House debates

Monday, 9 November 2020



7:30 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As our world tries to deal with this pandemic and as one of the world's most important democracies held its presidential election, questions about how we get our information and worries about the spread of misinformation have never seemed so important. Many of us have spent hours glued to our televisions for the past five days, awaiting a result from the US election. We couldn't help but notice the other decision-making process that was happening at the same time: the decision of what broadcasters internationally and locally were deciding to air on their networks and how they were reporting the ballot count.

At 6.30 pm local time on Thursday, President Trump gave a press conference at the White House to falsely claim that the election was a fraud and that the Democrats were stealing it away from him. The US networks ABC, CBS and NBC all made the decision to cut away from the President's press conference as he was citing false statements and unfounded conspiracies. This is something we have not seen before during the Trump presidency—the media reporting Trump's baseless rhetoric as lies and misinformation and choosing not to broadcast it. But we know that this is not isolated. The areas where fake news and the rise of conspiracy theories continue to flourish are wide. Due to rapidly growing digital platforms and social media and a decline in traditional media, this is not unique to the US. We are all at risk from the spread of denial, mistruths and misinformation, yet this government has no serious plan to support public interest journalism.

President Trump's election-rigging conspiracy theory was parroted here in Australia, in fact—most shockingly by government members. Both George Christensen and Matt Canavan used their official social media accounts to share posts alleging voter fraud in the US—

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Petrie on a point of order?

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just ask the member for Jagajaga to refer to members by their correct titles.

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My apologies, Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister has not publicly condemned those comments—not surprisingly, as we have seen the Prime Minister repeatedly fail to act and pull into line government members who are spreading misinformation. All year we've seen social media accounts from the government side wrongly spruik hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. This kind of misinformation is outright dangerous. Perpetuating these lies and blurring the line between fact and fiction only continues to undermine and erode our democracy. Climate change deniers, far-Right hate groups, Islamophobia and COVID conspiracies all spread in social media bubbles on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I have read with great interest and alarm in recent days reporting by Business Insider explaining how Sky News now has one of the biggest social media reaches of any Australian media organisation to spread their own unique brand of information and opinions.

Meanwhile, the news sources we used to get our information from and which helped us to create shared stories about what was actually going on in our communities are declining almost to the point of extinction. Our national broadcaster, which we know has been a trusted source that people have looked to for reliable information during this pandemic, has had its budget repeatedly slashed by this government. Tonight the government have been using the Senate to try to pre-emptively undermine the ABC's independence because they are not prepared to face scrutiny. Public interest journalism is on the endangered list in this country, and the government has no real plans to change the situation. We know from data collected by the ACCC that 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia between 2008 and 2018. That's a net 15 per cent decrease in the number of these publications. Earlier this year we nearly lost the independent news wire, AAP. The number of journalists employed in print and online businesses fell by 20 per cent between 2014 and 2017.

We are experiencing a crisis of information in this country. It requires the government to think differently about how it supports public interest journalism. It requires some creativity and some new thinking about: how do we have information flourish that is trustworthy? How do we support journalism that tells us what's going on in our community without peddling misinformation? How do we call out lies and mistruths? And what role do all of us, as leaders in this place, have to do that? If we continue to drift along, our democracy is at risk. Our sense of what makes us a strong and cohesive community is at risk. (Time expired)