(mis)adventures in software development...

06 September 2013

Mandatory Internet Censorship to the Node

Category Technology

So that was weird.

Yesterday, without fanfare, the Coalition released it’s “Policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children”. Because the the Liberal Party really, really cares about children. I’m sure it keeps them up at night. So much so they’re willing dedicate $10 million to keeping children safe online. Because if the government won’t keep children safe online then who will? Their parents? Or course not! Parenting is far too important a task to be left to parents — the government must be involved every step of the way! I’m sure this will be tax payer money well spent, and absolutely none of it will go towards hiring useless public servants or advisers who will just sit around all day downloading internet porn. I’m sure $10 million will buy lots of child safety online and none of that money will be wasted on pointless posturing, like some sort of mandatory internet censorship scheme. Oh, but wait, turns out that buried within the policy document was in fact a plan to introduce UK-style opt-out mandatory internet filtering. Coalition MPs Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Fletcher spent most of the afternoon promoting it.

Not surprisingly, controversy erupted. After all, this was the political party that had constantly criticised Labor’s eerily similar plans for compulsory internet censorship. And here we are, less than 2 days before an election, and without any debate, they spring a policy for mandatory internet censorship on us at the last minute. It seems just like the sort of underhanded thing the Liberals would do. Labor jumped all over it, shitting on the Liberal Party for having a policy of mandatory internet censorship, just like the Liberals have been shitting on Labor for their policy of mandatory internet censorship, and the circle of hypocrisy was complete.

But later on last night, just hours later, the Coalition backflipped. Turnbull released a statement saying the Coalition did not support mandatory internet filtering, and that the policy document was “poorly worded and incorrect.”

I suspect the policy document was “poorly worded” in that someone from the Liberal Party accidentally told the truth…in direct violation of Liberal Party policy. I assume the person responsible — or his scapegoat — was duly fired for this unexpected outbreak of honesty, and it won’t happen again. The last thing Australia needs is honesty in politics. Not when we’re doing so well with our current Merchants of Bullshit.

So the Liberals introduced mandatory internet censorship then took it back. They are truly the Jay Leno of IT policy.

It obviously raises many questions. Especially since Malcolm Turnbull was on the radio last night strongly arguing for the policy, before only hours later announcing the whole thing was a mistake. Not only that, he tweeted that he only read the policy shortly before going on air. On the one hand you’ve got to admire Malcolm Turnbull’s bullshitting skills for so convincingly standing up for a nonsensical policy he had only just read before going on air. He should give some pointers to Jaymes Diaz. On the other hand, it suggests Turnbull will happily weave a web of complete bullshit about any policy document put in front of him. So much for conviction politicians. The best we can expect these days are conviction bullshit artists. (Of which the Coaltion has many, though Jaymes Diaz is obviously not one of them.)

Then there’s the question of who the hell wrote the policy, if the ministers responsible for it are only reading it for the first time on the day it’s released to the public? The Liberals like to talk about the “faceless men” of the Labor party, but seems the Liberals have their own faceless men writing their policy documents — which no one even bothers to properly proof read before releasing.

Regardless of whether it was a genuine mistake or something more sinister, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the Coalition.

Not that I really had much confidence in them to begin with. Certainly not when it comes to the world of IT. One of the things that has bothered me about the Liberal Party for a long time is the impression I get that they don’t really understand or even care about the IT industry. Or even any technology industry. Although to be fair, since in the past there haven’t been many votes to be had in this area, it’s something that’s been routinely ignored and neglected by both major parties.

Which made Labor’s National Broadband Network so unusually impressive. Here, for once, was a political party implementing genuinely visionary, nation-building technology infrastructure — and for the most part getting it right. Sure, it’s expensive and not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good on the technical merits — and long overdue, given the dire state of Telstra’s copper network. Surprisingly, the Labor Party more or less got it right as far as broadband goes. Do it once, and do it with fibre — to the premises. Although no doubt there was an element of self interest in this as well. Fundamentally, Labor’s NBN was borne of the realisation — way ahead of the Liberals — that the internet has become mainstream enough that there are now votes to be bought in this area.

But sadly not enough this time round. With a Coalition victory likely at tomorrow’s election, it’s a shame that Labor’s visionary plan to replace the crappy copper network with fibre and finally bring our broadband infrastructure into the 21st century, will be watered down with Turnbull’s technically inferior Fibre To The Node alternative.

That’s assuming we even get that far. The reality is once the Liberals get elected they will do whatever the hell they want, regardless of whatever “poorly worded” policy documents they release before the election. Including but not limited to finding whatever pretext they can to scrap the whole NBN, which they never wanted to build in the first place. Especially if they get control of the Senate. The only reason the Coalition even have a broadband policy is because Labor’s NBN plan proved to be so popular. However, I suspect many within the Liberal Party would love nothing more than to scrap the whole thing. Especially Tony Abbott.

The man who will likely be our next Prime Minister, is going into this election with two major and very expensive policies that he doesn’t believe in — the NBN and paid parental leave — and I suspect he’ll take any opportunity to scrap both. After all, this is the man who initially said if he was elected he’d rip Labor’s NBN out of the ground. This is the man who once said there would be compulsory paid maternity leave “Over this Government’s dead body“.

It therefore feels a bit ominous that just hours from an election, there’s a bizarre IT policy backflip, suggesting they’re making up policy as they go along. Which indicates — as I long suspected — that the Liberals don’t really care about the IT industry, and don’t really understand the IT industry. To them, it’s just another policy plaything. They will do whatever is most politically expedient, without regard for the best technical solution (hence Turnbull’s inferior FTTN NBN).

After the election, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they find some excuse to scrap both the NBN and the paid parental leave. They might go for the John Howard approach — claim Labor left a big secret black hole in Australia’s finances, and therefore all those things they promised before the election are now unaffordable non-core promises, and therefore won’t happen. Goodbye NBN, and goodbye paid parental leave. They might not be able to get away with that — again — but I don’t think it’ll stop them trying.

It’s clear Tony Abbott thinks an NBN is a waste of money, but seems he thinks nothing of throwing millions of dollars of tax payer funds at a chocolate company. After criticizing Kevin Rudd for giving government assistance to the struggling car manufacturing industry, Abbott has promised $16 million to a profitable multi-national corporation to upgrade a chocolate factory in Tasmania. Just the thing we need to be spending money on in the midst of an obesity crisis and diabetes epidemic — chocolate! Forget about building the broadband infrastructure of the future — chocolate manufacturing is what’s most important! So we might not get decent broadband after the election, but we can always gorge ourselves into a diabetic coma on Australian-made, government-subsidized chocolate to try and forget about how our ADSL connection keeps dropping out.