Stephen Conroy is an unrepeatable vulgarity

By skepticlawyer

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I haven’t been able to follow this as closely as I’d like from afar, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that KRuddy and friends are pushing ahead with Australia’s version of the great firewall of China. Catallaxy’s Jason Soon has been keeping tabs on things for some time now, and his posts meant that I discovered the superb Stephen Conroy is a deeply non-worksafe word blog. Do visit — it’s a centre for activism as well as information.

First up, ACMA is already using its soon-to-be executive muscle to bully Australian-hosted websites into not linking to sites on its ‘blacklist’. One of the sites disbarred — among many others — is a perfectly legitimate anti-abortion site that at worst could be described as ‘cheesy’. ACMA’s bullying is on the pricy side, too — AUD$11,000 a pop. The blacklist (as you would expect) has been leaked, while Conroy himself is now planning to ‘monitor blogs‘.

Quite apart from the egregiousness of this exercise in censorship, it is important to realise that Ruddy is trying to bypass parliament with this stuff, so that they don’t have to deal with that pesky Senate (Xenophon and the Greens as well as the Opposition in this case). Government by executive order, anyone? 

This is a far more serious derogation from the rule of law and Constitutional government than I’d realised; I’d just assumed that Labor’s inability to control the Senate would kill it. It now seems they’re aware of this (although it took a while) and are now looking for an executive workaround in dead earnest. Even if they don’t find a Constitutional dodge, it’s quite possible that any proposed legislation could be used as a double dissolution trigger. In those circumstances, one would have to hope that Labor has lost sufficient popularity (thanks to the bungled ETS and stimulus packages) since the election to ensure the senate stays sufficiently hostile.

I thought Howard’s ‘children overboard’ caper was pretty egregious, and disliked his ‘big government conservatism’ a great deal, but even he didn’t try this on, or anything like it. It’s right up there with ASBOs, identity cards, 42 Days detention and DNA databases when it comes to state control of the individual. It really does take appalling to a new level. Australia was once notorious for banning Lady Chatterley’s Lover and making the importation of electric guitars a criminal offence. It seems we’re heading back that way again.

I seldom find myself in agreement with Guy Rundle, but this is spot on:

Such a move should make crystal clear to everyone, what has always been obvious to anyone paying attention — that Conroy’s filter proposal represents the greatest assault on free speech and an open society in the country’s history. By its very nature, it is categorical and self-concealing, far beyond the sleazy and capricious “sedition” laws of the Howard government. For the left and the libertarian right it has to be recognised not only as an utter priority, but as the point on which a political realignment occurs.

The graphic in this post comes via the Stephen Conroy is a porcelain unmentionable blog.

12 Comments

  1. conrad
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    One of the really wacky things about all this legislation is that it will no doubt cause more people to access the banned sites than would have otherwise have been the case — this is certainly the case of films that have been banned (Base Moi, Ken Park…), many of which people watched simply because they were banned (especially Base Moi, which is awful and very few people would have heard of otherwise — no doubt not unlike most of the banned sites). It’s free publicity.

    I think Stephen Conroy also should take a trip to China and see what effect banning stuff has. There seem to be two main effects — one is that it creates an illegal job market in CD sales and an increase in tourism to places like HK, where this stuff isn’t banned (it’s funny watching mainlanders spending their time watching illegal stuff and reading political books). The other more insidious (and less amusing) effect it has is that it allows unsubstantiated rumors to endlessly propagate (that sometimes cause real problems), since no-one believes the government and it is hard for the average person to get easily verifiable information.

  2. Theodora
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Base Moi was crap. That’s all I have to say about that. Likewise Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was a disappointment, and The Satanic Verses, which was a bit self-absorbed.

    But, back to the topic and less about whinging of all the wasted money sitting on my bookshelf.

    The Chinese firewall has also produced an entire generation of amazingly accomplished computer hackers. And some really, really cheeky ways to get around the censors.

    This one’s just been blocked, unfortunately, but it was cute while it lasted.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/world/asia/12beast.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=Grass&st=cse

  3. Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    It’s just so stunningly short sighted. I’m used to governments after 2-3 terms starting to forget that they are not going to be the government forever and behaving in a reckless way when it comes to accumulating power (e.g. Howard with the WorkChoices High Court decision, which will no doubt haunt him in due course). But Labor have JUST come to power, and already they want to put in place a system which would let a future (for example) Liberal-National-Family First coalition government secretly ban anything that it wants to.

    I know some people dislike the idea of building governments around the weakest elements of humans. But when it comes to giving this kind of power up, I think you really do have to apply the “Hitler test” – what if a young Hitler were elected Prime Minister next year? What would he be able to do with this?

    Labor’s reliance on the assumption that the government will always be benevolent is simply moronic, and utterly dangerous.

    I have heard some fairly plausible theories that this is really just about appeasing Family First to get Fielding’s vote on a few other issues before letting the proposal die a natural death – but if so it’s a remarkably stupid way of going about it.

    What is really scary is the fact that the scheme is meant to be unreviewable – in theory you will not even know what’s on the list, and therefore you will not be in a position to appeal any listings you disagree with. It has already been demonstrated that an anti-abortion site was banned without any real justification (it was nominated as an experiment by a concerned citizen). No doubt sites about euthanasia, “terrorism”, the palestinians, corruption in Australian police and governments, the way ASIO does business, etc etc etc will be next.

    What do we think about the legality of this? In my mind, it has a very real capacity to interfere with the implied freedom of political communication. It would be interesting to know whether the French High Court will stand up for that principle, or abandon it once and for all.

  4. Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Oh, and as for Howard – I believe he did try this on, in the sense that the enabling legislation currently being relied on by ACMA is a Howard creature. So although he didn’t follow through with this kind of crap, he did put in place the tools now being used by these idiots.

  5. Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Always knew Conroy was a jerk but he’s a fascist as well. Exactly how does he justify monitoring blogs?

    I’m glad he is tho’. It makes his moves look like the UberAutocratic nonsense they are. He can’t rely on ‘Somebody please think of the children!’ for this.

    And it will precipitate widespread disobedience – I hope.

  6. Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s crap policy. Personally I don’t think it is the apocalypse and this is a more passionate issue for web dwellers than much of the rest of the population.

    People who aren’t as into their web stuff may find other matters more pressing and infuriating. Again, I agree it seems to be bad policy, but there are a number of things I’m bashing my head against a wall over in priority.

    I think it’s partly the fault of the providers and internet industry, characterised by gobsmacking arrogance whenever society tries to broach discussions such as “can’t you be a bit faster at removing videos of kids being bashed up etc”.

  7. Posted March 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Armagny, I see it as more important for society as a whole than something like censorship of movies, TV etc, because the internet is a totally unique many-to-many communication medium. As experiences in China and other repressive regimes demonstrate, the more wild and untamed the communications network, the better from the point of view of political activism and, ultimately, freedom. Look at the blogging during the invasion of Iraq, the shootings in India and the Israeli assault on Gaza for further examples.

    For the first time in history every single person on earth has the realistic possibility of talking to, and listening to, every other person as they desire. Thanks to mobile devices and wifi we can even do this away from our homes – anywhere in the world, we can talk to anywhere else in the world without requiring anyone’s permission or consent. And governments are suddenly making a very concerted move to stop that reality from continuing to exist…

  8. conrad
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    The funny thing about grass mud horse (apart from its translation), is that it’s a very culturally Chinese thing. Silly homophone jokes are all the go in Chinese humor (I assume it’s because there are far fewer syllables in Chinese than many languages — so you get lots of homophones). In addition, even the word “grass mud horse” is very Chinese, since it follows a very common morpheme compounding pattern — so it sounds a bit odd in languages that don’t allow as much compounding (like English), but it’s perfectly fine in Chinese.

    This shows you something very wrong with censorhip in China — what you have is the Chinese government banning something that is an example of an important part of Chinese culture and every day life (humor and language).

  9. John Greenfield
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I am always extremely suspicious of tee-total types. Perhaps Conroy is – like George Bush – a dry drunk?

    Hmmm..are there any potential legal ramifications in my typing that here?

  10. robh
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the banned list is that it is secret. Oh well I guess Cardinal Pell knows what he is doing.

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