News, Telecommunications - Written by Renai LeMay on Friday, May 11, 2012 11:49 - 29 Comments
Senate blocks release of secret piracy docs
news The Federal Government and Opposition have teamed up to block a motion put by the Greens in the Senate which would have forced the Attorney-General’s Department to produce a series of documents regarding its closed-door meetings on Internet piracy in February this year.
On 8 February this year, major Australian ISPs sat down with the representatives of the film, television and music industries and the Federal Attorney-General’s Department, with the aim of discussing a potential industry resolution to the issue of online copyright infringement. The meeting was the fourth such meeting to be held, after a series of other meetings were held late last year under similar circumstances.
However, the Attorney-General’s Department has used a series of complex legal arguments to deny the release of documents associated with the meetings under Freedom of Information laws — redacting, for example, an entire 14 pages of notes taken by a departmental staffer at the event and other four pages of notes taken by a senior staffer from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s department.
Subsequently to the censorship of the FoI request, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperon Scott Ludlam filed a motion in the Senate in March requesting that the Attorney-General’s Department produce a list of invitees and attendees at the February meeting, notes and minutes arising from the meeting, any documentation issued to attendees and any internal departmental correspondence regarding the meeting — as well as documents relating to future meetings.
However, the motion came to fruition on Wednesday this week, it was blocked overwhelmingly in the Senate, with both the Government and Opposition declining to support it. In the Senate, Ludlam noted for the record that the Greens supported the proposal, while “the rest of the chamber opposed it”. The Coalition did not take the chance to hold the Government accountable on the matter. In the past, Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull have not responded to requests to comment on the issue.
The news is now the third time which attempts to retrieve information regarding the secret piracy talks have failed.
In April, the Federal Attorney-General’s Department conducted an internal review of the decision by its Freedom of Information officers not to release the sensitive documents. At the time, a senior office of the department found that its decision to substantially block the Freedom of Information request was valid.
“I have decided that disclosure of these documents would be contrary to the public interest,” the department’s director of its FOI and Privacy Section, Malcolm Bennett said at the time in one argument made. “My reasons for so concluding are essentially the same as [AGD senior legal officer Jane Purcell]‘s— that is, that the discussions that are taking place are at a delicate and sensitive stage.”
The talks have gained an extra level of potency following a High Court decision in mid-April which found that major ISP iiNet was not responsible for the Internet piracy actions of its users. At the time, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, which represents film and TV studios, said the loss illustrated that the Government needed to step in and take action on the issue of Internet piracy.
In response, Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the Government would closely examine the case, but added that the closed-door meetings between the content and ISP industries on the matter would continue. Despite this statement, it is believed that no further formal meetings have been held or scheduled by the Attorney-General’s Department on the issue since February.
The Australian newspaper has reported that ISPs have taken a stronger stance against copyright holders in dealing with the Attorney-General’s Department since the High Court decision. However, it also reported that a second set of informal meetings between a smaller group of industry stakeholders had also been held by the Attorney-General’s Department on the issue.
I really don’t understand the Opposition. This is a political group which will rail against the Government at every opportunity — on asylum seekers, on the National Broadband Network, on the carbon tax — the negative vitriol is incredible. And yet, when given a concrete chance to hold the Government of the day accountable on an issue of high public interest such as Internet piracy, the Opposition doesn’t take it.
All it would have taken for the Opposition to hold the Government accountable on this issue would have been for it to vote for the Greens’ motion to produce these secret documents. Instead, the Opposition chose to support the Government in keeping information in the public interest from being made public. Incredible.
As for Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis … do your job, George; realise that there has been public interest in this important issue for six months now, that it’s been covered in several national media outlets, and that the Labor Government is both holding secret meetings with industry and trying to stop that information from coming to the public eye. Keeping the Government accountable on this issue serves both the Coalition’s political interests as well as the public interest. Can’t you see your way clear to getting out of bed for this kind of free win?
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