Federal Election 2019: Meet the Pirate Party Australia


Website: https://pirateparty.org.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/piratepartyau/
Previous names: Call to Australia
Freedom, Democracy, Science
Politics is broken, we need your help to fix it.
Themes: Freedom of speech, freedom of information, privacy, self-determination.  Approach to copyright favours consumers over creators to an undue degree.  Universal basic income, being nice to refugees.  Progressive values generally.
Preferences: How to Vote Cards aren’t part of the Pirate Code
Previous reviews

Policies & Commentary

Shiver me timbers, me hearties!  We have reached group ARRR on the Victorian Senate Ballot paper, which means it must be time for the Pirate Party.

Yeah, no, I’m not going to try to sustain that.  But I think we can all agree that their Senate draw is pretty awesome.

Their website leads with the following statement:

Politics is broken, we need your help to fix it.

The major parties have rigged the system, good ideas don’t get heard, serious issues are ignored.

With your help a fairer and more democratic Australia is possible.

… I’m just going to pause for a moment, to note that ‘politics is broken’ does seem to be a rallying cry for minor parties this year.  (Do you think it’s all the Prime Ministers we’ve been having recently?)

They go on to inform us that

We are a political movement based around the core tenets of:

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

The front page is adorned with invitations to join their discussion group, links to their newsletter and a donation page, upcoming events, and an article titled Data Retention: Learn how to protect the privacy of yourself and your family.

The Pirate Party’s news section is dominated by a statement in support of the Muslim community in Christchurch, commending Jacinda Arden’s actions in strengthening gun laws (these are not the sorts of pirates who carry heavy weaponry), and condemning Fraser Anning and adding:

It is our job as a nation to call out racism, hatred and bigotry wherever it festers and to bring it into the light so that it does not survive.

Their About page tells us that the first Pirate Party was founded in Sweden in 2006, in a response to the tightening of copyright laws.  They want information and culture to be freely available.  I am with them to a point, and that point is protecting the rights of creators.  I agree that current copyright legislation is ridiculous, but I know a number of authors who have suffered significant losses due to piracy of their books online.  The problem isn’t so much the losses they make on that book – it’s the fact that their lost sales make publishers less likely to publish them in future, because they aren’t providing a good enough return.  So we potentially lose future books as well.  Artists have the right to be paid for their work!

Their vision is… heh, more libertarian than I remembered, actually, but it’s a progressive sort of libertarianism.  Are they taking over the Sex Party’s ecological niche?

Our movement occupies a unique place in politics, providing leadership in the issues of today which you won’t find in other political parties – digital activism, human rights, economic responsibility and transparency of government. Small government, support for the disadvantaged, social programs and inclusion for the diversity of modern society are at our centre.

We are champions of equality for all people, our policies cover a very broad array of public policy issues. We are fighting for an honest, accountable and just Australia. We are strongly opposed to corruption in all forms, we use our voice to challenge and propose alternatives to unfair business dealings and political processes.

Our history and legacy in coming from the world’s most active digital political melting pot of its time, our members are part of broader cultural movement that is taking the world into a future where technology is used positively in building a more humane, more just society for all. Acutely aware that technology can be used for purposes other than the good of citizens, we believe that our voice, one that is knowledgeable and experienced in building this future is critically important for Australia now more than ever.

The Pirate Party has a whole Wikipedia page full of their policies and I’m not sure I can take this on a Friday evening, but I shall try to be strong.

First, the Pirate Party is very big on freedom of speech.

The greatest reformers, scientists and philosophers in history started out as heretics. Challenges to dogma and consensus built the enlightenment and created a world in which ideas could be attacked in place of people. Speech is the cornerstone of the enlightenment and the safeguard for all other liberties, protecting not just the right to speak, but the right to hear and judge the ideas of others. Free speech underpins our ability to think, create, innovate and progress.

Pirate Party Australia does not believe that regulating opinions is a legitimate function of the state. Advocates of censorship make a fundamental error in assuming that hateful speech is a force which only censorship can defeat. History shows the reverse to be true: racism has lost power and become socially unacceptable in the freest societies, where ideas can be most easily expressed—and refuted. Racism and other forms of hate face certain defeat the battle of ideas, but only if this battle is allowed to happen.

This is a lovely ideal, but I don’t think that it’s true.  And it also totally overlooks the fact that when racist and other forms of hate are expressed, people suffer.

If someone says something hateful and another person immediately stands up and counters it, that can be very powerful.  But that’s not how it usually happens.  Many people – perhaps most people? – are uncomfortable with direct confrontation.  And yet, silence in the face of hate speech is often presumed by the speaker to be agreement and endorsement, rather than politeness, or discomfort, or awkwardness.  And if they think others agree with them… well, eventually we get situations like the Christchurch massacre.

So yeah, the Pirates want to enshrine absolute freedom of speech in law, and while they do want to first ensure that ‘pre-existing common law protections are sufficient to manage all cases of intimidation and harassment’, they also want to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Pirates like the internet!  to pay.

The internet has always been grassroots, participatory, and open. For that reason alone, it has proven to be a huge thorn in the side of traditional hierarchical power structures. 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.

They believe in net neutrality (providers or other gatekeepers can’t blook, speed up or slow down content based on the source, destination or owner), because it means that people’s access to information – or, indeed, their ability to run a business online is not tied to their ability.  They want everyone to have access to a fast, neutral internet.  They are thus not impressed with the NBN…

The Pirates are also very big on privacy. They are against mass surveillance, collection of metadata by ISPs, and body scanners, and they want a lot more guarantees both of digital and in person privacy.  They are not impressed with recent counter-terror laws, which permit extensive surveillance without proof of wrongdoing.

On a related note, the Pirates believe that people should get to make decisions about their own bodies.


The right of self-ownership and the right to live free from pain and physical torment are absolutely fundamental. We believe that all persons have the right to live by their own convictions, but none have the right to force their convictions on others.

They support reproductive rights, noting that this is ‘not a commentary on the value of life: rather, it is recognition that individuals are better placed than governments to weigh up complex questions in light of their own circumstances and values.’

They support legalised euthanasia, with some reasonable restrictions; they want to decriminalise sex work; and they want to adopt ‘the current conventions used in New Zealand for gender identify change, under which a non-binary gender option is available for passports and can be changed with a simple application’.

The Pirates want to abolish the Marriage Act in favour of a Civil Unions Act, because…  they don’t feel that the state should have authority over marriages?  This policy is very strange, and I don’t really follow it.  I feel as though they started off strongly condemning the 2004 Marriage Amendment for mingling church and state inappropriately, but they haven’t quite finished responding to the new Marriage Act which allows same sex marriage.

Essentially, they seem to want everyone to have equal access to marriage or civil unions, but they aren’t expressing this very well.

On Justice,  they have this to say:

As a general rule, legal systems should always err on the side of civil liberty and the presumption of innocence. Legal systems represent an important check on state power and a means to protect the rights of citizens, but their effectiveness depends heavily on having the right underlying laws and safeguards. 

The Pirate Party particularly cares about protecting journalists and their sources, and they don’t like suppression orders.  They do, however, support the 1996 National Agreement on Firearms, which they believe ‘does not unreasonably restrict personal liberty in the use or ownership of firearms for legitimate purposes, while insisting on standards to ensure basic community safety and to limit proliferation into criminal enterprise’.

The Pirate Party wants a Bill of Rights, guaranteeing basically everything we have looked at so far.

They want to simplify and amend the Copyright Act, and here is where I strongly disagree with them, because their amendments would have creative rights expiring after a mere 15 years.  This is not a long time at all.  Most of the creative people I know make very little from their work, and they certainly shouldn’t be losing that after such a short period.

They do want all publicly-financed research to be Open Access, which I agree with, and is also already a condition of government funding in Australia.

But otherwise, I’m not happy with this policy.  Yes, current copyright restrictions are ridiculous, but so is this policy.  Lifetime of the author plus 21 years, so that any children can benefit from the income until adulthood sounds about right to me.

On a brighter note, the Pirates want to encourage art and culture.  This makes me tear  my hair out because, guys, you are *seriously* undermining artists with your copyright policies.

Oh, I see.  They support a universal basic income so that artists can be supported in a suitably garret-like location.  You can live on your art, just not get wealthy on it.  Grr.  OK, I’m tired and cranky and not being fair.  Their policy is not quite as bad as I’m painting it.

We believe the time has come to undo the harm done to our cultural commons as a result of 20th century copyright policy. However, this does create a serious question: where culture is freely available, how will artists and creators be paid and supported?

Pirate Party Australia has several answers to this. We will support a basic income guarantee which provides universal support to artists. We also propose a new wave of investment to create new cultural hubs for the community. These new hubs will expand the role currently played by libraries and provide free facilities for creation of music and art. They will also be places where legal obstacles such as obsolete Digital Rights Management (which hampers archivists who seek to engage in digital archiving) can be overturned. Additionally, we will seek to establish a new fund to sponsor artists and invest in the creation of films, literature and visual art. And finally, Pirate Party Australia will seek to provide smaller live music and performance venues with tax breaks to protect and enshrine them.

The Pirates support public broadcasting and they love the ABC.  They also want to give $500 million to libraries, which will make a lot of people I know very happy.

On a related note, the Pirates aren’t happy with patent law as it currently stands, either.  They are especially cross about gene patents, and fair enough too, and they also want to end patents on drugs, thus saving everyone (especially the PBS!) money.

… and also probably making it unprofitable to be a pharmaceutical company, which means that we will spend even less money on medicines because nobody will be making any.  Or are they going to have government sponsored pharma companies?  Ah, yes, that’s what they are up to.  OK.  I shall stop scowling quite so heavily at this policy.

It’s a bit crap for research scientists, though.  I hope they are going to give us lots of new toys in their Science Policy to make up for the ones they are taking away.

And it looks like they are, because the Pirates want a National Science Plan:


It’s time Australia put real muscle behind it’s scientific endeavour and adopted a serious National Science Plan Australia is the only OECD nation to lack one, and researchers in this country are constrained by under-funding, poor collaboration among research bodies, and erratic grant periods. A Science Plan will address these issues systemically and provide a pathway for a broadening of our research profile into areas such as space research, which offer potentially enormous benefits.

A Science Plan would help to address poor collaboration between business and higher education. Overseas experience suggests voucher programs represent one way to achieve this. Voucher programs allow small businesses purchase services from education and research bodies, which generates a dual benefit of raising overall research funding and encouraging long-term relationship building between sectors. Collaboration can also be supported by allowing researchers at government bodies to personally own patents on their research. In places such as Germany, this has enabled entrepreneurial researchers to spin out and start new businesses, adding vibrancy to the private sector and breaking down barriers between private and public spheres.

A science plan would also provide a pathway to addressing chronic underfunding. As noted in the patents policy, a huge amount of money is currently wasted on paying the cost of drug patents. Freeing up this funding will provide billions each year—properly used, this could revolutionise science teaching and research in Australia.

You had me at ‘erratic grant periods’.

So yes, they want more money for science, more science teachers in schools, and better public understanding of science.  And since I know some of my scientists are reading this, here is what they want for researchers:

Improve conditions for researchers.

  • Align disparate grant processes and link grant periods to requirements of the research.
  • Recommence the International Science Linkages program.
  • Provide an online portal to facilitate researcher access to alternative funding sources, including crowdfunding.
  • Allow researchers working within government bodies to own patents on their research.

(But not if their research is into therapeutics?)

On education, the Pirates want school to be public, secular and free for every child.  They want to empower teachers and schools to determine curriculum, and there should be extra funding to improve diversity and address disadvantage.  Here’s a glance at their curriculum:

  • Include a solid foundation of life skills and personal development within the National Curriculum:
    • Grades 1-4 to cover behaviour towards others, people skills, and exploration of science and critical thinking;
    • Grades 5-6 to develop earlier material and additionally cover sex education, conflict resolution, and ethics;
    • Grades 7-8 to develop earlier material and additionally cover accidents and emergency response, civics and voting, budgeting, basic IT skills, careers and starting a business.
    • Limit compulsory subjects to life skills, maths, science and English.
    • Abolish Special Religious Instruction in public schools and limit religious study to comparative religion in the context of history, culture and literature.
  • Endorse the right of schools to access Safe Schools education programmes.
    • Extend the Safe Schools programme by bringing in Safe Schools representatives to engage with recurring bullying problems and the individual students involved.

That’s actually pretty good, and I do like the Life Skills.

The Pirates also want academic autonomy in tertiary institutions, and also more money for universities.

The Pirates are big on transparent government, and oh, why am I not surprised that they, too, are excited about Citizen Initiated Referendums?  They also want to reform how we vote for the government, essentially moving the Lower House to a Mixed Member Proportional Representation model, to ensure that smaller parties are represented commensurate with their support in the community.  They also like the Robson Rotation, which avoids donkey voting.  Also, they do not like electronic voting and think that paper is the safest and most transparent option.

The Pirate Party are pretty good on Indigenous Australians, which is to say, they acknowledge that things aren’t good and that different Indigenous Australians want different things and that really, it’s not our call how Indigenous Australians should be recognised in the Constitution.  They conclude:

We recognise that sovereignty has never been ceded and support efforts to negotiate in good faith a Treaty, Treaties or other formal agreements between the Commonwealth of Australia and the First Nations as decided by representative indigenous bodies. 

The Pirate Party, as mentioned earlier, supports a Universal Basic Income of $15,000 (with a child support top up for people on lower incomes) and a tax threshold of $40,000.  I think their UBI is a bit low given current housing / rental prices, but I like the policy, and I especially like the idea of handling it through the ATO as ‘negative taxation’ rather than through Centrelink.  They also want to give Deductible Gift Recipient status to all charities – and they also want to change the definition of a charity slightly, so that religious organisations that only function as churches are not considered charities – they would need to be able to show other charitable activities.

They are also interested in trialling a Job Guarantee and reinstating the Commonwealth Employment Service. Ah yes, I’m just barely old enough to remember the day when friends who were unemployed actually got help from the government.

The Pirates will institute a land tax to help with housing affordability.  I’m sorry, I’m running out of steam here.

The Pirates also like infrastructure.  They want a proper NBN (oh, those dreamers!), and they like electric cars and more railways.  They also want to stop privatisation of roads, railways and the like.  And just better public transport generally.  Also, they are a bit worried about E-tags capturing data on drivers.

On the environment, the Pirates want a carbon tax and more money for research into green technologies.  They want to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, stop propping up coal, and adopt better fuel efficiency standards for cars.

They care about biodiversity, but also about farmers, who should definitely be prioritised over things like coal seam gas extraction, and they are worried about the Murray Darling.

The Pirates are concerned about animal welfare – they aren’t going full vegan, but they want to get rid of factory farming, regulate the definition of ‘free range’ so that it means something, ensure that animals are killed humanely, end puppy farms, and ban cosmetic testing on animals.

On Healthcare, the Pirates like prevention (including vaccines, thank goodness), and are worried about antibiotic resistance.  They want free medical and dental care, and they want to reform the NDIS and prioritise mental health:

Pirate Party Australia would seek to maximise the benefits of the NDIS by making items purchased for disability support tax-free. We also believe mental health efforts within the NDIS may need additional direct support. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 45, and the fact that mental illness is itself a significant risk factor for physical ill-health means that better resourcing of treatment for the former often pays for itself by savings for the latter. A priority is to improve coordination of services to ensure that recovering patients have stable and appropriate housing, with access to ongoing support. Mental health advocates also stress the potential for better coordination between agencies to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

This is a good start.

They support electronic health records, but only ‘provided strict privacy safeguards are enforced’.

On prison reform, the Pirates are in favour of rehabilitation and against private prisons. They also want to trial ‘Social Impact Bonds.’

Social impact bonds are an arrangement under which a private business is assigned large randomised batches of prisoners prior to or after release and provides them with whatever reform and rehabilitation services they deem necessary to successfully reintegrate the newly released prisoners. Social impact bonds cover a diverse range of tailored services that are designed to reduce recidivism, and consequent government savings from reduced re-offending are used to pay for this service. If no improvement is made amongst their assigned batch of released prisoners, then the business receives no payment, but if recidivism is reduced and therefore the cost of law enforcement, corrective services and the crimes themselves are reduced as a result, some contractually agreed proportion of that saving is paid to the social impact bond service provider.

I can’t really visualise how this would work, but it is certainly true that prisoners are often ill-prepared for life outside prison, even if they aren’t out to reoffend – and of course, a criminal record doesn’t make it easy to get a job.  So… I can certainly see the merit in exploring a different approach.

The Pirates want to legalise drugs that are safe and non-addictive, and partially decriminalise drugs that don’t meet this threshold, essentially making them available for personal or prescribed use, while forbidding trafficking.  If a crime is committed while under the influence, treatment can be imposed as part of the prosecution.  They feel that this would save money, which could be used to expand mental health, rehabilitation and community services.

On the international front, the Pirates are unsurprisingly into Free Trade.  They don’t like surveillance of Australian citizens by the US, and they think our defense force should focus on making Australia no fun to attack, rather than going out and aggressing on others.  This is possibly not how they phrased it.

The Pirates have a really good refugee policy.  They want a single regional ‘queue’, and fast processing for asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers arriving anywhere in the region should 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 regional approach would encourage information pooling to improve document and identity checking, and a transparent allocation process to reduce disputes between nations. The creation of a new system of oversight would allow 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. 

Families should be kept together.  They want to change how we approach claims of gender, sex and orientation based oppression, and not before time – this would involve training for immigration staff, and informing asylum seekers of the need to state the basis of their claim early.  They want to assign advocates who speak the asylum seekers’ languages.  Medical professionals, and not customs officials (what the hell?) should establish the truth of any claimed personal or medical conditions. And successful asylum seekers assigned to Australia should be accepted into the community, provided with a basic income, a right to work and a pathway to citizenship.  They also want peer-driven community training and social services to help refugees understand their legal rights, build social networks, and overcome disadvantages such as language barriers, trauma, etc.

This is easily the best asylum seeker policy I’ve seen in this election, so we are ending on a high note!

Overall, the Pirates are scoring quite well with me.  They want to do nice things for refugees and scientists, they care about education and poverty and medical care, and they quite like good infrastructure.  I’m not really sold on their ideas about patents and copyright, and I think their approach to free speech is dangerously naive.  But they have definitely earned a place near the top of my ballot.


Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

There was really only one possible choice for this party.  Do I even need to justify this?


3 thoughts on “Federal Election 2019: Meet the Pirate Party Australia

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