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Tuesday, 28 March 2017
Page: 3466

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (18:10): Labor welcome the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill because we have been waiting for it for more than three years. In 2013 the Australian Labor government took a leading role in negotiating the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. It is a long title for a very important international agreement. What the Marrakesh Treaty does is to allow disabled people access to printed copyright material, such as books, without express permission from the rights holder. It allows works to be translated into a format, such as braille, that is accessible to people with a vision or print disability, without the makers of those works having to fear that they are breaching copyright.

Without the Marrakesh Treaty, those with a disability have a serious constraint put on the works of literature that they are able to access. In fact, copyright restrictions currently mean that only about five per cent of books published worldwide are ever converted into formats accessible to people with vision impairment. The Marrakesh Treaty aims to end this 'book famine'. It is difficult to overstate just what a difference that will make to the lives of people with a disability all over this country and, indeed, all over the world, as other states party to the Marrakesh Treaty amend their own copyright laws.

In the United States, the Bookshare website offers nearly half a million book titles in accessible formats, such as braille, but until now Australia's existing copyright law meant that less than half that number were available. That should now change. This proposed legislation means organisations like Vision Australia can go about the task of creating books in accessible and audio formats for blind and vision-impaired people in Australia without fear of being sued.

When the treaty came into force in September last year, Vision Australia's general manager for information solutions Michael Simpson said:

Having access to quality information allows people to make decisions and choices in life. The lack of information in accessible formats puts people with print disability at a huge disadvantage with their sighted peers. With more available content the playing field for this community can start to be levelled.

I am one of many avid readers in this place. Books are very important to me, and I can only imagine what it would feel like to lose one's sight and, with it, to lose access to the learning and enjoyment that books provide. It is right that we do everything possible to increase access to books for people with print disability. I am very proud of Labor's role in driving this treaty and the reforms that this treaty brings with it.

I am equally disappointed—and frankly dumbfounded—that it has taken so long for the government to make the necessary changes in law that are required in order to be in compliance with the treaty. Regrettably, everything this government has done in relation to the Marrakesh Treaty has been at the last minute or delayed. Under pressure from Labor, the Liberal government finally signed the treaty on 24 June 2014, only just before the one-year deadline for signing expired. The government finally ratified the treaty in December 2015. The treaty entered into force on 30 September 2016.

It has taken the government until now, nearly six months later, to make the necessary legislative changes. That delay has resulted in a significant amount of uncertainty for the disability sector, which has been left unsure where they stand in terms of breaches of copyright law. Nevertheless, we are very glad the government has finally moved in the right direction. It is particularly welcome that the government has recognised the urgency in making these bipartisan changes and has hived them off from the more controversial parts of the earlier exposure draft bill. It is right that something as important as disability access not be caught up in some of the more politically sensitive areas of copyright law.

Disability access is not the only part of this bill. The bill also covers other important changes to copyright law. These include preservation of copyright material by libraries, archives and other institutions; use of copyright material by educational institutions; and harmonisation of copyright terms for published and unpublished works. The bill creates a new, simplified exception to existing copyright laws, permitting libraries and archives to create copies of material for preservation purposes. The act currently contains several provisions dealing with the right of different institutions to make preservation copies of different types of material, which have been criticised as overly inflexible and prescriptive. While some stakeholders would prefer the proposed exception to go further, particularly by applying to collections held by bodies other than 'libraries' or 'archives', this is a sensible reform and the sector is generally pleased with the proposed amendments.

Another part of the bill updates the statutory licences the act provides for educational institutions to access copyright material. Again, these parts of the act have been regarded as overly prescriptive and inflexible. The bill streamlines and simplifies these provisions, removing surplus administrative requirements and allowing educational institutions and rights holders to deal with one another on a more flexible, commercial basis. These changes are the outcome of lengthy negotiation between the education sector and rights holders and are supported by stakeholders on both sides of the issue.

The final part of the bill harmonises rules about the term of copyright for published and unpublished work. Presently, the act does not impose a time limit on copyright in unpublished works. As a consequence, where the owner of a copyright is unknown or unable to be contacted, libraries and other institutions are unable to make use of those works or even undertake preservation work. This problem affects, for example—and there are of course thousands of documents that one could have given as examples—letters by Jane Austen and Captain Cook's diaries. Both are documents that one would think should be made more readily available. This bill, if enacted, will enable that.

Many of you listening would be shocked to learn that this inability to publish and even to undertake preservation work has been the case for decades. The change is a necessary part of Australia's ability to preserve its history, and it is surprising it has not happened before now. The bill amends the Copyright Act to implement a new general protection period of life-plus-70 years that does not differentiate between published and unpublished works. The bill similarly amends the act so that Crown copyright in unpublished work is brought in line with the 50-year period which applies to Crown copyright in published work. Transitional provisions apply to protect the interests of rights-holders. Again, these provisions represent a negotiated consensus between stakeholders and are strongly supported by the library sector.

This bill is a very welcome start to some major copyright reform. But we should be clear: this bill can only be the very start of the ambitious modernisation of the Copyright Act that the government promised at the start of the last term of the parliament. Soon after Senator Brandis became the minister responsible for copyright after the 2013 election, he announced that he would achieve nothing less than a re-write of the Copyright Act in response to the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry that the Labor government had commissioned. Senator Brandis promised at that time 'a thorough and exhaustive exercise in law reform' which would leave the Copyright Act 'shorter, simpler and easier to use and understand'. Yet it has taken till the second term of this government—well after Senator Brandis was relieved of his responsibility for copyright—for this bill to appear. And, as for that ALRC report? After almost three years, the government is yet to even respond.

Australian artists, Australian industry and Australian consumers are right to be disappointed with the performance of this government in copyright law reform. Labor supports this bill, but it must not be the last word on copyright reform from this government. I commend the bill to the House.