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Do you really want to live in Australia?

18 May 2010

Australia is "the lucky country", or so we're told.

Rich mineral wealth, lower effective tax rates, a warm (usually) benign climate and a population density that's even lower than NZ's makes for a high standard of living and relaxed lifestyle.

Jobs are usually plentiful for those with skills and a good work ethic and compared to NZ, racial tensions are far less obvious.

It's only natural therefore, that every year, tens of thousands of Kiwis decide to jump the ditch for a better life, and that's what many of them find.

However, if you're contemplating a bit of ditch-jumping yourself, you might want to consider some of the negative aspects, especially from the perspective of being an internet user.

That's right, along with some of the world's most poisonous reptiles and arachnids, Australia has some pretty venomous attitudes and laws designed to control the Net and its use.

As one Aussie internet user has just discovered this to his cost.

That guy is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

On his return to Australia last week, his passport was taken by Customs officials on the pretense that "it was looking worn". Fair enough, I guess making a passport look tattered is a nice tactic for covering up a counterfeited or altered document so it deserves closer scrutiny.

However, Assange alleges that when his passport was finally returned to him, he was told that it was about to be canceled -- effectively making it impossible for him to leave the country again.

So why would authorities try to stop him from leaving the country?

Well a letter bearing the government's crest has advised Assange that he's being investigated by Australian Federal Police because his Wikileaks site published the list of banned websites associated with the country's internet filtering scheme.

Under Aussie law, it is illegal to publish the list of banned sites so odds are that Assange will face prosecution for his actions.

Things start getting a but murky here though because the media has been told by officials that the passport in question has not been canceled and remains valid.

Has Assange tried to spin this situation up into something more dramatic than it really is? Or is the Federal Government boxing clever by not officially canceling the passport -- perhaps until such time as he might try to leave the country?

The Wikileaks founder has become something of a cyber-folk hero as a result of the publication of the "banned list", especially when it was revealed that a number of the sites on that list appeared to have no link to pornographic or otherwise offensive/illegal material. This disclosure and the law which forbids the list's publication has brought about claims that it's only a matter of time before the Australian government starts censoring the web on the basis of politics.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it's clear that internet freedoms in Australia are under threat and that perhaps, when it comes to lifting the lid on such things, the Aussie government is not above engaging in a little deception to avoid the harsh media spotlight.

Whatever the facts, I suggest that those interested in the current situation in which Julian Assange finds himself should read the SBS Dateline report and watch the excellent video interview I caught on SBS-One (yay for Freeview!) last night.

Does NZ run the risk of eventually developing similar laws and attitudes to internet freedom I wonder?

Is this an unacknowledged part of the "catching up to Australia" goal our government professes to be pursuing perhaps?

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