Australia: Labor’s Ed Husic vows to amend controversial encryption law

It seems that the Australian government has developed a pathological obsession with trying to undermine and potentially destroy the country’s fledgeling tech industry. The most recent item in the toolkit of the government, when it comes to fighting extremism, is to threaten social media executives with jail-time. If it weren’t such a sad story, one would just have to start laughing out loud about such proposals. It is rare that a government, run by a party priding itself on its credentials for sound economic management, has to resort to such sad political maneuverings prior to a general election scheduled for May this year. These blatant attempts to abuse the tech industry for political gain is particularly sad, since decent people all over the world are outraged and feel genuine pain about what happened in Christchurch just days ago.

If Australia is not changing course quite soon, the country risks to become a pariah in the field of modern, digital technology. Experts in the field shake their heads in utter disbelief, wondering what has gotten into the heads of politicians and some bureaucrats in this country. Microsoft’s

Brad Smith

is by no means the only one calling on Australia to return to sensible policies guided by pragmatism and reason. He told a conference in Australia that international customers have cautioned Microsoft not to build new data facilities in australia, and this might well turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg. If this government doesn’t see sense politically, then perhaps the likely economic impact of this law and its accompanying hyperbole will eventually lead to sensible amendments.

National security has always been an area in which both major political parties, the Coalition and Labor, have traditionally maintained political consensus; thus, with support of the Labor opposition, the law was passed on the last sitting day of parliament late last year on the understanding that the law would be amended later. Political observers opined at the time that Labor had weakened its own position by allowing the Coalition government to pass the law first and negotiate later. Once a bill becomes law, it reduces incentives on the government’s part to engage in meaningful negotiations and consensus building, and it was thus apparent that, in effect, Labor had once again surrendered on a matter of ‘national security’. What motivated Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his team to play along is quite obvious; they figured that Labor would only lose a public showdown on this question, and there was concern that it would interfere with the party’s messaging on issues of economic inequality, public infrastructure and new policies on the environment. If Labor wins the election in May, Shorten will be in a position to argue that this strategy was justified at the time, but, in what light Labor’s own maneuverings on this question will be seen, depends solely on the outcome of the election. If Labor loses, the party will be as much responsible for the damage to Australia’s technology industry as the government is.

At the same conference mentioned above, Labor’s shadow minister for the digital economy

Ed Husic

has promised that a Labor administration would amend the bill, giving the Australian tech sector at least some hope that a bad law will be a bit less destructive for the industry as a whole after all.

It is striking that even respected figures such as

Paul Shetler

Are dismayed at the way the government conducts itself with regard to Australia’s digital technology industry, sharply criticizing the most recent attempts to criminalize executives of social media companies. He spells out his concerns in this

interview.

Related articles on this blog are

here.

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