Helen Razer tells it like it is over here.
At a time when so many people with power and influence appear to place little value on freedom of speech, I'm gratified to see others whom I like and respect coming out in protest. Helen Razer, John Birmingham, John Wilkins, and others have been unequivocal in their opposition to the Australian government's plan to add a new and dangerous layer of censorship to the internet. We have the beginnings of a political movement here. Let's act on it now.
And let's not relax about this for a moment in 2010.
Once more, the federal government may have the best intentions, if it aims only at censoring child pornography (which is already illegal). I'm not so sure of this, mind you, since many of Senator Conroy's rationalisations seem to go a lot further ... but it really doesn't matter. Even if we adopt the most charitable interpretation of the government's intent, the proposed legislation is a potential disaster with long-term ramifications. The proposed system of forcing ISPs to block websites selected by a government agency is a chilling prospect. Once accepted in principle, then actually established, this system allows future censorship of any category of speech that might elicit moral panic from time to time indefinitely into the future - whenever new restrictions might attract votes.
The effect will be to alter the entire playing field. Once the system beds down, politicians will no longer argue about whether internet sites should be censored by such a mechanism. The issue will become which sites - and some political players will seek a wide range of sites and categories. Nothing can stop the potential scope creep of such a mechanism if it is accepted at all. It is obvious that, in the censorious climate which arose last year, thanks to puritans and prudes at all levels of influence in New South Wales, attempts would have been made to get sites with Bill Henson's art photography on the censored list.
Over time, we could see any number of categories of websites added to the list - gambling sites, sites engaging in robust debate over religious issues, sites advocating the legalisation of euthanasia or certain drugs. To the extent that some abortions are illegal, or might become so, Australians might be denied information about this "criminal activity". The same applies to many other activities that are currently illegal, but clearly would not be if the Millian harm principle were applied seriously.
Already, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) wants to extend the proposed censorship mechanism to a broader range of material than the government apparently has in mind. Even if the current government is unwilling to do deals with the ACL - even if it opposes such initiatives on the floor of the parliament - the implications are obvious, should the balance of political power change more in the ACL's favour.
Nothing can be more important than this issue, since it creates a long-term threat to our most fundamental freedom - the freedom that enables us to challenge not only governments but even hardened public opinion. Without freedom of speech, we are helpless against the pressure of conformity and the political attractions of small-minded populism. Censorship must become a key issue in 2010, and we must insist that no political candidate is acceptable unless he or she stands for freedom of speech and against censorship of the internet.
Clive Hamilton, for example, may be enlightened in some ways, but he is a censor, an enemy of free speech. As such, he is unworthy of our vote. Please do not support any party that puts Hamilton forward as a candidate, as the Greens did recently in the Higgins by-election. As long as the Greens use Hamilton as a front man, do not give them your vote. Make it clear to them that Hamilton is a divisive figure whom you do not support.
No "clean feed"!