The final nail in the coffin of the great Australian Firewall was hammered home last week when independent Senator Nick Xenophon withdrew support for the measure. This takes the voting arithmetic in the Australian Upper House beyond the point of no-return, as there are now 43 votes stacked up against the proposal with just 33 in favour.
Under the Australian constitution, tied votes are decided in the negative: so the Labour Government now needs an about-turn of Damascene proportions, both by the Green Party and by Senator Xenophon, to reverse its now inevitable defeat on this issue.
The bad news for the firewall’s sponsor, Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy began with a statement by the Opposition's communications spokesman, Nick Minchin, that his party has taken independent legal advice and now believes the government cannot implement a mandatory filtering regime without passing new laws. He said: "legislation of some sort will almost certainly be required".
At the same time, Senator Nick Xenophon, who had previously suggested he might support a filter that blocked online gambling websites has now come out firmly against it. A spokesman for the Senator told the Reg that he will not be voting for it in any form. The Senator is concerned that the proposed measures will slow the internet and are likely to lead to over-blocking.
Instead of putting in place a blanket censorship regime the Government should instead put the money towards educating parents on how to supervise their kids online and tackling "pedophiles through cracking open those peer-to-peer groups".
In a statement to the Brisbane Times, the Senator added: "I'm very skeptical that the Government is going down the best path on this".
"I commend their intentions but I think the implementation of this could almost be counter-productive and I think the money could be better spent”.
The only hope for the scheme now is if the Government is able to find an opposing legal viewpoint that rules it does not need to pass new laws to implement its ban.
However, recent polls commissioned by online activist group GetUp, show just 5 percent and 4 percent respectively believe that internet filtering should be in the hands of ISPs or Government.
Meanwhile, the other joker in the pack – the Australian Sex Party – seems set for a serious grudge match up in Queensland. Although too late to register candidates under the Sex Party banner, it looks as though they will be putting forward their own candidates to run as independents.
This has brought down the wrath of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), whose Managing Director, Jim Wallace has said (pdf): "The Australian Sex Party exists to represent the interests of businesses who make money from the exploitation and degradation of women".
"If Labor, the LNP and the Greens believe women should be respected and are concerned about the enormous damage caused by pornography and prostitution then they should be demonstrating this by having nothing to do with the Sex Party or its affiliated candidates". This is likely to be an interesting election as despite the ever-present snigger factor when discussing the role of the Sex Party, Queensland is recognised as far more reactionary in matters of sex than the rest of Australia. The Sex Party will therefore be focusing on a range of broadly civil liberty related issues such as censorship, sex education, legal abortion and gay marriage.
Sex Party Convenor, Fiona Patten, said: "Queensland’s censorship laws are far stricter than any other state in Australia and are the same as laws on erotica in totalitarian states like China and Iran. The directors of large public companies like PBL and Adultshop.com go to jail in Queensland for selling products they can freely distribute in other states and to the rest of the world".
Referring to reports that some religious schools in Queensland are teaching the virgin birth as a biological event, creationism and even that "God kills a kitten every time someone masturbates", she added that Queensland was in urgent need of a standardised sex education curriculum.
"Labor, the Conservative parties and even the Greens in Queensland are ignoring these travesties because they don’t want to offend the churches". Queensland has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the country, after Tasmania.
Queensland was the only state in Australia to discriminate against gay and lesbian people around the age of consent making it two years older than the age for heterosexuals (16 years).
The Sex Party was born, in large measure, out of a reaction to what it saw as the Labour Party’s anti-sex agenda: it would be hugely ironic if Labour cannot now pass its laws on censoring the internet, at the same time as seeing a pro-sex party gaining its first seats in the Federal legislature. ®