How To Defeat Labor’s Internet Censorship: A Liberal Hack’s Perspective

As the campaign against Labor’s internet censorship plan gears up, some of the tactics (and indeed the overall strategy) of those opposed to this monstrosity troubles me somewhat, as I am unsure how effective it will be. By which I mean I think it’s been atrocious, and at this rate I think we will lose.

As such therefore, for what it’s worth, as someone who has spent a decade active in (Liberal) party politics, I thought I would offer my perspective on how to best defeat the Great Firewall of Australia for people’s consideration. Because I really, really do not want Australia joining North Korea, Cuba, China, and Iran!

Firstly, do not bother writing to Conroy or Labor party MP’s/Senators. It will not make one iota of difference. There is approximately 0% chance of Labor reversing course on this through writing to them. They have invested too much into it, and the loss of face would be something they would not be able to stomach. This is the tough realities. Sure, If you want to piss off some bureaucrats, and cause annoyance, you can follow Bernard Keane’s advice, but please note it will achieve nothing. There is only one way that targeting Labor will work, but more on that later.

This bill will pass or fail based on one thing and one thing only: whether the Coalition supports it or not. Whether you like the Coalition or not, this is the reality of the situation. As such, the only thing that supporters of an uncensored internet  should be focusing on is getting Coalition MP’s to vote to oppose it. There is no – I repeat – no other way it can be blocked. There are quite a few Coalition MP’s already publically very opposed to the filter, and it has been soundly condemned by the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation, and the Young Liberal Movement of Australia. Plus, the Coalition opposed it before the 2007 election – keep them to their promise!!! So we have a good base to start off with.

The question then is, how do you go about doing this.

Members of Parliament act based upon two things. Firstly, ideology, and secondly, self-interest. Thus you need to tap into both these things successfully. And it is different things with different MP’s. Make sure you also contact Tony Smith, the Shadow Minister for Communications. Tony has always been a strong believer in freedom and sound policy, and is someone we have a real chance with. It is vital we get him onside, so contact him!

The obvious first thing to do is to write letters (emails also work, but snail mail generally carries far more weight, and the chance of response is considerably higher). Writing campaigns have limited uses. MP’s rarely read their own correspondence after all, and replies are written by staff (although signed off on by MP’s). Having said that however, MP’s are to some degree, quite sensitive to the quantity of correspondence they receive. Note that marginal seat MP’s are more interested in getting re-elected than ideology, so point out this is a vote-changing issue for you. Say you will come out and support them in the election on this issue. Make it clear it is in their self-interest to oppose the filter (this is particularly effective if you’re a Liberal Party member, and make preselection support conditional on this).

The ‘talking points’ to include are obvious and I think everyone knows the myriad of problems that this plan will create. I would note, however, that talking about censorship – and in particular porn –  probably isn’t the best line of attack. Whilst the government wants to paint us all as perverts, this is not about porn in the slightest. Many non-porn related sites will be covered by this, so do not at all focus on porn. It just makes you look bad.

Instead, I would focus more on the added regulatory cost this will impose, particularly on businesses (in these economic times, business can not afford etc etc) and how it will slow down the internet. If you want to talk about porn, and particularly this line will be more effective with conservatives, talk about how it will undermine parental values and the family unit, and create a false sense of security. We need to get across that the clean-feed is anti-family, as counter-intuitive as this may initially seem (because it is, after all, the fact).

The second thing to do – as much as many of us may cringe at the concept – is to use talkback radio. This is a forum which politicians, particularly conservative politicians, pay attention to. A lot. Talkback is often played in the background in parliamentary offices, and transcripts are made and sent around. People

With talkback being the genre it is, I would strongly recommend you remember your audience. Ie populist conservatives. Do not – under any circumstance – come across as pro porn etc. Talk about the importance of family values, talk about how you’re not-pro porn but this won’t work. How you’re mainstream Australia. Seriously,  remember your audience! Do not attack your opposition. Say you understand how porn for kids is bad, how we need to protect the children etc. But that this won’t work. I cringe considerably when I hear most supporters of internet censorship try to justify why this is bad, because they use inappropriate arguments, and get shot down.

I mentioned previously that there is one way that campaigning against Labor will be successful. And this is in marginal seats, and not through letter writing, but rather through local media and grassroots campaigning. Marginal MP’s are nervous people due to their vulnerability, but again, it’s a question of doing it effectively. As such, I would suggest publically campaigning in marginal ALP seats to call on the member to oppose it. I would go so far as to say start up a local “organisation” in your area “Croydon Residents against Internet censorship” or something – even if it’s just a few people, you can then get things into local media easily. Press releases etc. Do a few events locally and you will get significant coverage at the local level –  local media love that sort of thing so won’t be hard – and that is what will get Labor MP’s nervous. Say blatantly that we will oppose the MP actively at the next election if this is passed. And that will be the only way we will be able to get the issue to turn Labor to (quietly) drop it.

In conclusion – and I can not stress this enough – do NOT make this about porn, or even about censorship or freedom – I would not publicly use these words at all (despite using it in this post!). We have to recognise that is not a campaign that will be changed because of the viewpoint of net-savvy 20-somethings living in the inner city. Rather, it will be won in the marginals, where the demographics are different, and people have different values – polls demonstrate this. If we talk about freedom, we will be painted as pro-porn etc, and we will lose. Most Australians – rightly or wrongly – think that censorship violent or sexually graphic material is acceptable. So if we fight on those grounds, if we fight on the grounds of freedom of expression, we will lose. We need to fight this on our terms, not on theirs. And to do that requires a serious reevaluation of strategy.

We’re off to a strong start, but we really need to ensure we use messaging properly and effectively to get everyone on board.

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31 Responses to “How To Defeat Labor’s Internet Censorship: A Liberal Hack’s Perspective”

  1. Colin Campbell Says:

    I think that filtering will be about as unpopular as CPRS and I struggle to understand why Ruddco would saddle themselves with such a dud going into an election. Lots of good ideas there.

  2. An Observer Says:

    Also, when speaking to the more conservative members of the Liberal party, point out that the filter is already known to block anti-abortion websites (eg ).

    It surprises me that groups like the Australian Family Association support the filter despite this. Perhaps they don’t know.. yet?

  3. Tim Andrews Says:

    Yes good point – I intended to mention that, but I forgot lol

  4. David Jackmanson Says:

    Hi Tim, thanks for this post. As someone who rarely leaves the latte belt (but knows that’s not where this issue will be decided) this is very useful advice.

    One question – what’s the balance in the Liberal Party between moral conservatives who can be approached with pro-family arguments, and pro-business types who’d be more likely to be won over with arguments about added costs of regulation? (I realise there will be some overlap there).

  5. Actualize Says:

    Correct about the talk-back radio bit. However I recommend going a bit further down the conservative line – instead of stating that you are not pro-porn, go on the offensive and say straight up that you are anti-porn, but taht this filter wont achieve what it claims to achieve. That’s right – point out that the blacklist was already leaked earlier this year – several times – and that this has already provided deviants with their Xmas shopping lists!

    I.e. this policy has done a massive amount of damage to the anti-porn cause.

    Use their policy right back at their own heartland =0

  6. Bob Says:

    @David Jackmanson

    Pro-Family arguments? I have to kids and my wife and I still enjoy a peek at porn.

    Fuck them for trying to control our bedroom.

  7. Bob Says:

    @David Jackmanson

    Pro-Family arguments? I have 2 kids and my wife and I still enjoy a peek at porn.

    F*ck them for trying to control our bedroom.

  8. David Jackmanson Says:

    @Bob, that’s a good point and I’ve been wondering about it. Another big “sleeper” group in this debate are people in your position – certainly not people likely to go protesting (I’d assume) but who still don’t like the idea of Government censorship.

    I’m trying to think about how we can get these different groups all pointing in the same direction on this issue.

  9. John Humphreys Says:

    You should talior the argument for the audience, but I think it’s important to still drop in references to the concepts of freedom and free speech. Just saying that “it doesn’t work” means that as soon as technology improves then we have lost the argument. And we need to keep up the defence of the concept of freedom, or we will lose the greater political fight by virtue of having not shown up.

    But on the “it doesn’t work” meme, it’s also worth pointing out the factoid that the filter will block approximately 25 billion legitimate websites, while not preventing P2P dodgy material.

  10. Ross Grove Says:

    Good post, but if you want the plebs like me to read it you’ve got to make it shorter, maybe use a few dot points.

  11. Report on Monday’s Anti-Censorship Meeting #sicbne | Stop Internet Censorship Says:

    […] ** [For a sample letter written to a local MP recently, click here Also see Bernard Keane's article in Crikey on writing to Ministers, and "Liberal Hack" Tim Andrew's advice on how and why to approach Liberal MPs and Senators]. […]

  12. TG Says:

    As a Christian who is opposed to this filter, I make the point that in all families – including Christian families – it is the parents’ job to guide and protect their children and to instill the values they think important.

    If you know someone to be a Christian parent and they are pro-filter “because it will protect the children,” ask them to name just three things the Government does so well that it gives them confidence to outsource the online care, welfare & protection of their children to them. Even if that particular parent is one who’ll remain vigilant filter or no, ask them to consider the many parents who will take the State at its word and let down their own guard.

    The other point I’d make is priorities. Ask people which they’d rather see: a huge new tax-eating bureaucracy dedicated to the Sisyphean task of blocking each new kiddie-porn site as it comes online (at which point it will obviously just be moved to a new address), or to see the same amount of money and resources given to the Australian Federal Police to enhance the good work they already do in tracking down and prosecuting the scumbags who are creating and distributing illegal material. E.g., if there’s a man somewhere out there raping his child on webcam for the benefit of his online ‘mates’, would you rather direct resources to a roomful of faceless bureaucrats tasked with “blocking” such things, or to the AFP who, through their own offices and powerful allies in international Internet policing, will do their damnedest to nail the bastard and his mates and save the poor child?

    Those are just a couple of points off the top of my head, ways in which to argue against the filter without resorting to the “But it’s my right to view whatever kind of porn I want to!” argument.

    Good post, Tim. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this “filter” idea would get so far, but with enough support I do give us a fair-to-even chance of stopping it..

  13. TG Says:

    One more thing to point out (after having read some of the comments about this issue on Crikey), and that would be:

    Even if you’re not a Christian, even if you consider all Christians to be illiterate censorious brain-dead knuckle-dragging happy-clapping (no, I don’t know how the happy-clapping whilst knuckle-dragging thing works) reality-denying banjo-plucking redneck morons who should be shot for brainwashing their children into believing in pretend sky-fairies not to mention denying you your basic human right to watch hot teen-on-German Shepherd action and such…

    …using such characterisations in your argument will probably not be as productive as some of the #nocleanfeed enthusiasts seem to think it will be.

    Just sayin’, is all. 😉

  14. Jason Says:

    I’m a Talkback Presenter on Perth’s 882 6PR. I’ve been doing my bit to get the message across but there’s only so much I/we can do without being seen to be pushing our own barrow.

    If you really care about Conroy’s Filter Folly and how it will affect us all, it’s crucially important that you CALL YOUR LOCAL TALKBACK STATION and talk about it.

    Do it. Seriously. I know a lot of you feel strongly about the Filter but would never consider talking on air. Just do it. It’s easier than writing a letter and you will have the ear of Politicians around the country.

  15. Nick Says:

    Yuletide felicitations.

    If you are thinking about emailing coalition senators, I thought I would relay my own recent experience.

    In November I sent emails to every federal liberal senator – all 32 of them, not just the ones from my state – on the ETS issue. So far I have had 7 replies via email and one snail mail reply. Considering the amount of correspondence that flooded their offices on this issue alone, and also that my own email was quite, shall we say, robustly worded – I consider a 25% response rate not too bad. Many replies were obviously their stock response, and a few were sent from staffers, but maybe there are some pollies out their who actually read all their incoming corro. (Perhaps the ones who haven’t replied to me yet are among these!)

    Out of the eight replies I have received so far, only one was from someone who had intended to vote for Labor’s ETS, but, following the election of Tony Abbott, changed their mind.

  16. Dan Says:

    One method I’ve been using to convince people that this filter isn’t going to work is that paedophiles are already using the latest and greatest filter bypassing techniques. Which means that once the great firewall is up, only the truly stupid paedophiles will be caught.

    Does the Rudd Government not realise what will happen once there are multiple child porn arrests made after the filter has gone up? Journo’s will ask the question “How did they get their hands on the stuff?” and the answer is going to be very uncomfortable for the government.

  17. Sergey Says:

    Thank you, very useful thing.

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  19. Conroy’s Christmas present, Internet censorship #nocleanfeed | Leefe rates the world... Says:

    […] How To Defeat Labor’s Internet Censorship: A Liberal Hack’s Perspective (Tim Andrews, 22 Dec 2009) The opinion that discussing the filters with Labor is useless, that a better approach is to convince the Liberals to block it in the Senate. As well as language and arguments you should use to do this. […]

  20. Heath Says:

    The big thing for me is scope creep.
    I agree with going down the line of freedom of expression gets you lumped into the pro porn basket, but i also think that the censorship card (mainly OVER censorship) should be played.
    The way in which you get across that that RC is a very gray area, and has the potential to grow pretty much unchecked… well I’m stuck there. The pro filter crowd has done a good job of linking RC to CP etc. I think a good place to start is that RC can be anything and isn’t just limited to CP and the like.
    While the filter might only touch RC content, what is there to stop people changing OTHER classifications so that more stuff falls inside the RC realm?

  21. ChairmanLMAO Says:

    Here’s something Tim. As a conservative, why should I give a shit about the one issue where the Left deign to enter the fray in to defence of freedom?

    These clowns do nothing but sit around ejaculating about how the govt might intrude further into the lives of ordinary citizens. Yet I’m supposed to be up in arms because the readers of Crikey don’t want to live in a world without animal porn?

    Spare me. I’ve changed my mind and am supporting the filter.

  22. Report on Monday Jan 4 Stop Internet Censorship Brisbane meeting | Stop Internet Censorship Says:

    […] important points that came out of this article by “Liberal hack” Tim Andrews are that we should talk about how this is a Nanny State plan, and also about the taxes it will cost […]

  23. JanW in Melbourne Says:

    I blogged about this on 19 December. I have posted the letter I wrote to Senator Fielding [can we say ‘balance of power’?] as well as links to other efforts. Here’s the link to the post:
    Internet Censorship is coming back to Australia

    Thanks for the thoughtful advice re strategy. I agree with much of what you’ve said. I’ll link back to this post in an update on mine.

  24. No Clean Feed and Hoekstrian exaggeration | Says:

    […] ultra-right wing blogger Tim Andrews makes this point: In conclusion – and I can not stress this enough – do NOT make this about porn, or even about […]

  25. B. P. M. Says:

    Tim Andrews is ultra-right? What world is the author of (I assume his name is Alex White, lol) living on? Wow…

  26. Hyman Estrello Says:

    I enjoy examples of the articles which were written, and especially the comments posted! Awesome

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  28. Pinko Says:

    @ChairmanLMAO: dude, I’m technically one of your namby-pamby pinko enemies and I am against the filter on the grounds that it won’t protect children. Please, get your facts straight we don’t support animal porn and CP. The filter will not protect kids from cyber bullying and pedophilia. It’s a crock.

    The media bad mouthed activists and this article by Tim is very good, I must say, for a conservative hack. Thanks dude.

  29. Tim Andrews Says:

    Thanks 🙂

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