Greens will look to achieve a balance of power in the Senate when they head to the Federal election this year, putting them in reach of blocking legislation against the Federal Government's proposed mandatory ISP-level Internet filter scheme.

This will possibly be achieved through Greens MP, Richard Di Natale, who will contest Family First senator, Steve Fielding, for the Senate amongst Victorians. The 2010 election will be the second time the two Senators have faced off against each other, and the third Di Natale has run in the seat. Fielding was chosen as preferred Senator by the Australian Labor Party in the 2004 election, despite only winning 1.88 per cent of the preferential votes to Di Natale's 8.80 per cent. The Greens senator also lost out to ALP senator, David Feeney, in 2007.

However, the Greens are hopeful Labor has learnt its lesson in choosing its preferred Senators, and will opt for Di Natale. Should this occur, it is believed the Greens will have sufficient power to rally around specific legislation, including that pertaining to the National Broadband Network (NBN) and Internet filtering.

Fielding is best known within the tech community for his firm stance on the Telstra separation bill, where he effectively became the only obstacle to its passing on previous occasions.

Despite a deal being reached with Telstra and amendments made by the government to the legislation, Fielding may still block the bill.

"We've got him a briefing with the Telstra guys, the NBN guys are trying to line one up, and hopefully now that the Heads of Agreement has been completed, he'll be now willing to consider supporting the bill," communications minister, Stephen Conroy, told media this week. "He never said he was opposed to the bill, he always said he wanted to consider it. He wants to look at the overall package now and make a decision."

In his reintroduction as a Senate candidate, Di Natale reiterated the Greens' stance on issues relating to the NBN and filter, but said the latter debate was disheartening.

"It's a shame for me that we are currently in the midst of one of the most interesting revolutions in the way people communicate, something that has such tremendous, transformative possibilities, and yet we're stuck here in a debate about how we clamp down on what is essentially a public conversation," Di Natale told audiences at the Electonic Frontiers Australia's (EFA) "Wild West Filter Forum" held in Melbourne last week.

"We should be here celebrating the possibilities rather than trying to fight the filter, which really is going to do nothing to address the problems that it purports to address."

While often outspoken about their position on mandatory ISP-level Internet filtering, the Australian Greens have changed their tact in anticipation of a forthcoming Federal election, with Senator Scott Ludlam urging calm amongst public outcrys.

In addressing the forum, Ludlam pushed away assertions that the proposed filter would put Australia on equal footing with Burma, Iran or China in terms of censorship, and that it provided "some disservice to people who are suffering under those kind of regimes". The Greens senator also called it "disingenuous" to accuse Senator Stephen Conroy of setting up a fascist state but, by the same token, said the filter laid an insidious framework that could be misused in the future.

Ludlam was complimentary of Conroy, and said he was pleased the communications minister was a senator, as they could engage directly.

"I asked him in that exchange not to accuse me of being a child pornographer," Ludlam said of a conversation held between the two in 2008. "In that exchange he asked me not to accuse him of trying to run and set up the 'Great Firewall of Australia', and that's an agreement that has more or less held for the last year and a half."

Despite calls for calm among critics, Di Natale said that, should he win the Victorian seat in the Senate, "I'm sure that Scott, myself and our other Greens colleagues will do what we can to ensure this filter is defeated, and we'll replace it with much more sensible legislation that will address some of the concerns that Senator Conroy and some of the other community have."

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