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!“
The leak of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement’s environment chapter reveals enormous flaws in the draft Agreement. It fails to adequately address serious environmental concerns, and is the product of lax public consultations and a lack of transparency. As a very vocal critic of the negotiating practices behind the TPP, Pirate Party Australia urges greater transparency in the Agreement so that experts and the wider public have an opportunity to contribute to a genuinely positive treaty.
An analysis of the draft environment chapter by Professor Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law notes that although the chapter “addresses matters of conservation, environment, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources, over-fishing and illegal logging, and climate change … Instead of a 21st century standard of protection, the leaked text shows that the obligations are weak and compliance with them is unenforceable.” Professor Kelsey highlights that the investment chapter in particular threatens the efficacy of the environment chapter, especially as it is likely to contain investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
“There is little doubt that over the coming weeks there will be an enormous amount of criticism levelled at this leaked chapter”, commented Melanie Thomas, Pirate Party candidate for the Seat of Griffith in the upcoming by-election. “This is healthy and necessary to make the citizens of Australia and other participating nations aware of what is being negotiated on our behalf. What is unhealthy is the contempt the negotiating parties have clearly shown for public participation. As the leak is further analysed, we will become aware of the sham that public consultations have been, and how negotiators have taken on board very little of the constructive criticism provided. The reality is that a transparent, participatory approach is the only way to ensure the TPP and future agreements meet standards that are acceptable to the public.”
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.