news Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam has described the Coalition’s new front bench as “technically illiterate”, in a wide-ranging speech in the Senate last week kicking off his campaign to be re-elected in the upcoming Senate by-election in Western Australia and attacking Prime Minister Tony Abbott over various tech-related issues, from Internet piracy to the National Broadband Network.
In early October, the Australian Electoral Commission announced that Ludlam had lost his seat in the September Federal Election, with the Palmer United Party winning a Senate seat, despite the Greens picking up 9.48 percent of the total vote and the PUP only winning 5 percent. A recount awarded Ludlam the seat again, but a decision by the High Court last month on the issue has forced Western Australia back into a new Senate election.
The election is being particularly closely watched by Australia’s digital rights community, due to Ludlam’s role over the past half-decade after he was elected in 2007 increasingly coming to focus on holding powerful government departments and law enforcement bodies, politicians, corporations and other groups to account for increasing privacy rights violations and the encroachment of telecommunications surveillance in the digital age. Ludlam has also been extremely active in the National Broadband Network debate.
In a widely reported speech delivered to a virtually empty Senate chamber that has been shared extensively via social media (watch it here on YouTube), last week Ludlam heavily criticised the current Federal Government and specifically Prime Minister Tony Abbott on a large number of issues.
Ludlam said it was “good to remember” that what he said was the Coalition’s lack of vision on a range of issues — from refugees to the constitution of the economy, to the renewable energy sector and the funding of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was “temporary”.
“For anyone listening in from outside this almost empty Senate chamber, the truth is that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and this benighted attempt at a government are a temporary phenomenon,” he said. “They will pass, and we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. Just as the reign of the dinosaurs was cut short to their great surprise, it may be that the Abbott government will appear as nothing more than a thin, greasy layer in the core sample of future political scientists drilling back into the early years of the 21st century.”
Ludlam particularly highlighted issues of technology policy which have affected and will directly affect Australia’s technology sector, including both corporations and individuals.
Both the current Coalition and the previous Labor administrations have been negotiating with foreign governments on a secretive multinational trade agreement that threatens to extend what many see restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.
Leaked draft texts of the agreement have previously shown that the intellectual property chapter would have extensive ramifications for users’ freedom of speech rights, right to privacy and due process, and could hinder innovation. The process of the TPP negotiations has been shrouded in secrecy and the full text of drafts of the proposed agreement has never been publicly released.
Similarly, Attorney-General George Brandis has recently raised the spectre of toughening regulations around Internet piracy again, despite international evidence that government sanctions on the issue, such as controversial “three strikes” policies, are not effective in stopping piracy.
“You may not believe this, Prime Minister, but your advocacy on behalf of foreign biotechnology corporations and Hollywood’s copyright-industrial complex to chain Australia to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been noted,” Ludlam said. People have been keeping a record of every time you have been given the opportunity to choose between predator capitalism and the public interest, and it is bitterly obvious whose side you are on.”
Similarly, Ludlam criticised the Coalition front bench on issues related to Labor’s popular National Broadband Network project — which the Greens supported but the Coalition is drastically modifying — as well as the issue of Internet surveillance.
Several Coalition front bench Ministers, such as Brandis and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have recently described NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “traitor” to his home country of the United States for his revelations of widespread government surveillance by the agency, despite the fact that Snowden’s leaks have been welcomed by many.
The US Government has charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government property, but much of the international community, and even respected US politicians such as former President Jimmy Carter, have applauded his actions as both patriotic and also serving humanity. In addition, a number of legal challenges have already been mounted to the legitimacy of the spying programs in the US.
Most Western countries have set up inquiries into the extent of NSA spying on their citizens. In Australia, the Greens in December successfully moved a motion in the Senate to establish a formal inquiry into Internet surveillance, through a review that will take place into the controversial Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.
In addition, following the ongoing Snowden revelations, US President Barack Obama last week called for ending the government’s control of phone data from hundreds of millions of Americans and immediately ordered intelligence agencies to get a secretive court’s permission before accessing such records.
“As for the premeditated destruction of the NBN and Attorney-General George Brandis’s degrading capitulation to the surveillance state when confronted with the unlawful actions of the US NSA—even the internet is turning green, ‘for the win’,” Ludlam told the chamber.
“Geeks and coders, network engineers and gamers would never have voted Green in a million years without the blundering and technically illiterate assistance of your leadership team. For this I can only thank you.”
There have been several examples over the past several years where Coalition frontbenchers have displayed a lack of knowledge when it comes to the technology sector. For example, during the 2010 Federal Election campaign, Abbott declared he was “no Bill Gates” in a lengthy interview on the ABC’s 7:30 Report in which he appeared to display a lack of understanding of the Coalition’s new broadband policy at the time and repeatedly explained he was “no tech-head”.
In June 2012, then-Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey inaccurately claimed that 4G mobile broadband has the potential to be “far superior” to the fibre technology which Labor’s National Broadband Network policy features, in a controversial interview in which he also claimed that it could cost Australians up to $1,000 to connect to the NBN.
And in October that same year, then-Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne inaccurately claimed on national radio that the National Broadband Network has not connected any customers at speeds of 100Mbps, despite the fact that in fact, 44 percent of NBN customers connected so far to the project’s fibre infrastructure have taken up such speeds.
It is extremely common at this point for online commenters on technical forums such as Delimiter to express their opinion that Ludlam is one of the only politicians in Federal Parliament who understands technology and is willing to help his party form reasonable policies on technology-related issues. I certainly consider Ludlam a valuable asset to the Parliament because of this.
In terms of the other parties, Ludlam is correct that the Coalition front bench in general suffers a lack of understanding of technology, with certain exceptions such as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In addition, even if the Coalition does understand technology, its policies in this area are generally extremely conservative or even commonly viewed as destructive (such as its current policy on broadband), rather than progressive as much of Australia would like.
Labor is a little better, in that it does have quite a few parliamentarians — Stephen Conroy, Kate Lundy, Ed Husic, Tim Watts and others — who really do understand technology very well. However, with the exception of the NBN policy, Labor has struggled to articulate good technology policy over the past half-decade.
It is for these reasons that Delimiter endorsed the Greens based on their technology policy for the September 2013 Federal Election. Little has changed since then, and we continue to recommend readers support the Greens with their vote, if they primarily vote on technology-related issues. If you vote on wider issues, of course, there are many other factors worth considering as you place your vote, and the Greens may not suit your views.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting