Filtering The Truth

The Coalition’s Internet filter policy wasn’t badly worded, it was just badly lied about.

A mere 41 hours out from polling, a UK-esque default Internet filter policy, forcing user to opt-out, was introduced by the Coalition, hidden amongst a AU$10 million online safety policy published online.

This story could’ve probably been written about the issue of trying to sneak a policy like this in less than two days out from the election, or the sheer ridiculousness and pointlessness of this style of internet censorship, but it only got worse.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared on Triple J’s Hack program yesterday evening, and both confirmed and defended this filter, labeling it as being “like what the British are going to provide”, and clearing stating that is the “default”; “you can switch it off, then that’s your call”.

A few hours later, Turnbull was desperately back-tracking. “Policy released today wrongly indicated we supported an opt-out system of internet filtering,” he tweeted. “This is not our policy and has never been.”

But why then was Turnbull professing the strengths of this policy just a few hours ago?

Turnbull continued, and claimed that “the policy which was issued today was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an ‘opt-out’ system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services”.

Turnbull defended his statements on Hack by saying: “I read [the] policy shortly before going on [Triple J]. I did my best to make sense of it, until I could ensure it was authoritatively corrected”.

Well, the Shadow Communications Minister probably shouldn’t be going on air and discussing very important policy issues that he hasn’t yet made sense of, but the real problem here is with the claim that the policy was “badly worded”.

The original policy was quickly erased from the Coalition’s website, but it read: “We will introduce nationally agreed default safety standards for smartphones and other devices, and internet access services..[it will] 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 in terms of home wi-fi, “will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise”.

That is not badly worded. In fact, that is very precisely and clearly worded, and it outlines a specific plan for an opt-out internet filter to be implemented be a possible Coalition Government.

But according to both Turnbull and Tony Abbott, it misrepresented what the Party stands for, and bad wording is to blame.

The situation only got worse, with Coalition MP Paul Fletcher, the man in charge of policy surrounding child safety online, confirming the opt-out style earlier in the day, in an interview with ZDNet’s Josh Taylor, whose brilliant reporting broke this story.

“The key thing is it is an opt-out,” Fletcher confirmed.

There’s not much confusion there. The man behind the very policy seemed assured of what it would involved, but this was apparently not cleared by Turnbull or Abbott, although they both admitted to having read the policy before it was published.

The Coalition’s actions yesterday weren’t to just correct a badly worded policy, but to attempt to conceal either some serious disunity within the party, or a drastically abrupt backflip after much public outcry.

Either way, it’s not a good look for a Party whose major selling point has been “trust” throughout this entire election, and is definitely not giving the voters who will probably be electing them much credit at all.

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