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Clive Hamilton the Net Nanny

By Kerry Miller - posted Monday, 24 November 2008

Guess who really kick started the current push for mandatory Internet Service Provider (ISP) level filtering? No, it wasn't those wretched Christian fundamentalists; it was Clive Hamilton  and the Australia Institute (of which Hamilton was until recently executive director).

They launched their campaign back in 2003 with a deliberately targeted media splash based on some rather spurious research supposedly documenting the evil effects of porn on Australian youth (more detail here).

This is all written up on the Electronic Frontiers Australia website (here and here), but has remained unmentioned (as far as I can see) , by most of the "leftish" opponents of the scheme.


Back in 2003, Hamilton did manage to get the attention of the Howard government and Senator Alston promised to look into it: Internet Porn Filters May Become Compulsory.

Following the launch of the Hamilton/Australia Institute campaign for mandatory filtering, various conservative and religious "family oriented" groups also joined in. These groups made extensive use of the Australia Institute material in their lobbying on the issue.

Nevertheless, in 2004 the idea of ISP-level filtering was rejected by the Howard government:

Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified.

While Howard remained PM, the only action taken was the establishment of the Net Alert website which provided advice about net safety and free downloadable filters, for those who wanted them. Shortly before the 2007 election, the Liberal Party tried to capture the vote of the Christian Right by offering to fund and enforce ISP-level filtering, but only for those who wanted it (ie it was a non-mandatory filtering proposal). That was as far as it went under Howard.

However with the election of the Rudd government last November, the Hamilton/Australia Institute campaign was finally able to bear fruit. The ALP under Rudd is in fact far more moralistic and authoritarian than the Liberals ever were. In his election campaign, Rudd quite consciously targeted "market fundamentalism" on the basis that it undermines traditional family values. He publically (and opportunistically) embraced some of the communitarian ideas of David McKnight author of "Beyond Right and Left") in his speeches to the intelligentsia, noting in his November 2006 lecture at the Centre for Independent Studies (at which he was introduced by McKnight), that:


... market fundamentalism has split the political right down the middle along the traditional fault lines of conservatives versus liberals and (how) this in turn provides Labor with fresh political and policy opportunities for the future.

Hamilton like McKnight believes that capitalism has made us too wealthy and too free. In a number of his books, he has hijacked part of the earlier (and far more interesting) analysis developed by Daniel Bell in his 1976 book "The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism", arguing that economic growth engenders a consumerist mentality which destroys "normal" human relationships, creates the desire for instant gratification, manipulates us in ways over which we have no control, gives us freedoms which are bad for us and so on. We would be happier and morally better if we were poorer it says.

Hamilton's crusade against pornography is driven by standard political correctness (it "objectifies women", "subverts healthy sexual relationships", "incites male violence" etc), as well as by a more generally puritanical attitude toward sex. He rails against the "pornographication" of everyday life and chastises the libertarian-left for continuing "to invest so much in the freedoms won in the sixties":

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This article was first published on 17 November, 2008 on Strange Times

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About the Author

Kerry Miller is a blogger from Melbourne. She manages Strange Times, a left wing blog which argues that most of which passes as "left" these days is just not left at all.

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