The Pirate Party is calling for the Australian Government to take immediate action on the sentencing of Australian journalist Peter Greste in Egypt yesterday. Greste has been sentenced to seven years for “spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood” according to the ABC[1].

Pirate Party President Simon Frew commented: “The Australian Government has indicated its support for Mr Greste and encouraged the Egyptian President to release him[2], however it is crucial at this point not to back down. An Australian journalist has been convicted by a foreign court for doing his job, and now is the time to take severe action on the matter.

“The Pirate Party considers it would be appropriate to expel the Egyptian Ambassador and sever diplomatic ties with the country if the verdict remains upheld. Australia must assert its position and send a strong message to Egypt that freedom of the press, no matter how bad the political situation, is vital to democracy.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to immediately take action to secure the release of Peter Greste and his safe return to Australia. The Government has consistently emphasised its support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Now is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Australia will go to great lengths to ensure these freedoms are protected and those who exercise them will not be punished.

“Both major Parties have a mixed record of defending journalists and freedom of the press. A case in point is the lacklustre defence of Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last two years. Australia needs to consistently defend the rights of journalists doing their jobs regardless of the nature of the reporting. A free press is an important part of a just and democratic society.”

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-23/peter-greste-found-guilty/5543292
[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-22/bishop-pushes-for-greste-release-on-eve-of-trial-verdict/5541744

The following is an open letter to Premier Campbell Newman sent by Queensland Coordinator Michael Keating regarding the Queensland State Government’s consideration of banning canvassing at polling booths during elections.


Dear Premier Newman,

It is with concern that I read in the Brisbane Times on the 24th of April that you and your government are considering banning polling booth canvassing at elections. Such recommendations that you are looking at implementing have the potential for causing issues with the natural democratic process in this state.

The proposed change to polling booth canvassing is a potential issue for the free democratic process we enjoy in Australia. As a member of Pirate Party Australia, we gladly support the improvement of conduct during elections – both from politicians and their supporters. However, there are several issues with attempting to restrict or ban canvassing at polling booths. Chief among them is that it will take away the opportunity for people of all political backgrounds to be able to provide information to voters about their policies, backgrounds and any other relevant information. Restricting this would be restricting the normal democratic process, for what can only be seen as being for your own benefit. This also raises the potential issue of these laws being used to restrict free speech in airing political opinions at times of elections.

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Pirate Party Australia is outraged by a Liberal-National Coalition (LNP) plan to ban environmental boycotts[1]. While specifics of the plan are yet to be announced, it appears to be a serious assault on both free speech and the free market.

The freedom to disseminate information regarding the activities of companies for purposes of increasing consumer awareness and to encourage environmentally sound practices through boycotts is vital for those wishing to act beyond the limited environmental controls legislated by Parliament.

“This proposal is a serious assault on the very fabric of democracy,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “The Government can enforce minimum standards, but activist organisations have the right to pressure industries to adopt higher standards. A free society depends on the free exchange of ideas, and this move by the LNP puts serious limitations on that exchange occurring around issues that millions of people may view as important.”

“By limiting the ability of consumers to leverage their collective buying power to encourage ethical business practices, the Government plans to limit consumers’ ability to decide what ethics they expect companies to uphold,” Mr Frew continued. “Such a plan could eventually be extended to ending the labelling of ethical and environmentally friendly products. The free market includes the right to spend money according to your values, and the Government appears to be trying to impose their own morality — or amorality — on Australian citizens.”

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As the major parties descend into an ever increasingly infantile debate, Fairfax reporter Judith Ireland reports that copyright law is being engaged as a tool to suppress parody videos on YouTube in the Australian election campaign[1]. While this may appear trivial, it illustrates a larger, more serious issue.

“It’s an alarming development, however not surprising, that copyright is now being used as a tool for censorship in Australian politics. This is a perfect example of how copyright can be utilised to undermine free speech. While the subject here may be a relatively childish parody, if such abuse of copyright law were to become normalised it could impede legitimate political discourse and speech during a time-sensitive election campaign,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia.

Unfortunately it is very easy to use copyright as a censorship tool as the onus of proof is on the person being targeted with a takedown notice. In issues where time is of the essence, a takedown notice can be used to silence an opponent and by the time they have appealed and had their material reinstated, the opportunity to get a message heard can be missed. According to Google over one third of takedown notices are not valid copyright claims[2] and examples of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) being used for censorship are broad and many, be it doctors using it to silence negative reviews[3], businesses silencing competitors[4], through to it being used to remove video footage of war crimes[5].

“There are many issues with copyright and this is a clear illustration of one of them. The Pirate Party provides the most comprehensive intellectual property rights reform platform[6] of all parties in this election, and with the copyright monopoly threatening to step up the campaign after the election[7], those that value free culture, information and knowledge and reasonable intellectual property rights should consider a vote for the Pirate Party as insurance against draconian reforms proposed by industry bodies,” concluded Mr. Frew.

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Pirate Party Australia finds the guilty verdicts handed down in the case of prominent whistleblower, US Pfc Bradley Manning, to be deeply disturbing. Fortunately for the former US Army Private, Mr Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, a bittersweet victory for both himself and journalistic integrity[1].

Mr Manning provided a wealth of classified material, including the infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video portraying the murder of 11 unarmed civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters’ journalists, in 2007[2]. The release of this video, among other material, elevated WikiLeaks from relative obscurity to one of the most well known and controversal journalistic organisations in the world today.

Pirate Party Australia is of the opinion that, in light of the war crimes exposed, the revelations of government corruption, and the evidence of a deliberate, systematic misinformation campaign targeted at the public, Bradley Manning should have been acquitted of all charges. Mr Manning has been held in conditions that have been publicly condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for three years before finally being sentenced. His treatment has been described by the Rapporteur as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and prejudicial to the presumption of innocence[3].

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