Australian Government To Delay Internet Censorship Until After Next Election

In one of its most cynical moves yet, the Australian Government will delay the implementation of Internet censorship until after the next Australian Election.

In a letter to an opponent of internet censorship, Minister for Censorship Stephen Conroy wrote that the Government would introduce “legislative amendments into Parliament to require all ISPs, starting twelve months from the passage of the legislation, to filter RC material hosted on overseas servers.” (emphasis is mine.)

Note the overseas servers is an extension of current policy; it is already illegal to host RC (restricted content) on an Australian server, filtering being the new part.

The Australian Parliament next sits on February 2, 2010. Even if the legislation were presented to the House of Representatives on February 2 (and there is no indication at this stage that it will be,) the legislation must pass the Senate (which isn’t assured) and eventually return for a third reading in the House of Representatives before it passes. Given the contentious nature of the legislation, it would be fair to presume that there will be proposed amendments and/or strong opposition in the Senate for the bill. Even if it passes the Senate quickly, by the time it is passed and gains royal assent, at the very earliest the bill would be law in late February 2010, for implementation in late February 2011.

The next Australian election must be held no later than the April 16, 2011. But likewise, although Governments can hold out to the last minute, very few in Australia have. The first meeting of the House of Representatives of the 42nd Parliament occurred on 12 February 2008, and therefore expires on 11 February 2011. If the current Prime Minister follows his Labor predecessors, the election will likely be in March, not April. Notably writs for the next election must be issued no later than 21 February 2011.

Under the unlikely scenario that the bill passes in February 2010, internet censorship would come into law in Australia in February 2011, which even if the election hadn’t been formally called, would none the less fall a week or two before the formal campaign (and the unofficial campaign would be in full swing.)

There’s no way in hell that Rudd will risk implementing internet censorship in the middle of an election campaign, because it risks distracting from the Government message. It could easily become a wedge point against the Government, particularly when voters start asking why their internet connections have magically become slower all of a sudden.

More likely is that Senator Conroy is looking for the legislation to pass before Winter recess, with implementation a couple of months clear of the election, which if opinion polls are to be believed, will return the Labor Government.

What should be noted is the bizarre implementation of a 12 month clause; while not unprecedented, there is no requirement under Australian law for a 12 month implementation of new legislation. Indeed, Australian Governments in the past have managed to pass retrospective legislation. Conroy may argue that 12 months is fair game for the ISP’s to get their filters ready, but likewise if we are to believe the filtering report, the implementation isn’t that hard, it’s 100% perfect and easy (apparently), and if they were serious the date would be July 1 (a traditional implementation date for many new Australian Government laws.)

It’s the height of cynicism that the Australian Government, seeking to implement draconian internet censorship in Australia, would be so afraid of what the reaction might be they’d delay it until after the next election. Weasels of the first degree.

A full copy of the letter below, the 12 month clause third last paragraph, page 2 (letter via insertthehandle on Reddit)

conroy letter –

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