Turnbull backpedals on internet filter
Coalition's internet filtering policy was withdrawn within hours of its release, but not before opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull told ABC Radio how it worked.PT1M31S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2t8ep 620 349 September 5, 2013
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The Coalition has made an embarrassing backdown from a commitment that it would require internet service providers to censor "adult content", saying a policy document it released two days before the election was "in error".
On Thursday afternoon the Coalition's $10 million "Policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children" seemed to resurrect an Australian internet filter.
Embarrassing blunder: Coalition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: ABC
Under the last-minute plan - which was not accompanied by any press release or announcement - Australian mobile phone and internet service providers would be required to censor ‘‘adult content’’ on the internet unless users opt out.
But by Thursday evening, the Coalition’s communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, announced the policy had been changed so that users would opt in if they wanted the filter.
‘‘All I can say to you is mistakes happen,’’ Mr Turnbull said. ‘‘As soon as I became aware of the policy having been released in the form it was I took steps to correct it.’’
However, at 5.30pm on Thursday, Mr Turnbull had defended the opt-out feature of the surprise policy during an appearance on Triple J, saying "What [our policy] does is essentially install that software either in the smartphone or in the modem as a default which you can switch off but then that's at your call."
In announcing the opt-out filter's demise, Mr Turnbull later tried to explain his earlier defence of the "incorrect" policy.
‘‘I read the policy for the first time when it was released this afternoon,’’ he said.
‘‘I defended it as best I could and then as soon as I had an opportunity to ensure that it was withdrawn and corrected I did.’’
The policy had received the tick of approval from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and other senior Liberals before being released.
Mr Abbott has admitted he read and signed off on the election policy document, saying the Coalition would impose a blanket internet filter on Australians.
“I read the policy last night, quickly it has to be said, and I thought it was a reference to the ability of people to get PC-based filter that’s what I thought it was,” Mr Abbott said.
“I’m sorry it was badly worded.”
Mr Abbott defended the quality and detail of the rest of the Coalition’s policies after the debacle was revealed.
“In this particular instance, there was a failure of quality of control.”
“There was a badly worded sentence or two in the document that went out or earlier today. The fact is we think there should be commercially available filters for PC and mobile phone users to opt in to if they wish.”
He clarified the Coalition's stance, saying: “We don’t support internet filtering, we’ve never supported internet filtering.”
The Rudd government was the only government to support internet filtering, he said.
At the time of the policy's launch, Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, chairman of the Coalition’s online safety working group, had told Fairfax the policy was ‘‘about protecting children’’.
Liberal MP Alex Hawke, on Thursday afternoon said: ‘‘Our point is for the welfare of children going forward, where people aren’t necessarily up to date.’’
Mr Turnbull said the Coalition had supported the rights of consumers to install their own net filtering software, but had long opposed compulsory filters.
‘‘These filters don't work,’’ he said. ‘‘They're so easy to get around.’’
‘‘One of my key criticisms of the Conroy filter was it created a false sense of security.’’
One senior Liberal was seemingly caught unawares by the internet filter policy: ‘‘That's news to me,'' shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said in an appearance on Channel 10’s The Project.
"I will check it out’’.
The announcement and immediate reversal came almost a year after Labor abandoned a mandatory internet filter, which the Coalition opposed.
Senior Labor minister Chris Bowen said the policy "farce" showed why the Coalition couldn't be trusted in government.
"It's about trusting a political party which can put out major policies, major initiatives in the dying hours of an election campaign, and what that means about their judgment," he told ABC TV's Lateline.
with Lucy Battersby and AAP