Freedom of thought and speech is a requirement for discussions that advance human knowledge and well-being in all fields. People should feel free to speak against the government, established ideologies, religions and current cultural dogma. This freedom of speech should come without fear of retribution or penalty under law. Polite discourse when challenging ideas is recommended, but not a requirement for free speech.
1. Freedom in electronic communication
1.1. Policy: The internet is to remain without government filters.
(See also our Net Neutrality policy.)
1.2. Discussion: Freedom of electronic communication is under persistent attack. Internet filters are a mainstay of dictatorships around the world, used to make views that may challenge the establishment disappear. Recently, the Australian government has proposed and withdrawn support for a nationwide internet filter, similar to information-controlling countries such as China. Despite the removal of the majority of the proposals, we must ensure that no such filter is considered in the future. The Science Party is committed to preserving freedom online, as the free flow of information is necessary for both economic development and individual enjoyment, as well as the continuation of a healthy democracy.
It is hard to believe that a government will not be tempted to restrict information that negatively impacts them. A filter list needs to be developed in order to implement a filter. If this list is not accessible to the public, the government could potentially add sites that are not criminal in nature and oppose the government in some way, and there would be no accountability. Without information, there is no democracy, and a filter would likely have a negative impact on democracy.
Economic development will be hindered if filters are put in place. False negatives, where a site is wrongly flagged as illegal or of questionable content despite being of a totally reputable nature, will inevitably happen. This will take these sites off the map completely. Even if this occurs for a short period of time to a limited number of websites, this will have a negative impact on the economy.
If there can be no assurance that a website will not be filtered if it is hosted in Australia, Australia will lose valuable web-hosting and information technology jobs to overseas countries where no such threats are made to freedom of speech.
Filters, if they are to have any teeth, will slow the internet. Even small delays (in the order of milliseconds) will have economic implications for the finance, navigation, space and communications industries.
A classic example of censorship occurs in our high schools across the country: access to sites that contain sex-related terms is banned from school computers. If children are told to research sexually transmitted infections, the number of sites that are listed is severely restricted. Our children are actually harmed by puritan beliefs that sexual information must all be bad, and such filters lack the human knowledge that some sites are clearly only pornographic, while others contain information about sex which teenagers should learn about for their own health. If filters are automatically applied to all internet access points, people all over the country will be deprived of information that will help preserve their own health.
Imagine a researcher in the field of sexually transmissible diseases. Incorrect filtering of as little as one page could prevent or delay research into life-saving technology. The researcher may not even know that page exists, as all evidence that it does exist could be eliminated. Most universities around the country have the capability to do widespread filtering, but refuse to do so for exactly this reason.
Filters are easily overcome, and hence useless
Tools such as proxies can be used to avoid filters, and Onion/Tor allow information to be shared on a 'dark-net' that cannot be intercepted. As shown above, internet filters will not achieve their stated objectives and will only do harm to the country's economy and its people.
2. Online Privacy
2.1. Policy: Law enforcement agencies must apply for and receive a warrant to investigate online behaviour. There shall be no requirement for internet service providers to maintain logs of all users' behaviour unless ordered to do so by a court on an individual basis.
2.2. Discussion: Part of freedom of speech is being able to say things privately. There is an assumption that communications between individuals, groups and corporations is private. Unfortunately, the Australian government has mandated that service providers (phone and internet compaines) retain certain telecommunications data for a period of two years.
The potential for misappropriation of communication will drive a commercial interest in the use of cryptographic systems among companies and individuals that wish to protect their private information. These cryptographic tools will also be quickly adopted by those these surveillance laws are aimed at: child pornography users, criminal gangs and terrorists. This shows how legislation restricting the internet has very negative short-term consequences, and how technology will eventually be developed and implemented that will thwart any benefits supposedly yielded by such laws.
The Science Party believes that the privacy of individuals should not be assumed to be present at all times, especially when an individual is performing an illegal act with great moral consequences. However, in order for the government to break the privacy of the individual, the government should have good reason to believe that an individual has committed or is about to commit an illegal act, and should get proper authorisation to collect information from the courts in the form of a warrant to investigate an individual's phone or internet usage, as they currently do with success.
3. Commitment to Anti-Discrimination
3.1. Policy: The Science Party is committed to ending all forms of material discrimination.
3.2. Discussion: The Science Party believes that discrimination decreases the quality of life of all individuals, whether they are personally discriminated against or not. Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and age in the workplace reduces the quality of life of those who are discriminated against, while reducing productivity of the whole economy.
4. Marriage Equality
NOTE: This policy was written in 2013, when gay and lesbian couples had been afforded advances with regards to registering their relationship, but marriage was still not an option. The Science Party celebrates the passing of marriage equality into law on 7th December 2017, ending this instance of explicit discrimination. We regret that a divisive and expensive postal survey was held.
4.1. Policy: Legalise marriage between two consenting individuals, regardless of their sex or gender identity.
4.2. Discussion: Loving couples who commit to one another bring joy into one another's lives and those of their loved ones, and strengthen the communities they live in. The government and the courts recognise these commitments through the institution of civil marriage. An institution with such social standing should be open to any two consenting adults, regardless of gender. The 2004 redefinition of marriage in Australian law, as "a union between a man and a woman", is the government telling a gay couple in a loving relationship that they are not worthy to be considered married simply because they are two men or two women.
While governments must regulate certain family matters for practical reasons, the nature of the family itself is and should continue to be a matter for every individual to decide, in the context of their own beliefs, community, and cultural heritage. In particular, the Science Party strongly believes that there are a variety of family structures that extend well beyond the nuclear family structure that should not be discriminated against. Likewise, religious beliefs are personal, and what is considered a marriage in a particular religion may vary from the legal definition and from other religious interpretations. Hence religious communities should keep their existing right to solemnise only those marriages that accord with their own traditions and practices.
See the Science Party's 2017 submission to the Draft Marriage Equality Bill.
The Science Party recognises that current end-of-life scenarios for some people are painful and that cures for such conditions are unlikely in the short time that those people have left to live. The Science Party believes that if a person has decided to end their own life, the actions they take to end their own life should not be considered a criminal offence. The Science Party believes it is the role of government to address risks of state, doctor and family corruption with regard to physician-assisted dying.
Physician-assisted dying for the terminally ill, on the consultation of two doctors, has been legal in Oregon, USA, and the Netherlands for many years. Evidence from these jurisdictions suggests that the law has been used as intended and not abused.
5.1. Policy: The Science Party supports the introduction of a well-regulated physician-assisted dying scheme. We remain committed to providing the relevant medical research and health care to bring humanity closer to indefinite life-extension.
5.2. Discussion: The Science Party believes that physician-assisted dying should be available to people who:
- have a terminal illness as confirmed by two qualified medical practitioners;
- are over 18 years of age;
- are not experiencing a mental health episode that may prevent them from making consensual health decisions; and
- are not in a state that prevents the making of consensual health conditions (such as severe mental disability, brain damage or coma);
- the procedure must be reviewed by a court in each instance;
- the patient must first receive appropriate psychological or psychiatric counselling for underlying mental health conditions;
- and the patient must be made aware of all available treatments, expected duration of remaining life and expected pain levels.
In addition, the Science Party supports the following safeguards:
5.3 Policy: Physician-assisted dying may only be conducted in the following facilities (not inside regular health care facilities):
- dedicated hospices;
- the homes of those who intend to end their life, as authorised by a court; or
- registered end of life clinics (to be created under this legislation).
5.4. Discussion: Healthcare paranoia is a serious issue that prevents some people from receiving healthcare. Some people are scared that indicating organ donation will result in doctors in killing them early to harvest organs. Other people refuse vaccinations for themselves and their children because they believe vaccines are unsafe. Allowing physician-assisted dying to occur in normal healthcare settings may prevent individuals seeking care they need. If hospitals stop being a safe place for some people because of the fear of being mistaken for an assisted-dying candidate, the net utility of legalising the procedure may actually be negative. To prevent unnecessary healthcare paranoia, physician-assisted dying should only be carried out in hospices, private homes under the authorisation of a relevant authority, and dedicated end of life clinics (which can provide services that can accommodate for a comfortable life-ending process).
5.5. Policy: Create a new offence that criminalises coercing individuals into using physician-assisted dying services.
5.6. Discussion: This law would be similar to existing laws that make it an offence to encourage someone to commit suicide. This law needs to be carefully constructed to allow people to provide information to people who are in end of life situations, but strong enough such that badgering a person into death is an offence with a proportional sentence attached to it. There is a risk that someone may be pressured into physician-assisted dying for inheritance, to stop the family losing money on treatments that prolong the inevitable, or simply because the emotional drain of caring for a dying person can be intense. We should protect those people who are close to death, as they are highly vulnerable individuals. They often only have real personal contact with those in the family who are most affected by extended suffering through to the end of life and sometimes the likely beneficiary of inheritance.
5.7. Policy: Legalise the sale of publications related to physician-assisted dying.
5.8. Discussion: We believe in a strong debate surrounding the issue of physician-assisted dying. Books by Philip Nitschke which describe processes by which someone may die a less painful medically-assisted death are currently banned in Australia. While the Science Party believes strongly in preventing self harm, banning these books does little to prevent self harm (as there are numerous widely known methods for taking one's life) and ultimately silences debate on the issue. We therefore propose the removal of books regarding this issue from the list of censored books.
6. Secular government and religious freedom
6.1 Policy: Recommend to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change the Census question, "What is the person's religion?" to an unbiased question.
6.2 Discussion: The purpose of the Census is to gather data on Australian residents. To ensure that this data is accurate, bias in the question should be avoided as far as possible. The census question has evolved over time to increase reliability. The logical next step is to ask whether the respondent has a religion before asking what the person's religion is.
6.3 Policy: End discriminatory or preferential treatment in law of religious organisations, and of individuals on the basis of their religion or lack of religion; and ensure that religious freedom cannot be used as an excuse to breach the rights of others. As such, Science Party policy is as follows:
- End tax exemptions for religious activities;
- Repeal blasphemy laws (which exist in common law in most Australian jurisdictions);
- Remove prayers and religious icons from public institutions, including parliament;
- No government funding for: schools that teach creationism; organisations that flout anti-discrimination laws (for example by discriminating against job applicants on the basis of religion, for secular roles); and any religious organisations (schools, hospitals, aged care facilities, etc.) that proselytise;
- Abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program and replace it with a National School Counselling Program that employs suitably trained professionals;
- Ban non-therapeutic surgical procedures (including non-therapeutic male circumcision) for children too young to consent to the procedure;
- Ban healthcare providers from refusing clinical procedures on religious grounds;
- List people in religious ministry as mandatory reporters of child abuse, as per Recommendation 7.3(e) of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse;
- Remove the "Ellis defence" (which has historically benefitted religious organisations). This legal instrument allows organisations to hold assets in trust, immune to lawsuits, leaving victims of institutional abuse unable to sue the organisation.
- No exemptions from anti-discrimination laws to allow denial of goods or services on the basis that these products are sought for use in a same-sex wedding; or for civil celebrants to refuse to solemnise a marriage for the reason that it is a same-sex marriage; or to child adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples who wish to adopt, on the basis of being a same-sex couple.
6.4 Discussion: The Science Party broadly supports the policy positions put forward by the Australian Secular Lobby, with the following caveats:
- We do not believe there is a need to regulate the price of food items that carry religious certifications as long as other vendors may offer an alternative and consumers are free to buy the alternative.
- The Science Party is concerned about children being indoctrinated into extreme beliefs. However, as secularists, we also believe strongly in the rights of people to practice their religion. Given the difficulty in defining "extremism" regarding religion, we do not think it is sensible to legislate against raising children within a religious tradition.
- The Secular Lobby advocates for removing "Royal Assent" to federal Bills as they are signed by the Governor General on behalf of the monarch, who is also head of the Church of England, and to do this by becoming a republic. Our motivation for advocating for a republic is simply that an unelected monarchy is incompatible with democracy.
Also, the Science Party states the following positions in other policies:
- Since the party's formation in 2013, we formally supported marriage equality.
- Legalise physician-assisted dying, with strong safeguards, for terminally ill people in all Australian jurisdictions.
- Access to termination of pregnancy via the Victorian model and Medicare funding.
- Remove Special Religious Education (SRE) classes from the regular school timetable.
7.1 Policy: Replace current, narrow Fair Dealing Exceptions to copyright laws with broad Fair Use provisions.
7.2 Discussion: Australian Fair Dealing Exceptions do not go far enough to protect users of copyright material for the creation of derivative works from being in breach of copyright law. The impact of Australia's restrictive copyright laws is that new technologies are less likely to be created and implemented in Australia. A change to less restrictive 'Fair Use' copyright laws is recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
For a work to be exempt under Australia's Fair Dealing copyright law, it must be specifically covered by the Copyright Act. This means any new use that is not listed in the Act is a copyright infringement, even if it is in the spirit of fair use. In the digital age, these laws place people at risk of breaking the law when using new media that are not covered by the Act. Derivative works such as a search engine that uses images and snippets of text (such as Google) would rest on much less certain legal foundation in Australia than in the US, because a specific law would need to be passed to allow such derivative works.
In contrast, 'Fair Use' laws such as those in effect in the USA, Canada, and much of southeast Asia, instead define broad types of use that should be deemed fair. These Fair Use provisions do not appear to have had a detrimental effect on creative output in those countries.
Amending Australia's copyright law to be more consistent with the USA's has significant trade advantages. The cost of legal advice to understand the laws would be less and the terms of trading copyright works both into and out of Australia would be clearer to all involved.