New Prime Minister Julia Gillard today said she understands concerns about the Government's controversial mandatory internet filtering policy, but Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was putting effort in to get the policy into shape.
Just yesterday Gillard's office ducked a series of questions about the filter policy amidst speculation her ascension to the Prime Ministership could signal a change in the policy.
But this morning the politician was less taciturn on ABC local radio in Darwin, responding to what the presenter said was "quite a few listeners who want me to ask you about the proposed internet filter -- time to get rid of it, or at least an opt-in or opt-out system".
"Well look, I know that there is some concern here, and I believe that the Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has been trying to work through to get a resolution," Gillard said. "I think the competing tensions are we obviously want, you know, a fast internet that meets people’s needs, that’s why we’re rolling out the National Broadband [Network]."
"But there’s also a set of concerns about the dark side of the new technology, if I can use that expression, and, you know, clearly you can’t walk into a cinema in Australia and see certain things and we shouldn’t on the internet be able to access those things either. So, Stephen Conroy is working to get this in the right shape."
One listener -- named Stuart -- emailed the ABC stating that it was hard not to draw parallels between China's oppressive internet regime and the filter policy. In response, Gillard said she was "happy with the policy aim".
"The policy aim is, you know, if there are images of child abuse, child pornography, they are not legal in our cinemas. You would not be able to go to the movies and watch that, and you shouldn’t," the new Prime Minister said. "I mean, no-one should want to see that, but you’re not able to go to the movies and see those kinds of things. Why should you be able to see them on the internet? I think that that’s the kind of, you know, moral, ethical question at the heart of this."
However, Gillard noted there was a set of "technical concerns" about internet speed, and also concern that the policy could affect legitimate use of the internet. "It’s not my intention that we in any way jeopardise legitimate use of the internet, but I think all of would share repulsion for some of the things that can be accessed through the internet," she said.
The comments represent the first time Gillard has commented publicly on the filter policy since winning the Labor leadership several weeks ago.
Her predecessor Kevin Rudd had publicly defended the policy several times, on one occasion noting he would not apologise for the policy.
Labor Senator Kate Lundy has previously said she believes the change in leadership could present an opportunity for the policy to change, and is lobbying the Labor caucus to insert opt-in or opt-out provisions into the filter legislation. But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy did not respond directly when asked last week whether he had spoken to Gillard about Lundy’s amendments.
Gillard also took the chance in the radio interview to sideswipe the Opposition on the National Broadband Network policy. "We’re committed to it, obviously [Opposition Leader] Tony Abbott’s committed to taking it away," she said.
Updated: 7 July, 2pm.