Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday launched an attack on the Federal Government’s internet filtering scheme, in one of the first cases of a senior Opposition figure coming out publicly against the controversial policy.
“What we have in the government’s Internet filtering proposals is a scheme that is likely to be unworkable in practice. But more perniciously it is a scheme that will create the infrastructure for government censorship on a broader scale,” said Hockey in a wide-ranging speech on freedom to the Grattan Institute last night.
Hockey said that “of course” people wanted to stop unlawful material being viewed on the internet, and that there were appropriate protections that are in place for that. “But I have personal responsibility as a parent,” he added. “If I want to stop my children from viewing other material that I feel is inappropriate then that is my responsibility to do something about it - not that of the government.”
“Protecting liberty is about protecting freedoms against both known and future threats. Some may argue that we can surely trust a democratically-elected government in Australia to never try to introduce more wide-spread censorship. I am not so sure!”
Since he took power in late 2009, Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has fended off questions regarding his stance on the mandatory internet filtering project, and it remains unclear whether the Opposition will support the legislation expected to be introduced into parliament shortly to set up the scheme.
However the Greens have vowed to block the bill if they can. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has predicted that due to obstructionism from the Opposition, the bill won’t make its way into the Senate until after the next Federal election.
Hockey pointed to the recent debacle over anonymous online comment legislation which would have impinged upon the next South Australian state election as evidence that liberty in Australia needed defending.
However, the Shadow Treasurer took a different path when it came to another controversial censorship issue. Referring to the campaign for Australia to have an R18+ classification for video games, he said there was probably a legitimate debate to be had about the need for controls on such games.
He said he had heard an interview on ABC radio with Macquarie University psychologist Dr Wayne Warburton, who explained how repeated exposure to violent games could influence players’ behaviour and “rewire our brain”.
“What concerns me about these games is that they, at the most benign end, make us immune to violence or, worse still, encourage us to think of violence as a legitimate tool. Fundamentally, the loss of respect for human life and dignity that these games encourage becomes a threat to the respect we have for individual liberty,” he said.
One further area of technological control mentioned by Hockey was the proliferation of closed circuit television cameras in public areas.
“Whilst they may be acceptable in crime hot spots do we really want to go down the path of Great Britain and find that it is impossible to travel any street without being recorded by the government or the police on video?” he said, pointing to cases where Australian police have used the cameras for inappropriate purposes.
Ultimately Hockey used the speech to strongly push the cause of individual liberty in Australian society. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, he said: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Image credit: Office of Joe Hockey