Oh dear: Mark Newton’s epic government rant


Delimiter has read quite a few submissions to quite a few government enquiries and committees. Generally they’re produced by representative organisations like the IIA, AIIA or ATUG and are quite dry.

They typically examine both sides of an issue and come to a broad conclusion gently nudging the government in the direction of their members’ concerns, without telling the Government too explicitly what it should do.

There are other types of less diplomatic submissions — entries from companies which have very strong views on how they should be regulated, for instance. Or individuals who are experts in their field and are concerned by the issues raised — often academics from universities.

However reading through Internode engineer Mark Newton’s submission (PDF) to the Federal Parliamen’s Joint Select Committee on Cyber Safety the other day, it was apparent that Newton’s comments didn’t quite fit into any of these categories. Newton’s submission was, in fact, one of the most epic rants we have ever had the pleasure to witness.

Newton starts off politely enough.

“Thank you for the opportunity to address the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety,” he writes. “I welcome the deliberations of the committee as an opportunity to provide the Australian Parliament with a realistic appraisal of the current state of the art of the Internet in Australia.”

But halfway through the document it appears Newton has gotten a little hot under the collar.

“The idea that the internet is a threatening place deserving of special governmental attention, fearful advisories to parents and onerous restrictions on children appears to be a uniquely Australian perspective,” he writes.

By the time you get to the end of the document you can’t help but realise that Newton is not just mad about the government’s attitude towards technology. Very mad. VERY mad. This is the main paragraph in his conclusion:

Internet censorship. Big red buttons. Websites that crash with the slightest provocation. eSecurity initiatives that attempt to make everyone except end users responsible for end-user behavior. A House Cyber-Security Committee that wastes the valuable time of expert witnesses by quizzing them about fabricated Hollywood movie plots, and recommends mandatory industry codes to force ISPs to respond to security threats which were obsolete years ago. A Government anti-spam body which has made precisely zero difference to the amount of spam received by Australians. Content regulation which forces the ACMA to make reprehensibly foolish decisions, turning what should be a prestigious, respected regulator into a finger-wagging, tut-tutting grandmother. Shoehorning ISPs and websites into the same Act of Parliament which regulates broadcasters, even though ISPs are more like the postal service, and websites are more like homes and businesses. A Minister who is pilloried for “spams and scams coming through the portal,” and who insists that the Government isn’t interested in restricting freedom of speech on the very same day that ACMA blacklists an anti-abortion advocacy site. Kevin Rudd’s $120,000 website. The Government’s reprehensibly ignorant attacks on Google. Statements by MPs such as those made by the Hon. Maxine McKew, MP during her recent appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program, where she made the outrageous suggestion that the internet should be regulated like a newspaper rather than like a water-cooler discussion. An approach to online copyright which legally encumbers the regular, day to day activities of millions of end-users, thereby encouraging a society-wide disrespect for copyright law. Public consultations yielding over 50,000 responses in favor of the establishment of an R18+ rating for computer games, put on the back-burner because, apparently, 50,000 responses is inadequate and more consultation is required. Former Prime MInister Kevin Rudd’s ignorant use of the made-up term “band speed” to describe what the NBN will deliver to 90 per cent of Australians. A merry parade of politicians who would be lynched if they didn’t know the difference between interest rates and inflation rates, who see no shame in confusing “megabits per second” with “megabytes.”

This Government has literally no idea what it’s doing with the online environment, and has shown an outright refusal to be educated about it. Is it any wonder that so many people distrust them?

Oh dear.

Image credit: Newton on SBS’s Insider program, believed to be permitted under fair use


  1. Having read the whole thing a few days ago, it’s not only epic, but compelling. But its compellingness, unfortunately, is likely to remain limited only to those who understand the industry and the technology. Getting the answer right is less important than getting an answer that pleases the Sunrise-watching masses.

    Like the campaigns against Internet filtering and the one that will no doubt come with any progress on the data retention proposal, most Australians are both ignorant of these issues and uninterested in them. They just don’t resonate enough with the bulk of the electorate as they have no impact on their mortgage, their kid’s school fees and their ability to put food on the table and drive the latest Commodore or Falcon.

    Until these issues we care so passionately about are mainstream, we will remain a noisy and mildly irritating buzz in the ears of our politicians, even the ones that “get it” like Kate Lundy.

    • I’d love to read what Mark would say about the imbeciles running the “digital economy” in Ireland. A country where the OPTIONAL computer studies module for High School Students has hardly been updated since 1980 and who’s economy rose on the back of IT without investing one read cent ensuring society could support its continuance.
      They make the guys here look like Bill Gates.
      And yes, this IS a personal opinion ;)

  2. While it makes absolutely riveting reading for those who have similar views to Mark, unfortunately I think @trib has it right … this won’t resonate with the mainstream, and may even come across a bit “ranty” for the JSC, despite being depressingly accurate in most of its conclusions.
    The political reality is that the voices of those with the best understanding of the issues are ignored as “geeky subversives”, overwhelmingly in the minority and at the fringe. The only “submission” that will get the government’s attention on these topics is at the ballot box. There, of course we are over the proverbial barrel, as the only political parties with an enlightened view on the digital economy are the Greens (and I suspect their vote will improve significantly at the next Federal election thanks to Ludlam) and the Pirate Party (even more “fringe”, and unlikely to have a big electoral impact). My Senate vote, at least, is firming for the Greens …

  3. While the method may be misplaced, I completely sympathise with Mark’s frustration.

    How do you deal with a government hell-bent on dismantling privacy and online freedoms while simultaneously displaying little to no knowledge of how the internet actually functions?

    It’s like being lectured on literature by an illiterate, who’s simultaneously threatening to put a torch to the library.

  4. “Image credit: Newton on SBS’s Insider program, believed to be permitted under fair use”

    Presumably you mean “Insight” rather than “Insider”?

  5. Utterly and completely awesome. I read the whole thing (work, lunchtime) and couldn’t stop saying “YES! YES! EFFING YES!!!”

    Now, how do we strap Conroy down and make him read it?

  6. Mark’s essay mirrors my own opinion. But let’s be honest this will only ever be read and understood by a small minority. These issues simply do not appear on the radar of the average Australian family. The people around me simply do not even care about these issues. What they do care about is who won the footy on the weekend, or what they need to do to keep paying the bills and mortgage, or what sport they are taking their kid to on what day, or how do they keep their job.

    Let’s face it we are not a particularly intellectual nation and few people really give a damn about issues that do not affect their hip pocket.

    • Absolutely agreed Sean – mores the pity.
      Its why reading David Ramli’s article on the filter over at the ARN the other day was so depressing. I tweeted about it at the time: http://twitter.com/franksting/statuses/17315595180
      So the questions then are;
      – How do we translate Mark’s submission into something that the entire population will understand and empathise with so as to change their attitudes to Cybersafety?
      – And what is the best economic argument to keep it front and centre in their minds?

  7. Completely agree with @trib and others above. At the moment, this issue only affects a small group of us, so we are effectively ‘preaching to the converted’. Those who simply use a computer to get their work done and haven’t the slightest bit of interest in computers otherwise, aren’t really aware of this issue and it’s future consequences.

    How do we simplify this issue and counteract Conroy’s political soundbyte of “I’m not into opting into child porn”. (Which to us is one of the dumbest things he has ever said, but the ‘general population’ may buy it).

    The real issue here is censorship and control of information – and we need to convey this in a way the ‘average Aussie’ understands. Maybe a sports themed metaphor? Say, imagine watching a football match with chunks missing out of it, because it has been censored and considered ‘too rough or violent’. Football codes in general have been altering their rules over the years in an attempt to limit contact between players, despite it being a contact sport, and many a fan misses the ‘good old days’ when there was a ‘bit of biff’. Take it to the next stage for them – censorship – and they might finally realise it is about our freedom as adults, to decide what we want to see, not what the government deems fit.

    I’m sure someone can come up with a better metaphor to appeal to the wider public, this is just an example off the top of my head, to get us all thinking.

    We also need to explain in as simple way as possible, that this will NOT solve the issue of child pronography because that is shared on an underground network where users send content to each other directly – and if it travels through an ISP, it looks like any other data and cannot be detected. And that we would be much better off putting money and resources into the hands of people who can track down these predators and provide solid evidence to have them prosecuted.

    Unless we come up with a strategy, this issue will disappear during the election and not raise it’s ugly head again until it is possibly too late. If Labour are re-elected, we KNOW Stephen Conroy will say he has a mandate and go ahead with it. And once it gets through as legislation – it will be extremely difficult to undo it.

  8. Mark’s arguments are quite good, but I think the vitriol should have been left out of the submission given his audience. Just becuase something sounds good in an opinion piece, doesn’t mean it should be said in a submission to a Parliamentary Committee.

  9. I don’t think it’s an oh dear at all.

    At the end of the day, we can repeat ourselves ad infinitum about the technology morons who are meddling in things they have no hope of understanding. Or we can do what Mark has done and try to get them to wake up.

    Is it out of place? I don’t think so. Have you watched a typical question time? It was mild compared to the behaviour of our overpaid politicians, who’ve got teams of spin doctors and bureaucrats refining their every word in attacking one another.

    If politicians are children – and they certainly seem to be – then they are naughty little children who need to be disciplined. We have to try to get through to them. Disagree with the method if you will, but at least applaud him for standing up.

  10. Scathing, but completely true.

    This Government has literally no idea what it’s doing with the online environment, and has shown an outright refusal to be educated about it. Is it any wonder that so many people distrust them?

    And even more scathing, or embarassing, is, we let them do this.

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