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Aussie election results: Firewall wobbles

What would make a coalition willing?

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With almost all of the election results in, the future of the great Australian firewall looks ever so slightly wobbly. Broadband for rural areas may however be about to receive a significant boost.

Just 150 members sit in Australia’s parliament, so a party with 76 seats has a majority. With something like 80 per cent of the vote counted, the Australian Labor Party is out in front, with 73 seats to the Liberal National Coalition’s 72. The last seat is now forecast to go to the Coalition, leaving both major parties on 73 and negotiating with the remainder: three independents and a Green.

An additional joker in the pack is provided by National MP Tony Crook, who has indicated that he will not necessarily stick with the coalition and might be prepared to support a Labor government.

That’s good news for Labor’s incumbent prime minister, Julia Gillard, who will also take heart from a declaration by Green MP Adam Bandt that he will side with her government. Bad news, though, for the firewall, as it has been the Greens who have led the charge against it over the last three years and, until recently, they were the only major parliamentary force to oppose its implementation as a mandatory state-imposed filter.

So who are the independents, and what are their views on technology? All three independents are from rural areas: Bob Katter represents Kennedy in North Queensland, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott represent the New South Wales seats of New England and Lyne respectively.

Bob Katter has a reputation for being both outspoken and a maverick – but no fool.

According to one close colleague, quoted today, he has "wacky ideas, says some way-out things – but he’s no dill". More importantly, he is looking for a new deal for rural areas and despite the fact that he is widely reported not to use computers he's looking for the government to support outlying areas through publicly funded broadband.

That, it is suggested, makes him more likely to support Labor, whose AUS$43bn national broadband network seriously outstrips the coalition’s AUS$6bn broadband plan,

In pre-election interviews, both Oakeshott and Windsor (pdf) also nominated decent broadband services in the bush as a central issue. Oakeshott has been openly critical of the National Party’s policy in this respect, while expressing his support for the roll-out of laptops to school students.

Both have also been involved in debates on climate change, with Oakeshoot looking to encourage an emissions trading scheme to reduce greenhouse gas output.

Neither appears to have been overly focused on the issue of the firewall.

There is still some way to go. Pundits are cautiously forecasting that Gillard will succeed in pulling together a coalition over the next few days – but that is far from certain. If she fails, the great firewall project is dead in the water. Even if she succeeds, the chances of it continuing in its present format are greatly reduced. ®

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