Coalition implodes in Internet filter fail



news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been forced to issue an embarassing retraction regarding the publication of a new online child safety policy late yesterday afternoon, which had initially stated that the Coalition was planning to resurrect Labor’s failed mandatory Internet filtering scheme.

The policy document, published with no associated media release or campaign launch late yesterday afternoon on the Coalition’s campaign website, included the promise that a Coalition Government would enact a policy which would “involve mobile phone operators installing adult content filters on phones which will be switched on as the default unless the customer proves he or she is at least 18 years of age; and involve major internet service providers providing home network filters for all new home broadband services, which will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise.”

Such a system, the Coalition policy document stated, would be similar to a similar approach recently enacted in the United Kingdom. The document further stated: “The Coalition intends to further extend its approach of offering choice to parents and consumers, but equipping parents with the tools to protect children. That is why we will introduce nationally agreed default safety standards for smartphones and other devices, and internet access services.”

The original PDF document is available here, while the revised document has also been posted on the Liberal Party’s website.

The launch of the policy, just 36 hours before the Federal Election on Saturday, almost precisely mimicked the way Labor introduced its own, highly controversial Internet filter in November 2007. At the time, Labor also included its filter policy as a small item of its broader policy agenda shortly before the election, including the filter promise without fanfare.

Labor’s filter was finally dumped for good in November last year, after both the Coalition and the Greens had promised for years to reject any attempt to introduce supporting legislation for the policy. It would have seen Australian ISPs forced to block a list of websites containing content not able to be classified in Australia under existing classification laws.

In November last year, then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy formally dumped the policy in favour of a much more limited Internet filtering scheme which is seeing major ISPs such as Telstra and Optus filter a list of ‘worst of the worst’ child pornography sites supplied by international policing agency Interpol. However, at least one ISP, iiNet, has refused to implement the scheme.

It is believed that the online safety policy released yesterday was developed by Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, a former telecommunications executive with Optus who has assisted Turnbull with communications portfolio work. However, it is believed that Turnbull’s office did not see the policy released yesterday before it was released. It is not currently clear how the Internet filter aspect was included in the document.

In a statement late yesterday, Turnbull made it clear the botched policy did not represent the Coalition’s position.

“The Coalition has never supported mandatory internet filtering. Indeed, we have a long record of opposing it,” the Member for Wentworth wrote. “The policy which was issued today by was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an “opt out” system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services. That is not our policy and never has been.”
“The correct position is that the Coalition will encourage mobile phone and internet service providers to make available software which parents can choose to install on their own devices to protect their children from inappropriate material. The policy posted online today on the [campaign HQ] website has been replaced with the correct version.”

However, earlier yesterday afternoon Turnbull supported the policy on Triple J’s Hack program, and Fletcher himself conducted an interview with ZDNet supporting the policy.

“What we intend to do is work with the industry to arrive at an arrangement where the default is that there is a filter in the home device, the home network, that is very similar to the filters that are available today … The key thing is it is an opt-out, so it will be open to the customer to call up and say, ‘look, I don’t want this’, and indeed, we will work with the industry to make this a streamlined and efficient process,” Fletcher told the site.

The Coalition’s release of the document attracted immediate outrage from other political parties and digital rights organisations, many of which had spent a substantial amount of effort getting Labor’s previous fiter policy rejected.

“Why so late?”, ask Australian Privacy Foundation Vice-Chair, David Vaile, in a statement distributed yesterday. “It’s almost as if the Liberal Party has something to hide, isn’t it? It’s so late that, already, up to 1 million people have already committed their vote, without being aware that the Liberal Party may now try to claim a mandate for a filter”.

Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam also attacked the Coalition’s move. “Tony Abbott has actually proposed that anyone who wants to access uncensored online content will have to put themselves on a Government watch list by opting out of the filter,” said Ludlam in a statement.
“This idea is co-mingled with a large volume of unpopular policy garbage that the presumptive Prime Minister is offloading in the 40-odd hours before the election. It is  indicative of the kind of Government we can expect to be subjected to onSeptember 8. The Greens worked with the online community to defeat the Rudd filter – now Abbott has given us a taste of the contempt with which he intends to treat the entire adult population of Australia.”
“More than ever, we’re going to need a strong Greens presence in the Senate to fight misconceived brain-snaps like this one,” Ludlam said.

iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby told iTNews that the Coalition’s policy was a “ridiculous thought bubble”. “Stephen Conroy will be laughing his block off,” he said.

Opinion/analysis to follow separately.


  1. Even if the policy as revealed yesterday was ‘wrong’ – (though confirmed as ‘right’ by Fletcher) – two things are most pertinent for me:

    * Somebody wrote, vetted, and published the ‘wrong’ policy.
    * Turnbull, the communications spokesperson, had ‘no idea’ a communications policy was being released.


    • Last minute policy changes like this is probably good reason why there should be a requirement that all policies are released to the public at minimum one week, preferably two before the election. This is to allow people unable to attend the booths on the day and do postal votes (or prevote) have full knowledge of all policies.

      Really this is an embarrassment for Turnbull though.

    • Of course what should we believe a written and prepared policy statement. Or remarks and statements on TV, Abbot has already told us which ones are the real policies.

    • Trademark play to get the vote of very obvious vested interests – or a the very least their prefrences, such as the Family First, ACL and anyone left that Cardinal Pell has any influence over.

      • Dude, Senate preferences were set in stone weeks ago (i.e. the group voting tickets which have to be lodged with the AEC). House of Reps preferences, while not formally set in stone, are effectively already set because of printing lead times.

        So my point is that there is no point releasing this policy now if the aim is to get preferences from parties like (so-called) Family First.

        • Not from the Parties themselves but the people who might vote for the minors and preference Libs second to try and get them to vote mainstream Lib first. A lot of Lib advertising and speech making in the past few days is to try and dry up the votes for the minors.

          The only justification for this move (cause let’s face it, it was pretty moronic) was to make a play for the popular vote of people who might vote for the minors first and preference the Libs second. The Lib HQ underestimated that anyone would notice, the heat of the backlash and that releasing it so late in the campaign added a multiplier effect by making them look dishonest and duplicitous more than anything else, so they had to back down regardless of the push for minor party voters.

  2. Yes, but as Liberal will be getting in, from all accounts, this retraction will not last long and be made standard policy.
    Feel free to ignore the ‘end-user will be able to turn this feature off’ clause.
    Of course they will!
    This is what is required to gain permission to have it installed in the first place.
    After that, any agency can re-activate it, at will, with remote access.

    But, of course the forces of goodness and niceness wouldn’t do that, would they?

    Jesus wept!

  3. When Conroy was being chastised for his filtering plans, I joined in… but I also suggested that looking around the world, both Labor and Conservative parties alike were introducing and/or considering internet filtering…

    At the time, I also said the Coalition were IMO, to be congratulated on opposing mandatory filtering, but I wondered if that stance as per their colleagues abroad, would change, should they (as appears apparent) form government…

    Seems we will see.

  4. Internet filtering on the agenda for the coalition? Seems so. Just as I predicted.

    Anyone thinking this is the end of it is fooling themselves. Wake up.

    I told you so count: 1

    • There will be many more “I told you so” moments after Saturday I suspect.

      I’m happy to look down my nose at the Coalition types who have defended the indefensible and laugh when they piss and moan once the reality of a Coalition government sets in.

  5. So as I read this, they are “against” mandatory filtering, but in favor of hard to avoid filtering. Gotcha. Leave it up to the phone companies, it becomes just another piece of bloatware pre-installed, and turned on by default.

    And most people will be oblivious to it being there, and just blame stuff that doesnt load on their connection or some other thing.

    Filtering by any other name is still filtering.

  6. The Coalition has had in the order of 3 years, since 2010 to sort out policy.

    Early yesterday, Filter 2.0 was on. Then, when even traditional media woke up and noticed (long after twitter imploded, it was glorious to watch the whiplash of confusion from angry liberal folk) it was, magically, gone.

    Turnbull’s eventual response, late in the day, was the functional equivalent of an MC dropping the mic.

    It’d be funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that people expect these clown-shoes to actually effectively govern.

    Lord have mercy.

    • Sorry for slight though still relevant digression.
      “It’d be funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that people expect these clown-shoes to actually effectively govern.”

      Note Hockey ranting over the $40Bill to be saved from Energy etc research.
      Especially highlighting $190,000 research project into office chairs., on the brochure in the letter box.

      Consider there would be several Million office chairs being used around Australia, there would be thousands of accidents involving office chairs, either misuse or poor design or manufacture costing business and Government directly from injury and time off work or compensation, plus poor design can lead to back or neck problems, once again cost to business.
      That paltry $190,000 could save business millions, let alone opportunities with better chair design.

      Demonstrating a simple fact also applicable to the NBN.
      Failure to comprehend and understand the issues, too used to having the private sector and selected think tanks do their thinking for them.
      That same short sighted ignorance I expect to be applied Willy Nilly to gratify vested interests and the Red Neck brigade

    • theyve had three years and started those three year bitching about how we should have another election, ASAP.

      theres a stack of policies of which there has been nothing heard of but crickets until ~the last 50 hours of the election. they simply arent in any way set for governance – this is going to be embarrassing fast. Joe Hockey already is – anyone notice how his body language was at the costings release, sweating his tits off and constantly fiddling with his hair, tie etc etc.

      and the polling – i have to wonder how much of it is as the song goes ‘you are free to do as we tell you’. if its genuinely reflective of the polling tomorrow, i suspect he is going to have far too much power and it will go to his head. Campbell Newman, remember? Mr Rabbit is very much of the same mould.

      i wouldnt be concerned so much if the NBN hadnt been used as a political football since day dot and if the current parliamentary trends were not so poisonous that such infrastructure is controversial (and i seem to recall Tonys blurbs going ‘we’ll invest in infrastructure!’). if i headdesk any more im going to be at risk of physical damage.

  7. This is the not the first time the Liberal’s have had to be reminded about the definition of the term liberal (small L)

    • +1

      It’s the post election policy list that I am actually worried about.

      How many “mandates” will be issued to the Lib’s just because of the relentless smear campaigns against Labour by TA and the MSM?

      • The certainly have form there, with Tony’s “Core/non-core” promises spin, as well as “The Audit” starring Peter Costello…

    • On 6th Aug, Turnbull staffer Stephen Ellis warned about post-election changes in his statement “….the NBN stands to be greatly modified…” in a response to a request for information from a Tech blogger – Steve Jenkin ( As usual none of the media scrutinized Turnbull about this aspect of the statement, instead focusing on the vulgar language used in the reply. News Ltd aside, the media role in scrutinizing policies during this election has been appalling.

  8. As Adam Turner suggests:

    “If we do give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had never seen the policy before, then what Turnbull is telling us is that he will agree with any policy document put in front of him and defend it in the media, even if it’s something he’s previously said he’s opposed to. Either way he doesn’t come out looking good.”

    • One wonders how you can not know of it in order to defend it first?

      Early in the day, it appears to have been considered part of policy, late in the day it was some kind of “mistake”. Had it not seen resistance, would Turnbull have reverted course? Who knows.

      Policy on the run, within 48 hours of an election – remember when folks said that was a stupid thing when Labor tried it on? It’ still a stupid thing.

    • Yes, Mr Turnbull cake out swinging in favour of the policy initially, quite clearly following it to the letter, before they realised that instead of a swell of support from conservatives they were facing a backlash of immense proportions. Cue retraction.

      And there are apparently an ‘overwhelming majority’ of Australians who want these clowns to run the country *shakes head*

      • dont forget they then essentially said “no-ones found any issues of clarity in any of our policy!”

        i also love how hes ‘happy to submit to the judgement of the Australian people’ only they arent too happy about releasing information to assist said judgement, either at all, or only at the last second. its a joke either way – how could anyone make a fair judgement? its set up to be self fulfilling.

        • dont forget they then essentially said “no-ones found any issues of clarity in any of our policy!”

          That was my favourite line of Abbott’s too. He just ignores reality and speaks from fantasy land, in the knowledge his faithful followers won’t question his bullshit. Turnbull has done the same thing, by stating that “the Labor party have not been able to find a single error in the Liberal’s NBN policy costings” – apart from that tiny issue of him not accounting for the cost of obtaining (& maintaining) Telstra’s copper! – as pointed out clearly by Ed Husic the other day on Crosstalk (and by nearly every switched-on tech reporter & blogger in Australia).

    • Other thing with this is that Abbott has made his own mistake in the same area, stating the idea was opt-out instead of opt-in, then admitted he’d only skimmed the document.

      So both the future-Comm’s minister and future-PM are publicly backing documents they have no knowledge of.

      That hardly inspires confidence, and makes you wonder what else they’ve skimmed.

    • So you are essentially arguing that when you are uncertain about a policy, party unity and disciple should be placed second especially this close to an election.

  9. If the Liberals try to implement this one we should all march on their homes and Joffrey the Joffreiers.

  10. I gotta admit the backflip actually surprised me, seeing that the coalition has this in the bag. I’m relieved it’s been canned for now but… why do I get the feeling this filter will come back again and again like a bad cartoon villain.

  11. I am very relieved that Turnbull immediately rectified this horrendous policy.

    That it was released does show a lack of rigour and assesment in policy development but it is fortunate that it happened on an issue like this. If it had happened on some small economic or regulatory policy that had a limited direct effect or a much smaller standing in the public, then who knows how long flaws like could have been perpetuated.

    One can only hoope that they learn from this debacle and have a more rigorous policy vetting process in the future but if the ALP style is any gauge then letting decisions get rushed through can quickly become a habit that is very difficult to break.

  12. I was quiet prepared to look at what the coalition stood for but the more I looked the more confused I became. I’ve got no idea what they stand for but what ever it is, its not good, this party scares me.

    • As they said on some TV show I was watching the other night, they stand for three things:

      Can the tax.
      Stop the boats.
      Stop the waste.

      As they have “unity ticked” on the economy (effectively running with the Labor settings), I’m not sure what they will actually be doing after the tax is gone and the boats are stopped…

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