Victorian Senate Group AL: In which our Timbers are Shivered

Ahoy there, me hearties, it’s the Pirate Party!  Arrr! I have been looking forward to this one for *weeks*.  I have no idea what it’s going to be about, but I have high hopes that Johnny Depp will be involved.  Or better still, Geoffrey Rush…

It must be acknowledged that the Pirate Party Australia clearly wins the prize for the most amusing political party name on this year’s ballot.  Good show!  But since I have scrupulously avoided finding out what they stand for up until now (because I was saving this party as a reward for being nearly at the end of my tiny parties project), I really have nothing more to add in this preamble, so let’s get straight on to seeing who they like on the Group Voting Ticket.

The Pirate Party (arr!) (nope, I’m not going to stop doing that any time soon) give their first preferences to the Democrats, Wikileaks, the Greens and the Secular Party of Australia.  This bodes well.  The Sex Party and Drug Law Reform Party also do quite well, and in fact most of my favourites are up there, though unaccountably, so are the Liberal Democrats.  Perhaps a touch of libertarianism here?  I do hope not.  Around about 63 on the ballot, they start preferencing the bigger parties, starting with Labor, then moving down to the Liberals, with Family First, the CEC, Rise Up Australia and One Nation occupying the last four places on their ballot.

You really could do a lot worse, I feel.

Incidentally, the Pirate Party (arr!) decided to model their policy of transparency and freedom of information by putting all the information about how they determined preferences on their website.  With correspondence.  If you feel so inclined, you can actually go and see what everyone wrote back to them on their Wiki page. I’d love to see more parties doing this.

Let’s have a look at their website, which has a black pirate flag with the Southern Cross on it (because everyone else had already taken the Eureka flag).  We are informed that they are a movement based around the core tenets of:

  • freedom of information and culture
  • civil and digital liberties
  • privacy and anonymity
  • government transparency
  • participatory democracy

On their front page are several press releases about copyright law, surveillance and the major parties’ inability to ‘keep step with the digital reality’.  They will be forced to walk the plank.  (This isn’t stated, but I feel that it is implied.)

(look, if you didn’t want pirate jokes, you shouldn’t have called yourself the Pirate Party.  Arrr!)

On the FAQ page, the Pirate Party (arrr!) informs me that they are not a joke party, but that’s OK, because I’m still quite amused. 

Our name might seem silly at first, but you have to remember everyone has been called a “pirate” for the last few decades. The movie studios and recording companies have placed their propaganda in front of every DVD you’ve legitimately purchased or movie you’ve watched at the cinemas. We’ve been told over and over that home taping on to cassettes would kill the radio, that recording a TV show on to the VCR would bring an end to free-to-air TV or sharing an MP3 music song with a friend will cause the end of musician’s careers, the list goes on, but the truth is we were misled.

We in the Pirate Party have simply decided that if sharing a love for culture, knowledge and information with our friends and family makes us pirates, then that’s what we are and we’re proud of it. We’ve adopted the very term intended to demonise an entire generation for the completely natural impulse to share discoveries with those around us. We’ve claimed the pirate name in the fight for a free, open and renewed democracy in Australia, we hope you’ll join us.

I’m interested to see where they are going to go with this.  On the one hand, I do think our copyright law has gone too far (and that far too much of the profits from copyrighted works go to people other than the works’ authors), but equally, I strongly believe that artists of all stripes deserve to be paid.  Quite apart from the fact that the laborer is worthy of his or her hire, if we don’t pay artists, they may have to get jobs instead of creating art, and I want art to keep happening, thank you!

Incidentally, apparently the Pirate Party (arr!) is an international party, first founded in Sweden, and they have won seats in local and national elections in Europe, so this is clearly a movement to take seriously (arrr!!!!) (except that apparently I’m not taking anything seriously at present).

Here’s a bit more about copyright, since this appears to be the Pirate Party’s chief raison d’être:

Most people believe copyright and patent laws only exist to reward artists and inventors, but this isn’t entirely true. The first copyright and patent laws were enacted hundreds of years ago with a primary aim to ensure a progressive commons, a cultural centre to our society where everyone has fair access to the latest advances of science, from new inventions to discoveries and also access to the latest works in the arts, music, literature and theatre. These laws were created to increase our access and ensure a reasonable incentive was there to create and share. But over the years these noble ambitions have been almost completely lost to the power, money and greed those laws also created.

The creators of this world have lost their rights to middlemen and the scales of fair and reasonable access have fallen heavily against the public. We are all being denied fair access to the cultural and scientific works of our age. Creators aren’t getting rich, though middlemen are, it’s time for reform and that is what the Pirate Party is here to do.

The Pirate Party Platform (or plank, as I like to think of it) takes the form of a Wiki page, which seems utterly appropriate.  I say this with deep affection and as something of a nerd myself, but this is the most computer-geeky party I have yet encountered.  Of course they have a Wiki.

They have subtly different core tenets here to the ones on their front page, which might be something to fix in future – they are similar, but there definitely different nuances:

  • 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.

They add that they seek not only to change national laws but to reform perceptions.  For a moment I am reminded of the Socialist Equality Party, but I am reassured that they plan to do this democratically, rather than via a people’s revolution.  Or via hijacking ships, of course.

My, they have a lot of policies.  We shall start, as our piratical friends do, with Civil Liberties, in particular freedom of speech, thought, conscience and assembly.  The Pirates (arr!) view laws against offensive speech as well intentioned, but potentially harmful to dialogue in the long term, and feel that the legal system needs to err on the side of free speech, including strengthening shield laws for journalists.  Also under civil liberties, they want to repeal recent laws that loosened thresholds for detention, search and seizure, and protect privacy.

They believe in ‘freedom over the body’, including full and free access to one’s own medical records, the right to make living wills which are binding, and to legalise euthanasia, subject to a number of fairly sensible restrictions including cooling off periods and medical advice.  I notice that there is no mention of abortion here, which may be a genuine oversight or an effort to avoid controversy, though the Pirates (arr!) do say elsewhere that “politicians should represent the views of citizens, not use political office to impose religious views into the private sphere”.  Incidentally, they are also in favour of marriage equality.

Next, we come to copyright, which is, I think their flagship policy (the flag in question being, of course, the Jolly Roger).  The Pirates’ concern is that copyright duration has been repeatedly extended, and now persists for 70 years after the death of the creator.  This doesn’t benefit the creator, and tends to benefit only large businesses, and it “is actively harmful for the creative community, because it kills the flow of material to the public domain, denying the opportunity to draw on it.”  In addition, enforcement has become increasingly draconian, extending into non-commercial use.

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 or fined millions of dollars for downloading a handful of songs. Community groups and charities have been threatened with legal action for allowing children to perform Christmas carols, and corporations are preventing access to public footage of historical events. The rights of the general public are being trampled in the name of protecting obsolete, rent-seeking business models.

Actually, I’m going to quote a lot more of this, because I think it really is what the Pirate Party is about:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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’ 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.

I have to admit, I’ve had an interesting run-in with some of these issues myself – I’m a singer, studying classical music, and when I went to put up some clips on YouTube of myself singing music written in the 17th – 19th centuries, I repeatedly got emails via YouTube from companies claiming that I was in some way violating their copyright.  While I was able to successfully argue my case that these pieces of music were well and truly out of copyright, it was alarming to see that YouTube would take these copyright claims as truth until I argued them (and that in disputing these claims, I was faced with messages that if my dispute was unsuccessful, I could be banned from YouTube).  There are definitely some very fishy things going on out in copyright land on the internet.

The Pirates (arr!) rightly point out that “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”.  They also feel that excessive copyright durations rob us of cultural opportunities, as grassroots creators are being squeezed out.  They want to reduce copyright duration to around 15 years (which actually sounds a bit short to me, especially for books, where I’d personally favour a ‘lifetime of the artist’ model), and allow creative remixing and reuse of existing content.  In addition, they want to supplement these reforms 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.”

Ooh, subversive art!  I like these Pirates more and more!

The Pirate Party (arr!) also wants to modernise the patent system, acknowledging that given the rapid spread of ideas in our current world, a twenty year duration is excessive. They are concerned that ‘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’.  They believe that legal defence of a patent should require the litigant to prove that they are using it.  I mostly agree with this, though I would like to explore further how we are defining current use – setting something aside for six months or a year and then coming back to it is a whole different thing from sitting on a whole lot of patented material without using any of it for years on end.

The Pirates would also remove patents or monopolies on human genes, and I am absolutely in favour of this.  I remember when Myriad, who had patented the test for the BRCA1 mutation (which causes hereditary cancer), essentially a gene patent, changed the licensing rules which had allowed them to be used by health systems in Australia.  Suddenly, this life-altering and potentially life-saving test went from being essentially free on Medicare to costing something in the order of $2000 – I think, too, that it went from being something you could get locally to something which you had to send overseas for, causing additional costs and delays, but I might be confusing that with another situation (My Google-fu is not at its best today).

They also want to change the patenting system for phramaceuticals:

  • 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).The situation is worse in developing nations where high prices demanded by patent holders deny impoverished people access to lifesaving medicine.
  • 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. 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.

Again, I have personal experience of this problem in action, when a drug company who had kindly provided the drugs for a safety trial for a particular vaccine that the lab I worked in was studying, declined to provide the drugs for the Phase 1 clinical trial, because they were also the company who sold the current treatment for the disease.  They didn’t especially want a vaccine, thank you.

The Pirates (arr!) want to abolish drug patents (which makes me happy on a social level, but sad personally, as I’m pretty sure that this is where my annual bonus comes from), so that the PBS can use generic drugs, and they want to redirect these funds towards medical research (which makes things a bit better, at least for my colleagues).  They would also like to create a trial ‘bounty’ system, rewarding the creation of drugs that serve an identified public good.  And they want a global biomedical treaty and bounty system to replace drug patents worldwide.

Actually, this is pretty awesome.  I’m actually going to have some competition at the top of my ticket, not just the bottom, if we continue along these lines.

The Pirates are in favour of education, and want to make academic publications freely available, rather than being locked in behind publisher paywalls.  Oh, please, yes.  This is like the party for researchers right now.

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

Sing it, Pirates!

(insert song from the Pirates of Penzance here)

Seriously, I do like this policy.

The Pirates call for more transparency in government, and a better standard of political dialogue.  I choose to believe that this means Parliament should have Talk Like  A Pirate Day every day, but something tells me that this is not the case.  They are in favour of adding new voices to policy debates, and restoring candidate fees to lower levels.

This is, perhaps, a little self-serving, but it’s still a good thing.  Though I imagine not everyone currently facing the Victorian Senate Ballot Paper would agree with me.

The Pirates have a lot of internet-related policies, including net neutrality (ensuring “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.”), removing censorship, and banning data retention.  They are concerned that “Australians are already subject to an array of secret, warrantless spying on emails, chats, photographs, documents and website addresses”, which doesn’t help us find terrorists, but does pose a threat to our liberties.  They also want better infrastructure… perhaps an NBN?

Did I mention there were a lot of policies?  I’m going to review the rest of them fairly briefly, because they are more like things we have seen elsewhere.

The Pirate Party (arrr!!) wants Australia to have a Bill of Rights.  They want a more progressive and coherent tax system, and support the Henry review to replace a number of business taxes with a cash flow tax.  They also want to raise the tax free threshold above the poverty line, so that low income earners and people on benefits are not paying tax out of these benefits.  Actually, they want to do a number of things with welfare, but I like their Basic Income for people aged 18 or over of $300 per week, which requires either seeking employment or full-time study.  I especially like the fact that this would allow someone who has been unemployed to update their skills.

On Energy, the Pirates want to create a renewable energy grid, which they feel will address climate change, create jobs, and stimulate the manufacturing and construction industry.  They also want a renewable fuel target and a solar PV tariff.  They are against coal seam gas extraction, because they feel it “is being undertaken from a position of profound ignorance regarding its impacts on rivers and groundwater, food security, and biodiversity”, and they want a science-based environmental policy that for once sounds as though it might be science based.  They are also opposed to the live animal trade.

The Pirates feel that the war on drugs basically doesn’t work and just puts money into the hands of criminals.  They therefore want to legalise and tax safe drugs, such as marijuana, and decriminalise other drugs.  This would also make it easier for people suffering from addictions to seek treatment.

Finally, the Pirates (arr!!) have a pretty good policy on asylum seekers and refugees.  They want to create a single regional ‘queue’ with asylum seekers arriving anywhere in the region being processed by “an independent body with all participating nations accepting a share of approved refugees”.  They believe that this would reduce incentives to travel to Australia, reducing drowning.  They also want fast processing, with a humane appeals process.

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).

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.

All in all, not a bad set of policies.  While the Pirates (arr!!) (last one!) clearly started off being about copyright law, they have well-thought-out policies in a number of areas, and I’m not just saying that because I agree with most of them.  I do like their ideas about pharmaceutical patents (though I can’t help wondering what the business development people at work would think of them), and I’d be quite happy to see this group represented in our Senate.  We could do ever so much worse.

13 thoughts on “Victorian Senate Group AL: In which our Timbers are Shivered

  1. My concern with a strict “lifetime of the author” rule would be that it might disadvantage authors near the end of their lives, if publishers/film-makers/etc start thinking “why would we pay for this now when soon it’ll be free?”

    Looking at somebody like Iain M. Banks, who announced that he was dying early this year, and then died shortly before his final novel came out. With a lifetime-of-author rule his work would have been available for copying IMMEDIATELY it was published, which leaves the publisher with precious little incentive to pay royalties.

    • A good point. I was, of course, assuming that the life of the author would extend past 15 years. Perhaps a better option would be life of the author or 15 years, whichever is longer?

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  3. Re: Abortion

    That’s covered in both the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties under controlling one’s own body. I ought to know, I wrote that part of the policy (well, I did for the Bill of Rights, I’d have to double-check the phrasing on the other one to be sure it was mine too).

    Short version: there’s nothing more obvious an inalienable right than having the right to control what exists within your own body. Regardless of whether that is through adding or removing any given thing/organism/chemical/whatever.

    Euthanasia got a separate mention in controlling your body because it relates to a very specific aspect of treating your own life (i.e. ending it), but we wanted to avoid too many examples so that we didn’t get trapped in “well X isn’t specifically mentioned so you don’t have the right to do that” nonsense.

    • Hi Ben,

      Thanks very much for the clarification. It’s good to know the intent behind some policy statements, I think, especially with the amount of ‘coding’ going on in some parties.

      • Yeah, we decided a while back that if we want transparency and accountability in government then we should practice what we preach. That may have been a little more obvious with the preferences part, but only because it got so much media attention as a comparison to other parties. We don’t really go in for trying to masquerade our policies in order to appeal to any given special interest group, instead we rely on evidence to back up each proposal. Hence the massive amount of references and citations.

        The policy development process essentially utilised principles which will be incorporated into the liquid democracy project. The result was those 17 policies being developed in around 6 or 7 months, though some were based on previous work (e.g. copyright, Internet censorship and a few other things that merged elsewhere). For a policy to pass it went through six main stages: being written by the working group, voted on by the working group, approved by the Policy Development Committee, reviewed by the National Council (sometimes, in one case a policy was sent back for a major rewrite), reviewed by the membership and finally approved (voted on) by the membership.

        Occasionally there were proposed amendments from the members, some of which passed and some didn’t. From memory there were no amendments proposed regarding controlling one’s own body, but I vaguely recall something being raised about euthanasia which didn’t pass. That was back in April, though, so I don’t recall the details. There will be a record of whatever it was on the wiki for the policy meeting back then. The role of the National Council isn’t quite as major as it might appear either, although there’s some cross over between the NC office holders and the PDC members.

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