The Pirate Party renews its calls for the Government to abandon the pursuit of mandatory data retention following comments from the Attorney-General that data retention is under “active consideration”[1]. The Attorney-General also stated that data retention is “the way western nations are going.”

Pirate Party President Simon Frew commented: “What the Attorney-General has essentially said here is that everyone else is doing it, therefore Australia should too. This is abysmal reasoning in light of the thorough criticism provided by the Court of Justice of the European Union earlier this year, in a judgment that overturned the EU’s Data Retention Directive. The Court overturned the Directive precisely because it violated fundamental rights. That was not an invitation for law makers to find a different way of implementing a similar regime. The failure of the Data Retention Directive should serve to deter governments from implementing mandatory data retention: that level of indiscriminate intrusion into people’s privacy is unacceptable.

“The Attorney-General has also stated that privacy intrusions for the purposes of law enforcement should not be disproportionate[2]. We put it to the Attorney-General that data retention is disproportionate. How on earth could it be considered proportionate to store all information about who is contacting who, when they are speaking, for how long, and where they are? A society under constant surveillance is not an appropriate goal.

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The Pirate Party remains highly critical of the Federal Government’s approach to asylum seekers, following the news that an interim injunction has been granted by the High Court to prevent the Government handing 153 asylum seekers over to Sri Lanka. This news comes just days after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed 41 asylum seekers had been handed over to Sri Lanka in a separate incident. This latter group is now facing charges in Sri Lanka[1].

Pirate Party Deputy Secretary, Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, commented: “The Government’s approach towards asylum seekers is dominated by the mantra ‘stop the boats’ and demonstrates little regard for human rights, international law or even human life. The primary goal is not encouraging asylum seekers to go through official channels: it appears to be making these people someone else’s problem. The secrecy around the operations and justifications on national security grounds are absurd. At the moment it seems that the strategy is being made up as they go along.

“By rigorously pursuing its obsession with stopping the boats, the Abbott Government has dehumanised the issue. These vessels have people in them, and putting those people at risk of criminal charges or worse is unacceptable. Although the approach towards asylum seekers has become increasingly harsh since the Rudd Government, people are still trying to seek asylum in Australia. Punishing asylum seekers is not good policy.

“Turning boats back, handing them over to foreign authorities and holding asylum seekers in substandard conditions shows that the approach has not been seriously thought out. We should be spending our resources on ensuring they have adequate means of seeking asylum, no diverting those resources into preventing people from seeking asylum in Australia. We need a regional strategy to improve asylum seeker processing and refugee resettlement, and to encourage our neighbours to meet minimum standards of care and human rights protection. The Government’s silence on matters relating to asylum seekers is highly disturbing.”

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-07/high-court-injunction-halts-handover-of-asylum-seekers/5579726

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

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[1]. The refusal to release these documents has been referred to as “ironic” given the amendments were designed to improve freedom of speech in Australia[2]. In May this year the Attorney-General announced the Government was reconsidering the amendments[3].

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[4] to the expansive and secretive scope of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’[5]. 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[6]. 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![7]“

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Pirate Party Australia is alarmed over reports that the Federal Cabinet has approved sweeping new surveillance powers for ASIO[1][2]. The Cabinet cited concerns that Australians in Syria are being radicalised by the conflict raging in that country, putting Australia at risk, but the proportionality of the response is not backed up by rigorous evidence. Pirate Party Australia is concerned that the new powers will put ordinary Australians under even greater surveillance without providing any greater ability to monitor actual threats.

Pirate Party Australia President Simon Frew commented: “While we have yet to see the new surveillance powers being proposed for Australian intelligence agencies, the previous government’s National Security Inquiry conducted in late 2012[3] provides us with a good indication of what they want. Of most concern is the push for more intrusive surveillance with insufficient oversight. Australians are sick and tired of the continual ramping up of surveillance we are being subjected to. Some surveillance is justified but it needs to be targeted and warrants must be obtained.”

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