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?


    • I agree with Mr Wyres, not surprising in the slightest.

      “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.”

      And therein lies the rub. The current Liberal/National Coalition will not vote for a Greens motion. Ever.

      The Abbott Opposition has shown time and time again that it would rather make a political point than support policy that is consistent with its own policy platform.

      Add to this the fact that to the Coalition, the Greens are their mortal ideological enemies.

      And, consider the fact that the Coalition is likely to be in power come the next election and then they are going to be wanting to work with Big Content. So why go out of your way to annoy them now?

      As I said, not surprising in the slightest.

  1. all good signs that the general public is about to get shafted minus the lube. All because a rich minority want to feather their beds.

    • Thats exactly right Marcue.
      This is a matter of elite interest, it is not to be debated.
      On any topic that threatens the oligarchies control over the masses, no debate will ever happen.
      Simmilar to Afghanistan, big pharma and big agribusiness issues, both parties will vote the same way.
      The parties exist only to provide the illusion of choice; they will never differ on any truly important issue and they both serve the elite; same in all western democracies.

  2. “This is a political group which will rail against the Government at every opportunity”

    My theory is that they rally against “doing stuff”, if the government wants to do nothing then opposition will support that, but if they want to do something then they oppose it. That way when the election comes around it looks like the government has done nothing.

    So if my theory is correct the opposition would have opposed having these talks in the first place (did they?) as politicians consider talking to be doing, but now these talks have actually taken place they even want to stop talking about the talking, as even that is considered doing.

    (or maybe ive been thinking too hard)

  3. I emailed the DoTAG about this a few weeks ago.

    I got a very curt response a few days later that basically the decisions been made, please go away.

    Not good enough! Here is the reply I received:

    Dear Mr Shaw

    Thank you for your email to the Attorney-General’s Department on 25 April 2012.

    All FOI requests made to the Department are processed in strict accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. Decisions are accordingly fully explained to applicants – who are also informed of their right to have the decision reviewed, either internally or externally.

    Yours sincerely

    Complaints Officer
    Attorney-General’s Department

  4. Maybe you shouldn’t be so cynical and actually accept that it’s not in the public interest to release the dcouments at this time.

    Just because you and others want a sticky beak at these documents doesn’t mean that they’re in the public interest for the purps of the FOI Act.

    And as for the assertion that something is in the public interest because a journalist reports on it – god help us all if journalists get to decide what will benefit the public and what won’t…..

    • It is certainly not in the public interest for the Government to hold secret meetings with industry about Internet piracy — and explicitly block consumer groups and journalists from knowing anything about what’s being discussed.

      If you want to live in that kind of Australia, you’re welcome to continue on in ignorance of what’s being planned behind the public’s back. But I, for one, am not content for Australia to head down that path.

      • oh yeah – it’s a real autocracy here. Our freedoms are in peril. The democratic processes of the state are crumbling all around us.

        If you feel so strongly about it, why don’t you go the AAT? I mean you’ve used up a whole bunch of taxpayer funds pursuing the matter thus far – why not go the whole way?

        The weird thing is, you already know what has been discussed. Rights holders have asked for a three strikes regime to be implemented and ISPs have said no. The Government provided tea/coffee and milk arrowroots during the course of the dicussion.

        If anything is agreed upon between ISPs and rightsholders – that will be a commercial negotiation to which those parties are privy. If you don’t like it, you, as a consumer, can then exercise your free will to not purchase ISP and/or rightsholder goods/services (or continue to unlawfully acquire them).

        If the Government wants to put some arrangement in place, it will be consulted upon publicly.
        I honestly think you’ve got yourself all in a tizz over nothing.

          • “Sure. And the Attorney-General’s Department never lands unexpected new streamlined anti-piracy systems on Australians without consultation. Never. Oh, wait. They did do that last year.”

            Umm – that proposal was contained in a public consultation paper. I’m unsure therefore, as to how it was “landed” “without consutlation”?

            Given the proposal hasn’t been carried out, how has it “landed” as a “new” anti-piracy system?

            And given the same proposal was offered up by iiNet 6+ months before the AGD released it (see: how is it “new”?

          • It’s an old trick mate. If you want to get a new system through, you propose it as the framework for a public consultation. Then all debate has to happen within the framework you’ve set.

            The trick, as groups like AFACT well know, is get in earlier and help the government set the framework for an ensuing discussion. That means the discussion happens on your terms. The ‘public consultation’ on this issue was a perfect example of this.

            This is the essential nature of 21st century lobbying ;)

        • Yeah right, Withnail, we are all just selfish pirates who should let the ISPs, the department of black texta and the ‘rights’ holders sort it out, along with all the public involvement they have planned for us. Just how much do the coalition get from the AFACT cabal? Labor get heaps. I’m sure the coffers are the main reason the cringing ones on both sides prefer to toady up to the ‘stakeholders’

          I would advise you to get your head out of the sand and read some of the TPP fine print, but I suspect you are only too aware of the details of that… and the secret talks minutes too maybe? May be a hunch, but i suspect afact!

    • I would have no problem with the talks being closed if I knew my interests as a consumer are being represented. They are not as consumer groups have been locked out of the room so now we have a problem.

      • I would have a problem with it. This issue should be debated in public; not behind closed doors. We have a democracy and we need to maintain a level of transparency for it to function.

    • Gosh no. Democracy? What would we do with that?

      Informed voters? Next you will be telling me those lowlifes want to pretend they are citizens or something. Tsk tsk.

  5. I guess the main issue is, deciding what is and isn’t public interest is very much of a “How long is a piece of string” type argument, especially if someone doesn’t want the info released.

    It is curious that apparently the USA can veto Australian FoI requests.

      • “this is something the Australian Govt is doing off its own bat”
        At the request of US interests, no doubt.

  6. What up sets me most is that any government is in office to serve there public, they are basically employed by the Australian people to manage things such as infrastructure, finance, etc. If I refused my employer documents, notes, minutes regarding meetings I was attending on there behalf I don’t think I’d remain employed for very long.

  7. He who pays the pipers calls the tune or in other words, those with the gold make the rules.

  8. The opposition didn’t support the motion because they’re just as much bought and paid for by the content providers. Better not get the big boys offside.

    Thanks to all of Australia’s elected representatives for showing where your values really lie and how much our votes mean.

  9. This stinks. The only valid conclusion is that the talks must have gone far beyond the narrow area of copyright, to the complete lockdown of the Internet which the US government is determined to impose via CISPA.

    Don’t assume Australia is immune because it is a separate country. The shadow government which runs the US also runs Australia, and the rest of the west as well.

    Because even the Liberals seem to be in on the deal, the whole thing reeks of bribery and nepotism.

    IMHO what’s really at stake is our ability to freely exchange information, which is not twisted and censored by the mass media on behalf of a small special interest group. Copyright is just a red herring.

  10. Why not just ask the ISPs to release all of their notes on the talks?

    There is no law prohibiting them from talking.

    Or perhaps the ISPs just don’t have the balls to talk.

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