It seems likely that mandatory filtering Labor-style won't survive as a policy no matter who gets elected, and that's good news. But as detestable as Labor's policy was, it could be much, much worse. Family First has an even more extreme proposal that includes making users pay directly for a compulsory filter.
Watching yesterday's ICT Debate proceedings, I couldn't help reflecting that it was good to see an actual presence from the Greens, who are generally being ignored when it comes to setting up public election events despite a general belief that they'll hold the balance of power in the Senate after the election. But even that didn't cover the whole spectrum.
There was still no sign of other parties with a stated interest in at least some aspects of ICT policy. There was no one from the Sex Party, for example. And there was no one from Family First, the ultra-conservative group which argues that every policy needs to be processed through the kind of "what about the children?" approach that Senator Stephen Conroy often appears to favour.
Admittedly, it's hard to take Family First seriously on the technology front. The party's main appearance in the headlines this week has been due to Queensland senatorial aspirant Wendy Francis exposing herself as both homophobic and a complete idiot on Twitter. Francis apparently believes that deleting offensive Twitter messages someone equates to "standing up for what you believe in", but that's another issue.
No matter what you think of the party, it's generally held that courting the vote of Family First Senator Steve Fielding was a factor in Labor pursuing its policy in the first place. Family First is always going to emphasise its "traditional Christian married couples with children before everyone else" approach, but despite that, it does actually have a specific policy on telecommunications and a whole document on internet filtering. Both would rank as amongst the finest pieces of comedy ever to come from a political party, were it not all too evident that the party itself believes every half-baked, unsourced, contradictory word.
Let's start with the telecommunications policy. In simple terms, it goes something like this: we'd like more broadband and it needs to be cheap because families can't afford petrol, but the NBN is evil because it would affect Telstra, and that would affect retirees and mums and dads. The policy actually contains this extraordinary sentence:
Many of these mums, dads and retirees bought their shares from the Government in good faith.
Welcome to capitalism, people. Shares go up, shares go down. Once you've got them, there's no guarantees. We all know this, but apparently Family First doesn't. Astoundingly, it maintains this position while also arguing that Telstra should never have been sold off in any form in the first place. In terms of actual constructive policies for broadband, it has nothing, which at least aligns it with the Coalition (which will swap preferences with it in most instances).
But the real kicker is the filtering policy. This isn't wildly divergent from what Labor itself proposes -- compulsory filtering at ISP level, albeit without any explanation of how this might work -- but there's one crucial difference:
Family First will propose that once set up, this scheme will be funded through a levy system so as to spread ongoing costs equitably amongst all end users. This cost is a small price to pay to protect children.
Yes, you read that right: not only would Family First impose a compulsory filter, they'd pass on the costs directly to you. It's sometimes been argued that ISP prices might ultimately rise to reflect the costs of filtering technology, but even Labor didn't suggest charging customers up-front to do so.
How would the party justify charging for a scheme that pretty much everyone acknowledges would do virtually nothing to stop illegal material? Because parents are apparently too stupid to do anything else:
Reliance on education and end use supervision and filtering take up fails to protect vulnerable children in dysfunctional households where there is neglect. It also fails to acknowledge that many parents lack the education or awareness to take up these kinds of filters.
That is a pretty remarkable statement from a party which claims to value families above all else. Apparently they're great, but they're also technologically crippled and irredeemably dense.
I can't imagine many Gizmodo readers would be Family First voters, and the party's record of actually getting people into government is relatively lean. But Family First is likely to receive preferences from the Liberals and the Nationals, so think about that when you're weighing up your Senate vote in particular. There's a literal price to pay otherwise.