Australian Pirate Party Sets Course for Parliament

Since its founding half-a-decade ago, the influence of the Pirate Party has been felt across the globe. Now the file-sharing movement has touched down downunder and while it fights for recognition and acceptance, Australia's capital city presents the party with a unique opportunity to gain seats in a parliament election.

aussie ppIn a mere six years, Sweden’s nascent Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) has grown from fringe group into a potent global political force.

Some libertarian movements echo aspects of the Pirate Party’s agenda, mainly its advocacy of free speech and open government. Other political groups, such as the European founded Greens, touch on elements of the party’s progressive thinking.

But the Pirate Party stands alone in driving a holistic vision of an information-based society, governed by principles of transparency in business and government while protecting the privacy of individuals.

Despite the common misconception, the legally protected torrenting of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster is not the party’s goal.

Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge, a frequent contributor to Torrentfreak, envisions a society comfortable in its new-found abilities to communicate horizontally. In a 2006 speech given during the first wave of attacks against perennially resilient torrent site, the Pirate Bay, Falkvinge declared copyright industries and hostile political forces could never hope to force the file-sharing genie back into the bottle.

“Yes, we’re pirates. But one who thinks being a pirate is a shame is mistaken. It’s something we’re proud of,” Falkvinge said.

“Because we’ve already seen what it means to be without central control. We’ve already tasted, felt and smelled the freedom of being without a central monopoly of culture and knowledge. We’ve already learnt to read and write – and we’re not about to forget how to read and write, just because it’s not fit in the eyes of the media of the yesteryear.”

The Pirate Party’s swift global expansion since those heady days of 2006 has finally come to Australia’s capital, a tiny city-state unimaginatively titled the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The city itself is named Canberra, taken from the local people’s language, which means simply, “meeting place.”

Canberra represents a rare opportunity for the Australian wing of the Pirate Party – no other electorate contains such a unique set of factors that, when combined, deliver the party a genuine shot at gaining its first parliamentary representation in Australia.

Victory is by no means certain. The party faces many challenges, such as finding the right candidates and overcoming internal growth pains. Yet Canberra’s use of a proportional voting system combined with a progressive leaning population makes it fertile grounds for the new movement.

A democratic barrier exists in many parts of the world, blocking small parties and independents from electoral success. This barrier is most pronounced in countries like the United States. The US voting system gives enormous power to entrenched contenders and tends to crystallise democratic representation into the hands of just two groups. In practical terms, Democrats and Republicans reign supreme. So-called “third party candidates” are regularly shut out of the process because they have no chance of being elected.

European parliaments are often very different, generally favouring proportional voting. It is because of these systems that smaller and newer parties, such as the Greens, and more recently the Pirate Party itself, have been able to enter parliaments and influence governments.

Various Australian state, territory and federal parliaments employ a dizzying array of different voting systems.

Canberra has its own small parliament, served by a tiny electorate of a just few hundred thousand, yet its legislature enjoys all the constitutional powers of an Australian state government. Canberra also employs a modified proportional voting system, which has delivered a range of different parties and candidates into the local legislative assembly since it first came into existence in 1989. Currently, a “candy-cane” alliance of Greens and the union-movement based Labor Party form government. Canberra is due to hold its elections later this year.

“The drive for creating an ACT branch of Pirate Party Australia was [the] election due in October,” ACT Pirate Party spokesman Stuart Biggs told Torrentfreak.

“The proportional representational system that the ACT uses is similar to the representational systems in Europe where Pirate Parties have already seen electoral success, so it stands to reason that it’s a good place for Pirate Party Australia to focus it’s attention in these early stages,” Biggs said.

Biggs and his Pirate Party colleagues are currently engaged in a membership drive for the new ACT branch. Since launching two weeks ago, they have garnered a quarter of the one hundred Canberra-based members needed by June 30 to register as an official party.

The political establishment in Canberra is unlikely to view the Pirate Party as any kind of real electoral threat. The local voting population is notoriously wedded to the public-service friendly Labor Party, which currently rules at both a local and federal level.

But Australian style democracy is a strange beast by world standards. The final piece of the puzzle involves compulsory voting. Australia is one of the few countries in the world to force all adult citizens to vote, regardless of whether they have any knowledge of (, or even an interest in,) politics. Combine that with proportional voting, a known love of piracy, a progressive electorate and the words “Pirate Party” on the ballot sheet, and Canberra may just deliver the establishment a surprise come October.

About The Author

Myles Peterson was on the periphery of the Melbourne Underground in the early 90s, sharing games that were unavailable or censored in Australia. Peterson’s former employers include the Departments of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Environment and Health, law firm Mallesons and most recently Fairfax Media where he was a journalist.

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