House debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Questions without Notice

News Media and Digital Platforms

2:50 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for the Environment and the Minister representing the Minister for Women. Will the minister please update the House on the shameful and irresponsible action taken by Facebook this morning, affecting Australians seeking access to critical information on weather forecasting and warnings and—this one is truly distressing—information on counselling services for victims of domestic violence?

2:51 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Lindsay for her question and I commend her on her swift action in her local community when she found that Facebook, in this capricious way, had taken down the pages of community groups that she's close to. One was a group that provides housing support. There was distress that then flowed on, which she reported to me earlier, particularly in the case of 1800RESPECT. People rely on being able to access information, and they develop trust in the platforms that provide it. Particularly in rural and regional Australia, Facebook has been many things. It's been a community bulletin, a lifeline during the pandemic and a way of communicating with family and friends when there has been no other way. I have to say that trust has been badly breached.

We are in the middle of a pandemic, and it's utterly irresponsible of Facebook to remove access to webpages or block their content, particularly in the case of 1800RESPECT and the Bureau of Meteorology. On the matter of 1800RESPECT, I encourage anyone who feels unsafe or would like to see to someone about this to call 1800RESPECT or visit Over the last year, the total contacts to 1800RESPECT have been more than 6,000 a week, highlighting how crucial it is for people escaping domestic violence and seeking advice on sexual assault and associated violence. 1800RESPECT and the Morrison government are, of course, utilising other methods to communicate this national helpline to those in need, but I come back to my main point: if you're used to receiving information on your Facebook feed, that's what you come to rely on.

As the minister for agriculture said, Facebook has also affected the Bureau of Meteorology. The BOM, as it's affectionately known by all Australians, uses Facebook as a communications channel, with posts and video content complementing the website's and the app's official warnings and forecasts, particularly during server weather. Cyclones can strike without warning. There are fire weather warnings and sheep graziers alerts. People come to rely on this popping up in their Facebook feed and giving them the information they need at a time of crisis.

The bureau's Facebook page has 894,000 followers, the third-largest audience for a government Facebook page in Australia. All forecast warnings and other critical information warnings are at the BOM weather app—and I take this opportunity to ask that people download it. When, as a multibillion dollar corporation, you enter into the world of information platforms, you walk into responsibility as well as profit. The message we receive today is that that responsibility is arbitrary at best and heavy-handed at worst. As the minister for communication has said, our resolution on the media bargaining code is strong, but we want access to community and safety information. (Time expired)