Gillard: Filter is a “moral question”


Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday took the high ground in defending Labor’s mandatory internet filtering project, describing the issue of how to ensure Australians didn’t get access to the wrong content as a “moral question”.

Both the Coalition and the Greens have confirmed plans to block legislation associated with the controversial project when it hits parliament, leading many Australians to believe the project is dead in the water due to a lack of support in the Senate.

However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has vowed to push on with the project, and Australian Sex Party President Fiona Patton has warned the Coalition’s policy may not be rock solid.

Yesterday Gillard was questioned on the issue at an event in Brisbane at the Queensland Media Club by a student, who asked why Labor was pushing the issue when polls had showed the overwhelming majority of Australians were against the policy. The full transcript is available online.

The Prime Minister reiterated comments made over the past year that it was unlawful for adults to watch certain types of content in a cinema – for example, “child abuse, incredibly violent pornography”. “We say that’s wrong and we don’t show it in Australian cinemas,” said Gillard. “That’s unlawful and we all accept it.”

The Labor leader said that if Australians accepted that principle, then “the moral question” was not changed by the medium that was used to publish content.

“If no-one in this country can lawfully go and view such things in a cinema then I don’t believe it should be lawful to view such things over the internet, and in those circumstance I think the internet filter is appropriate,” she said.

Gillard acknowledged there had been technical concerns raised about the filter, and said it was much more complex to block content on the internet than it was in cinemas. She noted Conroy had been involved in consultations with internet service providers to work through the “how” question so that the filter didn’t block legitimate material or slow down internet speeds.

“But the underpinning moral question, I think, is exactly the same,” she said.

Image credit: MystifyMe Concert Photography, Creative Commons


  1. If it’s become a moral question, does that mean a backflip is imminent? After all, climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time…

  2. There are both moral and practical sides to the issue. And the ALP fails at both. If the moral concerns are the same, why is our film classification system a fairly open, transparent system open to review, but the proposed internet filtering system a secretive, closed one?

    But it is the shortsighted idea that if the moral concerns are similar, then the practicalities are irrelevant, that shows Gillard as really out of touch here. A bus and an aircraft are both machines for moving people around, and might be regarded thus as morally equivalent – but of course, the practical issues differ hugely, and solutions for one might not be equivalent for the other. The same with DVDs and the internet. Citing moral equivalence as a reason to ignore huge practical differences is a surefire route to very bad policy.

    And, of course, it is worth noting that the Refused Classification category also covers such dangerous material as video games involving graffiti. The ALP will always talk about the worst material, while knowing full well that the range of material they are planning to filter is far larger.

    • ” The ALP will always talk about the worst material, while knowing full well that the range of material they are planning to filter is far larger.”

      And brushing off that very concern by pointing to their intended review of RC. Which conveniently misdirects attention away from the fact that the problem is not “what is Refused Classification” but “why are they proposing to block access to material which is not inherently illegal?”

  3. There are many illegal activities that people undertake for which we don’t rush to a technological “fix”.
    1. it’s illegal to mail certain items through the postal service – no one is arguing that our mail should be filtered by mandatorially opening every single item with a machine that takes a picture of the contents and sends it to the government and police
    2. it’s illegal to use the phone service to abuse or threaten someone – no one is arguing that all calls should be recorded and filtered with voice to text software that searches for key swear words or raised voices and automatically issues court summons
    3. it’s illegal to speed in your vehicle – no one wants mandatory speed limiters installed in all vehicles
    Why should the internet be any different from theses things? Surely treating it the same as any other common carrier service is a moral issue?

  4. If it’s a moral question then it is a question of individual freedom…

    Make better laws to better prosecute online criminals.

    Don’t cripple the information superhighway and claim it’ll somehow make Australia better.

  5. No the Filter is not a “Moral” question. It’s a political one. It is a way of the government to apply unilateral control to a communications medium that they currently do not know how to handle.

    RC content is not illegal. It is illegal to show in cinemas. Stop treating the Internet like a film. The closest practical synonym would be a central business district; lots of places and something for everyone but you can get yourself in trouble if you wander off down the wrong back alley.

    You want to “protect us” from this – then apply the same methodology you would in protecting people in every other situation.

    1) Increased Police Presence – put more funding into Cyber divisions of the AFP. Get this “illegal” content you are so worried about off the net completely instead of just trying to hide it from view.

    2) Increase User Awareness – Get people educated on how they can protect themselves on the net and filter it for their children. Put the power into parent’s hands to filter content how they choose and provide resources and tools to make this simple and widely available. Let people learn how to defend their own internet presence with proper firewalls, virus checks and IDS systems. Nurture an Internet savy culture.

    3) Promote Safe Venues/Entertainment/Culture – Fund placing quality services and entertainment online. Push for more content from local resources. Help traditional art music and theatre gain an internet presence. The more people use these sorts of online sites the less they are going to ‘stray off the beaten path’.

  6. I could pick all of her statements apart, but it’s not worth the effort… again.

    So I’ll make it simple, this is why I didn’t vote for Labor for the first time in 20 years.

  7. X-rated content is illegal to show in cinemas too, but I don’t see the ALP chest-beating about banning it in the private home.

    RC is nothing more or less than a restriction on commercial exploitation. It isn’t illegal to own it, buy it, give it away, or watch it — it’s only illegal to sell it.

    More specifically to this debate, it is not, and never has been, illegal to download it over the internet.

    Gillard needs to listen to someone other than Stephen Conroy.

    – mark

  8. Comparing the Internet to cinema is a flawed analogy

    Cinema is designed to commercialise movies made for general viewing, the Internet isnt all commercial, and it isnt all targeted at general viewing.

    A better analogy would be home made movies, i wonder if Julia believes that home made moves are a moral questing, and if it would be appropriate for the government to be breaking down doors to check the content of home made movies.

    Innocent until proven guilty is a basic human right, mass censorship tramples all over that, if they want to monitor individuals they should be required to get a court order.

    ALP couldnt get their head around this issue last term, and it looks like they are going to repeat their failures.

    Trust is priceless, if government assumes we cant be trusted (and need to be monitored) then how can good people trust them.

    How can they lead us without our trust

  9. That’s seems like a pretty good point, but what’s Julia doing to help improve our antiquated cinema (or videogame!) censorship laws?

    There’s a pretty good litmus test you can apply to work out if it’s moral to allow a thought to be represented in any form of speech, be that cinema or written (assuming it’s presented as opninon not fact, of course): Should people be punished if they merely THINK it inside their head?

  10. The moral question is why Julia thinks her morals are worth imposing on me. I’ll never believe her and never trust her. This whole plan is suspicious.

    • The moral question is a fraud, and she knows it.

      On one hand she says (incorrectly) that RC is content that is, “… unlawful and we all accept it.”

      On the other hand she knows we don’t all accept it, and that’s why the whole matter of how to define RC will be sent to the State Attorneys General for review.

      She knows there’s no clear consensus here. It’s just political posturing, Conroyesque chest-beating.

      – mark

  11. Julia, as a 20 year old in my own home I believe I’m allowed to do whatever I want with the internet and search for whatever I so choose.

    So basically what your saying is, your banning certain sites that are unlawful? Excuse me but If I pay for Unlimited broadband for 100 dollars a month I’m pretty sure I’m entiled to watch as much … you know what as I want.

    To question the morals on the australian public? You need to be put in your place and your little “project” as you so call it won’t get anywhere as it’s not being backed by anyone in the senate, it will go and be rejected then thrown out the window.

    You’ve destroyed your rep with your decision to lead australian into a better tomorrow but serioulys your no better then Rud.

    I sense a VERY early election.

    Nice work.

  12. Some excellent comments above. Gillard’s response is vacuous and sanctimonious moral posturing. It’s as moral a question as any other illegal activity. Let’s assume everyone agrees that all the current RC material should remain RC. Fine. That’s the moral bit she refers to. What is in question is the appropriate response to dealing with this material.

    Speeding is also an offense. But we can still argue about the appropriate response to speeding and whether that response will have the desired outcome. Speed cameras on every section of road? That might sufficiently reduce speeding to make it worth while? It might not. I don’t know.

    But what I think I can say with a fair amount of confidence is that the Internet filter, much like DRM on music and video, will not inconvenience tech savvy criminals. It will, however, punish the law abiding citizens of this country.

    The filter does actually raise a moral dilemma that is bigger than the filter itself. And that is at what point is it appropriate for governments to intervene in their citizens self autonomy? Seemingly, our government is becoming more and more fascist and think they should interfere with individual liberties more often than not (think euthenasia and gay marriage as two other pieces of evidence).

  13. Julia Gillard seems to just copy the tone and rhetoric of Stephen Conroy on this issue. When she took the PM job from Rudd we thought a change might be on the cards but it seems she doesn’t have her own views on these matters and just regurgitates what others, with their own agendas, say.

    We know this is a politically motivated filter to control access to information on the internet, plain and simple. It is a moral question, whether or not Australia should stoop to mandatory censorship of the free and open internet.

  14. When did censorship stop being a moral question????
    Define moral: concerned with principles of right and wrong or conforming to standards of behavior and character based on those principles

    I consider it immoral to censor adults access to information.
    And for that matter Lawful does not equal Moral.

  15. Wow I really thought this had faded into oblivion after the election, being recognised as the bad policy it is.

    I agree with pretty much everything above. Increasing cyber-policing will only have limited benefit though as most of this stuff is hosted offshore, and international cooperation in this realm is, at best, difficult. There would be some benefit, but I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket.

    My main concern is: given the government has acknowledged several times that the filter is trivial to bypass, why spend all this money on a flawed technology? What other motivation do we not know about? Given I don’t subscribe to dark government conspiracies, I can only assume that it’s only remaining purpose is for political point scoring with people who don’t understand (or care about) the issues in play. Doesn’t seem like very strong grounds for such an expensive and intrusive policy. Coalition has had pretty substandard responses to date though… conundrum.

    The argument has reached almost absurd proportions: won’t be illegal to bypass & trivial for someone to do so. Who then are they protecting? People accidentally stumbling across the material? I’m suspicious of any argument which has been sustained by creating a culture where anyone against the filter must be pro-child exploitation.

    Sure, they can’t really publish a list that contains child abuse material, but at the same time I don’t trust a department’s ability to manage such a list with respect to it’s accuracy, or the speed of removals in the case of compromised hosts etc. Large bureaucracies are not very good at that type of thing.

  16. “how to ensure Australians didn’t get access to the wrong content as a “moral question”.”

    No, it’s a technical question.
    Will the filter in any way stop Australians wanting access to this garbage from getting it? No
    Will the filter in any way reduce the market for this filth? Clearly not.
    Will the filter do anything to help bring the makers and purveyors of this stuff to justice? No, rather by forcing them onto anonymous servers etc, it will in fact, if anything, make their apprehension and prosecution MORE difficult.

  17. A moral Julia Gillard !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When did that happen????? She must be going to pocket some money out of this project as usual.

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