Let’s face it: Conroy’s proposed internet filter is unlikely to work.

Those of us with computer skills equivalent to those of a second-grader will still be able to access what we want.  The word is still out on whether it will massively slow down our internet (though I suspect it will).  And while the range of things the board is allowed to filter is astonishingly vast, chances are there won’t be a huge amount of overreach.  There is some validity in saying there has been a fair amount of fear-mongering around the filter.*

What has been so enlightening about the filter debate, and what is so frustrating about the policy, is what it illustrates about the Australian party system and how it undermines representative democracy.

The proposed filter is deeply unpopular: that much is abundantly apparent.  And its unpopularity is bipartisan.  Despite the fact most of the electorate, and many of the Labor party politicians themselves, are against the filter, the party has walked in lockstep.  I have winced, watching my own MP, Tanya Plibersek, straining to support a policy she clearly does not believe in, and which is clearly unpopular with her electorate.  The dog whistle “I don’t really support thing”, which Labor supporters have been parroting, is completely redundant when the policy still gets the votes from those doing the whistling.

Because a faction of the Labor party has gained a certain amount of power, and that faction -or one member thereof- has decided the internet filter is the way to go, the party as a whole is alienating many in its natural voter base, assuming they won’t go elsewhere.   And such is the nature of our party system: loyalty to party has trumped loyalty to the voters, and the parties have smugly ignored the clearly-expressed will of the people continually.  They have enacted or sought to enact major reform on which they did not campaign- providing no mandate- and have failed to enact the reform on which they did campaign, which is clearly the will of the Australian public.

The party feels free to pursue its own agenda, with little reference to voters.  In seats such as Plibersek’s, which have been largely safe for a long time, this didn’t seem dangerous.  But with Independents and the Greens picking up votes, its increasingly evident that this approach is alienating voters.  As the coalition government learnt through WorkChoices, you can’t bulldoze an unpopular policy through and keep winning.  The voters looked to Labor instead.  And now they’re looking somewhere else.

It is not so much for the voters to expect representatives to actually represent them, rather than simply toeing a party line.  Party discipline ought to be secondary to representing the best interest of the electorate.  For all its many problems, the US House of Representatives does have members who are far more closely connected to their own electorates.

At the moment, Australian national politics is fundamentally non-representative.  It minimises the capacity of electorates to persuade their local member to vote one way or another.  It also robs members of their capacity to use their discretion, rendering moot the point that one can vote for a representative because one trusts their decision-making and their values.  Rather, Australian politics allows voters to choose between two national party platforms, and even then, those platforms are often ignored.

The internet filter has shed light on what’s really wrong with Australian politics.  Given the recent polling, perhaps the major parties should sit up and pay attention.

*Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fiercely against it, and believe it to be unconstitutional as it restricts political speech, but I’m less worried about what it would likely do as opposed to what it has the potential to do.

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June 10, 2010 7:23 pm

Tanya Plibersek is my MP too. I was deeply disturbed after watching her on that episode of Q&A. However I disagree with your assertion that it is a policy she does not support – if you watch the entire episode, it is evident that she is clearly technologically incompetent, simply regurgitating the party line. I have written her a letter informing her that this (former) Labour voter will move to Greener pastures unless this rediculous policy is dropped. I would encourage everyone to do the same with their local MPs.

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