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Thursday, 18 February 2010 21:58

Internet filter: All eyes on the Liberals

The politics of the internet filter is looking a lot more interesting today than it was just a few weeks ago. Suddenly the Government is under some pressure. More than ever, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy needs a win.

And given that Government will need the Liberals to back its filter policy in the Senate, that win is anything but assured.

A month ago, the internet filter policy seemed a matter of ticking the boxes of process. The filter trial results were in, the Minister announced that he was happy the policy was technically feasible. A consultation process was in train. And the legislation was on schedule to lob into Parliament in the Autumn sitting.

Now look where we are. Senate Estimates has the Minister on the back foot, via Mike Kaiser and the whiff of a job for one of the boys. Estimates also told Senators that the Minister was unlikely to make public the KPMG-McKinsey lead advisers report on the NBN - the so-called cost benefit analysis for the broadband network that the Opposition and Greens have been baying for months

And a gifted $250 million in spectrum rebates to the free-to-air networks has him in a crouch, duck and cover-style. (That's before the chance meeting with Kerry Stokes in an exclusive ski resort in the US gets thrown in.)

Everyone's favourite search engine Google then delivered its 'No Minister' over apparent requests that it voluntarily remove material from its high-traffic YouTube video service to help deliver the Government's filter goals. By midweek, even the Librarians were chucking brickbats at him.

The only thing giving Stephen Conroy some relief from the heat in the past week has been Peter Garrett's insulation program. The Opposition clearly smells blood, and the Minister is in for a rough ride when the Parliament resumes next week.

In fact, the Opposition got so excited about Stephen Conroy this week, it tried to make hay out of the fact that his former media adviser got a job recently with Alcatel - returning him to the industry he had worked for more than a decade before his two years with the Senator - as somehow an example of Ministerial misconduct. A stretch, methinks.

Still, the Government's filtering legislation won't get up without the Opposition. Or more specifically, without the Liberal Party. The Greens have already said they are implacably opposed.

The Libs have been quite happy to let the filtering debate rage. They have said nothing that will tie them down, and will no doubt continue to allow it run.

Tony Abbott has said nothing beyond appreciating the need to keep kids safe, with the caveat that any system must not be allowed detract from the advantages of an open internet.

New communications spokesman Tony Smith, from the moderate end of the Liberal spectrum, certainly hasn't said anything more concrete from that.

In fact, the last definitive word on the filter from that side of politics came from the arch-conservative Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Nick Minchin. Writing in the Canberra Times nearly a year ago, Senator Minchin railed against the filter policy as a slap in the face to the common sense of Australian mum's and dad's.

The legislation is apparently still on schedule to be put to parliament in the second week of the March sittings.

Kate Lundy's proposal for a mandatory open internet option to be retained for those internet users that want it must be starting to look awfully good as a fall-back position.

Because Stephen Conroy needs a win.

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