full opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay
13 September 2013
Tony Abbott’s Coalition team has finally won the Federal Election it’s been itching to fight for three very long years. But Malcolm Turnbull’s arrogant response this week to a petition calling for the Coalition to support Labor’s NBN policy shows the conservative side of politics still hasn’t learnt the lesson activists rammed down Labor’s throat in the previous Internet filter and data retention debacles: People power can get unpopular policies changed.
If I had to say what the defining moment of the long-running, five year campaign against Labor’s controversial mandatory Internet filtering policy was, I would have to say it was a short television segment broadcast on the issue on 31 March, 2009, on SBS’s Insight program.
In the segment, outspoken filter critic Mark Newton was asked point blank by host Jennie Brockie whether the Government’s ISP-level mandatory filtering scheme could actually work in a technical sense. It was a question Newton was well-qualified to answer. As a network engineer of 13 years standing at Internode, an organisation regarded as one of the most technically adept in Australia, Newton was at that time regarded as an expert in his field. After all, should it go ahead and become law for Australian ISPs to filter objectionable content from reaching their customers, it would be precisely engineers like Newton who would be responsible for the implementation.
The engineer’s answer, typically for someone of a technical bent, was short and to the point. “No. No, of course not.” Newton replied. His whole attitude implied that such a claim was obviously preposterous. And his words carried a remarkable amount of weight.
In a splendid display of televisual craftmanship, just after Newton gave his answer, SBS spliced in a shot of then-Communications Minister, the chief proponent of the filter, who was sitting in the audience on the other side of the room. Conroy’s outraged expression, expressing disbelief at Newton’s no-nonsense answer, has been dubbed online as his “owned face”, and became a defining image of the campaign. It starkly demonstrated to the tens of thousands of Australians actively campaigning to strike down the filter that their efforts were getting under Conroy’s skin, in the most personal way.