PC based appliances, touchscreens, technology & innovation

Short answer?  Not much.

Like many other Australians, there are lots of things that I love about Australian society, but of course don’t talk about, as we all know that acknowledging the positive status quo is against the law :-).  There are things that don’t like, but I accept because it’s part of living in a democratic society.  Equally, there are those things where my own views mirror that of Australian society, and I think should be eradicated, such as child pornography.  As a father of two little wonders under five, I find the concept abhorrent.  On this issue, the Australian Labor Government and I agree.

Where we disagree is how to go about protecting the innocent community.  Rhetoric offered by Senator Conroy suggests that those that object to the ‘clean feed’ internet filtering policy are supporters, or advocates of child pornography.  This absurd view appears to be blindly accepted (in the main) by the party room.  Wanting to learn more about the views of my sitting federal member, I took the (unusual for me) step of writing a letter to the member for Bennelong, Ms Maxine McKew.  Surely with her history as an investigative journalist (her website mentions her 30 years as a journalist / in public life no less than four times in two pages), she will have asked the hard questions and formed her own view, and all she has been waiting for to break her silence is for someone to ask her opinion of her.

What follows is the correspondence chain between Ms McKew’s office and me, and a reproduction of the letter I received from her.  I’ve reproduced all the email correspondence and a scan of the letter that I received here.  There are a couple of things that are really important to note before you start to look through:

  • Maxine is an awful correspondent.  Her responses are generic, her turnaround time horrendous, and her obfuscation obvious.
  • Based on other feedback from others that have corresponded with their federal member, it’s essentially the same letter that Senator Conroy and Ms Gillard are using
  • I still don’t really know where Maxine McKew stands on the issue.  She avoided my simple questions.  All I received was a form letter which she (and her staff) were too lazy or disinterested to tailor to the correspondence received.  Maxine – you’re welcome to respond either to me personally or via comment to this blog – I’ll publish in full without modification.

With her much publicised background as a seeker of the truth, and asker of the hard questions, I should be surprised by her immediate ducking of the questions.  Perhaps her time as a journalist watching politicians duck her questions was simply on the job training for her transition to politics.

I look forward to your comments and feedback.  Should I have let it lie?  Should I keep chasing?

My original email of 11 December 2008:

To: Maxine.McKew.MP@aph.gov.au

Dear Ms McKew
I write as a resident in your electorate, wishing to express to you my opinion as to the Labor Governments position on the censorship of the internet.

As a father of two little wonders under the age of three, I’m sure that I join every sitting member with a common view as to the horror that is the darker corners of the internet.  I appreciate that Senator Conroy shares the same view.  I’m sure that view is likely high on your agenda given its connection to your role as Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care.

A voice of dissent in respect of the clean feed program can not be written off as a voice in support of illegal materials or child pornography.  To merely accept that one begets the other is illogical. My voice of dissent is in relation to the program itself.

As an Australian and an internet user, I have serious concerns about the mandatory Internet filtering initiative.

Given the importance the Labor Government has attached to modernising Australia’s broadband network, pursuing a policy that can only slow down and increase the costs of home internet access seems misguided at best. Australian households are diverse, and most do not have young children, so mandating a one-size-fits-all clean feed approach will not serve the public well. I don’t think it is the Government’s role to decide what’s appropriate for me or my children, and neither do most Australians, regardless of how well founded your intentions might be.

Given the amount of Internet content available, the Government will never be able to classify it all and filters will always result in an unacceptable level of over-blocking. I feel that the time and money could be spent in better ways both to protect children and improve Australia’s digital infrastructure. Australian parents need better education about the risks their children face online. Trying to rid the Internet of adult content is futile, and can only distract from that mission.

I admit that the prior couple of paragraphs were taken from a form letter expected to be directed to Senator Conroy.  I suspect he has received many copies of the above.  I doubt that my little email would cut through those thousands.

I think the threat of filtering and throttling global networks should probably be a little close to home for the member for Bennelong.

In your maiden speech to Parliament, you made reference to the need to reinvigorate the nation with ambition and nation building.  You speak of the technology corridor and the innovators in your electorate, some of whom (such as CSC Corporation and Microsoft) are among the largest technology companies in the world, not to forget Macquarie University, the CSIRO and the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE.  You identify their untapped potential, and I submit that this untapped potential will remain untapped, or at least that realisation will be delayed or worse, denied by the implementation of a filtering system that would only serve to obstruct the internet and therefore by extension, education and commerce.  Ironically, the original purpose of the internet was as a research network – a concept that you rightly laud, while the Austrlalian government prepares it’s plan to cripple it.

In that same speech, you propose recruiting the talents of, among others, our technologists.  The Labor governments current approach is doing more to alienate than recruit.

Rather than respond to the many relevant points in your maiden speech, I’ve simply appended the relevant stanza to the end of this email.  I know that I’m probably being a little cheeky.  In a way, I see this as an opportunity for you to show your electorate what you mean.

I would hope that the writings of Mark Newton, an Australian whose writings on the subject of internet filtering should be embarassing to Senator Conroy have been made available to you to read.  If not, here’s a link to each, the second being a letter following his meeting with Minister Kate Ellis:

http://users.on.net/~newton/ellis-2008-10-20.pdf
http://www.efa.org.au/main/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/ellis-2008-11-17.pdf

I encourage you to read two very well written and well researched documents, which clearly lay out the technical and policy issues with the Governments current approach, as well as some sensible alternatives.  I hope that they help you in forming your own view.

I anticipate that as a high profile member of the government you likely receive a torrent of email on a daily basis, I hope that I’ve provided you with an interest in exploring the issue further, and the starting point to be part of a sensible dialogue to stop a program that is doomed to failure.

What I would appreciate understanding, and a response to is the following questions:

1  What is your position in relation the ‘clean feed’ policy being pursued by Senator Conroy and the Labor Government?
2  Do you personally support the ‘clean feed’ policy?  Can you provide me with some detail as to how you arrived at your view, and how you support or justify your view?
3  In the event that you do not support the clean feed policy, are you prepared to present your view to the party room?  How will you do this?  When will you communicate your view to your electorate?
4  In the event that you do support the clean feed policy, how do you intend to justify this position to your constituents and industry in your electorate?  When will you communicate your view to your electorate?

In answering question 4, I truely hope that you don’t feel the need to resort to ad hominem attacks displayed by some of your colleagues. Your ride into Parliament was eased by your prior celebrity as a television journalist who was questioning and tenacious to get to the truth and the heart of the matter.  I look forward to learning how you will bring that famous experience to bear on behalf of your electorate, and your constituents.

I attach my telephone contact details below in order to verify my identity.  I don’t expect a phone call, but do look forward to your reply to my questions.

Yours sincerely

Cameron Harris
<phone numbers removed>

“When we consider our major cities today, particularly Brisbane and Sydney, and how the metro infrastructure can struggle to get people to work on time, surely it is time to reconnect to the enterprise and ambition of the past. We need nothing less than a return to nation building—but in a modern way. We need to recruit the talents of our innovators and our technologists, our teachers, our writers and our best policy thinkers. In my own electorate we have significant research and educational institutions—Macquarie University, the CSIRO and the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE. There is also an emerging technology corridor of leading global companies in ICT, medical devices, media and environmental technologies. But the potential of this corridor is yet to be realised. We need an innovation economy, one that recognises that comparative advantage in the modern world is underpinned by those things that the private sector cannot provide: a workable tax system, first-rate health and education systems, and strong research networks. That is the 21st century role of government.”

Later that day I received this response:

Dear Cameron

I am writing on behalf of Maxine to thank you for your email.  Your correspondence is being processed and will be answered as soon as possible.  Would you be kind enough to provide us with your residential address.

Kind regards,

Sue Pike
Electorate Officer
Maxine McKew MP
Member for Bennelong
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Ace.  Message received.  Intelligent discussion imminent.  The next couple of emails were to verify my identity and bona fides as a resident of Bennelong, so I’ve ommittted those.  The next relevant exchange is this, on 22 January 2009:

To: “McKew; Maxine (MP)” <Maxine.McKew.MP@aph.gov.au>

Good afternoon Ms McKew

On 10 December 2008, I sent you an email regarding the Labor Government’s internet censorship policy. Embedded within that email are four simple questions (which for simplicity, I have restated below) regarding your position on this policy. Could you please let me know when you intend to respond to my questions? Alternatively, please provide me with answers to each of the four questions.

===== Quote from my email of 10 December 2008 =====
1 What is your position in relation the ‘clean feed’ policy being  pursued by Senator Conroy and the Labor Government?
2 Do you personally support the ‘clean feed’ policy? Can you provide  me with some detail as to how you arrived at your view, and how you  support or justify your view?
3 In the event that you do not support the clean feed policy, are you  prepared to present your view to the party room? How will you do  this? When will you communicate your view to your electorate?
4 In the event that you do support the clean feed policy, how do you  intend to justify this position to your constituents and industry in  your electorate? When will you communicate your view to your  electorate?

In answering question 4, I truely hope that you don’t feel the need to  resort to ad hominem attacks displayed by some of your colleagues.  Your ride into Parliament was eased  by your prior celebrity as a  television journalist who was questioning and tenacious to get to the  truth and the heart of the matter. I look forward to learning how you  will bring that famous experience to bear on behalf of your  electorate, and your constituents.
===== End Quote =====

Kind regards

Cameron Harris

Which netted this response on 23 January:

Dear Mr Harris

I am writing on behalf of Maxine to let you know that her response to your email has been written, and will be posted early next week.

I am sure you will appreciate that she receives hundreds of emails and letters each day, and that with the best will in the world, it is not possible  to answer them all immediately.

Kind regards

Lucienne Joy
Electorate Officer
Maxine McKew MP
Member for Bennelong
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Which was followed by this letter, dated 30 January 2009:

Cool – almost two months for a form letter.  Surely there will be some discussion soon.  I am willing to cut through the first round of standard responses to get to the heart of the matter, and respond on 2 February with this:

To: “McKew, Maxine (MP)” <Maxine.McKew.MP@aph.gov.au>

Dear Ms McKew

Thank you for your written response, dated 30 January 2009, which I received today (your reference:  Harrisxxx.Doc).

Whilst there are a number of fundamental flaws in your response, particularly in relation to the scope of the material that is proposed to be filtered, I leave those to the side for the moment to return to the original questions in my original email of 10 December 2008, which remain unanswered.  For simplicity, I have attached my questions again to this email to assist you in providing direct answers to what are really some pretty simple questions.

As one of your constituents, I have taken the time to share my concerns and views with you.  How are we to have reasoned debate, discussion or accord if you are unwilling or unable to do the same?

I look forward to your answers.  Please advise if I should expect that a response to this note will take a further 50 days.

Yours sincerely

Cameron Harris
<Address details snipped>

> ===== Quote from my email of 10 December 2008 =====
> 1 What is your position in relation the ‘clean feed’ policy being
> pursued by Senator Conroy and the Labor Government?
> 2 Do you personally support the ‘clean feed’ policy? Can you provide
> me with some detail as to how you arrived at your view, and how you
> support or justify your view?
> 3 In the event that you do not support the clean feed policy, are you
> prepared to present your view to the party room? How will you do
> this? When will you communicate your view to your electorate?
> 4 In the event that you do support the clean feed policy, how do you
> intend to justify this position to your constituents and industry in
> your electorate? When will you communciate your view to your
> electorate?
>
> In answering question 4, I truely hope that you don’t feel the need to
> resort to ad hominem attacks displayed by some of your colleagues.
> Your ride into Parliament was eased by your prior celebrity as a
> television journalist who was questioning and tenacious to get to the
> truth and the heart of the matter. I look forward to learning how you
> will bring that famous experience to bear on behalf of your
> electorate, and your constituents.
> ===== End Quote =====

OK.  I admit, the last line of that was a little cheeky.  However on the 10th of February, I get an acknowledgement of receipt, and nothing further happens, prompting me to send this note:

To: “McKew, Maxine (MP)” <Maxine.McKew.MP@aph.gov.au>

Good evening Maxine

(Your reference:  your reference:  Harrisxxx.Doc)

It is now 25 May 2009, which for no particular reason causes me to write again to determine whether you have arrived at a position in relation to the questions that I posed to you on 10 December 2008.

Am I an unwitting participant in a ‘slowest exchange of correspondence in the digital age’ experiment?

Yours sincerely (albeit somewhat bewildered – it’s not that hard!)

Cameron Harris

On 1 June, I receive this somewhat frosty response:

Dear Mr Harris

I’m writing on behalf of Maxine, who has asked me to let you know that she believes she answered your questions in her previous letter to you.

Kind regards

Lucienne Joy
Electorate Officer
Maxine McKew MP
Member for Bennelong

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Which naturally gets a same day response.  I abhor tardy correspondence:

Dear Lucienne

Thank you for your note.

The only correspondence I have received from Ms McKew is a letter dated 30 January 2009.  There is nothing contained within that letter that could be reasonably construed as a response to all of the four specific questions that I asked in my original email of 10 December 2008.  I can assume from the letter I received on 30 January that the answer to question 1 is yes.  However, none of the other questions can be considered answered.

In the interests of clarity and efficiency, I have attached yet another copy of my original questions (as I did when I responded to your letter of 30 January 2009 on 2 February 2009).  Further, if your position is that the questions were answered in your prior letter, then I would have thought you would have told me when you communicated with me on 10 February 2009.

I don’t understand the reluctance to simply share a point of view.

Yours sincerely

Cameron Harris
<address details snipped>

I copied the original questions to the end of this email as well, however this was the end of the correspondence.  I will update if I hear anything further, although I suspect we’ll have another federal election before that happens!
Advertisements

Comments on: "What Maxine McKew thinks about internet filtering" (9)

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cameron Harris, Jessica. Jessica said: RT @CPKHarris: What Maxine McKew thinks about internet filtering #nocleanfeed http://wp.me/pG6U2-3j […]

  2. I think this is endemic of the political scene as a whole in Australia.

    We’re a nation that has bred the politicians to believe they’re rulers, not there to serve anyone other than themselves.

    Public consultation and transparency enhance democracy, they do not detract from it. Sadly, it appears that our politicians do not feel so strongly about the system of government that has bought them the opportunity to change our society for the better.

    Perhaps they don’t feel so strongly about society at all…

  3. Pollichickens are a waste of good taxpayers AIR.

  4. Interesting – I asked a somewhat different set of questions in a series of letters to Senator Conroy – but the response looks very similar, and is equally irrelevant to the questions I asked.

    When I tried to get direct answers from him in forum at Dubbo on Thursday, I got accused of being a supporter of child pornography, and got silenced.

  5. That is the exact kind of thing that makes me too unmotivated to write to politicians most of the time. It seems like they believe their jobs are to find the lengthy and convoluted ways of not saying anything much. If politicians seriously thought their parties’ ideas were good you’d think they’d be happy to defend them to people. The fact that they’re not that happy is, I think, a pretty clear indication that they don’t believe in them at all.

    Despite knowing this about politicians, I’m tempted to write to my MP anyway, seeing as she’s a Liberal and theoretically freer to put forward an opinion.

  6. Hi Cameron,

    excellent post, I fully agree with your position.
    You should keep going, even if it seems obvious that the chances of a reply are slim at best. If nothing else, it might just piss them off – just a little bit with every email 🙂
    Keep up the good work.

  7. You’d get a better response if you sent her a picture of a spider with a missing leg.

    Sad but true.

  8. Ovid Kafka said:

    Supposing for a moment that Maxine has a shred of credibility, she probably disagrees with Chairman Krudd’s internet censorship plan. However as an ALP polly she is not free to vote against it in the parliament and hence it doesn’t make a lot of sense for her to write anything against it.

    Two suggestions:

    1. Encourage all the people you know in your electorate to express their dissatisfaction to Maxine’s office. That might at least put some pressure on her to oppose this appalling policy in private i.e. in the party room.

    2. Try requesting a face to face meeting and/or using the phone. Things that are committed to paper can come back to bite a polly. She/Her office may be more forthcoming with the truth if not in writing.

  9. […] loving having a laptop.  Most of the Maxine McKew post was written on the train yesterday morning while the bus drivers were all having a sleep in (yep […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: