Dear Prime Minister,
I remain concerned about the government's plans to introduce further
censorship of the internet, and about the issues of censorship and freedom of
expression more generally. In particular, I remain angry about the highly
unhelpful response by the former prime minister to the attacks on Bill
Henson, and on the arts community in general, only two years ago.
In my view, there is no issue more important than the long-term protection
and extension of liberal freedoms. There has been far too much retreat from
strict application of the Millian harm principle and the principle of freedom
of speech and expression. This has affected many areas of government policy
under Prime Ministers Howard and Rudd. The current proposals to censor the
internet are of particular concern, given the endless possibility to use the
proposed mechanisms to censor expression that goes far beyond what is claimed
to be the main target: i.e., child pornography.
If child pornography is operating at a level that is causing genuine anxiety
within the government - and this is not just a matter of moral panic - then
more funding should be devoted to ordinary law enforcement to attack the
problem. However, the concept of child pornography must be kept within fairly
narrow limits, so that it can never attach to legitimate artistic images,
such as those created by Henson or the image of Olympia Papapetrou that was
used on the cover of a 2008 issue of Arts Monthly. In any event, it is likely
that child pornography is not spread mainly via publicly-accessible websites,
and that internet censorship will have little effect on it. If so, the
government's current proposals are a dangerous waste of resources.
We need to be confident that whatever steps are taken by the new government
will enhance, rather than further reduce, freedom of speech and expression.
If any measures are introduced, they must be protected from scope creep.
Restrictions on speech relating to such issues as euthanasia must be
liberalised, not hardened up. Importantly, Senator Conroy must stop attacking
free speech advocates as friends of pedophiles - this repeated slur has
caused enormous ill-will towards the government, to the extent where many of
us have lost all confidence in Senator Conroy and hope that he will be
removed from his current portfolio. That is obviously not possible during the
election period, but the signals from both him and yourself during the coming
weeks will be watched closely.
I hope that you will continue to give serious consideration to these matters
as 21 August approaches. Frankly, I am not eager to vote for the Opposition,
and will likely give my first preference to a minor party. Exactly how I vote
will, however, depend heavily on the responses of the major parties to free
speech issues. I need to know that these issues are taken seriously and that
I can look forward to further extension of our liberal freedoms, not to a
retreat into the mentality of censorship.