Responding to the Attorney-General’s refusal to publish more than 5,500 submissions on the Government’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, the Pirate Party has lodged a freedom of information for the release of those documents. The refusal to release these documents has been referred to as “ironic” given the amendments were designed to improve freedom of speech in Australia. In May this year the Attorney-General announced the Government was reconsidering the amendments.
Brendan Molloy, Councillor of the Pirate Party commented: “This is an unusual and overwhelming number of submissions. In our experience legislative inquiries and reviews are unlikely to reach 100 submissions. The fact that over 5,000 were received demonstrates an obviously enormous public interest in the legislation, and opposition must have been extreme for the Government to be so tight-lipped on these submissions. There is no decent reason why these submissions should not be made available to the public.”
“This Government has shown a worrying tendency against transparency in the ten months it has been elected. There has been a pattern of refusal to operate transparently, from refusing to release departmental briefs even after freedom of information requests were made to the expansive and secretive scope of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders'. The Government has refused to allow the Human Rights Commissioner to visit the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island for the preposterous and bureaucratic reason that the Commission’s jurisdiction does not extend past Australia’s borders. In addition to all of this, the appalling track record of the current and former governments has overburdened the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It takes several months for the OAIC to review rejected freedom of information requests, and instead of providing more resources, the Abbott Government is axing it!”
After a freedom of information request for documents relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was deemed to be not in the public interest, Pirate Party Australia turned to crowdfunding to raise the $1,080 processing fee. The Party raised the money within the first hour of launching the campaign, confirming that there is significant public interest surrounding the international agreement.
“This undoubtedly proves that bureaucrats are not acting as custodians of the public interest, are given far too much discretion when it comes to deciding matters, and have an unnecessarily wide range of options available to them to prevent the public accessing important information,” said Brendan Molloy, who lodged the request on behalf of Pirate Party Australia.
The documents, which were requested from IP Australia, reveal little information, with at least half the 2,376 pages being wholly or substantially redacted. Many of the pages are redacted under Section 33 of the Freedom of Information Act which exempts documents that may damage the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth. The section also allows the Government to refuse the release of documents that would divulge information communicated in confidence by a foreign government.
“Section 33 of the Freedom of Information Act is repeatedly used by government departments to withhold information on trade agreement negotiations,” Mr Molloy continued. “It allows near-complete exclusion of the public under the guise of protecting international relations. Australia must be keeping some pretty big secrets from its allies and vice versa. A trade agreement that requires such exclusion is perhaps one we should not be part of.”
News that the Federal Government’s financial regulator, ASIC, has started forcing Australian ISPs to block websites it suspects of providing fraudulent financial opportunities has set off warning bells for Pirate Party Australia.
The Party has long been a critic of the imposition of filtering regimes on Australian Internet users, taking particular objection to the lack of oversight and competency involved. The ASIC incident has proven to be no exception: 1,200 websites were wrongly and inadvertently blocked as a result of a single request. The IP address used by the fraudulent site was shared with several others, including the independent learning organisation Melbourne Free University.
ASIC’s order to block the website relied upon section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to justify the block, appearing to be the second time ASIC has attempted to have a website blocked.
Witnesses at ongoing negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) in Singapore have reported that Disney has called for an increase in copyright terms, to the disdain of the unsurprised Pirate Party Australia. Like all previous rounds it is unclear exactly what is being negotiated, as the process is completely opaque.
Pirate Party Australia is opposed to Australia’s continued involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on the grounds that it is not being negotiated transparently, and leaked texts show strong pushes for stricter intellectual property regimes. Such provisions have been likened to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which Australia is a signatory to, but which last year was defeated in the European Parliament following massive protests across the European Union.
“Yesterday saw the first day of stakeholder negotiations of the latest round. Of particular note was a representative from Disney claiming that copyright terms needed to be expanded to protect its intellectual property, highlighting visits to Disney Land and being able to see IronMan 3 as reasons for longer copyright terms,” said Simon Frew, Deputy President of Pirate Party Australia.
Pirate Party Australia has made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department regarding the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
In its submission the Pirate Party calls for an end to blanket exemptions for intelligence agencies like ASIO, encouraging the application of the FOI framework to all government organisations and agencies. The submission refers to several cases involving the Party’s own freedom of information requests, notably the lack of success in bringing transparency to meetings between the Attorney-General’s Department and industry regarding file-sharing, and the refusal to release draft national security legislation which has been appealed to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.