Politics, Activism, Culture and Fun in Brisbane, Australia.
How will we take over the world and run it ourselves
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One thing's for sure - we'll need exciting, powerful,
curious and free people on our side, not the boring pseudo-left

Reports of #nocleanfeed #nocensorship forum hosted by @newmatilda

Nic Suzor from Electronic Frontiers Australia speaks at "The Tangled Web", a forum on internet censorship organised by newmatilda.com. New Matilda's Twitter account is here, and their overview of the internet censorship debate in Australia is here.

On Tuesday March 24th 2009, newmatilda.com, a website with "Independent news, analysis and satire covering politics, consumerism, international affairs, and culture.", presented "The Tangled Web", a forum about Internet censorship.

Michael Meloni of somebodythinkofthechildren.com, a blog discussing censorship and moral panic, used CoverItLive to send out a live call of what was happening at the anti-censorship forum, which you can read if you click here.

Meloni was joined by media commentator Stigherrian and Mark Newton, an employee of iiNet who has been a big public critic of the Australian Government's plans to censor the Internet, who commented online. There were plenty of comments from people taking part online, and you can read it all if you click here.

Irene Graham, a meticulously detailed anti-censorship campaigner at libertus.net, and Senator Scott Ludlam, a member of the Australian Greens elected from Western Australia in 2007, who has questioned Senator Conroy about the Government's censorship plans:

Kieran Salsone, of the Websinthe blog and NoCharCom online comic, also did a live call of the foru, which you can read here for the next fifty days or so (the latest messages are at the top, so you are reading backwards). After that link stops working, you can still click here for screenshots of the coverage.

Peter Black, law lecturer at QUT and author at Freedom to Differ, speaks at "The Tangled Web", a forum about Internet Censorship organised by newmatilda.com, hosted by the Queensland University of Technology on Tuesday March 24 2009.

The forum was sound-recorded, and Peter Black said the recording should be online soon.

Rod McGuinness, Managing Editor of New Matilda magazine, which organised the forum on Internet censorship.


Human Rights Consultation, Brisbane - report

Last night (Monday March 23rd, 2009), I went to the National Human Rights Consultation session in Brisbane. It was quite interesting, although it had the limitations of a discussion based on Government and law, and the consultation process is also limited by the terms of reference the Government gave it, which means they cannot recommend a Constitutionally entrenched bill of rights.

The four members of the Consultation panel are the Chair, Frank Brennan, Mary Kostakidis, Tammy Williams, and Mick Palmer. The consultation began with a speech by Tammy Williams who asked "What are our human rights - what exactly are our rights and liberties?". Williams pointed out that our human rights are protected by a variety of different laws, or in some cases, by nothing in the law at all. She threw a couple of situations out there that go beyond "traditional" conceptions of human rights, including asking if people with diabilities should have the right to attend mainstream schools, or if married couples have the right not to be separated when they enter nursing homes.

Then Mary Kostakidis started to facilitate a discussion at the various tables (there were about 30-odd tables at the event with about 12 seats each). The first at-the-tables discussion was based on the three key questions being asked by the Consultation:

* Which human rights and responsibilities should be protected and promoted?
* Are human rights sufficiently protected and promoted?
* How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?

At our table we introduced ourselves to each other and started to discuss these questions in a broad way. We had a human rights worker, one person with general interest in the field, one person (me) whose focus is more on what people need to do to stand up for their rights instead of relying on the law, one person who thought how we treat each other is important (and also access to secure, safe food), and one person who was a little skeptical of people's willingness to defend human rights.

After the table discussion, a microphone went around and people spoke from the floor. Comments from the floor included:

  • Children being vulnerable after leaving domestic violence and taken into the care of potential abusers.

  • One person said he was "skeptical of the process" and said the "human rights industry" was determined to introduce a charter which would be interpreted by judges.

Kostakidis then moved the discussion towards the specific question of "what rights ought to be included in the list of our rights?", which attracted the following comments:

  • Rights of the disabled, especially those who can't articulate their own needs. Disabled people are often forced to live in nursing homes, or end up in prison.
  • Rights to shelter, a fair trial, health, freedom and the rights of the unborn child.
  • Rights of mentally ill people not to be shot by police. Right of physically disabled people to be treated equally in hospital.
  • Anti-torture to be enshrined in Australian law
  • Services are needed to teach immigrants with no experience of the rule of law, and no concept of it, what Australian society is like

We then moved onto another discussion at our tables, this time discussing each of the three questions (see above) in turn.

Question One: Which human rights and responsibilities should be protected and promoted?

Things that came up from our table included:
  • focussing on the rights of all people, not just citizens (two of us (including me) agreed that, ideally, we'd tear down all borders - not that that's likely in the near future).
  • We have a responsbility to defend our own rights - laws are useless without the will to stand up and use them.
  • We need to stand up for those rights in UN conventions that Australia has already agreed to.
  • Education and refugee rights
  • We have a responsibility to help to empower those living under oppressive regimes.
  • We have a responsibility to respect each other.

Question Two: Are human rights sufficiently protected and promoted?

This turned quickly into a discussion of when it is legitimate to suspend human rights, say in times of national emergency.

  • Active citizenship is what is important here - people need to decide what they would do if they had responsibility for solving a problem so they can decide what is and is not justified.
  • We need to be willing to take risks to defend our rights.
Question 3: How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?

Adopting a Human Rights Act

  • Should such an act cover merely political rights and liberties (eg right to vote, free speech), or also social and cultural rights (eg rights to housing, food and language) as well? Opinions differed at our table.
  • Government transparency and Freedom of Information Acts
  • Should rights be in the Constitution or not? (despite the Government not being willing to allow the Consultation to recommend that).
After the table discussions, Mick Palmer facilitated a discussion where people stood up and said what had come out of their table discussions. Comments on this included:

Procedural rights, community rights, the danger of suspension of the rule of law, more resources are required, an independent judiciary and an ability to get your rights back when they are violated are all important. (Palmer commented that often procedural rights are good, EG in the Cornelia Rau case, but they just get ignored).

  • We need the ability to appeal abuses of human rights.
  • Often procedural rights are NOT good enough, in the case of the disabled and mentally ill.
  • Protection of the safety of those who work with the mentally ill if they are potentially violent.
  • Human rights should never be suspended.
  • In the case of war, for example, freedoms must be suspended.
  • We need a responsibility for how our soldiers etc act when outside Australia.
  • One woman complained that while immigrants get thier homes "completely fitted out", Australians going to the countries where those immigrants come from would get nothing.
  • Judges should be the LAST line of defence against human rights abuses - human rights need to be so deeply ingrained in our culture and actions that rights abuses become rare.
  • Civic leave from work should exist so people can join in taking action on things like human rights.
  • There should be a free to air channel that shows G-rated programs until 10.30 at night.
  • Rights can only exist if ones duties are carried out, especially our duty towards children.
  • Home birth should be a right - there are planned new laws that will make home birth illegal by 2010 (Actually this is not true, a Maternity Services Review has issued a report whose recommendations, IF ADOPTED,  would make home birth effectively illegal (by requiring midwives to have insurance which no insurance companies offer) - this is NOT the same as legislation being planned or introduced)
My thoughts on all this: I think the key is people being prepared to defend their own human rights, and the rights of others. I'm not so excited by the idea of a Human Rights Act - it can't hurt, but my ideal solution would be to entrench strong rights and freedoms in the constitution (eg the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to freedom of and freedom from religion, and so on) and leave many other rights to the political process rather than producing a legal document. I think a manifesto of desired social and cultural rights, rather than a legal Act, is the right way to go.

Also, I thought the discussions at the tables were much more valuable than the individual people speaking up, as there was no way to get a real back-and-forth discussion going with 200 people there and only two hours time. It's a lot easier to see arguments and counter-arguments here, and to discuss them in the comments, then it was to discuss them last night - especially with so many people there to push specific agendas.

What do you think?


@kevinruddpm can't use apostrophes, tries to delete the evidence

It seems our politicians on Twitter have a lot to learn. Just one day after Queensland Premier Anna Bligh got caught deleting a message insulting the Green Party,sent (she says) from her Twitter account by an over-zealous volunteer, the Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, has also been caught out not knowing how to use apostrophes correctly, and deleting the evidence when called on it.

This afternoon, the KevinRuddPM account posted a St Patrick's Day message:

Wishing everyone a happy St Patrick's Day - especially Australian's with Irish heritage!
The apostrophe in "Australian's" is incorrect. About twenty people noticed this inability to punctuate correctly, and a few hours later, the Prime Minister's account had a new St Patrick's Day message, using the correct punctuation.

What is mildly interesting is that whoever is operating the PM's account deleted the original, incorrect message and did not bother to acknowledge that a mistake had been made. If you examine the PM's Twitter acount here you will see only one message, but if you look at this Twitter Search result, you will see both messages - you can delete a message that you sent from your own account, but it will still show up if you search for it.

This is, of course, really not very important in itself. So the PM (or whoever is operating his Twitter account) made a punctuation mistake. So what?

What matters is that this shows how politicians like to operate. Make a mistake, hide the evidence, correct the mistake and pretend it never happened. This is because politicians are usually control freaks, thanks to the world they operate in where even small mistakes are jumped on by their enemies. Being a control freak is normal behaviour for a politician, and in fact it would be incompetent for a politician NOT to keep tight control over their environment. If you've ever listened to the Federal Parliament's Question Time on the radio or seen it on the TV, you know how this works.

However, politicians are now trying to use social networking services like Twitter and Facebook to get in touch with people, and the sort of behaviour that works with other politicians doesn't work at all in that sort of environment. People expect to be engaged with, they expect their questions to be answered, they don't expect people to use their Twitter or Facebook accounts just as a way to punch out media releases. But Australia's politicians have, so far, mostly done just that.

I'm not saying that politicians should personally be on their Twitter or Facebook accounts. We pay them to do a difficult and busy job, and I'm sure they have a lot more to do than to answer my concerns about, say, Translink and Brisbane's public transport. So I don't mind the fact that most politicians' social networking accounts will be operated by other people.

What I do mind is the complete lack of engagement. If social media is going to change politics, it's because it makes it really easy to discuss issues, and easy to get together and decide what to do. If politicians want to take advantage of that - if they really are interested in people's feedback and want people to start coming up with new ideas - then those politicians are going to have to change the way they act. Empty promises and bland assurances won't be enough to convince people who band together to find an answer to a problem.

Either politicians will start learning to use social networking on the Internet to engage (indirectly) with a lot more people than they ever have before, or people will use the Internet to make politicians more and more irrelevant.


Don't let Fake Stephen Conroy @stephenconroy be silenced! PLEASE hand over the Twitter account!

The very funny Fake Stephen Conroy @stephenconroy Twitter account is about to go silent forever, now that it's been revealed that Telstra employee Leslie Nassar is the man behind the account.

Are you on Twitter? Do you want @stephenconroy to rise from the ashes? If so, I suggest sending an @reply to the @stephenconroy account suggesting that Nassar runs a contest to find the funniest possible replacement. It doesn't have to be complicated, he could just set up a freemail account and pick the best candidate at his personal whim.

Fake Stephen Conroy must live!


Despite denial, Freeview lawyers pulled spoof ad from YouTube

Yesterday, Margaret Simons' The Content Makers blog reported that a Freeview spokesperson had denied they were behind the removal of an ad spoofing Freeview from YouTube.

Today, Simons' blog reports that this is wrong:

This morning I received the following e-mail from Rob Shilkin, the Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for Google Australia (Google owns YouTube).

“Hi Margaret - I’ve been reading your blog. We don’t ordinarily comment on individual videos or any DMCA notices that may be filed, but due to some confusion that is circulating online, I’ve made some enquiries internally.  I wanted to confirm that we received a DMCA notice for lawyers acting on behalf of Freeview Australia Limited to remove the video in question.  More information on the DMCA process is here: http://www.youtube.com/t/dmca_policy

Kind regards!
Rob Shilkin
Rob Shilkin
Head of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs
Google Australia & New Zealand

The spoof ad in question is available to watch here, and available for download via the Tech Wired AU blog.

Streisand Effect, anyone?


Freeview Australia spoof ad disappears from YouTube

"Freeview" (Wikipedia) is a campaign by Australian free-to-air channels to convince you that free-to-air TV is not mostly boring rubbish. The campaign boasts about the fact that Australians will have fifteen digital channels to choose from on free-to-air TV, instead of the six free-to-air channels that Australians have (at least the ones who live in a major city).

What the campaign doesn't mention is that most of the new channels are just exact rebroadcasts of the already-existing free-to-air channels (exceptions include ABC2 and SBS World News, which broadcasts foreign-language news reports). So some Melbourne comedians doing a show about TV today decided to parody the Freeview TV commercial.

The parody was posted on the Internet's most popular video-sharing site, YouTube, but today it disappeared, due to a "terms of use violation".

However the video is available on several other video-sharing sites, including this copy from break.com:

Freeview: More of the same sh#t - Watch more

The Tech Wired AU blog has an interview with one of the creators of the spoof video commercial, and a link where you can download it yourself. Meanwhile, Margaret Simons' blog at Crikey, The Content Makers, reports a denial by Freeview that they have plans to sue the makers of the spoof, and also a denial that they had anything to do with its removal from YouTube.