Independent senator for South Australia, Senator Nick Xenophon, has a strong voter base and a vital cross-bench seat. He spoke with ARN about the need for negotiation with the Government over ISP filtering, Telstra’s separation and keeping cloud-based information in Australia.
In our previous Q&A, you mentioned technical problems played a major part in your opposition to a mandatory ISP filter. Have you changed your mind since the Enex Testlabs results were released?
Senator Nick Xenophon (NX): I will sit down and talk to the Government about filtering. My concern is that the money could be better spent elsewhere in terms of tracking down paedophiles. The policy objective must be to protect children. My query is whether the Government’s objective can be best achieved by this or by alternative means in terms of putting resources into policing.
I don’t have a problem with the Government offering to individual users of the Internet, Net Nanny-style filters so that individual households can make their decision. I do have a concern this will still slow things down unacceptably and you need to forensically analyse as to whether – over wide-scale use – the test results could be replicated.
Does that mean you support the Coalition’s call for an audit into the test itself?
Yes, I think that’s entirely sensible because once we do this, there’s no going back. We need to be 110 per cent sure it works.
Does that mean you don’t fundamentally oppose the idea of a mandatory filter?
No, it doesn’t mean that at all. My concern is that the money spent on a mandatory filter could be better spent in tackling those predators on the Internet in terms of paedophiles. We know that those we need to track down use file-sharing mechanisms rather than surfing the Web.
If the Government could prove to you that it could be done with very few side-effects, such as speed degradation, would you support a mandatory filter?
No. My understanding is it will cost around $40 million. Is there a better way in terms of protecting children from online predators than what the Government is proposing? That’s why the next step for me is that the Government needs to have an independent audit of those tests. I’m taking a very cautious approach.
When Senator Nick Minchin was in the communications portfolio, he was fairly vocal against Internet filtering but Tony Smith [opposition communications spokesperon] hasn’t taken the same approach. Do you think this is a change of heart?
I don’t know if there’s been a change of heart. I think Tony Smith is new to the portfolio. He clearly is a very capable front-bencher and I think the caution is a reflection of the fact that he’s only recently [been appointed] and that’s fair enough. I’m not privy to the Liberal Party, but there may be some caution there that reflects the fact that he’s just taken that role.