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Australian Pirate Party sets sail

Borne on a new political wave

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The launch of the Pirate Party in Australia adds yet another voice to the fast-growing global network of buccaneer politics: a pirate internationale appears to be taking shape.

In Australia, as elsewhere, the newly-formed Pirate Party will be campaigning on a platform of anti-internet censorship and the decriminalisation of non-commercial file-sharing.

It already has plans to elect a formal leadership next week, with nominations invited (by 5 October) for president, general secretary and treasurer along with deputies for each of these positions.

Party spokesman Brendan Molloy was quick to rebut allegations that the Pirate Party is a single-issue party, and inspired by those with a self-interest in file-sharing, claiming that far more important was the aim of the Pirate Party to "bolster our nation's Democratic conventions".

He went on: "We're here to actively change the landscape of Australian politics forever, by advocating freer copyright and protection of our civil liberties, especially against [Communications Minister Stephen] Conroy's censorship regime, which is not welcome in Australia."

In this sense, Pirate Parties in Australia and elsewhere in the world may be on to something. El Reg reported earlier today on the Power 2010 initiative in the UK, which is a direct result of an investigation into the state of UK democracy, published in February 2006.

This identified a growing gulf between governed and governing classes, with a sense that those in power do not listen, that the existing party political structures produce parties that are too similar, and the present political process excludes the voice of many ordinary voters.

A Westminster Hall debate by MPs who make up the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the UK Parliament provides strong support for this point of view: what astounded then was not merely the degree of ignorance displayed by parliamentarians who were supposed to be specialists in topics relating to IT and new technology, but the sheer arrogance with which they displayed it.

In Australia, this divide has been given form by ham-fisted government attempts, led by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, to implement blocking across the whole of the internet. It is not merely the attempt to impose a single moral agenda on the whole of the Australian population that has caused uproar: it is also the sense among ordinary internet users that those in power really do not "get" the internet. They do not understand how it works technologically or, more importantly, culturally.

The Australian Pirate Party has already signed up 550 members, which is sufficient to allow it to apply to register as a party with the Australian Electoral Commission. However, this is just the first hurdle it needs to jump, and registration is not a foregone conclusion: in the case of the Australian Sex Party, objections on moral grounds held up the registration process for nearly a year.

The danger, within the Australian system, is that there are now three very distinct parties with overlapping agendas, all likely to be competing for the same core anti-establishment vote: the Green Party, the Sex Party and the Pirate Party.

Established politicians are likely to dismiss the last two as gimmicks – but they do so at their peril. In the European elections this year, the Pirate Party gained seven per cent of the vote in Sweden – and Pirate Parties have now been formed in a number of other countries, including the UK.

If the Power 2010 analysis is right, then Pirate Parties are just the first wave of a growing grassroots revolt against established politics. In the end, the Pirates may not win – but their role in smashing up an over-complacent political establishment will not be insignificant. ®

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