Liberals to slash net filter

Liberal party finally plays what could be a winning card in opposing the highly controversial Internet filter plan

The Federal Opposition has moved to trash the Government's highly controversial mandatory ISP-level Internet Filter.

In July, communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, announced a deal between Telstra, Optus, iPrimus and the Federal Government, that would see up to 70 per cent of Australians have filtered Internet access, while a plan to implement a mandatory filter would be delayed for a year.

Under the deal, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will impose web content filtering for their customers and the Federal Attorney-General‘s office will also review the filter blacklist - or refused classification content - to be administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

But last night after months of staying mum on the net filter, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey revealed the Coalition would block Labor's mandatory internet filtering policy in parliament, in a move that will signal the death of the controversial project if the Greens control the balance of power in the Federal Senate after the election.

Asked on Triple J's Hack program if the Coalition would vote for the policy if Labor won the election, Hockey's response was short and to the point.

“No,” he said.

On Triple J, Hockey described the filter as “flawed policy” and said it simply would not work, as it would not capture “a whole lot of images and chatter that we all find offensive – that are going through email”.

The interviewer attempted to move onto the next subject, but Hockey – who has been a strident opponent of the filter policy in the past – interrupted them to continue to outline the Coalition's opposition to the policy. “And I know it's a contentious issue,” he said. "The filter does not work. The ISP-based filtering system does not work. Therefore it creates a level of assumption of trust that can't be met by the technology."

Later Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith confirmed the block was Coalition policy.

“The Coalition did not implement a mandatory ISP level filter when we were last in Government because it was not workable or effective, and offered parents a false sense of security," he said.

"A Coalition Government will not introduce a mandatory ISP level filter -- we will instead implement practical and effective measures to enhance online safety and security including PC-based filters for families. Labor’s plan is flawed and will not work, and we will have a different and better approach.”

However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's office says Labor will be pushing ahead with its plan despite the latest setback.

The former Howard government offered parents a free downloadable filter to block content on their own computers. Labor scrapped the program on winning office.

A spokesman for Smith said the coalition's "comprehensive" online security policy would be released in the coming days.

Senator Conroy's office insists refused classification (RC) material shouldn't be available online and that's what the filter would target.

"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," a spokeswoman for the minister said.

"RC material is not available on Australian hosted websites.

"Joe Hockey needs to explain why RC material hosted on overseas websites should be available."

Other Liberal MPs also welcomed the move. "The Liberal party announces that we oppose the internet filter. A great victory for common sense!" wrote MP Jamie Briggs -- who has long opposed the policy -- on Twitter. And fellow MP Alex Hawke, who had similarly opposed the plan, agreed, also describing it as a victory for common sense.

The Coalition's move was immediately welcomed by long-term opponents to the internet filtering policy, which has been on the political agenda since mid-2007.

"This is excellent news and the Liberal party should be congratulated for finally declaring their hand," said Greens communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam in a statement.

"Tonight belongs to the huge number of people who contributed to a tenacious self-organised campaign that stretched from online civil libertarians all the way up to the US Department of State. The ALP should drop the censorship proposal rather than fighting what now looks inevitable.”

"The Australian Greens will work with any party in the parliament on constructive cyber safety proposals. At last that debate can start properly," Senator Ludlam said, ending his statement with the internet term 'FTW' – meaning victory.

Digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia applauded Hockey's announcement. "The Opposition are very welcome among the ranks of those many organisations and individuals that see the filter as a policy failure,” said EFA chair Colin Jacobs in a statement.

“A mandatory censorship scheme remains Government policy. However, with The Greens long on record as opposing the internet censorship scheme, Mr Hockey's announcement means that Labor's legislation is effectively dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Jacobs called on the chief proponent of the filter policy – Communications Minister Stephen Conroy – and the Gillard Government in general to admit the policy was dead, and to move on to “a debate grounded in reality”. "The government must now listen to the experts, and get back to working on giving Australians access to better and faster broadband," he said.

The filter has been a target for severe derision online with many suggeting they would not vote for Labor should the plan continue.

Others, such as renowned security expert, Marcus Ranum, declared Australia's Internet content filter will fail to combat child porn and may not get off the ground.

( See a slideshow on how to get around filters like that Labor wants to introduce)

Additional reporting by Renai LeMay and AAP

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