Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Freedom of Speech
I rise to speak against the motion. This proposed legislation seeks to allow the Australian Communications and Media Authority to require records from digital platforms, to register industry generated codes for the monitoring and removal of misinformation and disinformation, and to impose a code where that does not happen or where the industry code is inadequate. There are safeguards built in, with certain content excluded by definition from the operation of the provisions, such as entertainment, parody and satire, professional news, government sources and education. Further, there is an express protection in clause 60 which refers to the implied freedom of political communication. Private messages are exempt.
The exclusions and protections show that the targets of the legislation are malevolent actors, both domestic and international, who seek intentionally to do harm as well as those who unintentionally would enable harm to be done through publicly available online platforms. The definition covers content which is 'false, misleading or deceptive', which is likely to cause or contribute to 'serious harm' and which is provided on a digital service and spread at scale. This doing of harm through misinformation and disinformation is already an issue in the online world. It is set to become a much bigger issue as the use of powerful AI will mean exponential growth. That is why the communications regulator needs to have the tools to take action, and that is why legislation is required. The coalition knows this and that's why, on their website, even today, under the headline, 'Protecting Australians online', we find the following statement:
A re-elected coalition government will continue to protect you and your family online by:
… … …
That is exactly what we are doing in this exposure draft. You need to read your statements, Keith, before you stand up!
Why is there the apparent confusion amongst the coalition? Why do they say one thing on their website and another thing in this motion? We have to doubt the coalition's preparedness to actually protect people online, when they spend nine years not arming the regulator, then go to an election promising to arm the regulator and then pretend to totally oppose the legislation to arm the regulator, once it is out for consultation. The other explanation might be some sort of schism in the Liberal Party. The member for Banks is the shadow minister for communications. He now calls for the draft bill to be binned. It begs the question: Is the shadow minister suggesting that the Australian government do nothing to combat misinformation and disinformation? Is he suggesting that we should leave the Australian regulator powerless in the face of this modern-day threat? Is he suggesting the Australian government should do nothing to combat foreign interference by disinformation? Is the opposition suggesting that we should just leave digital platforms to make up their own rules, without any oversight?
In the recent past, the former coalition Minister for Communications, the member for Bradfield, stated:
… It is in the nature of social media that harmful posts may go 'viral' and rapidly be disseminated to a wide audience, amplifying the harm…
He referred to:
… the significant role that providers play in promoting and disseminating content, and community expectations around the responsibilities that come with providing a service that comes with the potential for significant harm.
This amount of recorded support in the Hansard and in Liberal Party documentation for this very sort of legislation leaves a question mark over the sudden, vehement opposition by the member for Banks. Nevertheless, this is an exposure draft, and the purpose is to receive submissions from interested organisations and improve the draft before it goes to the parliament.
I have seen a number of useful submissions, and, when constituents approach my office with concerns, I have been urging them to also make submissions. I note that the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association wants to ensure that the bill doesn't inadvertently gather up legitimate online gaming interests, and that the Human Rights Law Centre thinks it doesn't go far enough. The Victorian Bar association position is so similar to that of the member for Banks that I wonder which came first.
In the end, it is a matter of finding a good balance and ensuring that free political discourse is not impinged upon. This isn't really a matter of the coalition being against this draft bill, which they committed to bringing into effect themselves, prior to the election. It's just another example of a coalition so policy paralysed that, instead of being a constructive party of the parliamentary process, they feel the need to scramble around seeing which fringe groups they can incite into action to build a Liberal Party mailing list.