Pirate Party slams extreme govt secrecy


news Pirate Party Australia has condemned the actions of Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, whose department has refused to release documents regarding closed door discussions on the issue of Internet copyright infringement under Freedom of Information laws.

Pirate Party Australia is a group of like-minded individuals with its origins in similar parties in Europe who advocate the citizens’ right to freedom of information and culture, civil and digital liberties, and governmental transparency. In Europe the parties have been successful in the electoral process.

In a media release issued this week, the Party stated that Government continual secrecy and outright refusal of public sector institutions to release documents was a serious threat to Australian democracy, and must be curbed immediately. It reiterated that all government negotiations – whether with industry or foreign governments – must be transparent, accountable and available to the Australian public. The media release went on to say that when governments hide negotiations that take place with vested interests, from the public, it is likely that these vested interests would get what they want, regardless of the wishes of the people the government is meant to serve.

This was made amply clear, according to the party, this month when Roxon’s department withheld details of the fourth closed-door meeting between it and industry regarding Internet content piracy. The Federal Government had late last year similarly refused to reveal much information about another secret industry meeting (in total there have been four over the past six months) held last year to tackle the issue of Internet piracy.

The Attorney-General’s Department provided a series of five documents in response to a request for information about this meeting to be released under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. The documents included 14 pages of notes taken by a departmental staffer at the event and four other pages of notes taken by a senior staffer from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s department. The information contained in these documents was clearly redacted. Delimiter is appealing the decision to block the release of the documents.

In a related development, the Australian Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam filed an order in the Senate seeking the Government’s disclosure of details of the most recent meeting on Internet piracy which the Attorney-General’s Department has blocked from being released under FOI laws. Ludlam stated that it was industry “intermediaries” who were discussing the issue of anti-piracy with the Attorney-General’s Department and they have been asked to come up with something that was “not too offensive” for their corporate interests.

In this context, the Pirate Party also drew attention to the hazy Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations, where only leaked documents were available for public inspection and no official drafts were made public.

The Party feels that the recent change of Attorney-General has not improved the situation. Roxon succeeded Robert McClelland, who was removed from the position in a cabinet reshuffle late last year. According to the party, the new Attorney-General continues to follow the same pattern of her predecessor in maintaining government secrecy and what the Party calls the ‘top secret’ stamp to hide incompetence and dishonesty, setting a dangerous precedent for further misuse.

Brendan Molloy, Pirate Party Secretary opines: “The way the Attorney-General’s department is treating Australians is an affront to democracy. Hosting secret industry talks and withholding documents that are decades old are not the hallmark of a fair, representative and transparent democracy.” He called upon the Attorney-General to change her course and release the requested information in the public interest.

The Pirate Party also slammed Roxon for refusing to release documents regarding mass starvation in East Timor, despite the fact that the documents are up to 37 years old. According to the Party, the East Timor starvation documents could “reveal Australian complicity in concealing the mass starvation of 100,000 East Timorese.” The Party accused the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of influencing Roxon’s refusal to release these documents into the public domain, claiming that it would harm national interest. Pirate Party believes that any adverse impact of these documents on ties between Australia and Indonesia would be minimal; a fact endorsed by former Army intelligence officer Clinton Fernandes.

While the Pirate Party’s views are a little extreme at times, in this case it’s hard to argue that they’re not completely mainstream. I believe most Australians are in favour of as much government transparency as possible. The Government, after all, is ultimately responsible to residents of Australia. Transparency is essential to the process of democracy. If the Government decides not to release important documents — particularly historical ones — it had better have a pretty good reason why.

Image credits: Paul Brunskill, royalty free. Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay