Higgins by-election

December 5, 2009

History

Higgins was first created in 1949 when the Parliament was expanded in size. Its first member was Harold Holt, who had previously been Member for Fawkner in the same part of Melbourne. Holt was a minister in the Menzies United Australia Party government at the beginning of the Second World War.

Holt returned to the ministry in 1949 as Minister for Immigration. He became Menzies’ Treasurer in 1958 and became Prime Minister upon Menzies’ retirement in 1966.

Holt disappeared in sensational circumstances in December 1967 while swimming at Cheviot Beach in Victoria. Higgins was won by new Prime Minister John Gorton in a 1968 by-election. Gorton had previously been a Senate and was required to move to the House of Representatives.

Gorton held the seat continously until the 1975 election. Following Malcolm Fraser’s accession to the Liberal leadership Gorton resigned from the Liberal Party and sat as an independent. At the 1975 election he stood for an ACT Senate seat and Higgins returned to the Liberal Party.

Roger Shipton won the seat in 1975 and maintained his hold on the seat until 1990, when he was challenged for preselection by Peter Costello. Costello held the seat from 1990 until his 2009 resignation, triggering the current by-election.

Geography

Higgins covers suburbs in the inner south-east of Melbourne. Its suburbs include South Yarra, Prahran, Toorak, Malvern and Glen Iris. Most of the seat is covered by Stonnington LGA, as well as southern parts of Boroondara LGA and small parts of Glen Eira and Monash LGAs.

Higgins covers the entirety of the safe Liberal state seat of Malvern. It also covers about half of the marginal ALP seat of Prahran. Higgins also covers parts of three other seats: marginal ALP Burwood, safe Liberal Hawthorn and safe ALP Oakleigh.

Political situation

The Liberal Party has held Higgins ever since it was created in 1949. In that time, the seat has never gone to preferences. The Greens polled 10.75% in 2007, slightly down on their vote in 2004. It’s a reasonably strong vote for the Greens, but it’s hardly a very strong seat for the party.

Candidates

The Liberal Party has preselected Kelly O’Dwyer, a former Costello staffer. The Greens have preselected public intellectual, climate change campaigner and internet censorship advocate Clive Hamilton. The ALP is not running a candidate.

Other candidates are ‘independent climate sceptic’ Stephen Murphy, Fiona Patten, the convenor of the Australian Sex Party, Isaac Roberts of the Liberal Democrats, David Collyer of the Australian Democrats, anarchist and frequent candidate Joe Toscano, Steve Raskovy of One Nation, independent transport lobbyist Peter Brohier and John Mulholland of the Democratic Labor Party.

2007 result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Peter CostelloLIB43,76153.61-1.59
Barbara NormanALP25,36731.08+0.58
Michael Wilbur-HamGRN8,77710.75-0.60
Stephen MayneIND1,6151.98+1.98
Mary DettmanDEM9901.21-0.61
Penny BadwalFF6270.77-0.06
Genevieve Marie FordeIND2650.32+0.32
Graeme MeddingsIND2270.28+0.28
CEC00.00-0.31

2007 two-candidate-preferred result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Peter CostelloLIB46,55957.04-1.72
Barbara NormanALP35,07042.96+1.72

Booth breakdown

I have divided polling booths in Higgins into four groups.

  • West – Toorak, Prahran and South Yarra
  • Central – Malvern
  • South-East – Malvern East, Carnegie
  • North-East – Glen Iris, Burwood, Camberwell

As the following chart shows, the ALP won a majority in the South-East, while the ALP polled slightly above average in the West and North-East. In the centre of the electorate the Liberals polled over 60% of the two-party-preferred vote.

There is not a great range in terms of Greens primary votes, although the strongest areas are clearly in the western extremes of the seat in the suburbs of Prahran, South Yarra and Windsor, where most booths recorded a Greens vote of 13-16%. The highest Greens vote was at South Yarra, with 18.98%.

Polling booths in Higgins. Central in green, West in blue, North-East in red, South-East in yellow.
Voter groupGRN %LIB 2CP %Total votes% of votes
West11.4754.9719,71824.16
North-East10.8955.5514,83818.18
Central9.1962.0814,09217.26
South-East10.5249.7810.19912.49
Other votes11.1159.922278727.91

“Other votes” includes postal, pre-poll, provisional and absent votes, as well as special hospital votes and those cast at Victoria University in the Melbourne CBD.

Two-party preferred votes in Higgins at the 2007 federal election.
Greens primary votes in Higgins at the 2007 federal election.

98 COMMENTS

  1. Higgins is an interesting seat, a bit like Wentworth in the sense that it’s regarded as mega-safe blue rinse Liberal territory, but is actually much more diverse than it appears.

    It’s really only the central and northern parts around Toorak, Armadale, Malvern and Camberwell that are safe Liberal. The western part has a strong bohemian/Green bent around Chapel Street, plus the old Prahran public housing blocks. The eastern part around Oakleigh and Carnegie is very socially mixed, from middle to lower-middle class. And parts of Ashburton and Alamein have public housing areas.

    Liberals should win, but at a by-election and with the party at a low ebb, an upset is possible. It’s nowhere near the lay-down misere Bradfield should be.

  2. I would think Labor will field a candidate given that the 7% margin is not out of reach on recent polling, and that margin may itself be a little inflated given the swing to Labor in 2007 was so low.

  3. I would have to agree with Ben, but will gladly stand corrected, I don’t think the ALP will field a candidate. I really don’t think the ALP have a chance and the ALP will any sort of loss, expected or otherwise.

  4. By-elections always swing against Governments. Rudd wouldn’t want to give Turnbull a ‘comeback’ headline if the Libs pull a swing (which I think they would if Labor stood). I’d be very surprised if Labor ran.

    Mumble has some interesting graphs that show that the Lib 2PP has only been within a 5 point margin over the past 9 elections, which makes me think there’s a big rusted on vote in this part of Melbourne.

  5. By-eelctions don’t always swing against the government, but almost all the exceptions come in the first year of a new government. Rudd’s “honeymoon” may be going on and on, but if he suffered a drubbing in Gippsland a year ago, its hardly likely he’ll get a swing here. Moreover, Higgins is the sort of seat where swings of any kind tend to be well below the state average, so even if there was a swing it’s unlikely to be 7%.

  6. “By-elections don’t always swing against governments – look at Albert Park”

    There was no Liberal candidate there though…

  7. I think that the Gippsland, Lyne and Mayo elections showed that the Coalition is more likely to lose in a contest without Labor than with Labor (not that anything would have stopped Oakey). If Labor ran in Mayo it’s likely that the Lib margin would have been greater than against the Green there. I maintain that it’s better for the Gov to let the Greens and Libs fight Higgins out. It’s called no risk politics – and why would you risk giving the Libs a handup when you’re so far up in the polls?

  8. Yes, more pressure on Turnbull is a hand up for the Gov and running assures a Lib victory and less pressure.

  9. Hamish,

    Unlike Gippsland, though, the Coalition don’t really have anything to bash Labor with. Things like the ETS won’t be a negative in Higgins the way is was in Gippsland (they’d probably be a positive among the so-called doctors’ wives). “Local issues” aren’t as significant in the city than the country, and are there any pressing local concerns to blame Rudd for anyway?

    Possibly they could attack the state government over things like transport, but even then it’s probably not as significant an issue as in other parts of Victoria.

    I reckon Labor would get a swing to them if they ran. Probably not enough to win the seat, but they don’t need to win to damage Turnbull.

  10. All they need in a by-election is ‘send a message to the Gov.’ It’s all they’ll run on.

    In any case I don’t think that the ALP even need to run to damage Turnbull. Obviously a swing to Labor would be a good result for the Gov, but the result of a positive swing (or even the gain of a seat that they’d lose back in 2010) is not worth the risk of giving the Libs a swing and momentum nationwide (imagine the Shanahan article), which I maintain is more likely.

    Honestly, I think that if Labor ran they’d have maybe a 20/1 chance of winning Higgins. And if they don’t run I’d give the Greens a 10/1 chance and a strong Indi an even better chance. It’s pretty old money in Higgins, a lot of them aren’t people who will change horses too idly.

  11. The first ‘they’ in the above post of course refers to the Libs. Has Rudd or the Higgins ALP made an announcement yet?

  12. Hi @kathoc, I understand you’re avidly reading this thread. Just thought you may like to know that I did you a little favour – I fixed that problem you had with what you’ve got noted about me in your database so that it’s now accurate. Hope you appreciate that. Glad I could help.
    Cheers
    Nick

  13. @Nick C
    Hi Nick, I’m not avidly reading this thread – it came up in my google alerts the second it mentioned the Australian Democrats, and then someone else messaged me in a panic because there was discussion of me, but as all those posts have been deleted I only just checked it again just now because Ben’s claiming on twitter that was never any mention of the Australian Democrats, so I thought I’d check back just in case he reinstated the 32 deleted posts.
    Not sure which database you are referring to, I don’t look after any databases but trust if something has now been corrected that who ever looks after those records will be appreciative.

  14. And apologies to Ben – the posts I mistakenly thought to be deleted are on the Bradfield thread. As noted on Twitter, the saved page I have oddly has higgins info at the top – and bradfield comments… and as I really don’t read this blog I’ve never been to the bradfield page (until about a minute ago). No idea how that happened but hopefully Ben will accept my apology for accusing him of deleted posts all the same – it was an honest mistake.

  15. Strange choice; wouldn’t Hamilton be more suited to a really “Green” seat like Melbourne?

    In Higgins, surely you want a moderate, centrist, professional type who can pull off the “I used to support the Liberal Party BUT…..” line without looking ridiculous. That’s certainly not Hamilton.

  16. I can’t believe the Greens have preselected Mr Internet Censorship himself CLIVE HAMILTON! Yes the man has climate credentials, but surely climate change is not the only issue that matters to the Greens and to the electorate? I doubt Higgins voters are fond of the proposal to have faceless public servants and automated solutions developing secret lists of “illegal” or “inappropriate” websites which no Australian internet users will have access to.

    What I want to know is – do the Greens suddenly support internet censorship? Or is Dr Hamilton suddenly going to apologise for his Stalinist communication strategies and step away from the clean-feed?

  17. Okay people, chill pill, lie down, then think. The Greens have not changed their position on the Conroy filter plan:
    http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/media-release/greens-remain-concerned-over-internet-filter
    As for Hamilton – I read those pieces Nick posted. I’m glad Hamilton put them up because they at least made me think about the issues. The commentators to them were largely unconvincing of their position. I end up not agreeing that we need net-filtering, partly because of the down-side effects, partly because I have limited trust in Govt (but a healthy respect for the integrity of many public servants), but we do need some debate about what we as a community expect. If we are going to bang on about community or any form of collective action, it equally needs to have some level of responsibility on the part of those individuals agreeing to participate. That responsibility currently is not unlike agreeing to abide by the plethora of rules and regulations we have. I don’t see people complaining when polluters are made to pay, or large developments are knocked back (ie; esp. those we oppose for ephemeral or aesthetic reasons).

    Equally, if we as a community wish to set limits on particular forms of expression – race hate speech or even net p_orn – then we should equally be able to accept this. What appears to be argued by at least some of the commentators is that their ‘right’ to view what ever they like is appearing to be abridged, without accepting any responsibility for the production and dissemination of whatever it is they are watching. I think there IS a problem in there, and unless we at least open it up for debate then we go nowhere.

    And as to the Greens choosing him as a candidate, if the local branch selected him as per their rules, and he is endorsed, then isn’t that the internal democracy of a party at work? Don’t we decry other parties for quashing rank and file members selection? The branches/local groups might not necessarily get it right every time, but they at least have that option. Okay, so don’t vote for Hamilton if you don’t want to (or similar candidates) but equally don’t decry a party if a person joins, agrees to abide by party policy and then stands. Do we bag out the ALP for selecting Garrett? No, we bag out Garrett for being silly enough to think he was going to change their thinking (and all his assorted backflips – although wouldn’t people be happy if Hamilton did a bckflip on this??). So bag out Hamilton because you think his argument on the net doesn’t hold water. Equally you might like to consider he will be banging his climate change drum right at the time of the CPRS making its way through parliament (or not as the case may be). I would want his commentary on consumerism and CC out there at the time. And to be honest, I suspect thats Bob, the Vic Greens and local branch were thinking when preselecting him.

  18. I think you’ve missed the point Stewart J.

    The important issue is not his views or preselection per se, just that he is not a very suitable candidate for the seat.

    Higgins is a Liberal seat which might turn Green if the candidate was very moderate, and who could put forward the softest possible face. As if the Greens were really just an extension of the Liberal “wets” or something.

    Whereas Hamilton is much more suited to a hard-core “Green” electorate like Melbourne, or the state seat of Richmond.

  19. MDM – you may well be right re Hamilton & Higgins. That said, if he’s trying to come across as a high-minded “serious” Greenie, then isn’t this more the kind of area to do it – you know, “Doctor’s wives” and all that. Or maybe I’m just not that convinced that the Greens have much chance in this seat, good candidate or not… If I thought it was a bit of a tough ask to win the seat I too might be tempted to pick a high-flyer who could really get stuck into the issue of the moment nationally, as opposed to a more “sober” local person, who might fit the electorate, but have nowhere near the pull factor on issues. Then again I don’t know much about the seat.

  20. This meme that started on Possum’s site, that if The Greens “ran a good candidate they could possibly win the seat” is predicated on a pretty silly base.

    What you seem to be saying MDMConnell is that if The Greens ran a candidate who was essentially a Liberal they would win the seat. No shit? If they ran traditional Labor candidates they would probably win Labor seats.

    The whole point of The Greens is that they run their own candidates, who match their own policies and campaign to bring the electorate to that position. If all they were going to do was put up people akin to the Liberals, they may as well not have run in the seat.

  21. Surely you at least try to match the candidate to the seat, though?

    Labor wouldn’t run an inner-city hard Leftie in a marginal rural seat, for example. The Coalition wouldn’t run an uber-conservative redneck farmer in Kooyong or North Sydney, would they?

    Higgins would be best served by a moderate Green, which I think most people would acknowledge Hamilton is not.

  22. Perhaps it is a stepping stone to bigger things for Clive. Higgins will be extremely high profile. Clive already has a good profile. He probably has better name recognition than the Liberal candidate who i have already forgotten the name of.

    This is great publicity for the Greens. I just watch Bob interviewed by Laurie Oakes (very good performance from Bob, his best for a long while) and half the interview was about Clive. Bob made him sound intelligent and cutting edge. This is fantastic publicity for the Greens and it may lead to other seats he might run for? I hope so.

  23. We had an interesting discussion about a potential Hamilton candidacy back in in June, see here for instance:
    https://www.tallyroom.com.au/1591/comment-page-1#comment-4406

    My problem here is not limited to his railings on the evils of the internet (which will be really conducive to attracting more young members – ‘hey, young web-savy people, come join the Greens, we endorse candidates who hate your culture, and vitriolically so’ – I’ll revise my prediction of potential support for the Pirate Party upwards now), but rather what it illustrates about his deeper values. His activism on climate change may be fantastic, but his apparent tendency to think in terms of moral righteousness is an inherently conservative mode of thought which suggests he will disagree with the Greens position on many issues. Read George Lakoff’s work (‘Moral Politics’ is the best book for this exercise, for its systematic description of progressive and conservative logic) and you may understand the problem – his worldview is clearly not progressive, at least to a significant extent.

    Thankfully he will not win, but please consider what happens if he does. He gets to speak out on and vote on every issue before the Parliament, not just climate change matters, and as a high profile figure who is a member of the lower house, he will attract much media attention. When he disagrees with the Greens, let’s say he’s siding with the major parties on an issue where the Greens oppose them, he will inevitably be portrayed by the media as the reasonable, mainstream guy up against radical extremists who won’t pragmatically fall into line with the mainstream. Perhaps at some point his disagreements with the party reach the point where he quits, allowing the media and the political establishment to again cast him as the reasonable mainstream figure who was forced to go by the intransigent radicals (whom commentators will seek to further marginalise). Alternatively, perhaps the party expels him – same response, Greens are unrealistic radicals and Hamilton is the poor guy being attacked. What effect would events like this have on the party both internally and externally?

    One suspects that even losing, and if never even running for the Greens again, he will still damage the party. Any time he speaks out publicly on something he will be referred to as ‘former Greens candidate Clive Hamilton’, and when its on issues like net censorship where he has quite strongly opposed views to those of the Greens, he will be widely portrayed as a high-profile and credible critic of the Greens.

    If all we are concerned about is power than Hamilton is an excellent high-profile candidate, and stuff our values. The Greens are the only established party in this country today which faithfully represents progressive values, surely the last thing Australia needs is for the Greens to get right behind moral authoritarianism as well, or risk destroying themselves in the process. Are we going to be faithful to the core progressive values that provide a basis for broader support across the electorate, or abandon them for short-term publicity.

    I acknowledge that I may be discussing worst case scenarios here, but these should be considered. Anyway, I’ll try to avoid further comment on this subject now.

  24. Hamilton does represent a current of left opinion that might strike a chord in Higgins. Look at how well the recent Catholic conservative + post-materialists + old guard radical feminist collection Getting Real sold.

  25. Can I ask, to be a representative of the Greens, does the representatives own views have to equally match Greens Policy?

  26. I don’t think you can expect any MP to match entirely the Greens policies, but you expect them to match most and agree to support the Greens policy agenda in other areas. Most states (other than NSW) have conscience votes, but that just makes it more important that you choose MPs who agree with the policy agenda.

    While you can’t expect MPs to agree with 100% of policy, there are matters of degrees. Hamilton is a outspoken supporter of Conroy’s net filter and his arguments he has used might make many Greens supporters wonder about his personal political philosophy.

  27. Just to clarify for you guys. I actually strongly support conscience votes, because I think once elected, MPs should be first and foremost accountable to the entire electorate, they shouldn’t be ultimately dictated to by a party machine (the dominance of politics by party machines is, I think, one of the biggest problems with our political process). However, one would expect Greens MPs and candidates to at least be in general philosophical agreement with the party across the board, something which I am concerned is not the case with Hamilton. I also believe that if people agree at the philosophical level, than disagreements on specific individual issues here and there can easily be resolved or accepted, because there can usually be an understanding of and respect for how the different viewpoints have been arrived at. The key is, I think, ensuring that there is 100% agreement at the level of values, some disagreement at the policy level is no big deal, provided its handled sensibly and respectfully.

  28. MDMConnell is totally right. Hamilton is not well fit as a Higgins Green, though I still won’t rule him out due to a bit of a ‘celebrity’ factor; simply that the people of Higgins have been offered a non-Liberal candidate with a high-profile, which may make them think about their vote a bit more.

    I know that Oz doesn’t like the idea of red, blue, green, whatever Greens, but just because the Greens don’t have formalised factions doesn’t mean that there isn’t a difference in policy emphasis between members, branches and, indeed, electorates. While environmental policy may be the primary plank of Green policy, the priority of secondary policies clearly differs with geography and socio-economic demographics – it would be niaive to think it didn’t. I can assure you that a Greens meeting in Ballina is very different to one in Hobart and again to one in Newtown. This is fine, it shows diversity in a party and means its growing beyond a single issue party, but to say that a candidate would score as well in Higgins, where environmental policy is big but anti-capitalist and ‘struggle’ politics is not great, as in Melbourne with these same political emphases is niaive.

  29. One other point I forgot to add, then I’ll give it a rest. Mark Davis had a rather thought-provoking critique of Hamilton’s views in his book ‘Land of Plenty’ (although I did find the book nauseatingly long and never actually finished reading it).

  30. Nick C: Absolutely agreed, and well said. The Greens are (were?) attractive to me because it appeared to be the major active party not driven by prescriptive moral righteousness, and the endorsement of Hamilton changes that.

  31. A lot of these arguments against Hamilton remind of the arguments people have had against Christopher Hitchens and more broadly the reaction of many Greens against the ALP. From my own interpretation there is a sense of betrayal and disappointment in Hamilton. He is someone we have respected and learnt from for a long time and then he comes out with something that we disagree with (Internet filtering). This is similar with Hitchens (with his view on the Iraq invasion) and the ALP (with their slide from the left into centrist popularism). This sense of betrayal we feel sometimes makes our arguments more vitriolic, perhaps more vitriolic than our reaction to our opponents we consistently disagree with.

  32. Perhaps people wouldn’t be so concerned about his views on net censorship if he presented his arguments in a more respectful way, instead of misrepresenting and demeaning opponents. Being able to understand views that are opposed to your own is, I think, a very important skill.

  33. Dear oh deary me. We (yes, I am purposefully using the collective pronoun) seem sometimes to get caught up in the rhetoric of the moment.

    MDM – as I said before, you may be right about Hamilton and Higgins being a poor match, but without a comment from the local group it is hard to tell what they were thinking – and they are the preselectors as far as I am aware. Unless we would like the Vic Greens to disendorse him somehow (I’m not even sure if they can) then the Greens are stuck with him for this byelection. But bagging out the whole party on this basis is a bit much – so the local group got overawed, or thought it was all about climate change, or just wanted their day in the sun: they at least should have been the preselecting body, because that at least provides the internal democracy we so often decry as lacking in other parties (remember Cunningham?).

    As to his views on net censorship, he may well be overly morally righteous, but that’s no different from a whole lot of others who go on about climate change, protecting forests, saving whales or whatever issue people pursue forcefully. Like I said, bag him out over his views on net censorship, but enough of this “I thought the party was better than this” stuff – its made up of people, people who sometimes get it wrong, people are prey to all the foibles you or I might be prey to.

    As it happens I’m not that concerned about his candidacy or its long term effects as I don’t think he’ll get elected. Nick C. puts forward some good points but I’m not convinced he’ll be widely remembered afterwards – and if he is I suspect it’ll be by those who would have found a reason to be unhappy with the Greens at some point anyway, on the basis of not agreeing with the party 100%. You can’t please people all the time (or as PT Barnum said “you can’t fool them all the time”…or somesuch).

    At least Hamilton has put his money were his mouth is and stood to be counted in an election instead of always banging on from the sidelines. Now we get to find out if think he’s worth voting for.

    On a brighter note, I see ANSTO has been caught out fiddling their online poll, and Christine Milne has put forward a Bill to up the MRET targets after the inclusion of solar hot water heaters & heat pumps into RET caused the market for credits to collapse – such that no-one wanted to buy into building windfarms etc.

  34. There does seem to be a lot of fuss because one of his personal views differ from the party policy. Remember Ronan Lee?

  35. So Hamilton is clarifying his views on net censorship:
    http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,28348,26265586-5014239,00.html

    Seems the spin doctors have been hard at work here, including what is sounding to me like a watering down of the Greens position.

    So let me take on the issue of net censorship specifically. Firstly, we continuously see its supporters, including Hamilton, portraying people of the opposing view as supporters of child pornography, or people who have no concern at all about unsavoury online material that few people would disagree is quite appropriately illegal. This portrayal is a complete misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the opposing view, and it is again raised in the linked article where Hamilton says for instance:
    “And I’m confident that the Greens would not want to be seen to be the party that doesn’t care about children’s access to this material. Having me running in Higgins will reinforce the credentials of the Greens in the area of child protection.”

    There are lots of different arguments advanced against net censorship, and if others have their own arguments which they prefer, they can post them as well, but here is mine (note at the outset that I am ignoring practical technical difficulties, this is a philosophical argument, not a technical one):

    The internet is the great democratising institution of our times. Why? Because we can all be equal participants. It is, obviously, both in concept and practice, a network, as opposed to a hierarchy – ie it is, generally speaking, not controlled by anyone. (This incidentally may explain why conservative political campaigns have had far less success utilising the web than progressive campaigns, because conservatives, as people who tend to prefer hierarchies, to a certain extent just don’t get the internet because of its nature as a network, whereas progressives, who tend to dislike hierarchies, embrace it) By being free of traditional hierarchical structures, both social as well as governmental, we members of online communities can all be equal, and be regarded with equal value depending on our own merits rather than other factors beyond our own control. For instance, Ben, despite being only 23, can write this blog and be regarded as an ‘expert’ psephologist, whereas his relative youth might otherwise deny him such recognition.

    Giving government the power to block content (ie have control of the internet) is, in effect, an attempt to restructure the internet into a hierarchical institution. It is an attack on the very nature, power, and value of the internet. To suggest that government will only use such control to block kids accessing porn just doesn’t make sense. Once the ability is there to block content, it would make perfect sense to extend that to other illegal content, such as sites allegedly promoting terrorism. Ok, not too bad yet? What about sites promoting racial or religious vilification? What about sites discussing voluntary euthanasia, which it is illegal to promote? What about material promoting civil disobedience actions, like the blockading of power stations? (note intended irony here)

    In April 2008 Crikey reported that a filter intended to block ‘inappropriate content’ which Steve Fielding had managed to have imposed on Senators and their staff prevented access to sites dealing with a variety of subjects, including reproductive health, the sexualisation of children, drug abuse and rehabilitation, the opium crop in Afghanistan and weapons trading. Whilst the government’s filter proposal would obviously be vastly different, one can easily see how one logical step can lead to another, and all sorts of different pressure groups will be constantly calling for material dealing with their pet hate to be blocked. Anything allegedly promoting smoking or binge drinking to under-age youth perhaps?

    Surely the best course of action, even if it may be more difficult, is to focus on tracking down those people who do post illegal material on a more direct individual basis, rather than taking a kind of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach and merely using a filter to block such sites. Couple that with education, because, after all, a simple reality of the internet is that you don’t generally come across such material by accident – you actually have to go and intentionally look for it! Hence filtering is ultimately about protecting kids from themselves, which has its legitimacy even from a liberal perspective, but only to a certain point. Empowering kids to make the right decisions for themselves is ultimately the only way they can learn to function and contribute effectively in the wider community. Just as kids are taught not to talk to strange creepy people they meet in the street, as opposed to fencing off the street and stationing police at the top of the street to stop any known child molesters entering. The latter may provide more immediate peace of mind to parents, but at what price, and what have the kids learned?

    Should we allow fear and a few wrongdoers to undermine the free and open society that offers the opportunities for all of us to make the most of our lives? Just as we say that restricting civil liberties in the name of counter-terrorism is a victory for the terrorists, isn’t net filtering similarly a victory for the criminals/

    This may be more of a liberal argument than a green one, but I don’t see a great difference. I stand to be corrected if the Greens’ opposition to filtering is entirely based on concerns over the practical and technical difficulties rather than any philosophical reservations.

  36. I don’t disagree with you Nick. The debate here is not about the philisophical position. I think debate is centred more around how the Greens should deal with this given that he is now the greens candidate. They need to neutralise it before it becomes an issue. That article sounds like theyve achieved that for the time being. So I ask what are the Greens meant to do to allay your fears?

  37. Um, there’s not much that can be done. Clive will just have to focus on climate change in the campaign, where we at least all agree on how desperate the situation is. I’d suggest avoiding at all costs any official discussion of the net censorship issue from him or the party, because it’s a no-win situation now, especially this effort to find common ground.

    It just would’ve been nice if they’d found a candidate who was less divisive, and who didn’t alienate key constituencies. The values that people articulate do matter greatly, and whilst Clive’s moralising clearly appeals to some segments of Greens supporters, it doesn’t to others.

    Why couldn’t he have run as an independent? He would’ve got just as much publicity, and drawn just as much attention to climate change as a critical issue of the moment.

  38. Nick – you put forward the cogent argument about why the proposed net censorship is both dumb and dnagerous. I think I said before that I trust lots of public servants but very few governments. But I also think the idealised position put forward doesn’t deal with a lot of real world issues. Empowering young people is a great idea, but it also sometimes helps to put parameters for behaviour there too (I say that as a person who was a youth worker in a former life). As for civil liberties/terrorist analogy, we still put the criminals in gaol and pull down their sites – in a totally free net we wouldn’t do that, so we already allow some level of community censroship, but just call it “illegal activity”. I too share your concerns about ‘secret lists’ and what constitutes an ‘inapprorpriate site’ – these are all the things that make Conroys plan a crock, not just the technical issues. But I don’t think anybody has disputed you on this.

    That said, the great democratiser that is the web is also the great leveller, bringing us all down to the lowest common denominator – and letting people hide behind anonimity when making outrageous claims. Having perused at various stages some pretty awful sites – while working on veterans policy would you believe – there’s lots of people out there with some pretty vile views that verge very much on the race hate level. I don’t like it, and frankly would prefer to see it kicked off the net. I don’t think that makes me a stalinist, just someone who really dislikes the race hate/incitement stuff.

    Fascinating, though, this debate is at a much higher level re net censorship than it might otherwise been. The conversations I’ve had with a few people (like, f2f) have been interesting, as are the discussions here. Maybe Hamilton being a candidate was a good thing… (ducks various flying objects)…

  39. To be honest, I probably did take the wrong tack originally by focusing on how he may have been out of step with the Greens philosophically rather than merely the philosophical leanings of some Greens supporters such as myself. Clearly his views across the board (not just on climate change) do find resonance with some sections of the Greens supporter base, and it’s perfectly understandable why a local group may wish to endorse him. I didn’t originally intend to spend this much time criticising this, but I thought it was a good idea to properly explain my reasoning.

  40. Thanks Ben for an excellent roundup for us “out-of-towners.” One thing I’m unsure of is how much the by elections of Higgins and Bradfield will be seen as a referendum of the Liberal leadership and how much on local issues?

  41. I think the national press and the ALP will definitely spin them as being a referendum on Turnbull’s leadership, although, since they will be after the expected CPRS vote, who knows what the situation will be then. Bradfield has the local issue of concerns about over-development and state govt planning powers, but what effect that will have in the absence so far of a candidate specifically linked to that issue is questionable. I don’t know about any possible local issues of significance in Higgins – I haven’t done much reading up on it. You got any more insights there Ben? Anyone?

  42. The Democrats are contesting Higgins to offer voters a much-needed liberal, social-democratic option. The Democrats believe it is possible (and necessary) to deliver a safer internet experience for children without compromising the freedoms of others. Here is a summary of the Democrats’ principled policy on internet censorship.

    ”Clive Hamilton’s position means all citizens can be denied access to any content deemed unacceptable by public servants for any reason – a wasteful, secretive censorship program riddled with unintended consequences that cannot achieve its policy aims. Everyone in public life wants a secure internet experience for children. However, the structure of the Filter means it cannot achieve this objective.

    The secret national blacklist of websites exposes us to government abuse in perpetuity: legitimate, legal businesses have already found themselves on it with no recourse or ability to challenge the decision.

    The Democrats position is reinforced by Civil Liberties Australia’s stinging denouncement…”Dr Hamilton jumped on board the censorship bandwagon early and with a flourish. He endorsed a virtual “anything goes” approach to government censorship. It didn’t matter how slow the internet got, or how the government curtailed people’s freedoms to access information… all would be OK under the dictatorial approach of Dr Hamilton.”

  43. Paul – I’ve normally seen the Democrats described as social-liberal, as they are not in the social-democrat tradition. The distinction is important as “social democrat” implies particular views on the state which the Dems have not necessarily alighned with. So while the Dems may be running, it is a shame that they focus on internet censorship and not climate change. It appears to be the old game of “pull down everybody else running against you” rather than promoting policy. Pity, as the Dems did have some good policies…

    Oh, and who is the candidate?

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