Platform

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Official Party Document
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Contents

Declaration of platform and principles

Pirate Party Australia is founded on the basic tenets of:

  • Freedom of culture and speech,
  • The inalienable right to liberty and privacy,
  • The protection of the freedoms provided by the evolving global information society,
  • The transparency of institutions, and
  • The restoration of the freedoms and balance lost through the encroachment of harmful and overbearing intellectual monopolies.

As part of an international movement, we seek not only to change national laws, but to reform perceptions and effect worldwide change. We seek this democratically, through parliamentary elections and lobbying of government.

Civil liberties

Civil liberties are essential to all of us, being a balance to the power of the state, a source of freedom and progress, and the core of civil society. History records a long fight for liberty, with even basic rights such as freedom from slavery, freedom of speech and freedom from torture won with great difficulty and frequent reverses. The digital age has provided stunning progress in this age-old struggle: many hierarchies including old-style media and government centralism have been recast or overthrown, creating space for citizen engagement and new voices.

As individuals have become more empowered, co-operation and trust between citizens and the state has become increasingly important. Trust and co-operation between citizens and the state ultimately underpin our collective security. Laws which nullify civil liberties in the name of security are counter-productive because they undermine this trust. The historical truism that security is not won through the sacrifice of liberties has never been more true than in the digital age.

Freedom of speech and related rights

Freedom of speech is not only a key civil liberty in itself, but a safeguard for other liberties. It protects not just the right to speak out, but also the right to hear and be exposed to ideas. Racism and other offensive ideas have generally lost power most swiftly in the freest societies, where they have been most effectively refuted. However, refutation can happen only when offensive ideas are permitted expression. Restrictions on speech undermine this process and rob the public of its collective capacity to judge parties and persons on the basis of full and free information.

While laws which criminalise “offensive” or “insulting” speech[1][2] may be well-intentioned, mechanisms such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act impose dangerous subjectivity into our legal system. The perpetual risk in criminalising offensiveness is that almost any form of difference or disagreement can be viewed as offensive to someone, and nations such as the UK and Canada have experienced significant abuse of such laws.[3][4][5][6] Even where protections technically exist, the mere threat of legal sanction may be sufficient to chill dialogue and speech, and recent events demonstrate that restrictions on one type of speech spread all too easily to include wider categories.[7]

Recent censorship bills also threaten to infringe free expression. The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Terrorist Material) Bill 2007 bans "praise" for terrorist acts (which are defined vaguely and broadly),[8] while the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1999/2001 imposes arbitrary restrictions on viewing of a range of otherwise legal consensual activities.[9][10] We support a classification system which facilitates choice by providing information, but reject any creep into broader censorship under which citizens have such choices made on their behalf.

Freedom of speech underpins other freedoms including freedom of thought, conscience and assembly. It is past time that laws seeking to restrict these fundamentals were subject to proper consultation and debate, measurement of costs and benefits, and meaningful attempts to ascertain the likelihood of purported security threats. Fundamental principles warrant evidence-based policy.

Justice

The legal system should err on the side of civil rights and free speech. Journalist shield laws are a key in this regard: press freedom cannot exist without the right to protect sources, and the absence of protection can result in concealment of information essential to the public interest. Although nominal shield laws exist, journalists continue to face prosecution from powerful individuals for nothing more than protecting confidentiality.[11][12] To curb this, the right to protect a source needs to be strengthened by including a right for journalists to protect the content of information passed on in addition to the identity of the source. The power of inquiries to publicly expose sources must also be curbed, since such compulsion threatens the very forms of journalistic investigation which have so often been essential to inquiries launching in the first place.

Balance and equality within the legal system can be improved by unwinding recent laws aimed at loosening thresholds for detention, search and seizure, and restoring proper judicial oversight.[13] Finally, we believe the system should embody the principle of one law for all, applied to all persons equally. The Pirate Party does not support parallel legal systems and other forms of law which impose differential standards.

Privacy

Privacy is an essential underpinning of human dignity and free expression. It encompasses not just physical privacy, but the freedom to control your cultural presence, and manage the information and identity that surrounds you. A trusting and free democratic society cannot function without the protection of a person's private life and sphere. Surreptitious and intrusive surveillance is toxic to trust, social harmony and the integrity of the state.

The Pirate Party will always support privacy and oppose attempts to nullify it. We want a higher threshold of privacy to be codified across the totality of laws in Australia. This can be done both by introducing tougher legislative requirements for organisations retaining data, and improving options available to individuals seeking to protect their personal privacy.

Dignity and freedom from pain

No liberty is more fundamental than the right to live free of pain and physical torment. We support the right of adults of sound mind, facing terminal illness, and with appropriate safeguards, to end their lives with dignity and peace if they so choose. Contrary to frequent claims, support for voluntary euthanasia is not a statement of any kind on the value of life. It encompasses no more than respect for the right of persons to decide on such weighty questions for themselves, in the context of their own private circumstances. We believe politicians should represent the views of citizens, not use political office to impose religious views into the private sphere. Bans on voluntary euthanasia create a painful legacy of unmanageable suffering, lost dignity, and the sacrifice of free choice.

Copyright

Copyright laws are a statutory monopoly artificially applied to information and culture that are traditionally justified as a balance between the rights of content creators and the rights of society. Properly applied, such laws encourage creative output by providing a limited monopoly for artists and writers over the use and distribution of their work. On expiry of copyright (which originally lasted for 28 years) work entered the public domain to be used and built on by others.

The overreach of copyright

In recent times the essential balance underlying copyright law has been lost, and a mechanism intended to serve the interests of the general public is now threatening fundamental rights and cultural growth. Copyright duration has been repeatedly extended, and now persists for 70 years after the death of the original creator. This massive duration is actively harmful for the creative community,[14] because it kills the flow of material to the public domain, denying the opportunity to draw on it. Perpetual copyright benefits only large businesses, and encourages them to reuse old content rather than undertake relatively risky and expensive investments in new material.

Higher duration has been paired up with increasingly draconian enforcement. Enforcement of copyright has encroached into the realm of non-commercial use—a recipe for abuse of the general public. Individuals are now being prevented from listening to public radio,[15][16] or fined millions of dollars for downloading a handful of songs.'[17] Community groups and charities have been threatened with legal action for allowing children to perform Christmas carols,[18] and corporations are preventing access to public footage of historical events.[19][20] The rights of the general public are being trampled in the name of protecting obsolete, rent-seeking business models.[21]

Seeking to defend their behaviour, lobbyists and corporate interests have adopted terms like ‘piracy’ and ‘theft’. However, when normal behaviour such as culture sharing is criminalised, everyone is a pirate. The Pirate Party has adopted the term to draw attention to this fact, and to focus attention on threats to a range of fundamental rights:

  • Privacy has been directly undermined by attempts to force ISPs to monitor private communications in the name of copyright enforcement.
  • Participation in the free market is threatened by copyright bills such as SOPA and PIPA, which would have granted US copyright holders unilateral power to shut down the websites of other businesses anywhere in the world on the basis of an allegation that the site "enabled" copyright infringement.[22]
  • The presumption of innocence is taken away by ‘three strikes’ or ‘graduated response’ laws which allow Internet users to be disconnected by copyright holders upon an allegation and without fair trial or due process.[23][24]
  • Free speech is similarly threatened by compulsory disconnection. The Constitution contains an implied guarantee of freedom of communication in relation to political matters, which the High Court has determined is essential to the proper functioning of Australian democracy. Disconnection interferes with the right to assembly and political communication, and violates the Constitution as well as High Court determinations and international covenants. The Internet is essential for everything from financial affairs to childhood education, and laws enabling disconnection are a frontal assault on free speech and modern life.
  • Consumer rights are being eroded as technology becomes increasingly crippled though measures such as Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM can be a prelude to surreptitious surveillance and unauthorised data collection. It cripples culture and knowledge distribution, and is an electronic equivalent of a barbed wire fence around data consumers rightfully own.
  • Access to our cultural heritage is jeopardised by the (thus far) successful campaign to impose a ‘forever less one day’[25] period of copyright duration. All copyrighted works are, to some extent, based on or inspired by prior work. Modern attempts to combine perpetual duration with the prevention of reuse and remixing threaten the mechanisms of progress and impose restrictions that creators have never faced before. They amount to a strangling of the creative process.

Reforming copyright

Placing copyright law in direct opposition to fundamental rights guarantees failure. File and culture sharing are, predictably, continuing to grow in defiance of all attempts to control it,[26] and recent attempts to impose additional enforcement were crushed by determined opposition in the European parliament and US Congress. People have always shared poetry, music and culture, and modern copyright laws fail because they attempt to criminalise innate human behaviour.

Copyright is changing, and we are seeing a completely new and different social understanding of copyright – a generational shift in the way we relate to and participate in culture. It is thus concerning that the Australian government has announced an intention to consider imposing the thoroughly discredited ‘three strikes’ disconnection model on Australian Internet users. Copyright was written to serve the needs of the general public, and this purpose is not accomplished by criminalising an entire generation. Fundamental rights do not need to be “balanced” with copyright enforcement.

A copyright law for our time must combine the balanced approach of the past with recognition of the situation we confront in the present. Normal interactions in the digital sphere should no longer be monitored or threatened. The digital realm offers artists and creators vast new opportunities for exposure, free of old-fashioned limits on distribution, and the overwhelming weight of research shows that file sharing has not reduced revenue to artists.[27][28][29] The law should account for this. Copyright duration should also be contained to around 15 years — which is calculated to be the optimal term to drive maximum creative endeavour.[30] Creative remixing and reuse of existing content must be allowed, as preventing them is equivalent to attacking freedom and progress itself.

Cultural participation

Culture is a pillar of our lives, having evolved with us through thousands of generations, building on what has gone before and connecting people to each other and to our collective history.

However, intellectual property laws have recently imposed a misshapen model of culture, molding it into a hierarchical structure in which grassroots creators are squeezed out and the creations of the past century are placed under perpetual private control.[31] Live music venues and other participatory avenues are becoming increasingly scarce,[32] [33] [34] [35] even as corporate owners of music are forbidding remixing and other essential aspects of musical creativity and evolution.[36] And while digital avenues provide substantial new ways to experience culture, traditional cultural hubs are likely to need greater support to fully harness their potential.

Part of the cultural challenge is addressed through reform of intellectual property laws (see copyright policy). However, such reforms should be supplemented with active efforts to help artists and promote grassroots cultural models which better reflect both our own creative nature and the increasingly participatory nature of the digital age. Successful cultural policies should emphasize grassroots participation and access, not hierarchical structures and artificial scarcity.

Patents

Thoughts and ideas cannot be “owned” as natural property. Patent laws do, however, grant a temporary monopoly over an expression of an idea. This trades a reduction in free access for a greater incentive to disclose and develop ideas.

However, as the information age has reshaped society, patents have become increasingly anachronistic and inadequate in fulfilling their intended purpose. The original twenty-year patent duration was codified at a time when ideas and products took years to spread.[37] It is out of step in a world where products can be developed and marketed to millions of people in a space of weeks, and most credible research now favours a significantly shorter term.[38] The disconnect between patent laws and modern life is worsened by rampant abuse of the patent system. Hoarders and patent trolls are using patents to force creators and inventors to pay additional costs or face litigation – a use that undermines the creation process patents were meant to protect.

Modernising the patent system

Monopolies on ideas are not natural – they are created by the state. While interventions in the free market are sometimes necessary, it is important that they serve the public interest, and reflect the best research. A reduction in patent duration is now clearly overdue, and this should be paired up with explicit protection for public research. Since patents were introduced on the basis of enabling products to be developed, we believe that legal defence of any patent should require the litigant to prove they are using it. Patent law should also permit independent development of the same invention.

Taken together, these measures will curb the incentive to register trivial and defensive patents. This should reduce the quantity of patents, and improve the quality.

Software patents

Patents on programs must reflect the uniquely dynamic nature of the software industry, and durations should be shorter than those applying to other patent types. Functional claiming (which patents the end result of software) should be abolished, as it removes the capacity for the free market to create newer and better approaches.[39][40][41][42] A larger fee should also apply for software patents to fund additional scrutiny and a raising of the threshold for obviousness and prior art.

Genes and organisms

“Products of nature” are explicitly not patentable under first principles of patent law. However, patents on human genes have been granted on the basis that extraction of material from its natural environment is akin to having invented it.[43][44]This is an absurd legal artifice that, if applied in other fields, would lead to patents on coal, cotton, and wood.

The granting of monopolies over human genes is a particularly destructive form of corporate welfare because it allows private interests to lock away fundamental information about our bodies. Essential research is being hindered by the obligation to negotiate among dozens of gene patent holders, who bear no obligation to contribute to research themselves.[45][46] Gene patent holders are imposing huge costs on sick and dying patients for simple tests and treatments.[47] Curbing these practices requires no more than a return of patent law to first principles, which provide no basis for patents on genes and organisms.

Pharmaceutical patents

Pharmaceutical patents fall into two categories: patents on a process for creating a drug, and patents on a drug itself. Process patents may encourage companies to seek alternative and better ways to produce a desired outcome.[48][49] However, drug patents have the reverse effect, shutting down free market competition which might otherwise drive improved techniques.

Drug patents are typically justified by the assertion that a strong incentive is needed to support the long and complex research and development cycle for drugs. While drug research is important, patents are a flawed method for accomplishing it, for two primary reasons:

  • The price problem: A guarantee of a twenty-year monopoly on a drug removes any necessity to compete on quality or price. Very high prices result, and since a large number of drugs qualify for the pharmaceutical benefit scheme (PBS) the government is ultimately forced to fund the monopolies it has created, to the tune of billions of dollars a year (the cost of patented medicines in the F1 category of the PBS rose by more than a third between 2005–06 and 2009–10).[50] The situation is worse in developing nations where high prices demanded by patent holders deny impoverished people access to lifesaving medicine.[51][52][53]
  • The incentive problem: A cure for a condition can only be sold once, but a temporary fix can be sold repeatedly. Drug patents thus contain a structural incentive to engage in the wrong kinds of research. Consequently, only around two per cent of new active ingredients and applications devised by drug companies are considered to make real medical progress.[54][55] This means that only a small proportion of taxpayer revenue directed to drug companies ultimately funds genuinely useful research. Firms in China and the US also subject Australia to many dubious and harmful patents, imposing additional barriers on potentially useful research.[56][57]

Drug patents are ultimately far too indirect and unreliable to work as a platform for something as vital as medical research. An alternative approach is needed. We propose the abolition of drug patents: this will allow the PBS to make use of generic drugs, freeing up significant funds which can be redirected towards publicly funded medical research. This research can target critical areas and ensure the development of meaningful cures. Drugs developed with public funds will enter the public domain where generic manufacturers compete on price and quality in a free market. The resulting drugs can be provided at low cost to consumers, and exported as aid to impoverished countries unable to afford monopoly drugs.

Funding will also be directed towards a trial ‘bounty’ system in which rewards are offered for the creation of drugs that serve an identified public good. Private research in this model will target areas not covered by public research, adding breadth to the system and reducing pressure on public research infrastructure. We will also seek to negotiate a new biomedical treaty, which would include a global bounty system to replace drug patents worldwide.[58][59] Taken together, these measures will grant a far greater role for the free market than exists in the current monopoly system. They will provide a broader research platform and cheaper drugs built in accord with the right incentives.

Education and skills

Education is a powerful determinant of well-being, being not just a source of wealth, but also a provider of life skills, an enabler of participation, and a core component of civil society. The 2000 Dakar World Education Conference noted that all young people have the right to an education that includes “learning to know, to do, to live together and to be".[60] This philosophy is best applied within a secular system which grants every student access to the life skills most essential to participation and overcoming disadvantage. In addition to a robust and well-resourced public school system, students should have access to alternate schooling solutions that best suit their own unique circumstances: this will help to encourage social mixing, allow greater scope for alternative approaches, and provide more tools to overcome disadvantage.

Tertiary education is also increasingly important as we shift towards a more knowledge-based economy. While student numbers continue to rise, growing evidence exists of a troubling deterioration in standards and academic morale in universities. This manifests in various ways: approximately half of academics have been assessed to be at risk of psychological illness due to insecurity and overwork,[61] while two thirds believe academic freedom is being curtailed.[62] Higher education has suffered from efforts by successive governments to force it into a top-down, corporatist structure. This is an inappropriate form for an education system and one which has led to increasing stultification and surveillance, with demands for corporate style messaging eating away academic freedom of speech. The drive towards pseudo-measurement of educational outcomes has imposed unprecedented administrative costs, with administrators and managers now outnumbering academics (who nonetheless face increasing demands to conduct administration).

The impacts of corporatised education are uniformly contrary to what is intended. The narrow emphasis on vocational education is creating graduates unfit for many jobs - employers have raised issues with serious deficits in team work, creative thought and communication.[63] Administrative burdens imposed in the name of quality assurance are driving down quality by drawing resources out of teaching and research. Attempts to quantify educational outputs obscure more than they reveal. And the lowering of standards to accommodate overseas students is reducing Australia’s attractiveness as an international student destination.[64]

Genuine transparency means accountability to the general public, not to a corporate structure. We believe that publicly funded academic research should be made freely available to the public and no longer locked up behind publisher paywalls. We also believe in enhancing the quality of academic work by following the advice of academics themselves, who urgently seek fairer funding arrangements and greater autonomy. Education should be viewed as a pillar of civil society rather than a money making commodity, and we believe campuses should be encouraged to play a greater role in the community. Passion, curiosity and freedom to speak and question are key curbs to unhindered power, and a successful university system should embody those traits.

Reform of democratic institutions

Australia’s governance is facing a crisis of confidence. The parliament and the public service are becoming increasingly disconnected from society, even as political dialog and debate take on an increasingly scripted and toxic tone. The loss of public trust and respect threatens greater disengagement - a vicious cycle which needs to be met with determined efforts to restore accountability and trust to our democratic institutions.

Public integrity and trust rely on the public right to be informed about decisions taken on their behalf. This principle finds practical application in Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.[65][66] Pirate Party Australia supports this legislation, but believes more can be done to enhance its effectiveness. A significant barrier to truly effective FoI laws is created through the application of blanket exemptions based on arbitrary judgments of relevance or on which authority claims ownership of the documents. While exemptions must exist, we believe they should be narrower, time limited, and justified by a higher threshold of due cause. This will provide not only greater faith in the FoI system, but a higher level of accountability and trust across all levels of government.

Another pillar of public integrity is the capacity to swiftly identify and manage wrongdoing and corruption. Whistleblowers are an essential part of this capacity, and an important check on potential abuses of power. Repeated instances of harsh and inappropriate punishment and covert forms of deterrence over the past 10 years provide a strong case for improving the robustness of whistleblower protections.[67] It is past time that whistleblowers gained the essential freedom to speak out without fear of undue reprisal, and with reasonable confidence that wrongs will be righted.

Transparency also requires periodic reviews of public sector spending and processes, and we accordingly support moves to conduct a comprehensive audit process. Also, since the state is funded by all citizens, we believe that services provided by the state and its authorized service providers should be offered subject to a firm principle of non-discrimination.

Institutional improvement should be accompanied by a lifting in political standards. Political conduct and dialogue in Australia is generally reckoned to be at a low ebb. Some improvement can be made by applying greater standards of openness with regard to the movement of money within the political system. However we also highlight the need for proper scrutiny of public spending: it should no longer be acceptable to shut down such scrutiny through the use of commercial-in-confidence clauses.[68]

Finally, we propose urgent measures to improve political conduct during elections. The election process is presently riddled with political manipulation of a type inconsistent with a healthy democracy. Instituting fixed terms removes one form of direct manipulation, but a better standard of political dialogue is also essential. Elections as conducted encourage a reliance on talking points and scripts which hide agendas, spread misinformation, and deny meaningful dialogue. A proper debate process modeled on the US approach will create a setting in which politicians are obliged to communicate meaningfully and respectfully with other and with the public. The addition of new voices to policy debates should also be encouraged, and Pirate Party Australia pledges to do all it can to support participation by restoring candidate fees to a reasonable level, and opposing recent legislation intended to prevent candidates from competing in elections.

Digital liberties

The grassroots nature of the Internet is causing considerable disruption to traditional power structures.[69][70][71][72] Unsurprisingly, this is leading to push-back: corporate and government entities have been trying for years to increase control over the Internet through a range of measures including censorship, reduction of access, treaties to reduce the rights of Internet users, and ever-broader surveillance and monitoring powers.[73]

Attempts to control the Internet take different forms over time, but all are justified through references to crime and other undesirable activities. They also all share one critical flaw: they are easily evaded by those with technical knowledge. They ultimately reduce the freedoms of the public while doing nothing to curb criminal behaviour. The Pirate Party will always defend the founding principles of the Internet, and resist any and all attempts to control it. A fast and free Internet, open to all, is a safeguard not just for our economy and culture, but for our basic rights.

Net neutrality

Net neutrality is a fundamental principle behind the development of the Internet. It ensures that the Internet is free and open to all by preventing gatekeepers from blocking, speeding up, or slowing down content based on the source, destination or owner. Net Neutrality guarantees that even the smallest entrepreneurs have the same access standards as established firms.[74] The absence of such a guarantee would represent a perpetual threat to generations of new entrants.

Content providers and ISPs have undermined net neutrality by seeking to differentiate among different forms of information and data flow, and impose priorities. Abandoning Net Neutrality and subjecting Internet traffic to a commercial veto will hurt competition and innovation, and allow service providers to preference or block protocols and force consumers to use less desirable options.

Free, open and non-discriminatory access to the Internet is essential for our democracy and for our economic well-being and the Pirate Party will seek the adoption of clear net neutrality principles to protect the Internet from the introduction of any discriminatory practices.

Data retention

Surveillance of the public is expanding constantly, and has reached a point which threatens essential trust between the state and the citizen.[75][76]

Plans have been tabled to expand surveillance further which would force ISPs to retain telephone and Internet data for 2 years, and force people to reveal their passwords on demand. This is a gross invasion of privacy and will create a vast database of material. Ultimately this database could become accessible through many channels not mentioned in the legislation, including subpoenas. The database will pose little threat to criminal activity, since many technical avenues currently exist through which data retention can be avoided.

While data retention is only a proposal at present, recent revelations show that Australians are already subject to an array of secret, warrantless spying on emails, chats, photographs, documents and website addresses.[77][78][79] Such spying poses little threat to terrorists: terrorist forums are not indexed by most search engines and do not inhabit the servers targeted by the PRISM program.[80] However, mass-trawling of personal data poses a significant threat to the liberties of the global public and undermines cooperation and trust between citizens and the state. Unrestricted surveillance of the public combined with total obscurity for the state is untenable. Far more legitimacy, trust, and effectiveness will be earned by applying proper oversight and inbuilt protections for civil liberties, including proper use of warrants

Censorship

Internet censorship proposals create a permanent infrastructure for web blocking, and connect it to a permanently shifting category of banned content. The RC classification has been altered frequently by parliament and has become patchwork and inconsistent.[81] We believe that the government should look to adequately funding law enforcement, removing illegal content and prosecuting those responsible for the manufacture of the material, rather than funding a filter that slows connection speeds, is liable to wrongly block websites and is easily circumvented.

Households may choose censorship programs for their own use, but that is the prerogative of parents: they must be permitted to make decisions for their own families, and the government should trust them to do so responsibly.

New censorship proposals come on top of existing, secret censorship mechanisms. Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act has been used by officials to block access to around 250,000 legitimate websites to date, with no application of oversight and accountability.[82][83][84] We believe the rampant misuse of this provision warrants its removal, with any replacement clause to be subject to proper consultation and higher legislative standards.

Support for fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure projects

The current copper network is not sufficient to meet the requirements of a growing digital society. A fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure project that connects the majority of Australians to a fibre network, where economically feasible, is fundamental to the creation of a vibrant digital society in Australia.

Bill of Rights

Australia is one of the few remaining western democracies whose citizens and residents lack any significant, constitutionally declared rights. This lack of protection creates an imbalance of power between individuals and the state, and poses risks to privacy, free speech and individual choice. A bill of rights is overdue as a way to restore balance and provide unambiguous checks on the creeping intrusion of the state into private life.

We propose a referendum to alter the Australian Constitution and include a bill of rights, codifying a basic set of human rights and freedoms.[85] The Pirate Party proposal incorporates the most fundamental and essential elements of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,[86] the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[87] and the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[88]

Tax

Years of ad-hoc changes have left Australia with one of the most opaque tax systems in the world. [89] Poor transparency in our tax system undermines government accountability and burdens us with costs: more than two thirds of taxpayers are now obliged to file returns through an agent.[90] Our system is riddled with stealth taxes, creating unexpected costs which hit the poorest the hardest.[91] Business levies imposed by state governments create hidden costs for consumers, and amount to stealth-consumption taxes. The GST uses antiquated invoicing systems which impose needless burdens on small business,[92] while payroll taxes penalise job creation and hurt the prospects of the unemployed. The system urgently requires fundamental reform to improve transparency and progressiveness.

Transparency

Taxing consumption has merit since it doesn't remove incentives to work, save and innovate.[93] However, such tax must be taken at as few points in the economic cycle as possible, and in ways that are easy to track. We support the Henry review proposal to clear out layers of consumption and stealth-consumption taxes and replace them with a single cash flow tax. A cash flow tax is paid by businesses on the difference between sales and expenses: it provides a transparent way to tax consumption which is efficient, simple to pay[94] and difficult to evade.[95]

Innovation

Global research suggests that tax laws are a key to innovation: reducing business taxes in particular is advantageous, since it frees capital for technology development and entrepreneurial activity.[96][97] Australia imposes one of the highest company tax rates in the OECD,[98] and tax breaks for innovation primarily benefit large firms. We propose two changes: firstly, company tax should match the rates of our international competitors. Secondly, the importance of micro-businesses as an engine of innovation should be recognised. A tax free threshold for micro businesses will nurture their innovative potential, encourage backyard entrepreneurs, and provide a financial incentive for the disadvantaged to develop their entrepreneurship and skills.

Progressiveness

Tax policy is an important mechanism for helping the poor. We believe that persons earning an income below the poverty line should no longer be forced to pay income tax. Increasing the tax-free threshold to match the poverty line will reduce the income tax burden for all taxpayers and free the poor from the costs of submitting a tax return. We also support the push from welfare and community organisations to improve progressiveness by closing tax loopholes employed by higher earners.[99]

Progressiveness can also be improved by better targeting of exemptions. Currently, commercial businesses can claim tax exemption (and significant competitive advantage) if they are owned by religious organisations. Supernatural beliefs should be irrelevant for taxpayers in a secular society. We will seek to align the tax code to international norms, removing tax exemptions on commercial income and linking non-commercial subsidies to universally accepted standards of community benefit.

Finally, the Pirate Party will support the global campaign for an international transactions tax. A small tax on high frequency speculation will raise revenue to combat global poverty and environmental damage, and ensure that financial speculators are made accountable for some of the costs of the global financial crisis. It will redirect capital toward productive uses and away from short-term churning, which creates instability at the heart of the global economy.[100][101]

Welfare

Transfer payments include the full scope of government payments and benefits which act together to provide a social safety net. While such a safety net is essential, the operation of it has been corrupted in Australia by lack of systemic planning and continual vote-buying exercises. A range of ad-hoc middle-class welfare measures operate with little economic merit and poor coordination[102][103] (as an example, the Howard-era Family Tax Benefit part B provides incentive to parents to stay off work,[104] while the Gillard-era Paid Parental Leave scheme offers a counterincentive to stay in the workforce[105]). At the same time evidence is emerging that the fundamental purpose of welfare (alleviation of poverty) is no longer being adequately served.[106]

Australia's tax free threshold is currently under $20,000 per year.[107] Low income earners are thus routinely taxed, with the money subsequently churned back to them again through the welfare system. Greater independence, transparency, and social justice are provided if money is not taken in the first place (see: tax policy) and the transfer system operates efficiently, provides incentives to work, and targets the areas of greatest need.

A single modular payment which can be customised to individual circumstances will provide a more efficient and effective safety net than the current system of rigid, separate payments.

Energy

Australia is falling behind the rest of world in harnessing renewable energy despite its massive natural advantages. Our approach to driving renewable energy is simply not comprehensive enough: policies including the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and carbon price provide only partial solutions to domestic electricity emissions, and do nothing to curb much greater and growing emissions from liquid fuels[108] and fossil fuel exports.[109]

Rising coal prices force governments to provide more than $12 billion per year in coal subsidies to keep domestic prices down.[110] These subsidies far outstrip renewable investments and entrench our dependence on a dirty, finite energy source. Business as usual also carries a high imminent cost: Australia's coal power grid is deteriorating and will require investment of over $100 billion in the medium term.[111] A circuit breaker is needed to address the chronic problems in our energy model.

Constructing a renewable energy grid

The ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan, produced by the Beyond Zero Emissions research organisation, provides an alternative to patching up our obsolete coal power grid. The report presents an achievable and costed 10-year plan for building a renewable energy grid capable of entirely replacing coal-fired power in Australia.[112] A large-scale rollout of renewable power will address climate change in the necessary time frame, create over 150,000 jobs,[113] and provide urgently needed stimulus to the struggling manufacturing and construction industries. It also offers a means to provide long-term jobs, investment , and financial independence to our most impoverished and remote communities. Associated costs can be met through the sale of completed power assets, and through reworking existing levies and revenue streams allocated to renewables. The project brings the ambition and vision encapsulated in the Snowy River Hydro scheme[114] to the 21st century.

Utilising market incentives

Greater power generation in the community should support the grid. While solar PV is supported currently, the effectiveness is compromised by a "solar coaster" effect driven by continual policy changes among the states. Australia's share of the solar PV market has plunged from 7 per cent in 1991 to 1 per cent in 2008.[115] We can turn this around by adopting global best practice in the form of a harmonised national solar PV tariff which covers businesses and community groups as well as households.[116][117][118]

Liquid fuel emissions can be reduced with a Renewable Fuel Target, modelled on the successful UK scheme, to drive investment in low-emission hydrocarbon and bio fuels.[119][120] Such a scheme should also drive take-up of electric cars and other efficient devices.

Plans to increase Australia's coal exports must be reconsidered: domestic reductions in coal burning provide little benefit if the coal is merely exported instead, or if export growth outstrips domestic cuts. We propose a temporary moratorium on new coal exploration until such a time as Carbon Capture and Storage technology (CCS) is viable and commercial, and we will encourage private interests to develop the technology on that basis. We can avert the potential impact on mining communities by ensuring that renewable jobs are created in close proximity.

A balanced mix of stimulatory state investment and market price mechanisms can drive the adoption of renewable energy in the necessary magnitude without compromising the economy. Detailed work by scientists and engineers has provided a roadmap for Australia to curb its emissions in the necessary timeframe and break our dependence on fossil fuels for good. All we need is political will.

Environment and animal welfare

Environmental policy faces a single crucial test: it must reflect what science has come to tell us about the natural world. Environmental neglect amounts to a repudiation of science and creates many concealed costs. Ecological deterioration in Australia is undeniably significant: issues with land management and feral animals are leading to significant biodiversity loss, even from protected areas such as Kakadu.[121] Cases such as that of the Murray Darling system demonstrate the folly of trying to split ecosystem management across state borders: scientific reviews demonstrate interconnections and complexity which demand a comprehensive national approach.[122] The Pirate Party supports the adoption of prudent and holistic measures to curb ecological destruction.

We support the development of a comprehensive biodiversity matrix, to properly classify land and ocean ecosystems and species distribution. The creation of such a database carries initial costs, but will provide long-term savings by allowing for more rapid and comprehensive environmental approvals. It will also provide the public with ready access to in-depth information about the ecological health of our continent, and underpin a transparent, scientifically-informed approach to land management.

While scientific land use management is a worthy long-term goal, we believe certain practices warrant action in a more urgent timeframe. Coal seam gas extraction is being undertaken from a position of profound ignorance regarding its impacts on rivers and groundwater, food security, and biodiversity. With increasing evidence emerging of fugitive emissions leaks and other unforeseen impacts,[123][124] we believe the precautionary principle should be applied, and a moratorium enacted, pending a strong scientific case supporting the safety of this practice.

The Pirate Party is opposed to animal abuse and believes our laws should reflect scientific research which demonstrates the capacity of animals to feel emotion and pain.[125] Accordingly we support existing efforts to create an independent statutory authority to improve animal welfare outcomes and curb abuses. Animal welfare can also be improved through increased transparency applying to animal products. The Pirate Party additionally supports ongoing efforts to promote chilled meat exports as an alternative to the live cattle trade: live exports are characterized by months-long voyages, unsanitary conditions and total absence of any freedom of movement, with a significant follow-up risk of abuse in destination countries.[126][127]

Ultimately, decisions relating to environmental management and animal rights adjudicate a clash of rights. Animal rights may clash with profits and development, while land management balances the needs of current and future generations. The Pirate Party believes in the adoption of an open and scientific framework to help inform our answers to these difficult questions.

Marriage

The Marriage Act in current form denies same sex couples a human right which is taken for granted in mainstream, heterosexual society. The Marriage Amendment Act 2004 pushed this discrimination further by imposing a declaration, compulsorily recited at all weddings, that marriage in Australia is an exclusionary institution only to occur between a man and a woman.[128] This imposes religious principles into state ceremonies, undermining the separation of Church and State—a principle which lacks explicit protection in the Australian Constitution.[129] It also feeds existing stigmas related to homosexuality, which cause significant harm: discrimination against same-sex couples is known to cause alienation, anxiety and depression, and the rate for suicide attempts among LGBT is 2.5 times higher than that of the general population.[130] The repercussions place a large burden on our health system.[131]

As the modifications enacted in 2004 demonstrate,[132] the Marriage Act is too easily used as a vehicle for political grandstanding, to the detriment of equality and civil liberties.[133] Protecting marriage is not a matter of excluding particular individuals: we should instead exclude the state, which has shown itself to be incapable of overseeing fair and proper marriage laws. We accordingly support returning marriage to the community and replacing the Marriage Act with a Civil Unions Act. This will offer equal treatment to same-sex couples, and help to ensure that all Australian citizens receive the same recognition and legal rights.

Drugs

People have always taken drugs, and modern attempts at prohibition are at odds with history as well as human nature. The war on drugs is best understood as a war on a market. Such wars are futile: demand always creates supply, and ad-hoc attacks on supply channels do nothing other than reduce the quality of drugs, and increase the risks. History shows that even the harshest attempts to outlaw a market do not make the market go away, but merely create an unregulated black market in place of the legal one, making criminals of regular citizens and funding organised crime.

The cost of the war on drugs

At present the illegal drug market is worth around $300 billion per year,[134] making a mockery of prohibition. The choice we face is not between drugs and no drugs, but between legal and illegal markets.

The illegal market funnels vast profits to criminals and imposes equally vast costs on society. The US alone spends $50 billion per year fighting the war on drugs,[135] and global spending is far greater. The secondary costs are incalculable: jailing people for drug offences does far more to destroy individual lives and potential than the drugs themselves. The policy is poorly targeted, excluding alcohol and tobacco but imposing massive punishments on non-violent users of much less harmful products.[136] In producer countries, the illegal market has enriched drug cartels, causing thousands of deaths every year,[137] corrupting civil societies and creating a risk of failed states.

Prohibition offers no success to justify the cost: figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show no observable decline in global drug use,[138] nor is any decline evident in Australia.[139] Results among individual nations show no correlation between drug use levels and the harshness of drug laws.[140]

The alternative

The experience of Portugal—where decriminalisation led to an observable fall in drug deaths[141]—suggests that a much better approach exists. Imprisonment is an immoral and ineffective way of handling mental health issues and other drivers of drug abuse. It is cheaper and more effective to handle these issues in the sphere of public health. Legalising and taxing safe drugs will raise revenue to fund better support services for addicts and their families. Decriminalising other drugs will broaden options for treatment and allow help to be extended without the threat of criminal sanctions. Effective policy must offer help and treatment, but must also recognise that most drug users are neither addicts nor criminals.

In handling drugs, policymakers should also take note of their one success: the campaign against tobacco. The anti-tobacco campaign has reduced the proportion of smokers by 40% over 20 years[142] through a combination of advertising, warnings, and social sanctions in a legal framework. It is a far more successful model than prohibition, and a broader application of it should be considered.

Ultimately however, civil liberties must be respected. A belief in civil liberties does not require approval of every private choice, merely acceptance that choice should exist. The alternative has cost us too much, for too long.

Asylum seekers and refugees

Handling of asylum seekers is one of the great policy failures of recent years. Domestically, political and legal processes are mired in buck-passing and blame - a dysfunction mirrored in wider regional disputes.[143][144][145] The backlog of boat arrivals has overwhelmed capacity for processing, drownings at sea continue to escalate, and growing evidence is emerging of inept and inhumane handling of the problem in Australia and overseas.[146]

A crisis on such a scale requires a regional solution. We believe efforts should begin at once to set up a single regional asylum seeker 'queue'. Asylum seekers arriving anywhere in the region would be subject to a single processing system overseen by an independent body with all participating nations accepting a share of approved refugees. The existence of a common regional queue would remove specific incentives to travel to Australia, reducing drowning and deterring backdoor economic migration. A transparent allocation process should reduce disputes between nations, and pooling of information should improve document and identity checking. The creation of a new system of oversight allows for a best practice approach built from the ground up, with a humane appeals process and a means for swift and safe return of arrivals deemed not to be asylum seekers.

Such a scheme would require funding, leadership, and specific incentives provided by Australia to encourage sign-up. However, Australia currently spends over $1 billion per year on detention facilities,[147] and redirection of these funds will free up significant resources. Nations such as Indonesia would have strong incentives to sign up, both to receive aid, and to obtain help with settling their own large backlog of asylum seekers. As participating countries would be required to sign the UN Refugee Convention, funding and aid from Australia could become a mechanism for improving region-wide standards in asylum seeker handling.

Asylum seeking is lawful, and detention should not last longer than the minimum time-frame necessary to assess claims and conduct health and security checks. Approved asylum seekers can be brought into the community, provided with support and training, and settled in areas where jobs remain persistently vacant (the National Farmers Federation estimates around 96,000 jobs are unfilled in regional areas).[148]

The Pirate Party believes it is past time that our response to the plight of vulnerable people embodied our best qualities instead of our worst.

Foreign policy and treaty making

Civil and digital liberties, transparency, and human rights are universal principles and should be embodied in foreign as well as domestic policy. Indeed, foreign and domestic spheres are often difficult to separate, with international treaties having potential to drive domestic lawmaking.

Like all legal mechanisms, treaties derive legitimacy through consent and consultation. For this reason, treaties such as ACTA (which affect surveillance, [149] generic medicine,[150] and digital rights), have drawn concern due to the intense secrecy surrounding their formulation and negotiation. While the secrecy itself was nullified by regular leaks, the process was still seen to exclude many potentially affected parties. Far more legitimacy and balance will attach to treaty outputs when openness and participation are enshrined in the negotiation process, and potential threats to sovereignty are removed.

Recent revelations of massive and warrantless monitoring by the US National Security Agency also demand an alternative, and stronger response from the Australian government. Australians are being subjected to offshore monitoring on a massive scale with no checks and balances and no access to appeals or accountability. The notion that allies can be treated as suspects with no rights is harmful both to domestic sovereignty and broader international relations. One method of safeguarding the liberties of internet users will be to ensure that foreign whistle blowers offering information relevant to the public good are granted protection under Australian whistle blower laws. We also believe negotiations should commence on a new treaty to enshrine the principles of the internet and protect the rights of its users.

Australia should also continue to support human rights overseas, with the first step being to meet agreed aid targets. Plans to redirect foreign aid to handle domestic boat arrivals set a bad precedent and should be reversed. Properly targeted aid may well do more to reduce such arrivals in the long-run by curbing poverty and environmental damage overseas.

Foreign humanitarian aid should be provided for genuine humanitarian reasons, and in a manner that supports the improvement of local conditions. It is sometimes the case that aid is provided to foreign nations in situations where the real benefit is to the business and producers in the donor countries and the aid actually has negative effects upon the recipient countries.[151][152][153] For example the increase in US rice delivered to Haiti as food aid in the wake of the disastrous earthquake of 2010 has put further pressure on local producers already struggling after years of their market being flooded by cheap, heavily subsidized US rice and very low tariffs imposed by the IMF. [154][155]

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