People power killed the filter

Review of refused classification content the last straw

The imminent death of Labor's proposed mandatory ISP-level internet filter is one of the strongest indicators that people power still has a role to play in politics.

The Liberal party's recent announcement that it would not support Labor's filter shocked some but the most surprising element wasn't the decidedly un-conservative stance it had adopted but that it responded to old-fashioned people power.

The Labor Government's bid to censor offensive content from the internet emerged before the last election as a proposal to please conservative and religious voters.

However, it grew quickly and uncontrollably into a highly divisive beast that threatened – and still could – topple the party's campaign in the upcoming election.

The roar of protest against the filter drowned out the Government's other campaign messaging – including the voter-friendly National Broadband Network – and the threat of losing votes forced a backflip from the filter's main proponent, communications minister, Stephen Conroy.

Conroy has effectively signed the filter's death warrant by initiating a review of refused classification content that should be censored, which is due after the election.

Regardless of the review, the Labor party doesn't have the numbers to get the filter through parliament, after the proposal was publicly opposed by independent senator Nick Xenophon, the Greens party and most recently the Liberal party.

Independent advocacy group GetUp! has claimed a significant role in the anti-filter movement and said the campaign against the filter was one of its biggest - attracting more than 106,000 members and over $150,000 in donations for advertising.

The strength of their campaign was that this show of people power constituted a wide demographic that extended beyond the tech sphere, according to communications director, Sam Mclean.

“What we found very quickly was it wasn't just online activist crowd, wasn't all tech nerds and it was actually with broad based appeal to get up members,” Mr Mclean said.

“Over 70 per cent of those get up members who joined the campaign are parents or grandparents. There's a lot of older Australians in there as well, younger Australians. It cuts across all demographics. I think it was when the parties realised this had appeal.”

“The archetypal person, Margarent Pomeranz, ABC film reviewer, was when [the parties] realised it was Margaret's demographic involved, who had censorship and civil liberty reasons for joining the campaign, rather than the online crowd. The parties realised it was an issue they had to take on.”

This varied voter demographic ensured GetUp! lobbying efforts were heard by politicians, especially within the Liberal party, he said.

"We certainly did a lot of lobbying of both the parties people within the Labor party and Liberals, Mclean said. "We talked with Nick Minchin, Malcolm Turnbull, and Alex Hawke. Presented our petition and arguments, which helped sway the coalition.”

Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, said GetUp! and advocacy group Electronics Frontiers Australia (EFA) played a key role in generating the people power which appears to have killed the filter.

“Often people comment that our rallies only attracted 400 to 500 people, and not hundreds of thousands marching in the streets,” Ludlam said. “Our presence mattered where it counts, online. Thousands of people signed the Get Up and EFA petitions.

“[The filter] was cutting across and spoiling their NBN announcements, [the ALP] had to get it off the table, they were only partially successful. It alienated a big part of their technology supporters.”

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