Pirate Party Australia congratulates the Greens’ successful motion in the Senate to compel the Government to make the final text of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) public prior to it being signed.
“Having this far-reaching agreement finally made available for public scrutiny will be an enormous win for transparency and democracy in Australia,” commented Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia. “Leaks of draft text from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement indicate substantial implications for intellectual property and investment, but it has so far been impossible to determine the extent of the Agreement and whether or not it will require changes to domestic law.”
The Party remains, however, critical of the contemporary practice of excluding the public from the treaty negotiation process, as has been seen during the negotiations of the TPP, Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The Department of Foreign Affairs and its counterparts in negotiating countries have actively prevented proper discourse with the public, failed to negotiate transparently, attempted to stifle media scrutiny and provided inadequate public consultation both here and abroad.
The overnight release of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s draft intellectual property chapter has exceeded Pirate Party Australia’s worst fears. While the Party is yet to undertake a thorough analysis of the draft, there are already some provisions that are glaringly ill-considered.
Despite numerous assurances from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) the TPP would not require changes to domestic intellectual property legislation, the draft text indicates that substantial legislative changes would be required if the United States and Australia got its way. These changes may include the criminalisation of “significant willful copyright […] infringements that have no direct […] motivation of financial gain.”
“This corporate wishlist masquerading as a trade agreement is bad for access to knowledge, access to medicine, and access to innovation. It re-enforces the worst parts of our intellectual property enforcement regime on a regional level, making the necessary positive reforms for the digital era much more difficult, if not impossible,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia.
“It is absolutely appalling that we are still relying on leaked texts to determine just what we’re getting ourselves into with these trade agreements. Even Parliament is being kept in the dark. It’s time to release the text, and all future texts, so that transparency and oversight can result in texts that help, not hinder, legitimate Australian interests. There is no economic justification for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s intellectual property provisions. DFAT must immediately hold public briefings to explain their now public negotiating positions. It’s time for some accountability.”
The Australian delegation is attributed with the minority in many cases, often siding with the US. The current text would require the accession of all parties to several other intellectual property agreements in order to be a member of this agreement, endangering any future positive reform efforts due to layering of treaties. The US is pushing for pharmaceutical provisions that the Australian delegation is standing against.
This is an opinion piece authored by Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. It has been sent to The Guardian for publication.
On Thursday the new Attorney-General, George Brandis, announced his Chief of Staff: former Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General, Paul O’Sullivan. Brandis used this announcement to signify his desire to ‘have a strong national-security focus‘ in the role of Attorney-General.
This announcement raises serious concerns for anyone wanting to curb the power of Australian intelligence agencies’ abilities in their never-ending quest to better snoop on our private lives. The last Coalition Government granted new powers to intelligence agencies repeatedly, with no public consultation or regard to the impacts on the civil liberties of Australian citizens.
Although both major parties have pushed for more draconian surveillance powers, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was the one that had the courage to announce a public inquiry into their proposals for greater powers for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The inquiry into new national security powers and provisions saw a massive response from Australian citizens with 236 papers being submitted; the vast majority were opposed to greater powers for Australian spooks. As a result of such a powerful response, new laws were not passed.
Since then Australia has been implicated in the massive, dragnet surveillance system being run by the US National Security Agency (NSA), which was uncovered in the leaks provided by security contractor, Edward Snowden. The Australian Signals Directorate (formerly the Defence Signals Directorate) has been exposed tapping undersea telecommunications cables and participates in the Five Eyes surveillance agreement, along with agencies in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand.
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.”
Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are expected by some participants to conclude this month, although the Malaysian Prime Minister has indicated that this goal is optimistic. The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history and is being negotiated, in secret, by twelve countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
In the past two years there have been only a handful of leaked draft texts for the intellectual property and investment chapters, but little in the way of official information on the actual content or negotiating positions. Signatory nations to the TPP will be required to modify their laws to conform with the requirements of the TPP where necessary.
Pirate Party Australia is critical of the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the content of the TPP. It is known from leaked texts that the TPP will include an intellectual property chapter which may further extend the reach of legislation such as the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The text indicates that the chapter will impose provisions at least as severe as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was last year rejected by the European Parliament following enormous protests across Europe. ACTA’s ratification has been delayed following recommendations from Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
“The only time that the Australian public will be able to comment on the text is when it is finished and signed,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “There is no opportunity to critique and to provide input, or to even see what is being planned. We are talking about potentially major changes to Australian laws and the public is being shut out. Pirate Party Australia has attended and presented at numerous ‘consultations’ and negotiating rounds, where representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have given half-answers and limited indications of what changes will actually be required by the Agreement.”