Finally: Conroy kills mandatory filter for good


news Ding, dong, the witch is dead. Almost five years after the current Labor Federal Government starting trying to force its controversial mandatory Internet filter policy on an extremely unwilling Australian population, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has formally dumped the policy in favour of a much more limited system already in place at Telstra and Optus.

In mid-2010, facing an inability to get its filter legislation through Parliament due to the opposition of the Coalition and the Greens, the Government delayed the introduction of the mandatory filtering system, pending the delivery of a report reviewing Australia’s content classification system. At the time, Conroy acknowledged that “some sections of the community” had expressed concern about whether the range of material currently included in the Refused Classification category (which the mandatory filter system is slated to block) correctly reflected current community standards.

That report was handed down at the start of March this year. Although it recommended a slight watering down of the RC category rules and the renaming of the category ‘Prohibited’, it barely mentioned the filter. Since that time, Conroy has not substantially commented on the future of the filter, although in late February he appeared to attempt to conflate the mandatory filter with a similar, but much more limited filter which Telstra, Optus and one or two other ISPs have implemented.

That ‘voluntary’ filter only blocks a set of sites which international policing agency Interpol has verified contain “worst of the worst” child pornography — not the wider RC category of content. The instrument through which the ISPs are blocking the Interpol list of sites is Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act. Under the Act, the Australian Federal Police is allowed to issue notices to telcos asking for reasonable assistance in upholding the law. It is believed the AFP has issued such notices to Telstra and Optus to ask them to filter the Interpol blacklist of sites.

In his statement today, Conroy said that given the “successful outcome” of the limited Interpol filtering scheme used by Telstra and Optus over the past year and a half, “the Government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation”.

“Blocking the Interpol ‘worst of’ list will help keep children safe from abuse, it meets community expectations, and fulfils the government’s commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online,” Conroy said.

“The Gillard Government takes the safety of children seriously and believes that there is never a place for child sexual abuse material in our society. There is also widespread community support for blocking access to child abuse material. Several Australian ISPs have already been blocking sites on the Interpol list for over a year. They are reporting that this has had no impact on internet speeds or congestion and they have had no reports of people being denied access to legitimate web content.”

Conroy said Australia’s largest ISPs had been issued with notices requiring them to block these illegal sites in accordance with their obligations under the Telecommunications Act 1997. “I welcome the support of Australia’s major ISPs and the Internet Industry Association for taking these steps. This means that more than 90% of Australians using internet services will have child abuse material blocked by their ISP,” Conroy said.

In Conroy’s statement, the chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, Peter Lee, whose group brokered the Interpol filter deal between the Government, ISPs and the Australian Federal Police, praised the new filter approach by the Government. “ISPs recognise their role in assisting law enforcement agencies and meeting their obligations under the law. Blocking the INTERPOL ‘worst of’ list is a positive step in preventing Australian internet users from committing the offence of accessing child abuse material,” Lee said.

Conroy’s statement said the Australian Federal Police (AFP) would now begin issuing notices to smaller ISPs and would work closely to assist them in meeting their obligation under Australian law and prevent their services being used for illegal activities.

Since Telstra and Optus implemented the Interpol filtering scheme in mid-2011, there have been no known public complaints about the system and no sites known to have been wrongfully added to the Interpol list apart from known child abuse sites. In addition, users of both ISPs have not complained publicly about speed issues with respect to the Internet filtering system. However, some segements of the community are still concerned about specific details of the Interpol filtering scheme.

For example, when Telstra and Optus implemented the Interpol filter, neither explicitly communicated with customers to let them know that the scheme was in operation and that their Internet connections were actively blocking a small list of sites; and neither is known to have updated their terms of service with customers.

In addition, in contrast with the mandatory Internet filtering policy (which was to have been administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority) there is currently no known civilian oversight of the scheme, which is administered by the Australian Federal Police and international policing agency Interpol, apart from questions which parliamentarians may put to the Federal Police.

Furthermore, Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act does not specifically deal with child pornography. In fact, it only requires that ISPs give government officers and authorities (such as police) reasonable assistance in upholding the law. Because of this, there appears to be nothing to stop the Australian Federal Police from issuing much wider notices under the Act to ISPs, requesting they block other categories of content beyond child pornography, which are also technically illegal in Australia but not blocked yet.

A number of sites which were on the borderlines of legality — such as sites espousing a change of legislation regarding euthanasia, for example — were believed to be included as part of the blacklist associated with the Federal Government’s much wider mandatory filtering policy. It is not clear what safeguards exist to prevent the Interpol filtering scheme being extended by the Australian Federal Police to include such extra categories of content.

The current attitudes of ISPs apart from Telstra and Optus towards the Interpol filtering scheme are also currently unknown, with it being unclear whether they would implement the scheme if the Australian Federal Police issued them with a request to do so. Last year, ISPs such as TPG and Exetel said right out that they would reject such an attempt, while others such as iiNet and Internode said they were unclear as to the specifics of the situation.

The efficacy of the Interpol filter has also been publicly questioned. Optus has admitted that users would be able to defeat its implementation of the Interpol filter merely by changing the DNS settings on their PC. And information released under Freedom of Information laws by the AFP late last year shows as time went on, less and less requests were made by Telstra customers to access child abuse material on the list — presumably, as Telstra customers attempting to access the offensive material became aware that the telco had implemented a filtering system to block the requests.

For the first five weeks it operated, from 1 July through to 7 August last year, Telstra’s filter blocked a total of 52,013 requests to access child abuse materials online, with 10,402 average requestsper week. Average requests per day were 1,405, with the highest day recorded seeing 2,443 requests blocked and the lowest seeing 915 blocked.

However, over the succeeding weeks through to mid-October last year, fewer and fewer requests were made. In the week commencing 13 August, 8,649 requests were made, but by September the figure was down to between 1,193 and 3,452 requests per week, and in the week beginning 15 October, just 989 requests were made — which had previously been close to the lowest requests received in one day, in the filter’s first month of operation. In the period from mid-September to mid-October, the lowest day saw just 99 requests made by Telstra customers to access the blocked material.

Delimiter has encouraged the Minister to hold an open press conference on the issue to take questions from the media, as well as to issue a discussion paper on the issue which would allow the public to comment on the scheme formally. In addition, we have invited the Minister to respond to the following questions in writing:

  • Given the wide-ranging nature of the Interpol filter — affecting most Australian Internet users — why was no public consultation held before the Government decided to take take this step? I note that the Government has never held a formal public consultation into Internet filtering in general.
  • How would the Government respond to the claim that there will be no civilian oversight of this Interpol filtering scheme, with key information about it only being released over the past several years through Freedom of Information requests filed with the Australian Federal Police?
  • ISPs such as iiNet, Internode, TPG and Exetel have declined to participate in this scheme so far over the past 12 months, with some citing uncertainty of the legal situation. How would the Government address the claim that the legal ground of this Interpol filtering scheme, notably the process whereby the AFP issues notices to ISPs, is not clear?
  • Which further ISPs will the AFP issue notices to? Has the Government already received support from those ISPs for the scheme? How will the Government react if an ISP declines the notice?
  • How would the Government respond to the claim that there is the potential for the AFP to issue notices beyond the Interpol list to ISPs, in an approach which could be dubbed ‘scope creep’?
  • Neither Telstra nor Optus explicitly notified customers that they had implemented the Interpol filter when they did so last year. What guidelines will the Government be placing around ISPs’ participation in this scheme?

I’ll publish some separate thoughts on this later today (Friday), but I wish to note in general that I applaud Conroy’s long-awaited decision to can the mandatory Internet filter policy. It’s about time, and this will remove what I consider to be the last real blemish on Conroy’s record as Communications Minister. A general consensus has been building in the industry over the past year or so that the best way forward for this policy is for ISPs to block the Interpol list; and the experiences of Telstra and Optus appear to confirm that the Interpol filter isn’t going to do much harm; even if implementing it will actually have a negligible effect on those peddling child abuse materials.

However, that’s not to say that the scheme is perfect; and in fact it needs quite a bit of work before we’d be satisfied with it. A modicum of transparency would be a start; dragging information about the Interpol filter out of the AFP through beating it around the head with Freedom of Information laws hasn’t exactly been an easy process over the past year or so; although I’m certain that for the AFP, the pleasure has been all mine.

My thoughts in summary on the Interpol filter haven’t actually changed since July last year, when I wrote the following, in an article entitled ‘Five disturbing things about the Internet filter’:

“… we don’t want to be too harsh about the IIA’s Interpol filtering scheme as it is being implemented by Telstra and Optus. It is quite hard for a site to get on Interpol’s blacklist, with multiple agencies having to authorise additions, and there is a certain attraction around the idea that we’re only blocking the “worst of the worst” sites containing child pornography, instead of a much wider category of content. In addition, it doesn’t seem as if there have been many instances internationally where implementation of the list has caused problems.

However, we are mystified as to why the IIA, Telstra, Optus and the AFP are displaying such a lack of transparency in their implementation of the scheme. We are talking about a filtering scheme here which is being implemented behind closed doors, with little notification to customers, with no civilian oversight, an unclear legal framework, the potential for scope creep and a limited and secretive appeals process overseen by the agency which drew up the list to start with. Come on, Australia. Is this the best we can do?”

You’re 95 percent of the way there, Minister. Why not bolt on a few transparency and accountability measures so the AFP doesn’t go hog wild with scope-creep-style Section 313 requests, and then we can lay this one to bed for good?

Image credit: Mykl Roventine, Creative Commons


    • my prediction for 2012 – 2013.

      1- dump filter
      2- dump nbn / nbnco
      3- dump conroy
      4- dump labor

      result? back to kev07

      result? LOL

    • they could have rightly attacked the filter as a white elephant, well maybe a really tiny elephant, either way good riddance to bad policy

  1. Yay!

    I only hope there are appropriate safeguards against scope-creep on the Interpol filter…

  2. Lets just hope that this means the broader Labor party follows suite and starts to uphold more liberal values, rather than whatever it is they are doing right now.

    Also congratulations Renée – Delimiter is the first non-definition hit on French Google (ie. no. 4)!

  3. Did anyone SERIOUSLY think they’d continue it?

    It was a matter of time after the backlash against it. Continuing with it would remove a lot of the political capital they’ve gained from the NBN.

    At least sanity prevailed soonish.

    • “Did anyone SERIOUSLY think they’d continue it?”


      But the victory today is an important symbolic one. It was still officially their policy, even if they were looking for a way to quietly kill it.

      Conroy tried to kill it quietly by releasing the PR in the middle of the night.

      We shall make sure the killing is noisy.

  4. Nothing’s changed.

    They still want an internet filter, but with an election year almost upon us, Labor have left a rather open ended filter that’s only going to block “child abuse” content. It’s just as open as before to scope creep.

    • @JT, no, its not as open to scope creep. To get on the list is a pretty rigorous process, and if you’d fully read the story you would see that. What Conroy wanted WAS open to scope creep, and that was one of the biggest concerns with his list – far too easy to get on, far too hard to get off, and no way of knowing what was on there.

      Governments want filters for this sort of stuff, thats pretty clear. So if ones coming, a standard one across countries (ie Interpol’s) is far better than a local one subject to local interference.

      I didnt like Conroy’s filter in the slightest, but have far less dramas with this Interpol one.

      • Presuming you’re referring to how sites appear on the Interpol list, are you aware that Interpol does not preclude list users (e.g. the AFP) from adding their own sites to the list they use/distribute?

        • In other words, there is nothing to stop “The Interpol List” supplied by Interpol becoming “The Interpol-AFP-ACMA-ACL-AFACT List”, particularly as only the AFP would have copies of both versions of the list to compare.

  5. The cleanup is underway and the ducks are being lined up. A good chanced of an early election if the polls drift further to the ALP.

      • Going by the talk at the table between the men behind the politicians, everyone is expecting a March 2013 election just before the next budget is due, unless of course the economy really picks up and Wayne Swan can come out and say the government performed better than budget (unlikely).

        Hopefully by then the NBN will have reached at least 100,000 homes and businesses and produced some glowing reports.

        Either way, the neutral campaign is going to be
        [Em]Supporting the NBN?
        As easy as ABC;
        Support [b]Anything But Coalition[/b][/em]

  6. The Telstra numbers prove everything that anyone ever said about this whole debacle nicely.

    There were no accidental child exposures to child abuse material. If there was; the numbers wouldn’t be trending to zero.

    Therefore; all of those 1 thousand hits/day; are people that have now found a way to circumvent the blocking.

    Congratulations, 1,000 hits of (presumably VPN encrypted) child pornography is accessed every day, and you have the numbers to prove it – and now no way to identify them.

  7. How is this interpol filter implemented?

    Just through DNS I assume? So if someone changes their DNS settings in their router/computer, they have basically circumvented it?

      • I’m not sure ‘pathetic’ is the appropriate word here, Renai. You were hoping for more?
        I just wish he didn’t conflate it with his original intentions (effectively deep packet inspection), claim it as a win, and then criticise the experts for their ‘failed’ predictions about the various implications.

        I’m actually ok with this as a solution (if this is the extent of it) – I’ve implemented DNS poisoning through dnsmasq on my router to block whole domains, and it works quite well. Funding an Australian OpenDNS Familyshield equivalent (opt-in) would’ve been a much better idea, though.

        • How does the opt-in OpenDNS filter compare to the previous policy of a sponsored filtering software that was downloadable to your PC?

          • Because you could make it a simple checkbox on the ISP signup form (or phone call), and have it apply to all devices (eg tablets) in your house, without requiring hapless parents to install software on a computer? (while restricting the children to limited-user accounts!)

            ISPs could serve different dns servers to different customers via DHCP. Worst case, just make it opt-out and anyone that wants to can just change the default settings on their router.

            It’s still ultimately beatable, block only whole domains, and still require adult supervision – but were you really expect the mythical silver bullet?

          • I dislike censorship in all its forms, but i recognize that there are people who have a different opinion to me. If thy want to have something to restrict access to the internet for themselves, then it is still a valid debate as the best method to achieve that for them.

  8. The filter may be gone, to one extent or another, but the threat is still here. Only that we now call it Roxon rather than Conroy.

    • The problem is for some reason that monitoring is bipartisan. It shouldn’t be too hard to convince Abbott to oppose it therefore solving the problem without dealing with Roxon. :)

      • @Jo

        It shouldn’t be too hard to convince Abbott

        Convince….Abbott…..I’m fairly sure those words don’t work together. The man can’t be “convinced” of anything from what I’ve seen. He has his “facts” and he sticks to them regardless.

        Good luck trying to “convince” him that monitoring is bad, when his ultra-conservatives are telling him it isn’t.

        Also, he’s Catholic. I’m not religiously biased, but he’s a pretty strict Catholic from what I’ve read….this filter AND the monitoring, would be RIGHT up his alley.

        • Avotts and the coalition did oppose the filter prior to the last election. The main reason this did not get much publicity was because the filter was shelved due to negative publicity.

        • being catholic has nothing to do with it. please leave religion out of it.

          plenty of government officials have religious beliefs, but don’t mention them.

          it’s an easy criticism to make of people, but has no place in this discussion.

          just like there are plenty of labour members who have strong religious beliefs, but they also should not be mentioned in these types of discussions unless the actual person makes mention of them in direct correlation with the topic at hand, which abbot has not done…. (afaik).

          • @Shannon

            Which is precisely why I said I’m not religiously biased. I’m a Christian myself, but I don’t agree with the filter OR the data retention (although the second has a level of merit).

            Abbott has made his religion a political issue before. And I only mentioned it as an issue for him personally, translating into politics. He doesn’t have to publicly mention it is an issue because of his faith, for him to, behind closed doors, shout down less conservative (cough*turnbull*cough) members into accepting data retention, based on his own personal belief.

            My point is, from what I have seen of the man’s leadership, he puts personal and party preferences above the good of the country. Therefore, his own faith is more likely to affect his decision, than what the Australian people think (unless it gets him elected).

            This is all personal opinion. I’m sure the man is an upright Catholic and does himself proud in his faith. But as you say, faith has and SHOULD have NO bearing on politics. But I could see that happening here with Abbott.

          • agree with everything you say. i profess to be a christian also, but also hate the idea of the retention policy and the filter.

            i guess everyone has to balance their beliefs (whatever they be) with the situation they are in…

            i just don’t like to see people bash others for having christian beliefs (which you haven’t, don’t get me wrong), when those beliefs don’t necessarily have any bearing on the topic at hand…. and on the flipside, i don’t like it when those beliefs get in the way of a common sense decision….

          • chatting w/ close relative a few days ago, she is christian, and is sure that the good catholic Tony would never lie to her. i tried to say hes already been caught doing it! but she is adamant – by virtue (HA effing HA) of his religion its not possible to happen.


          • oops hit enter too fast..

            what im trying to get at is as much as we might like to think it has no relevance, it DOES have an effect in the electorate, i know a data point of one is not instructive, but i doubt my relative is the only one thinking that way.

            its not just that it gets in the way of a common sense decision at the politician level but it also does at the voter level. so we get this tripe from the ACL….. i will be watching with interest to see what he does. i certainly think because of his public beliefs they will be making their pitch to him, and thats worth watching – i dont expect he will roll but they are definitely trying for political influence, and that worries me. so i dont think its directly relevant but religious influences do have to be acknowledged.

          • As far as religion in politics, it plays an incredibly minor role with most of it being attributed rather than directly linked. I doubt there have been many instances when any politician in Australia has come out and said “as a Christion (insert other religion) I believe…).

            To contrast it with a country where religion plays a strong role one only needs to look at the US.

          • One of the main backers of the filter, the ACL, is obviously heavily religiously influenced.

            I’m sorry, but you can’t just declare religion to be off limits for discussion. We need separation of church and state, and to put it out in the open when one has too much influence on the other.

    • Exactly, not trying to sound too melodramatic, but the torch of threatening online freedom has simply been passed from Conroy to Roxon.

  9. I think the most surprising part of this article was the figures provided by Telstra re attempts to access that material. That’s some seriously scary stuff, far more prevalent than I would have guessed.

    • but does the blacklist only contain child porn or does it also contain other stuff?
      if it contains other content, then these hits being reported could be entirely unrelated to child porn.

      • That’s what I assumed from my first read-through, but looking back, it’s actually not explicitly stated that that’s the case, so you may be right.

        • But then it does say Telstra’s filter blocked “child abuse material” specifically. Hmm.

  10. Why is everyone celebrating?

    There is still the data retention that they want. This is far more insidious and if you think about it if they had the internet filter the data retention would be much less useful.

  11. Curiously, no one has mentioned the real cause of all of this – the ACL.

    The Australian Christian Lobby absolutely will not stop ever (Terminator reference intentional).

    Right now they’re lobbying both Labor and Liberal. And the politics goes like this. Labor has been clearing the decks internally with new advisers. What they’re telling Labor is that there are more votes with otherwise disengaged younger voters than there are in generally older, and usually Liberal leaning hard core Christians – the type that support the ACL.

    What this means of course is that behind the scenes, there will be an attempt to strike a deal with the Liberal Party. Mind you, not everyone in the Liberal Party agrees with this. Lots regard censorship with the same eye they do any government “interference”. But a vote is a vote, and the ACL is now quietly fuming.

    • It is not purely the ACL although they are a strong lobbying force), I just find it surprising how many policies centred around control and censorship are being pushed by the ALP. They have a record of supporting this path instead of a more libertarian approach. While there is lobbying from external sources there has to be some internal support or proponents or it would never get off the ground.

      The internet filter was the first.
      The finklestein review. Conroy himself pushed strongly for the full recommendations.
      Data retention. (Yes it is currently bipartisan, pushed by departments mainly)
      The Australia network tender fiasco.

      It is not an isolated incident but an underlying attitude of some members of this administration.

      • Michael,

        We know you support Liberal, but don’t think the ALP has a monopoly on this. The difference is that they’re taking baby steps to curb the worst excesses of the media in a time where self regulation is laughable.

        And what did Howard do? Oh, he stacked the ABC and SBS boards! And countless other acts of control.

      • I know I support the liberals (althought that is largely based upon economic issues). I do not supoort in any fashion government control over institutions that are supposed to be holding them to account or that threaten the nature of our democracy.

        Personally I think that cronyism should be rooted out in any form where it is established. But unfortunately it is a part of the political process and it is much better to highlight it so that the public can be informed about the bias and ensure that the appointees act in a manner to remove any public perception of bias.

        My main point was that Conroy has an authoritarian tendancy and so you should not be surprised when he proposes policies along these lines. It is not just the result of lobbying efforts but also his own personal views.

        • Problem of course being when someone, rather than being open minded, says they support one and not the other, they tend to come down hard on the one’s they don’t like and dismiss even similar policies from their side.

          I personally feel that if everyone broke away from their ideologies and weighed each party on it’s merits at that time, we could keep the bastards honest.

          But as it stands with people who who will always vote Labor or Coalition regardless, I guess that makes us fence sitters votes all the more valuable :)

          • The problem for Michael, is that if you were to base your vote on economic issues, you’d vote for Labor. And I needn’t remind people that we have the best economy in the western world, low inflation, low interest rates (consistently lower than under the Liberals).. and I could go on..

            its the same basic process that has people believe that the Liberals are better economic managers that also generates the spin and lies over the NBN. Its called media complicity. And when its called into question the perps go into meltdown..

            Witness the recent attempts by the partisan hack Terry McCrann and friends trying to engage in revisionism and being challenged head on by a respected economist.


          • Careful – those same economists will come out with a completely different story if the results vary from their predictions. There were a lot of “no problems” economists before the tech bubble, the asian collapse and the GFC. After all these events there were then a lot of “but of course I did warn about….” from these same shining lights. Remember that most of these people make money from the markets and will NEVER sell a negative story – no matter how bad; The imperative is for suckers to keep pouring their money in to keep the whole game rolling no matter what the circumstance.

          • Sorry, I mixed up your post NBNAlex with ungluate. You are correct in that we all weigh things differently according to our perceptions. And ideas should be judged on merits alone.

            So what is your opinion on the issue I raised?

            Whether or not others have done it in the past does not change the fact that Conroy is the current communications minister and has shown a disturbing tendancy towards censorship and authoritarian control.

        • I know, but from how you guys treat me,

          NBN_Alex, ungulate, it seems that to you two in particular dismiss anyone who is conservative is automatically wrong. You generally do not feel the need to address my points or dismiss they because they come from someone who is “conservative”.

          Ungulate, I do not want to get into an economics debate but let me expand upon and correct the issues you raised. Wayne Swan uses Keynsian economic theory to justify his economic stimulus package. The problem that Wayne does not seem capable of keeping up with the other aspect of keynesian economic theory and that is to balance the budget over the medium term (medium term: one economic cycle).

          To balance the budget over the medium term this requires surpluses to balance the deficits during good times and when the economy is growing at trend then it should be balanced. A surplus or decificit of 0.1% of GDP is neutral. If the economy is above trend as Wayne has been commenting on then we should have surpluses of 4% of GDP the same size as our deficits were. This is not the case.

          Re: Interest rates, this is a furphy to compare interest rates to economic performance that was an election ploy by John Howard. It is a shame that something that should be a-political ( see RBA charter) has become a poltical topic. In addition during a boom interest rates should be rising and during a recession interest rates should be falling (I assume here you are talking about the cash rate set by the RBA). So is it necessarily good to have the cash rate low? (The differential to mortagage rates etc is a different matter). Just as an example Japan has had 0-0.25% interest rates for the past 15-20 years and they have had <1% inflation for that period as well but no one claims their economy is growing strongly.

          I much prefer the Austrian school of thought compared to Keynesian economics for governing macro-economic policy.

          Re: that blog, I will have to read it since I do not follow the Herald Sun.

          As I know people will raise Tony Abbotts' policies are pretty poor as well. He needs to scrap middle class welfare (see baby bonus + first home buyers grant) but I still hold out hope that people like Arthur Sinodinus and Turnbull will get through to him. No matter what I would rather grow everone's share of the pie rather than focus on redistributing what is there.

          • Au Contraire…

            I only dismiss baseless NBN nay sayers, who only oppose the NBN because of their blind political subserviency, by repeating conservative rhetoric parrot fashion as they know not what they say.

            For this, I certainly make no apologies.

          • Good to hear,

            I personally prefer to question how it is being rolled out rather than should it be rolled out. There is little point in stopping it part-way through, but there will always be room for improvement.

          • Hate to disappoint you there Michael, but the budget *is* being balanced as we speak.

            As for interest rates.. remember the “interest rates will always be lower under a Liberal government”?

          • No, you did not read what I said ungulate. The budget is being balanced over 1 year. It is not being balanced in the medium term.

            Or simple mathematics
            Net Govt Debt ~250bn
            Surplus 1.1bn

            At that rate it would take over 230 years to balance the deficits. To balance deficits of the size he has run he needs to run surpluses of the same magnitude. There seems very little desire to do so which is why Keynesian economics is a bad model to use for macro-economic policy formulation.

            Btw, where you ever going to respond to the orginal issue I posted about? I am happy to discuss economics but this is not really the place.

          • Sorry Michael but you can’t even get your basic facts straight.

            Net debt is roughly $147B. The figure you quotes is actually closer to gross debt.

            Also, its intellectually dishonest to suggest that the projected surplus for the coming year is going to remain the same for following years. Obviously the surplus will increase over the cycle.

            Keep taking those blue pills Michael, they’re yummy!

          • The point still stands.

            Let us use your numbers.
            150bn net debt.

            assume 5bn average surplus.

            That is 30 years to payoff.
            Still not inside 1 economic cycle.

            But I won’t further debate you on economics as you obviously do not wish to debate rationally and prefer name calling.

          • @Michael

            I don’t want to get into this tonight- I’m going to work in 4 hours, but….

            The Howard government had $90 billion in debt, much of it carried over from when Howard was treasurer, when they won in 96….76 billion of it was paid by ASSET SALES. NOT surpluses….

            This focus on short term surpluses is ridiculous. We have been through the worst economic crisis in almost 100 years and we have the LOWEST debt, HIGHEST growth and LOWEST debt borrowing rates.

            A conservative government does not, by definition, govern well economically. Some have, some haven’t. The sooner we move on from the idea one party is better at economics than another the better. It is simply a fallacy.

          • I get what you are saying, but you misinterpret me. In terms of keynesian economics the short term is not as important. Whether it is surplus / deficit / neutral in one year is not important. What is important is what the budget does over the medium term.

            The issue is with the trent of 40bn deficits and then thinking that it will all be fine if you can achieve surpluses of 1-7bn. They need to be the same size relative to GDP to balance out.

            N.b. I do not think conservatives are naturally better economic managers, I just think that Wayne Swan embodies the worst of the redistributionalist era. He has not moved on from the 70’s and is taking policy positions that are against the Hawke-Keating reforms and deregulation. Not to mention that Wayne has not yet learnt the proper steps for policy implementation or development.

          • @Michael

            $40Bn deficits…..2. Not every year. 2. Through 2 of THE WORST economic crises this planet has seen since….money. The GFC followed by the Sovereign Debt crises. Which is STILL ongoing. It is going to take YEARS to pay off the damage done in those 3 years. And we’re lucky at least that our economy is still growing healthily- most other Western countries (particularly ones like Greece, Italy and Spain) will be DECADES in recovering.

            Even with modest surpluses, say $2 or $3 Billion, with the occasional $6 or $7 billion, it will take 10 -15 years to pay this off. That is what you get when the world’s economics go mad- EVERYBODY pays. This is not a normal economic circumstance OR CYCLE, not by a long shot and trying to compare it to one is misleading and dangerous. GIANT surpluses, with massive cuts and sell offs, thus weakening the economy, JUST to pay down what is, by all accounts, a modest and eminently serviceable debt, would be folly. Sure, we need to be careful and we DO need surpluses by preference. But at all costs?? No. Not here, not now.

            I don’t think the sun shines out of Labor OR Wayne Swan. But from what I’ve seen, he is doing a reasonable job (if not could be done better….but personally believe, not by Hockey).

            And so is Conroy- as Renai says, this is a blemish on his recent, very good record, that has finally been removed. Sure, it may have been politically expedient to do so, but at least it’s happened.

          • I also like how the the conservative like to talk about Labor spending big and wasting money when as a % of GDP Labor are spending about the same it is just that Howard Collected more tax and sold our assets. You don’t balance the household budget by selling that rental property that is turning a profit.

          • I do not know why everyone gets up in arms about assest sales. It is not that they are asset sales but the price that you get for your assests. An asset sale can be good or bad but is not either inherently.

            E.g. Compare power privitisation in NSW to VIC, Kennet achieved 10-15bn for the electricity assests in the 90’s while in NSW they struggled to achieve 5bn in latre 2000’s. If you sell you assets at the top of the boom then you will come out ahead if the proceeds are used for investment. Just stating that asset sales are bad is an oversimplification. (In numerical terms if you sell asset that earns you 3% return to pay off debt that costs you 7-9% then you are ahead as an alternative example.)

            Also yes it is true that taxation levels are smaller under the ALP than the final years of Howard as a %GDP but this is due to rising revenues. This is another section where I find that budget statistics have been used for political purposes as both sides swap between nominal and relative terms to suit there case. Revenue is at a record. Expenditures are at a record high. Taxes are lower (%GDP) than they have been. However, expenditure has grown faster than revenue which is why it is a deficit.

            The issue is that after 20 years without a recession, we cannot rely simply on Keynesian economic theory to avoid a recession in the future. When the government takes on too much of a role in the economy especially without the revenue to back it up we will end up like the PIGS of Europe (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain). If debt is used to fund recurrent spending and not infrastructure then it is the start of a long downward spiral.

          • When talking about such situations I always like to take it to the lowest common denominator.

            So let me ask you Michael.

            If you wanted to say, take your family on a world trip, before the kids got too old or whatever, and you didn’t have the ready cash, would you borrow the money or sell the family car or house…?

            Seriously, neocon principles don’t tend to work in the “everyday/real world”… imo.

          • The reverse analogy is if you have a 20k debt on the credit card would you pay it off slowly over a few years or would you sell some of your shares to reduce your debt? What would be cheaper and leave you better off in the end?

            Borrowing to go on a holiday is fine if you can repay the loan. However, where will you be if you continue to borrow to go on a holiday each year? That again goes back to my point of balancing the budget in the medium term.

          • “Borrowing to go on a holiday is fine if you can repay the loan.”


            If you are not pushed to your limits financially then I would not hesitate in taking on debt for a once off expense. The difference is when it is a recurrent expense and if you have to borrow more each year without paying any of the principle off.

            If you had to borrow funds to make your expenses meet income each year would you continue borrowing? Cut expenses? Sell some assets (i.e. shares etc) to reduce debt and interest payments? Bearing in the context of the federal budget the last time a government made a reduction in expenditure was in the 90’s. It is not easy for governments to reduce expenditure and neither Abott and definately not Swan look like they have any inclination to do so.

          • But NBNAlex, what are your thoughts on the suitability of Keynesian stimulus packages if the reverse is never accepted and the budget is not balanced in the medium term?

          • Would be great too if your holiday paid for itself, because then you wouldnt really need to get bogged down in silly one-eyed ideology…

            Ooh just like the NBN is projected to :)

          • Michael, rather than gloss over and divert, as I believe you have largely done here (and as you mentioned, this isn’t really the place anyway) as I am not an authority on the intricacies of Keyne’s theories, perhaps you’d be better to source your advice elsewhere.

            As well, I’m especially not willing to openly discuss such theories with anyone who already has admitted to deep seeded and immovable ideologies of their own, as there really is no point. Sorry.

            All I can say is, this once again proves no pre-conceived bias on my part one way or another ideologically. I weigh the options at the time, as I do come election time, as to the best path at that time. One hard and fast path isn’t always the best path and refusing to consider another option because it falls outside of one’s own ideology, I believe is foolhardy and visionless.

            However, returning to the holiday analogy (as I was using in relation to borrowing and the NBN) as you said,…

            “Borrowing to go on a holiday is fine if you can repay the loan.”. Voila`.

            So until such times as NBNCo is proven wrong (IMO this won’t occur if the NBN is completed)… you agree that funding by debt is (quote) “fine”! Again I add … especially since the NBN is designed/planned to repay itself and heaven forbid, make a profit and “become a valuable asset…” . (which to complete your circle) can be sold anyway!

            The only reasoning one can therefore rationally conclude as to why anyone is against the NBN (BTW – I believe you haven’t actually said you are against it) is preconceived ideological/political opposition. This then explains the willing acceptance of the associated endless “baseless and illogical” negativity and refusal to accept the overwhelming, NBN positives!

            Anyway enough, before Renai gets upset at our hijacking this thread, I’ll leave you to enjoy your only looking within your ideology square and I will keep looking within and outside of that square… cheers :)

          • “Michael, rather than gloss over and divert, as I believe you have largely done here”
            I was challenged on why I have an opinion in a certain area by you and ungulate. I put forth the basis for my opinion but instead of engaging in a serious debate on the topic which was challenged people have constantly tried to raise analogies which over simplify the problem, attacked on minor points (largely due to raising numbers off the top of my head instead of quoting media releases). None of that alters the underlying philosophy behind the policies which I feel is not being applied correctly (and not widely understood).

            “As well, I’m especially not willing to openly discuss such theories with anyone who already has admitted to deep seeded and immovable ideologies of their own, as there really is no point. Sorry.”

            “I’ll leave you to enjoy your only looking within your ideology square and I will keep looking within and outside of that square… cheers :)”

            Interesting statement when you challenge my points but will not consider my view for the basis on which I formed them. How does this result in my position being immovable and yours not when you will not explain where I had the flaw in my logic?

            I enjoy debating people who have a different view, it gives me the opportunity to discover new information, new ways to look at a problem and alternative solutions to the problem. I form an opinion based upon what I feel is the best outcome currently but I do not have the hubris to suggest that I do not have a bias and acknowledge it as well as the fact that it can change.

  12. Great article, but….
    “A number of sites which were on the borderlines of legality — such as sites espousing a change of legislation regarding euthanasia”
    Espousing changes in legislation is only remotely illegal in China, NK etc Here is it easily covered by our version of free speech. Or did you mean something else? Am I being too picky?

  13. i got here from whirlpool – and its intructive to look to todays updates, to see that Josh Taylor over at ZDnet had a (VERY anti) missive from ACL up at 4:40 odd PM Nov 8 and then a swathe of ‘filter has been rescinded’ stories – this one included – from 10:30 odd on the 8th to 9:30 the next (this) morning.

    was there a leak to ACL in advance?

  14. This is another example of Delimiter’s Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt style don’t-let-the-facts-get-in-the-way-of-what-I-think-ought-to-be-true style “journalism”.

    Delimiter says the government has been trying to “force a mandatory filter on an extremely unwilling Australian population”. The wiki on the policy cites the definitive opinion poll on the subject done by a credible polling organisation for the ABC on a sample big enough to get a statistically valid picture of what the Australian public thinks. And it showed a very clear majority of the Australian population did in fact support the policy. But they were shouted down by those with loud voices who think they know best.

    Delimiter, like on many aspects of the NBN, is unable, or lacks the honesty to be willing, to distinguish between what he and people like him with their narrow interests want, and what public opinion actually is. Delimiter, like Alan Jones, isn’t interested in the facts if they disagree with what he thinks.

    For the record I don’t support the filter. But unlike Delimiter I can look at an issue and distinguish between what I as person involved with computers thinks should be the case, and what the majority of the public wants, and I have the honesty to admit it when the two don’t match, and the respect for democracy to think we shouldn’t override them and impose what we want on everyone else.

    If we didn’t want it, for whatever reason, it was our responsibility to convince other people there was a good reason for that.

    • Gordon…

      After giving Renai/Delimiter and us readers a serve about honesty and having the audacity to compare us to AJ, simply because we put our POV across re: our disliking for Conroy’s filter (yes the same guys who support the NBN – see we aren’t politically motivated, like some) you mentioned…

      “If we didn’t want it (filter), for whatever reason, it was our responsibility to convince other people there was a good reason for that.”

      Well… that’s exactly what we did, yet you call us dishonest :/

      Then as Renai pointed out, the poll taken in “the age” (so not a specialist tech site) of almost 70 000 people (so not the typical 1000-1200 poll) “86% said the filter was unnecessary censorship.”

      I think an apology is in order from you Gordon as well a re-think on who is the one(s) being dishonest.

  15. First I would like to applaud the Labor party for dropping the ACL backed policy.
    The people who want this style filter are a small minority of the population.

    The Interpol filter I disagree with in principal, but can live with. Really don’t know why its not left open, logged and people arrested?

    Please just hurry the NBN along.

  16. I think that the Labor government has had a hard time from the press in recent years but they deserved everything they got and more on this one.

  17. Simon Shaw writes :
    > The Interpol filter … Really don’t know why its not left open, logged and people arrested?


    All the pieces of the puzzle are there already to enable this. Give a network wiz a few minutes with his Cisco commands, and job done. Blocking serves no purpose, people will enough motivation just manoeuvre around.

  18. Telstra filter is hopeless. A small number of people can get any website blocked by simply complaining they got Trojans from that site.

    Took them over 2 days to sort out the mess (1 day of broken customer system, 1 day to fix the mess) didn’t event get a call saying they finally unblocked it or did i ever get my apology for the inconvenience they caused.

  19. The Telstra numbers…. Anyone else wondering if the huge numbers to start with were caused by people trying to look up their local dentist? Or perhaps even anti-filter people just checking if that particular dentist was still listed on the filter?

    Also, as much as I still think Conroy is an idiot, I do give him points for being able to come out and make this announcement. I’d have been too embarrassed if it was me.

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