2014: An Eventful Year for Pirate Party Australia
The Pirate Party of Australia had a very busy year. With the start of a new year, Pirate Times takes a look at some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the Pirate Party’s year Down Under.
Griffith and Western Australian elections
Following the Australian Labor Party’s loss of government at the federal election in September 2013, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd kept his word and resigned from Parliament. This left a vacant seat in the House of Representatives — the lower chamber of Australia’s bicameral legislature. The Pirate Party announced in January its intention to run in the Griffith By-Election on 8 February. Results of election was that Pirate candidate Melanie Thomas secured a creditable 1.51% of the vote, coming in fourth behind the two major parties and the Greens. Pirate Times covered this event.
Just over a fortnight after the Griffith By-Election the High Court of Australia, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, ruled that the election result for the Senate in September 2013 was void in Western Australia, and a fresh election was called for that state. The Pirate Party launched a crowdfunding campaign to collect $10,000 — $4,000 for candidate fees and the remainder for campaign spending. Pirate candidates Fletcher Boyd and Michelle Allen received a combined total of 0.49% of the vote.
Copyright and patents
February saw the release of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report called Copyright and the Digital Economy, the product of two years of consultation and research. Arguably the most important recommendation was that Australia should introduce a broad copyright exception similar to that of fair use in the United States. Unfortunately the Commonwealth Attorney-General stated at the Australian Digital Alliance 2014 Forum, the day after the report was published, that he “remain[s] to be persuaded that this is the best direction for Australian law“.
That same month, the Pirate Party supported (PDF) the provisions of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014 that will create new compulsory licensing exceptions for pharmaceutical patents to ensure developing countries can address public health crises and adequately treat various diseases. The Bill is expected to pass into law in 2015.
Following on from the Attorney-General’s comments in February that online copyright infringement is a “scourge” and other anti-piracy rumblings, the Government released its Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper in late July. The Pirate Party opposed (PDF) the proposals to introduce injunctions for website blocking, some sort of notification/graduated response/three strikes system, and increasing liability of Internet service providers for the alleged infringement of their subscribers.
Although no legislation has been forthcoming, the Government intends to pursue its proposals. This is despite no movement on recommendations of the Inquiry into IT Pricing made in 2012 that would improve the abysmal track record of accessibility and affordability of digital content in Australia. The end of the consultation was accompanied by a “public forum” on 9 September which was attended by myself and Party President Brendan Molloy — I published a writeup of the event.
Surveillance, national security and counter-terrorism
February saw the start of an inquiry into electronic surveillance — the Comprehensive Revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. The Pirate Party proposed (PDF) a principles-based approach to reform that would improve the operation of electronic surveillance in Australia by protecting privacy, emphasising targeted surveillance, enhancing operational transparency, increasing judicial oversight and use of warrants, and including safeguards against abuse. The Senate Committee responsible for the inquiry is expected to report in February 2015.
In response to alleged new national security challenges and terrorist threats, the Government began introducing new legislation in August. The first of three tranches — the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) 2014 (NSLA Bill) — granted substantial new powers to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while introducing a number of “anti-Snowden” provisions to prevent repeats of the NSA leaks — the Attorney-General expressed his view in Parliament that Snowden is a “traitor”. The second tranche — the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Foreign Fighters Bill) — was introduced in September.
The Pirate Party criticised the sheer length of both bills (each longer than 120 pages) and the short period of public consultation (less than 10 days for the Foreign Fighters Bill), their broad definitions (for example, a computer was defined in the NSLA Bill to include individual computers and networks of computers with no upper limit on the number of devices in regard to warrants), and interference with fundamental rights. The NSLA Bill and the Foreign Fighters Bill became law on 2 October and 3 November respectively.
The third tranche was introduced to the Senate on 30 October to implement mandatory two-year retention of telecommunications data/metadata. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 was referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence Security for inquiry on 21 November. The Committee is taking submissions on the Data Retention Bill until 19 January 2015, with a report expected on 27 February. Opposition to data retention may be the most significant challenge for the Pirate Party in Australia for the coming year.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has already criticised the Data Retention Bill for potential violation of Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that protects against arbitrary interferences with privacy and correspondence. The Pirate Party has always opposed data retention, and has issued statements on the Data Retention Bill, criticising it for its lack of justification, key definitions and privacy protections.
Apart from the Western Australian Senate Election in April, more legislation of interest to the Pirate Party appeared that month. The Pirate Party supported (PDF) a proposed prohibition on including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in international agreements. The Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014 was a response to the inclusion of ISDS provisions in recent free trade agreements, but is yet to pass either of the Houses of Parliament.
In a submission (PDF) to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in June, the Pirate Party criticised the then recently-signed Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) for its inclusion of ISDS and intellectual property provisions, as well as the lack of transparency surrounding its negotiation. KAFTA entered into force on 12 December.
The last submission (PDF) the Pirate Party made in 2014 was to the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Consultation. The Pirate Party supported a flexible route to implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, which is designed to increase accessibility of copyrighted materials for the print disabled, and suggested that implementation be achieved through adopting the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Copyright and the Digital Economy report.
Freedom of speech and the Racial Discrimination Act
In principle, the Pirate Party supported (PDF) proposed reforms that would reduce the impact of the Racial Discrimination Act on freedom of speech (but opposed the proposals generally as being weak and ineffective). These amendments were abandoned by the Government in August. The Human Rights Commissioner wrote: “Discussion about the need for reform did not start well. The argument that people have ‘a right to be a bigot’ was neither the justification for reforming this law, nor is it accurate. … The justification for reforming the Racial Discrimination Act is because it encroaches too heavily on free speech.” The “right to be a bigot” refers to the Attorney-General’s retort in the Senate on 24 March 2014 that “People do have a right to be bigots, you know.”
National Congress 2014
The main party event for 2014 was the National Congress, held in July. The physical meeting place was Brisbane, and Pirates from all around Australia attended either in person or online. A live stream was provided, with remote participants being given equal opportunity to participate including asking questions, making comments, proposing motions and voting on proposals. This was the fourth National Congress conducted this way: since October 2011 all Congresses have had real-time participation regardless of where members are.
The National Congress is an annual event that starts with a weekend conference at which the main order of business is debating motions. All members may attend and participate in this conference. If those members who attend the conference accept a motion, it passes to a full vote of the party; if they veto a motion, it is “defeated on the Congress floor.” Once the business is concluded, a week-long online voting period occurs in which all members, whether they attended the conference or not, vote on the final motions and elect the party’s leadership.
Most of the constitutional amendments proposed merely codified existing practice. The Board — called the National Council — had a few new additions as some members retired, and there was some reshuffling. Controversially — in an international context — a motion passed that would allow the National Council to withdraw from Pirate Parties International (PPI) if certain conditions were not met by the end of January 2015. While it appears that none of these conditions are likely to be met, it is uncertain whether the National Council will exercise its discretion and withdraw or not at this stage. December saw more conflict with PPI, however, with Pirate Party Australia lodging an application to the PPI Court of Arbitration: Pirate Times recently covered this issue in more detail, and the ruling is expected shortly.
The Pirate Party also adopted and amended several policies. July saw the adoption of a brand new constitutional reform policy that included citizens’ initiatives and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It also saw major updates to the education, energy, environment and climate change, and tax and welfare policies, as well as an addition to the copyright policy to “promote fair pricing and discourage artificial market segmentation” and the addition of a tort of privacy to the civil liberties policy.
The Pirate Party, as usual, published official results of the National Congress, including the level of member support for proposals. The least-supported motion, to raise the quorum for constitutional amendments, still managed to receive 89% support, while all policies received over 90% support. The motion to conditionally withdraw from PPI received 92% support.
Transparency in Australia came under threat with the Freedom of Information (New Arrangements) Bill 2014. The legislation, which has already passed the Senate and will likely pass the House of Representatives in early 2015, will abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, meaning that external reviews of decisions under the Freedom of Information Act can only be conducted by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Cloaked under claims of public savings and administrative simplicity, it will mean increased costs and a more adversarial process for persons wanting non-government review of refused requests for information.
2015: the year ahead
Many of the issues that appeared during 2014 will continue into the new year: the good and the bad. Generally 2014 has not been a year of victories for the Pirate Party, with significant legislative amendments that erode privacy, transparency and civil liberties being passed. Little movement has been seen on legislation and reforms the Pirate Party has supported, although election results thus far have been promising and the Pirate Party continues to attract a steady stream of new members.
2015 will bring many new challenges. Top of the Pirate Party’s agenda will be the development of state and territory branches with a view to contest regional elections. Of course, copyright and data retention will continue to be key issues for the party nationally, and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations remain concerning due to their lack of transparency and the content of leaked draft chapters relating to intellectual property and investment.
The Pirate Party will naturally meet these challenges head-on and continue to punch well above its weight.
Featured image: CC BY-SA Pirate Times from remix from content by Helen Field and PPAU