Denham Sadler
May 6, 2019

Greens on tech and digital rights

Election 2019

Greens on tech and digital rights

Jordon Steele-John: The campaign has been “abysmal” for tech and digital rights

The Greens will focus on improving the digital rights of Australians and rolling back the “heinous” legislation recently passed in the next Parliament, according to the party’s tech spokesperson.

In an interview with InnovationAus.com, Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, who entered Parliament in late 2017 after tech champion Scott Ludlam stepped down due to section 44 concerns, outlined the party’s technology and digital rights agenda, and how he plans to kick-start the conversation in the next Parliament.

The 24-year-old Senator listed his priorities if he is re-elected as repealing the encryption bill and metadata retention laws, the introduction of digital rights protections in line with Europe’s GDPR, and efforts to close the digital divide.

And if the Greens happen to have the balance of power in the new Parliament, a push for improved digital rights for Australians will be front and centre of the party’s policy demands.

Senator Steele-John is likely to hold his Western Australian Senate seat at the May 18 election, but has voiced concerns at losing it to One Nation after the far right party drew the top position on the ballot paper.

The election campaign had been “abysmal” in terms of discussions about tech and digital rights, Senator Steele-John said.

“The reality is that digital rights and technology have been completely absent from the election pitch of the major parties,” Senator Steele-John told InnovationAus.com.

“Only the Greens are really talking about it. It’s only the Greens that get it and want to engage with these critical issues. The other two [major parties] simply don’t give a shit,” he said.

“They’re only interested in them so far as they factor into national security debates. When they do factor in that way, both sides come together and ram things through and don’t even bother to read the legislation.”

The Greens have three key priorities on digital rights going forward: improving universal access to the digital space, creating the legislative and societal conditions for the benefits of digital connectivity to be realised, and rolling back some of the “disastrous decisions made that threaten our rights online”.

In terms of access, Senator Steele-John pointed to the Greens’ announced policies of a $250 million NBN migration program, efforts to help fix the digital divides and funding for combating mobile blackspots.

The Greens have also pledged support for the video games sector through a $100 million games investment and enterprise fund, the expansion of film and television tax offsets to the games sector, and $5 million for co-working spaces, as announced during the Batman by-election last year.

When the next Parliament sits following the election, the Greens will attempt to fully repeal the Assistance and Access Bill, which grants new encryption-busting powers to law enforcement and agencies, and the metadata retention scheme, launched in 2017.

“We want to roll back the heinous bullshit we’ve seen from both of the major parties in this space,” he said.

With the Labor Party promising a number of amendments to the encryption legislation if it wins the election, but not to fully repeal the laws, the Greens’ efforts are unlikely to succeed, but Senator Steele-John said this must be the starting point.

“One thing I’ve learned in the last two years is to never start a campaign to achieve an objective by compromising before you get out of the gate,” he said.

“We shouldn’t accept the response of the major parties that they’re not going to repeal it therefore you have to compromise. The reality is that the AA bill is monstrous.

“You can make a couple of changes here and there to make yourself feel better when you go to sleep at night, but ultimately the fundamental reality is that if you open up a backdoor, that key can be stolen and used for other purposes for which is was never designed.

“I am steadfast in arguing that we must see it fully repealed, and I look forward to leading a coalition for that in the new Parliament.”

Senator Steele-John also said one of his key roles, if re-elected, would be to drive the conversation in Parliament about technology and digital rights.

A Labor victory at the election does not fill Senator Steele-John with confidence for a more tech-literate and supportive Parliament.

“If past action is any predictor of future action, there ain’t much to hunt for in a Labor victory for the tech space,” he said.

If the Greens do happen to have the balance of power following the election, it would place a major focus on these digital rights issues, he said.

The rapid passing of the encryption bill last year and new social media legislation this year, despite major criticisms from the tech sector, led to a debate around the effectiveness of the sector in lobbying the government.

Senator Steele-John said he would push for an institutionalised framework for supporting digital advocacy, similar to the model seen recently in Canada.

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