Taking the Pirate Party to the next level
This paper is being proposed as a discussion topic at Congress and the outcome of the discussion in this thread and at Congress will hopefully inform what we do going forward.
We have reached a point in our development as a political organisation where we need to have a serious debate about the strategic direction of the party. This paper will go briefly into how we got to where we are today and what I think we will need to do to get from where we are, to a position where we can challenge for Senate seats in our own right.
We need to start planting roots, by this I mean building localised organisations who can participate in local and grassroots politics. This will be key to the long term goal of making it into the Senate. Getting elected in local government and State elections is a much easier task than getting into the Senate. The quota percentages are much lower, and in the case of local government elections, people tend to be more wary of mainstream politicians than at other levels of government: this may well work for us if we have members with a profile campaigning on local issues.
To reach the Federal Senate, a party needs around 14 per cent of the vote. This is punishingly difficult for new parties. However, if the Pirate Party can win an upper-house position in a state parliament such as NSW (where the quota is only 4 per cent) we will reap a huge gain of resources and media coverage. We will also have 8 years in the public eye to demonstrate our values and make a difference. This will reinforce our party’s growth and our prospects for future Federal campaigns. Most successful minor parties begin by gaining state representation, and climb to the Federal arena subsequently.
Whilst we haven’t ever really been a single issue party, our focus has been on digital rights, intellectual property and civil liberties. We need the space to campaign on broader issues that still fit within our expanding platform. This will give us wider appeal to people wanting to get involved, but may care about issues that we currently don’t campaign on.
Local Branches, Local Politics
The first time I met Senator Lee Rhiannon (Greens NSW) was at an Anti-TPP protest in Sydney. She asked me how the Pirate Party got formed and I explained how our Founder Rodney Serkowski set up some IRC chat channels and a website, and people searched out the Pirate Party and joined from there. She had trouble believing that we could form nationally without any local groupings. The Greens took the far more common approach to forming a political party, by forming out of local environmental campaigning groups into state based organisations and finally the Federal Greens.
We formed to fight specific political battles which have mainly been waged on a national and international level. The Internet was new terrain for governments and due to a combination of ‘donations’ from vested interests, a desire to look tough on crime/terrorism/piracy etc. and a culture of wilful ignorance about technological issues, they sought to create systems that stripped away basic rights and civil liberties upon which parliamentary democracy was founded.
We had to fight against Internet censorship with the ALP’s ‘Internet filter’ and now with the Coalition passing laws to enable the blocking of file-sharing sites. There has been a relentless assault on civil liberties, with data retention being attempted by consecutive governments and finally implemented under Abbott. Attacks on whistle-blowers, with anti-terror laws and border protection laws making exposing wrong-doing punishable by gaol, for not only the whistle-blower, but possibly the journalist exposing the secret. We have seen secret trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which attack the right of parliaments to make laws that could potentially harm the profits of multinationals, and implement the dreams of the IP lobby by writing clauses that would never pass the scrutiny of parliament into these agreements.
This work will no doubt continue and be the main terrain for our politics. However, the national and international focus has meant that local issues, that the Pirate Party may wish to campaign on have fallen by the way-side. There are important campaigns that we should be working on, but lack the resources and we should re-prioritise our campaigning to take on more local and State campaigns. On a local council level, these include CCTV surveillance, transparency and corruption. Local politics often plays out at a State government level. We should be campaigning against attacks on civil liberties by State governments, against drug prohibition, against corruption and for environmental protections and government transparency.
Broadening our Focus
Continuing on as we have been, campaigning only on core issues of civil liberties and digital rights will limit our growth into the future because a lot of people who care about civil liberties and digital rights also care about climate change, broader issues of human rights, the environment etc… We want these people to not only want to vote for us, but to join us, to contribute to the party and to Australian politics more broadly.
The Policy Development Committee will work to continue to expand our policy base (and could use more help), but we already have policies for areas outside of where we put our energy. Climate change, refugees, education and drug reform stand out in my mind as being areas where Pirates could contribute to politics in Australia where we already have policies.
Part of this will be the academic work the Party is great at, writing submissions to parliamentary inquiries, Australian Law Reform Commission reviews etc… Part of it will be participating in social movement politics. We have done this sporadically, particularly in defence of Wikileaks, but we need to take the political space to do this more broadly. It will make us more attractive to people who are politically active who could give the party new energy to help us grow and become more influential.
Participating in political movements gives inexperienced members a way to learn politics at the grass roots. Many of the skills that help the party contest elections can be learned in less intimidating environments than a Federal election campaign. Student politics, particularly around campaigning for a better education, fit in with Pirate Party values. It exposes participants to other political organisations, and is a crash course in the machinations that the major parties (and others) employ in their cynical quests for power. Campus based Pirate groups would be useful. To make it happen we would need a few members on a campus to put their hands up to set up a club, call a meeting or just to attend an activist collective meetings.
Taking up political campaigns on the local and state level also require some broadening of our campaign focus. Our policy set actually requires action on the State level to implement some of our agenda. Drug reform, government transparency and transport are all issues that are predominantly fought on the State government level of politics.
The Need for Diversity
We have grown fairly rapidly since our formation. We have done a good job of attracting ‘the low hanging fruit’. I.E. people already interested in open source, the politics of file-sharing and the importance of civil liberties for individuals in the online world. For a variety of reasons, IT issues tend to draw more interest from middle class males than other sections of society and this colours the demographic makeup of the party. This is something we need to be conscious of and this is something we need to work to address.
There are three parts to addressing the issue IMO. Firstly we must work to ensure our policies actively address disadvantage, that we work to address the issues faced by minorities and strive to make society more equitable. We are already doing this. We have clear anti-poverty proposals including a basic income. We support the right for women to access abortions and we are working on policy initiatives to address transgender rights. We have discussed indigenous rights, and whilst the policy has stalled due to my chairing it and having to run the election campaign, we should aim to get back to work once congress has passed. We have also discussed policies to tackle domestic violence, which will be worked into a broader criminal justice policy over the coming year.
Secondly, we need to ensure that we create a more inviting political culture. Work has been started on this, with Victorian Candidate Lachlan Simpson (aka datakid) proposing a code of conduct and a diversity statement. This will require a bit of a shift in culture to tone down the friction in debates. Whilst we need clarity of debate, we must ensure these don’t devolve into insults or aggression. We need to create a culture where people can contribute to debates without being experts and do so without being humiliated or being made to feel stupid. Not everyone enters a debate with the same levels as prior knowledge as others, and it is important to enable those new entrants, rather than exclude them (intentionally or unintentionally). We want to be a party where all channels for participation are as open and inclusive as they can possibly be.
Thirdly, we must work to address issues of diversity in different aspects of tech culture. Part of this will need us to address gender issues in STEM fields professionally and part will be engaging in progressive cultural discussion in games and broader culture. The negative stereotypes around both areas colours how our own gender imbalance is viewed from outside the Party. I personally think the vast majority of the party are respectful, encouraging and mindful of these issues and we don’t have much to address internally. We just need to be engaging with these issues as they arise in public debate.
Establishing local Branches
We have tried to establish local crews in the past, but there was little progress at the time due to our geographical diversity and a lack of critical mass. We haven’t had serious plans to campaign on local issues, which has left localised groups redundant in terms of activism.
Now we are three times the size, we have an expanded platform and have more motivation to engage in local politics. In order to campaign on local issues, branches should be based on local government areas. This means that the branch has a clear agenda at the local level, to participate in local politics.
Establishing State Branches
State branches will be easier to form than local branches, in part because there are more people and in part because holding a meeting in a State’s capital can include people from a variety of local council areas. Some States (all of the Eastern ones) are holding regular to semi-regular meetings in the capital cities. In future, these meetings could include some extra state based ‘content’.
Local branches will put us in a good position to participate in State politics. As discussed above, local politics often plays out on the State level, meaning that local branches will be campaigning on state issues by default. State branches will be tasked with running State election campaigns, coordinating and sharing resources among local branches as well as articulating policies that aren’t already covered in the National Platform.
Over time, we hope to form State Councils to run the day to day activities of the State branches, much as the National Council runs the day to day activities of the federal party.
Code of Conduct
As mentioned in the diversity section, we need to develop a more comprehensive code of conduct for members in order to be clear about the type of culture we expect within the party.