House debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Questions without Notice

News Media and Digital Platforms

2:45 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the . Will the minister please update the House on the extremely irresponsible action taken by Facebook this morning, affecting Australians seeking to access critical and up-to-date information about disaster and emergency services?

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Mallee for her question and her concern about the reckless and irresponsible actions of Facebook this morning to block State Emergency Service pages, the Bureau of Meteorology and even ABC Emergency. Facebook has done that on a morning in which there was an extreme fire warning issued for Eucla in WA, and, in fact, there are flood warnings for the Tully and Murray rivers in North Queensland. They've tried to issue those today through a platform that has been used and has evolved—as Facebook has evolved —into an important conduit in providing critical information to people in disaster areas.

Let me make this clear: the legislation that passed this House and is now going to the Senate does not impose any financial burden on Facebook for the use of government information, particularly from emergency services. So the actions that they have taken are reckless. They're reckless even more so because the legislation has not even got royal assent and is not even in place. It is an overreach which Facebook has undertaken, recklessly, and it has put Australians' lives at risk.

It is important that we continue to work with them, because it is important to also understand, as many in this place would understand, that Facebook can also be a place where misinformation is placed—particularly in times of natural disaster. Any State Emergency Service will tell you that one of the key resources that have to be deployed during a natural disaster is the monitoring of information that's put up on Facebook during a time of natural disaster, to make sure that the truth can be rectified. In fact, you need a single source of truth. That's why these sites are so critical to the Australian public in times of natural disaster.

I'm proud to say that, this morning, the communications minister made a representation to Facebook. As we speak, we are slowly but surely seeing those sites, those pages, come back online because of the direct intervention by the communications minister with Facebook to ensure that those pages are placed back up, so that the Australian public can have confidence in the State Emergency Service and the Bureau of Meteorology being able to issue warnings as they require. But let me say this: the Australian people and government will not be bullied by some big tech company that is putting people's lives at risk and putting profits ahead of people.