As the Federal Prime Minister struggles to stay in power with the support of some strange and ill-assorted bedfellows another Australian state MP is at the centre of another scandal that has direct connections to controversial plans to impose a government-controlled Internet content filter on the country. Martyn Warwick reports.
The Lucky Country at last has a new Federal Government with the Labor Party clinging on to power by the skin of its teeth after persuading two somewhat reluctant independent rural MPs to support what will be Australia's first minority government for 70 years.
The practically untried and decidedly inexperienced Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, stays in office but no one knows for how long. The tottering edifice of a cobbled together coalition of Labor, a couple of independent members and a Green Party MP could fall at any time and the chances of the new parliament running its 3-year full course seem remote in the extreme. Stability is likely to be in short supply.
At the General Election, Labor won 72 seats and a few days later the independent MP Bob Katter threw in his lot with the Gillard camp. The much later decision by Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to support Labor gives Julia Gillard 76 seats out of the 150-seat House of representatives - just about enough to govern for a while without having to call a second election, yet.
Messrs Windsor and Oakeshott have both been vocal, indeed stentorian, in their support of improved telecoms services and the provision of fast Internet access to Australia's vast and underpopulated rural areas and will back to the hilt Labor's extant and continuing plans to introduce it's much-vaunted A$43 billion National Broadband network, one of the key election issues.
The establishment of a new government will also come as a relief for the likes of Australia's incumbent carrier, Telstra. The telco will take comfort from the knowledge that it will be retained to help construct the NBN and that construction (and payment for it) will continue for as long as the new administration stays afloat.
As of today it is not known if the minority government will continue to pursue its determination to force on the Australian population its much-reviled and socially divisive Internet content "filter" and censorship system. However, it is assumed by many that things on that front will be rather quiet in the months to come.
Meanwhile, in the various individual Australian states that make up the federation, it's the rough and tumble of business as usual - and that includes back-stabbing, jockeying for position, brown-nosing, conniving, plotting disinnformation and, of course, scandal.
The latest one, in New South Wales, features state MP and leader of the Christian Democratic party, the Reverend Fred Nile. He is under intense scrutiny following the publication of the results of an audit of the use of parliamentary computers used by politicians but, of course, paid for by taxpayers in NSW, which found that machine registered to him had routinely been used to browse hard-core pornography sites and that "up to 200,000 suspect hits" had been logged.
The reverend gentleman, who will turn 76 next week, has been an MP in New South Wales since 1981 and he describes his minority party as "the only national Christian political party in Australia".
Nile himself is big on morality crusades and Old Testament rhetoric, is ultra-conservative and is anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-sex, anti-topless sunbathing, has a major downer on Australia's huge and influential population of pagans and claims to be virulently anti-pornography. Although as he claims never to have seen any it's not known if he would regognise a blue movie anyway. Much more likely that he'd think it was a bunch of pagans doing naked yoga.
Faced with evidence that a computer registered to his office has recently been used to access porn close to a quarter of a million times he hotly denied that he has ever visited such sites and backs up his contention that he couldn't have done it anyway because he doesn't have a computer in his office.
A while later the story changed and Nile conceded that members of his office did visit porn sites using his log-on, access details and passwords but added that this was entirely legitimate as they were "doing research" into the activities of "interested parties" who lobby on behalf of the Australian sex industry.
At the weekend one of the Rev. Nile's senior staffers, one David Copeland, came forward to admit that it was he who had logged on as Nile "to carry out official duties researching websites operated by the Australian Sex Party" as part of an ongoing effort to help provide evidence that would bolster efforts to bring in a compulsory and centrally-administered web-filtering and content censorship system.
In a statement, the Rev Nile said, that neither he nor his three staff "spent time sitting there perving" and added, "I have not accessed or viewed any of those sites but my researcher has, particularly the Sex Party, Eros Foundation and others, and those sites do have links to hardcore pornographic material which (those websites) support." These researchers, he claimed, watch pornographic material for "just a few seconds" - more than 200,000 times. Get real.
The Australian Sex Party, a properly constituted and established federal political party has responded with incredulity, (I wonder why?) and is now demanding access to to Nile's parliamentary Internet records "in the interests of veracity and transparency".
Sex Party spokesperson Robbie Swan said, ""As the political party named by Fred Nile in all this taxpayer funded research, we have a right to access this material and to found out why he was snooping on us. Is he snooping on our homes as well? What's he doing?" Good point.
Last week the ports, harbours and waterways minister of New South Wales, Paul McLeay, was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had used his official computer to visit porn and gambling sites more than 60,000 times over a six-month period.
None of this is good news for the federal prime minister. Just about hanging on to power, any reliance by Julia Gillard on politicians who publicly claim the moral high ground whilst grubbing away in the mud and baby oil in private could easily make her even more of a hostage to fortune.
Meanwhile, Lisa Vineburg, who's allegedly "unauthorised" computer audit opened this can of worms has suddenly resigned from her post. Strange that. Wonder why? I can hear the sounds of ranks closing from here.
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