Senate debates

Monday, 22 February 2021


Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021; Second Reading

6:09 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

The bill before us in the chamber, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021, as we know, is a bill to establish a mandatory code of conduct to help the sustainability of Australian news media. It does this by seeking to address the bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and Australian news businesses. Most Australians will know something about this because it's certainly been in the news of late, and if they didn't see it in the news then many Australians would have seen their Facebook content and platforms disrupted. We know that this code has been more than three years in the making, spearheaded by the ACCC through the digital platforms inquiry. It is Australia's attempt to address the decline in public interest journalism by capturing news media revenue from dominant digital platforms, as other jurisdictions have attempted to do with varying degrees of success.

From the outset, Labor has indicated in-principle support for a workable code to address the bargaining imbalance between dominant digital platforms and Australia's news media. On that note, Labor supports the bill to establish this mandatory code of conduct to address this imbalance. However, we note that the code of conduct does not preclude parties from their own commercial negotiations or reaching deals outside the code, and I look forward to hearing more from the government about that later, as we note that seems to have been happening. The bill has a framework to empower the minister to designate certain digital platform services with a significant bargaining power and to empower ACMA to register certain news media businesses that meet certain thresholds so that those parties may be brought together to arbitrate, negotiate and bargain in good faith to reach binding agreements or access an independent arbiter to determine remuneration under final offer arbitration, should they be unable to reach agreement. We also see that the bill will enable digital platforms to publish standard offers which provide smaller news media businesses with a pathway to accessing those agreements, as well as setting minimum standards for digital platforms, including having 14 days advance notice of algorithm changes that might impact news media businesses. We note that the code will be reviewed within one year of the commencement of the bill.

The Labor Party have extended constructive in-principle support and we see that the government has signalled the consideration of amendments. However, I think the minister tabled some amendments to the explanatory memorandum. I'm unaware whether they have tabled or signalled any amendments to the bill itself in this chamber. We saw that the government circulated amendments for debate in the House on 17 February and described those amendments as 'a number of clarifications and technical amendments'. Progressing from there, we supported the bill as amended by the government in the House. But we stand here today with still a number of questions for the government on how it intends to implement this law in practice. These questions are particularly in relation to what digital platforms and services will be designated under this new code and when. Those questions from the Labor Party remain outstanding. As late as today we have been waiting to find out whether you would amend the bill further. We've seen Treasurer Frydenberg say that he is continuing discussions with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg about the outstanding issues within the code. He indicated that some amendments might be made. But we see that the government has not elected to amend the bill. Labor is of the view that, for the government to ensure that a bill of such consequence in a negotiation context be readied for debate in this parliament, it's not good enough that these issues have remained unclear until now. I'm assuming that no amendments are to be made.

For many months now Google and Facebook have expressed concerns that the code wasn't workable and explained that they may withdraw products and services from Australia if their concerns were not addressed. Indeed, we've seen news that Google has been working to land deals with Australian news media publishers, which is a welcome thing. But it appears that there is also some kind of understanding that's been negotiated between Google and the government when it comes to the future designation of Google services under the code. However, we see that Facebook continues to express serious reservations about the bill, and somewhat of an explosion of that has impacted on many Australians' access to information.

Facebook took the unprecedented world-first step of restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content. But we see also that there was a large-scale overblocking of material not subject to the code, including the pages of health, emergency and community services, and we'll need to discuss these issues further in the committee stages. Millions of Australians are understandably aggrieved that Facebook blocked them from accessing content, including important community services, in the midst of a pandemic. Issues like this need to be fixed as a matter of urgency. Blocking news services subject to the code could persist, impacting large mainstream media companies as well as smaller publishers. So we need to call on the government today to do its job, to craft a workable news media code that supports the media without undermining our digital economy or disrupting millions of Australian citizens and small businesses, as we have seen, because a great many communities benefit from sharing information on these platforms.

In the additional comments to the report of the Senate inquiry into this bill, Labor senators cautioned, very strongly, that the withdrawal of Google search and Facebook news sharing from Australia would disrupt many millions of Australians who use these services every month and more than a million small businesses that are relying on these platforms as part of their rebuilding after COVID. The delay and uncertainty with these processes has dragged on, and we've seen the disruption to millions of Australians of the services they access online.

Labor very much affirms that Australian sovereignty should be respected and that Australian law should be well crafted, proportionate and fair. We don't say that the government should respond to threats from digital platforms but we do call on the government to do its job—the job it said it would do—and find a way to support the media without disrupting millions of Australians and small businesses. Labor's been very much outcomes focused during this debate. We want a code that's about ensuring the sustainability of public interest journalism and the importance of the fourth estate, in light of the ongoing disruption to the news media that we've experienced over some decades, and its traditional business models, and that's further been disrupted by the power of the digital platforms we're discussing in this legislation today. It is, ultimately, about having a healthy, functioning democracy, which means we need access to news and information.

As to the potential impact of this legislation on news media businesses, digital platforms, small businesses, citizens and consumers, I have to say that the government should have had its ducks in a row a lot earlier, rather than seeing the chaos of last week. We know that there's still a great deal of uncertainty about the future of designation of the platforms and services, which will remain, under this legislation, a matter of ministerial discretion. So we don't know what further disruption we might see as part of future negotiations if the government gets this wrong. Not all Australian news media businesses have struck deals, as we know, with the digital platforms, and the passage of this bill may impact their relative negotiation position with those platforms. We remain concerned about this and we want to see balance.

It's not clear to us how the government will achieve the intention of levelling the bargaining position between the news media and digital platforms if certain services are not designated and the negotiate-arbitrate provisions of the code do not apply. This remains to be seen.

For this reason, Labor recommends the government use precise language in its public statements regarding what designations it intends to make under this code. We want to save any misunderstanding or unnecessary uncertainty for the media, digital platforms, small businesses, citizens and consumers who may be impacted—and they look very likely to be impacted. It goes without saying that the government needs to be judicious when it comes to making designation determinations under this code once it's passed.

There's a great deal of stakeholder concern with the bill. We note that the corollary of addressing the dominance of digital platforms could involve potential impacts beyond the news media, and the outcomes of this might be unknown. Many small businesses, small and medium news media, publishers, citizens and consumers are worried about these impacts. The government's indication by media release on 8 December that the code will apply to Google Search, combined with the minister's subsequent enthusiastic promotion of alternative search engines, such as Microsoft's Bing and DuckDuckGo, caused many Australians and small businesses uncertainty and worry about the potential impacts of this legislation, noting Google's threat to withdraw their search engine from Australia. So we see a great deal of concern from stakeholders expressed should Google Search withdraw—and should Facebook also withdraw news from Australia—in response to the passage of this bill. The disruptions would be very real, and that's despite the alternative search engines and social media platforms that are available. We're very used to the dominance of Facebook and Google in this regard. I'd like to thank all of the constituents for reaching out to us in the Labor Party about those concerns.

Reporting has recently referred to the withdrawal of Google Search from Australia as a 'death sentence' for small to medium enterprises. I don't have time to go into the detail of many of the concerns, such as how much revenue, if any, will be invested in additional journalists, with the exception of the ABC, which is committed to investing in regional services should it be able to access revenue from arbitration and what economic loss to the community there would be should Google or Facebook withdraw services. We can see that some mainstream businesses will benefit from increased traffic and advertising on their news products, but there are also risks to small and independent businesses, who may lose referrals, and media diversity could be undermined rather than strengthened. We in Australia have one of the most concentrated media markets in the world, and search engines and social media are absolutely instrumental in accessing news and information and ensuring that we have access to a diversity of sources both domestic and international. Other reforms that this government has put forward have not been achieved, and there's a lot more to do. We're pleased that evidence that work on the code to date has improved the responsiveness of digital platforms to the news media, but this is not an end in itself.

Finally, we support this bill. The government needs to act on the balance of the recommendations of the report that has prompted this legislation. In closing, I move the second reading amendment standing in my name:

At the end of the motion, add: ", but the Senate:

(a) notes that:

  (i) Australia has one of the most concentrated media markets in the world,

  (ii) since the Government's changes to media law in 2017, there have been alarming contractions and warning signs of market failure in Australia's media landscape, and

  (iii) the Bill was introduced 18 months after the ACCC delivered the Final Report of the Digital Platforms Inquiry in June 2019 and does not address all of the ACCC's recommendations to support public interest journalism; and

(b) calls on the Government to:

  (i) do more to support public interest journalism in Australia as a matter of urgency,

  (ii) deliver a support and transition package to assist news media publishers unduly negatively impacted as a consequence of this Bill, and

  (iii) make appropriate provision to ensure the viability of AAP newswire as a matter of priority".

6:24 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak in relation to the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. This bill enacts recommendations from the ACCC after some three years of work by the regulatory body on these issues. I think it's really important to say at the outset that this bill is designed to deal with one particular part of the issues facing public interest journalism in this country—news media and, of course, the long-awaited regulation of the big tech giants. It doesn't solve everything. It certainly cannot stand alone as the only action that needs to be taken to ensure that we deal with the monopoly that exists online with the digital tech giants and the monopoly that exists within Australia's media landscape—namely, the monopoly of the Murdoch press.

We know that public interest journalism in this country has been struggling for quite some time. Trying to get to the negotiating table with these big tech giants to negotiate how they access the services of digital advertising and revenue spend has been very, very difficult. The ACCC's report, after three years, made it very clear that there was a power imbalance in relation to the ability of media organisations and publishers to actually have a fair and genuine negotiation with those big tech giants. Facebook and Google didn't need to turn up to the table and they didn't need to put genuine offers on the table, and, in many cases, they refused to do so.

Monopolies are bad. They often lead to a lesser quality product and higher prices for the consumer. In this scenario, we have seen that the monopoly that both Google and Facebook have had has really made it difficult for those who create news journalism in this country to be able to be paid for the content that they create, access the advertising revenue in a fair and transparent way and continue on their very important work. Public interest journalism is essential to ensure that we have a robust and accountable democracy; to ensure that there are journalists being paid for the work that they do to investigate very important news and stories in the public interest; to ensure that there is a fourth estate that is willing and able, funded and resourced, to hold the government of the day and the parliament to account. It is essential that we have journalists working to inform the rest of us about what is going on in our own backyards, in our own communities, across the country, and, indeed, where Australia fits in the rest of the world.

As I said at the outset, this particular piece of legislation doesn't solve all of the problems we face in 2021 when it comes to the current online platforms or the monopolies within the media landscape here. It deals with one particular part. It deals with advertising revenue and the bargaining process for that, and that is it. The government and this parliament have a lot of work to do to make sure this is not set-and-forget, that we actually roll up our sleeves and get serious about making sure there is a proper investment and that the settings are there for investment into media diversity in this country to make sure that we can tackle the other big monopoly that exists in Australia. That, of course, is the monopoly of News Corp. We can't have a continuing attack on our public broadcaster from this government. Cut after cut after cut is making our public broadcaster less and less effective when it comes to covering the stories that really matter to Australians and making those stories and that information accessible. We need to make sure that small publishers, independent publishers and start-up news organisations can get a foothold in the market and are able to flourish so that we are not just employing new journalists in this country and the next generation of journalists but ensuring that, as consumers, as the audience, as regular members of the community, we have free and open access and transparency to be able to consume the information and the news that those new platforms and those new agencies are able to create for us.

There are a number of things in this piece of legislation that need amending. Overall, the principle of tackling the power imbalance is absolutely right; it does need to happen. But there are a number of amendments needed to make sure the Australian people—the community, our news organisations, our smaller publishers and other regular users of the internet—are protected. We need to make sure that the ABC's funding is secure, and I foreshadow that, as part of tonight's debate, I'll be moving an amendment to protect the ABC's funding going forward. We'll also move an amendment to ensure that small and independent publishers get a fair say when it comes to the review of this legislation in 12 months time. We called for a review of the legislation, and it has been promised by the government. We want to make sure that small independent publishers are front and centre when the impacts are being considered.

We also want an amendment to ensure that the revenue gained through this piece of legislation actually goes where it is intended—that is, to the journalists themselves. We want to see this money flow to the newsrooms, not the boardrooms. This shouldn't be simply another slush fund for big media corporations that already monopolise the market here in Australia. It needs to go to ensuring that journalists and photographers get paid for their work and that the groundbreaking public interest stories that are waiting to be uncovered right across the country are uncovered and made accessible to everyday Australians. We need to make sure this money actually goes to journalism and not just into the pockets of shareholders or executives.

Putting this piece of legislation aside, there is also the looming issue of how we deal with the power of big data. It is not just an issue Australia has to grapple with but something countries and governments right around the world are facing. The power of big data, corporations like Facebook and Google, to run surveillance on their customers, their everyday users, and to bundle up that data and sell it off for their huge profit at the expense of people's privacy and the integrity of their use online, is just extraordinary. It needs to be reined in. In the European Union there has been a long-running debate in relation to reining in the power of the tech giants and ensuring that the individual user has control over where their data is collected, who it's collected by and where it goes next.

It worries me, as a mother, that everything my 14-year-old daughter does online is tracked and traced by big corporations right around the world. It worries me that these big corporations don't just know where she has been, what she likes, where she shops and who she is friends with but dictate what she's going to show interest in next. She is a 14-year-old, and her data footprint is being collated, collected and then sold to the highest bidder. It is simply not okay. We have to make sure we implement proper protections for users' data and privacy right here in Australia. We don't need to be on our own in this. The EU is there and many other countries are going there. Australia needs to be front and centre in making sure we protect the user, the individual person online, not just the interests of the big corporations.

We also, of course, need to tackle big money in this space. When you have big corporations like Facebook, Google and the Murdoch press paying little to no tax in this country, you know you've got a problem. Tonight we will be moving an amendment that goes directly to this point because we shouldn't be in a situation where two big billionaires, Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch, get to dictate what news Australians get to consume, when they consume it and by which means they can consume it, all the while not paying tax in this country.

We need to start turning up the heat on these big corporations and these billionaires to pay their fair share of tax, to ensure that these services and these products exist in the public interest, not just for the corporate profit. We have got to stop these corporations from being able to run their tax affairs so they can minimise their tax using offshore havens. We need to make sure that the Australian people get bang for their buck when pieces of legislation like this pass.

Monopolies are bad. We need to take them on and we need to have the guts and the courage to do it. This amendment tonight is only one small part and it's not going to fix the problem at large. We need to get some amendments into this legislation. I look forward to debating this bill in the committee stage. I also look forward to having a genuine discussion with both sides of government, both sides of parliament, in relation to how we're going to rein in these big billionaires for good, because for far too long they have called the shots. They've absolutely called the shots. We've got to rein in the big tech giants, we have to protect people's data and their privacy and we have to make sure that Australians have access to a diversity of public interest news and that it's not just dominated by the wills, the whims and the political agenda of a billionaire from his apartment in Manhattan. I look forward to debating the rest of this bill into the evening.

6:37 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to make a contribution on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. Last week we saw the worst of behaviour from big tech. It was on show for all to see. The petulant behaviour of Facebook and what they did last week reinforces for me why this legislation is not only necessary but that the tough stance that the government has taken on this issue is justified. My constituents in New South Wales were met on Friday in the Daily Telegraph, which is a widely read newspaper in New South Wales, with headlines such as 'Faceblock—Social media giant's news ban lays bare its callous disregard for Australians'. It goes on to say 'Unfriendly fire hits Oz' and it looks at the sites which were blocked, which included sites of emergency services, support services such as helplines, charities, government agencies, university research sites, commercial sites, sports sites, retail sites, arts and other sites. They are listed. Indeed, one very interesting little headline by James Morrow read, 'It's time I zucked off and became anti-social'. I wonder whether after my speech this evening I will be zucked off by Facebook and my Facebook page deleted? But, of course, there is concern. For example, the newspaper also talks about how the block by Facebook was shutting the door to child abuse cops, and how Facebook would risk hindering probes into under-age sex complaints.

The editorial on that day was very interesting. It's headed 'True colours shown and they're all bad.' It was interesting. It summed up the situation very, very well and it drew an interesting parallel between the need for Australians, particularly post pandemic, to look at and examine decoupling from China and the dependence that we have on China. It said that, just like China, Australia must now find other ways to connect and be informed online. In other words, it said and drew this parallel: China hit Australia with trade barriers and tariffs, and now Facebook has hit us with indiscriminate page purges. It is a very good analogy. Of course, I have been advocating for us to decouple from China, just as I think that the time has come for other players to be involved in this space.

I'll now look at some detail in relation to this bill. It will establish a world-first mandatory code to address the bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and Australian news businesses. We know that consumers are obtaining their news more and more online, and news media businesses are now having to deal with the challenges of finding a viable and sustainable business model so that public interest journalism can be provided. But, at the same time, we do see that digital platforms are thriving, with their advertising revenues growing in leaps and bounds. Under these circumstances, it is totally unacceptable that digital platforms continue to earn revenue from news content that is created by Australian news media outlets and news businesses without them being properly remunerated. The ACCC found that this situation has arisen because of the imbalance of the bargaining power between these platforms and local businesses. That's why this code seeks to find a fair and flexible way to deal with this imbalance.

The code will encourage the parties to negotiate commercially outside the code, and there are processes that will be put in place if these negotiations are not successful. It's important to look at bargaining; it does say 'good faith' bargaining. There is also a process of arbitration in the event that a deal cannot be reached. The code also, importantly, provides for standard codes and for the publishing of standard offers, which are ways for those small businesses to avoid the cost and time of going to arbitration. Of course, the code will apply to Facebook and Google at first, but will be expanded in the future to other platforms. There are also substantial penalties for breaching the code's provisions.

As the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation, I do want to raise a number of scrutiny points which were raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. I'll again reiterate another bill which has substantial and significant matters that are going to be set out in delegated legislation. This is, of course, of great concern to the committee that I chair, because we do continue to see again another legislative scheme which should be included in primary legislation rather than delegated legislation. This was a concern that was raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. It also raised the question of the power of the minister to make a determination that specifies services as designated digital platform services and specifies corporations as designated digital platform corporations. This is the sort of thing that should be in the primary legislation rather than the delegated legislation, because here we have circumstances where rights will be affected. These are concerns that have been repeatedly raised and, unfortunately, here we have another bill that is likely to fall foul of scrutiny and delegated legislation principles.

In recent opinion piece 'Big Tech has no claim to moral high ground', Rachael Falk, the chief executive of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, makes some very valid points. She refers to an incident at the San Bernadino County Department of Public Health. Following that incident, a problem emerged in relation to the phones and accessing encrypted data. Despite the death and the carnage and the desperate search for answers to what had happened, Apple dug its heels in and wouldn't provide the necessary assistance to authorities. And recently we've seen the banning of former President Trump by Twitter and Facebook. Ms Falk makes this comment:

It is, at best, misguided altruism, but is more likely feigned in the name of wokeness. It serves to build a false sense of trust and camaraderie with users, when ultimately all these platforms want is their data and dollars.

It is also virtue signalling of the highest order and of the worst kind. The type that has much more to do with the bottom line than the betterment of society. The kind that is worth billions to Big Tech. Importantly, for all people, this must be a wake-up call. Because any threat to free speech is a threat to democracy. And by muzzling Trump, these platforms have demonstrated the potential power they wield in "designing discourse".

She states, and I think it's worth noting this very important point:

This power is far more immense than that of a government or media mogul—it represents a move away from social media to social engineering, algorithms over informed decision making. There is no moral high ground.

We've seen what happened with Parler, the social network platform that was very popular amongst conservative users. It was plunged into internet limbo recently, facing a technical, complex and very costly path to getting back online. Amazon booted the company from its cloud computing services, knocking it offline—again, taking the decision for what they deem you should be reading and have access to. I think Silicon Valley is silencing dissent while depriving users of free-speech alternative platforms.

There is an article, written by spiked online editor Andrew Doyle, called 'We ignore Big Technology censorship at our peril'. He's not a fan of former President Trump; nevertheless, he does make some very important and valid points. I'd like to pick up on some of them. He says:

The glee of seeing Trump banned has blinded left-wingers to the threat posed by Silicon Valley.

The greatest trick of authoritarians is to convince their subjects to rejoice in their own subjugation. Over the past week we have seen self-proclaimed 'leftists' cheering on multi-billion dollar corporations as they ratchet up their policies on censorship and their determination to control the parameters of acceptable thought and speech.

The article also states:

Big Tech censorship is set to be one of the most important issues of our time, and those of us who still care about our liberties are right to be vigilant.

Let us consider the misconceptions one by one. The tech giants of Silicon Valley operate a collective oligopoly over the equivalent of the modern-day public square.

The article goes on to say:

These kinds of corporate oligopolies are precisely the reason why antitrust legislation exists in an open-market economy. … The way in which the tech giants have coordinated to prevent users from accessing Parler, a rival platform established in 2018, demonstrates that they are willing to go to any lengths to ensure that their dominance of the market is absolute.

I would like to continue my comments with what Twitter did in terms of banning a former president, Donald Trump. I thought that was absolutely appalling. I was actually pleased to see that Chancellor Merkel was very critical of that as well. Of course, there is the hypocrisy of Twitter. They're prepared to let totalitarian rulers continue to promote their bile and their vile comments. They were prepared to take action in relation to President Trump but still let the head of Iran continue with his activities, particularly calling, as Iran does, for the wholesale eradication of Israel. That's just hypocrisy in the extreme. I conclude my remarks with some comments that were made by spiked-online editor Brendan O'Neill. He talks about the unaccountable billionaires in Silicon Valley who switched president Donald Trump off, which is a clear and grotesque interference in democracy. He refers to this as Silicon Valley influences switching off politicians and preventing them from engaging online. People should not underestimate just how serious this is.

6:52 pm

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Thirty-two years ago, on a cold June day, scientists in Melbourne succeeded in realising a project that had been in the making since the mid 1970s. It started out as idle speculation. But interest grew over the years as the possibilities became clear and obstacles were overcome. By the late 1980s the project secured enough support and funding for it to become a reality. So on that June morning in 1989 a computer at the University of Melbourne established a connection to a NASA satellite, which in turn connected to a computer at the University of Hawaii. Australia had joined the internet. In the months that followed the connection was upgraded and more universities were brought in. The Australian Research Council and the CSIRO both contributed funding and before the year was out our first internet service providers were established, allowing businesses and individuals to connect to the internet in their own right. Since then the internet has transformed our society, our economy and the way that we live. But one effect is already clear: the internet can enable much greater competition in some markets but greater concentration in others.

Market concentration is already one of the most difficult and enduring economic policy issues in this country. A small number of large corporations dominate many of our markets: the big four banks, the supermarkets, the airlines, electricity providers, gas companies and fuel companies. Concentration allows each to exercise market power—power they would not possess in a truly competitive market, power they can use to exploit their stakeholders. Suppliers are often squeezed to the point of bankruptcy, as our dairy farmers can attest. Employees are required to work harder without the wage rises they deserve, as many workers will tell you. Customers pay top dollar for often mediocre service and mediocre products, as anyone with an electricity bill will know. And governments are squeezed to provide a favourable regulatory and tax setting. The winners from market power are corporate executives and shareholders.

We are now approaching the 30th anniversary of the National Competition Policy, but we have not made enough progress towards a truly competitive Australian economy. We still have an economy that suffers from too little competition, too little innovation and too little market reform. For all the benefits the internet has brought and will continue to bring to Australia, it can also cause harm through increased concentration. We must act now to intervene, to regulate and to prevent the increasing concentration of market power, before it is too late.

The default structure for tech is a natural monopoly, a winner-takes-all market that Google, for example, enjoys with search and Facebook enjoys with its social network. Unlike past monopolies these businesses don't squeeze consumers into paying top dollars for their services. They use their market power in a different way; they compel users to give up their privacy. The price the public pay for Google and Facebook services is giving up their privacy. Business pays in other ways. The news media has paid most dearly. Their content has been stolen and reused by digital platforms, who earn advertising revenue from the content but pay little, if any, compensation to the news publishers. Publishers have been unable to challenge this practice out of fear that they will be cut off from Google or Facebook, risking their entire business. This was happening while 'the rivers of gold' were drying up with publishers and many of them were struggling to survive. The last decade has been one of consolidation as news publishers merged and closed, and embarked on waves of redundancies.

To give publishers the best chance for survival, the Turnbull government introduced media reforms in 2017. In retrospect, that bill should also have dealt with the unethical practices of some digital platforms. But, at the time, there was a belief that publishers could reach a fair deal with the platforms. Sadly, that wasn't the case. The negotiations on that bill were very intense, with my colleague Nick Xenophon primarily seeking support for civic journalism—particularly to help smaller media entities transition to the digital environment—while I focused on securing what became the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry. We were successful in putting the case to government, and I am glad that that inquiry has led to this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021.

Despite all the hyperbole and the grandstanding, this bill is really a routine piece of legislation. It simply provides that a platform and a publisher can enter into arbitration if they can't reach a deal. It's not rocket science; that's all it is. Neither party is forced to participate. If a publisher or platform don't want to do a deal with each other, they are not obligated to do so. The code only applies when both sides want a deal but they cannot come to an agreement. The arbitration process will remedy the problem of platforms delaying negotiations and squeezing suppliers of news content. It does so by creating a pathway for a rapid, fair outcome that considers the benefits each side receives from the deal and the costs they incur.

The legislation is routine—even, I dare say, mundane—but you would never know this if you focused on the extraordinary reactions from the platforms. Google's threat to quit Australia and Facebook's decision to deny service to thousands of Australian news providers and government pages were a massive and very pathetic overreach. These stunts demonstrated that tech companies believe they can intimidate democratic governments to secure favourable outcomes. But they have spectacularly backfired. Google's threat to leave Australia lost them any parliamentary goodwill they may have enjoyed. Facebook's decision to block pages like the Bureau of Meteorology, state health agencies and local community groups lost them any public sympathy.

Going rogue has demonstrated to Australians that there is an urgent need to regulate digital platforms. This is why I'm also moving an amendment that forces designated platforms to disclose their user data practices. They'll have to publish what types of data they collect, what data they make available to other businesses or foreign governments and how users can opt out of having their private data harvested.

Transparency alone will not change their behaviour, but it will mean users are better informed about the practices of digital platforms and it will foster a debate about what practices are appropriate. It is a vital step in developing a regulatory framework that controls digital platforms and forces them to comply with community standards and, importantly, expectations.

This bill and my amendment are temporary measures. As the internet and digital technologies evolve the policy challenges and opportunities will also evolve. The important thing today is to lay the foundations for future regulation. There will be occasions when tech companies engage in behaviour that is unfair, unethical or dishonest. When they do it is entirely appropriate for government to intervene. There is nothing special about tech that allows them to do as they please. But the longer we wait to create a framework for regulating platforms, the harder it will be to hold them to account. So we must start work today, work to build a framework that protects Australians and their privacy and ensures tech companies act fairly, ethically and honestly.

7:01 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to address the Senate on the question of the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. I must start this contribution by reflecting upon where this legislation fits into the Liberal tradition in Australia. We have always been a party that has supported markets, that has believed that markets ultimately deliver better lives. But we have been prepared, in the past, to intervene where there has been market failure, or in the public interest.

This is something that I reflected upon in my first speech in this place some 18 months ago. At the time I quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke about his own philosophy of intervening in a coal strike of 1902—not for the basis of labour or for capital but in the public interest. Roosevelt said at the time:

Now I believe in rich people who act squarely, and in labor unions which are managed with wisdom and justice; but when either employee or employer, labouring man or capitalist, goes wrong, I have to clinch him, and that is all there is to it.

That is exactly the philosophy that we take as Liberals in Australian liberalism and that is a feature of this bill, because we have come to the view that big tech companies are a threat to our liberal democracy and they have an inordinate amount of power over our society and over our economy. They are the railroads and, indeed, they are the monopolists of the 21st century.

Big tech is lightly regulated when you compare it to the sort of regulatory burden that would face a telecommunications company or an energy provider or, indeed, a bank. So we have made a judgement, based on evidence, that there has been market failure which has led to the drying up of money for public interest journalism. The simple example here is—and I make this point as someone who used to work at SPC on the tomato line—that you wouldn't go into a shop and steal a can of tomatoes and give it away for free, which is effectively the deal you see when tech platforms appropriate, in some form, journalists' products and then give them away for free, thereby collecting advertising revenue on that basis.

The ACCC undertook a landmark report into digital platforms in this country, where they found that for each $100 of online advertising in Australia $50 went to Google and $28 went to Facebook. So these laws were often known as the Google and Facebook laws. The way these laws will operate, as I'll step through them in a moment, is they will see the designation of Facebook and Google as the initial two cabs off the rank. This is not about trying to retrofit changing market dynamics. It's not trying to engineer the economy. It's simply saying that where there is journalism produced, appropriated and given away for nothing that should not happen. There should be a financial transaction between the media company that is creating the journalism and the tech platform which is using it to drive revenue. It's not about going back in time and regenerating or rebirthing Video Ezy; this is about crossing the Rubicon and providing a limited set of regulations around big tech companies in Australia.

This is the beginning—this may be the end but, hopefully, it's closer to the beginning of my parliamentary career. Over the course of that I imagine you'll only see more regulation in the big tech landscape because these organisations are effectively utilities. They are essential services that people in our country rely upon. As we've seen this very week, people rely upon these market based institutions to access information. Just as we regulate telecommunications companies, banks and energy companies, we should always look at utilities through a prism of competitive neutrality.

Of course we're not the only liberal democracy which is grappling with the challenges that public journalism face today as a result of big tech appropriation of their property. In France, which I think has been the first mover, alongside Australia, two weeks ago Google announced that they would be paying French publishers almost $100 million for content. In the European Union and France, they are using copyright law. We have chosen to go down the path of using competition law in Australia. As people are aware, the world is watching how we progress with these reforms.

This bill is based on bringing the parties to the table—that's what it does. It designates a power to the Treasurer which he or she can apply to organisations which are designated to be these big tech organisations. Google and Facebook are the first two.

Over the past few weeks there have been many threats. All sorts of things have been said. Only a month ago it was said that these laws would break the internet. In the past few weeks we've started to see deals being done in Australia by Google with news outfits. I have to give credit where credit is due: Google is doing the right thing. I can't say the same for Facebook, which in the last week has gone rogue and decided that it would use its immense market power in a petulant way to switch off not just news information but community based information, health information and charitable information. For what purpose? Just to demonstrate its immense market power. Facebook going rogue and removing genuine news content from its platform has left it as the home of fake news and cat photos. That is not surprising to me, because Facebook's performance at the Senate Economics Legislation Committee was nothing short of petulant. I was disappointed that they couldn't put forward their Australian based head. There may have been a reason for that, I don't know. It reminded me very much of Rio Tinto's ham-fisted management of the destruction of the Juukan Gorge, where they effectively said that there were people in London trying to manage relations on the ground with the PKKP people.

You've got to be serious. The founder of Facebook, Mr Zuckerberg, is engaged with the Treasurer on a daily basis—they had seven calls on the weekend. But Facebook couldn't put forward their Australian based head to come and address the Australian Senate when it was considering this detailed legislation. That was a very disappointing showing from Facebook. I'm not surprised that they have carried out these ridiculous threats over the last week, which of course they've had to wind back. I understand that, in most cases, the charities community based information has now been restored.

But, of course the news has not been restored. But that is okay. If Facebook doesn't want to have news on its platform, fine. People will go to apps. People will go directly to websites. The Australian government spends $1 billion each year providing news to Australians in the form of the ABC. I am a supporter of the ABC. There are mixed views about the ABC in this chamber. I am a big supporter of it. I think it can always do better. I think the ABC has had issues in the past with bias. But I pay credit to David Anderson, the managing director of the ABC, who in the past week has said the employees of the ABC—that is, the working journalists—should not bring the ABC into disrepute by making political statements. That is a very good point. That is something he has taken from the BBC's director-general, who has taken BBC journalists off Twitter when they have made partisan statements. It would be a ridiculous position for taxpayers to be funding partisan material. The reality is that we spend $1 billion each year on the ABC. There is good news available there. There is good news available at News, Sky and The Guardian. So if there is no news on Facebook, big deal. That's fine. The caravan will roll on and the dogs will bark.

We are better placed now than we were a month ago when these hearings were being conducted. Google was saying that the changes will break the internet. They were advertising directly to the millions and millions of people who use the website every single day. But now they are doing a deal. It really worries me—and this is coming from someone who believes strongly in the value of markets and the utility of corporations—when these organisations are going around saying the internet is going to be broken but now we're going to do a deal. And now you've got Facebook saying the world is going to end. It really worries me. I don't think we should resile in any way from being prepared to put more regulation onto these organisations. For what they do, they are lightly regulated. They don't face capital requirements and minimum service standards. They are not licensed. Yet they have so much information and wield so much power.

Some of the best work done in this parliament is done through the committee system. When this legislation was being reviewed, there was a strong sense on all sides that this was a bill that was doing an important thing for our country. We may not agree with every last component part of it, but we all agree with the thrust of the changes and that they are inevitable.

Some technical amendments to the bill have been circulated by the minister. These are changes requested in large part by the tech companies, which we as a government are happy to accommodate. These go to changes in relation to algorithms and the way arbitration works. At the end of the day, I come back to the point about the tin of fruit. You don't go into a shop and steal a tin of fruit and give it away for free. This is the principle at stake here. Yes, it's complicated. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, there are lots of lies and lots of threats. But that is the principle at stake. Giving away public interest journalism and putting that at risk is a price we can't afford to pay in a liberal democracy that relies on having that institution maintained.

Facebook, in their overreach, have reminded us all of the immense market power this organisation has. This is just a start. My view is that the big tech companies need to do a lot better at self-regulating. If they don't, then we will be prepared to regulate more. They are engaging in censorship. They have become publishers. I've always thought that they are publishers, because they decide who gets to use their platforms, they get to decide who gets to be published on their platforms. They have decided to take public figures off their platforms in recent months. They have decided to edit the news. They have decided to turn off pages for community events and charities. They are the masters of their own domain. They are publishers, and they are sitting on a cesspool of defamatory material and material which drives incitement.

In my state of New South Wales we have state laws which prohibit incitement, but you can look at Facebook and you will find any number of posts which would offend against those laws. I think it is very wrong that these big tech companies are allowed to get away with breaking our laws. I am positive that this particular issue that we are trying to solve here, which is to ensure that there is a level playing field so that media companies who commission public interest journalism can be paid, is going to pass this parliament. That will be an important step. But it is the start. We need to come back and look at the conduct of these organisations in terms of the way that they maintain content which is defamatory or driving incitement. That is very important. It's an argument for the ages. But I again remind the chamber that this is a bill that is consistent with the foundational strand of Australian Liberalism—that we will always act in the public interest and that we are prepared to come after you, no matter who you are.

7:16 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021 is a masterclass in self-interest from both the tired old parties. As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, my view is that this bill should more rightly be called the 'Getting the News Media On Side Before the Next Election Bill'. It's apparently co-sponsored by every party in this place that seeks to replace data based policy, fact based policy, with cynical political expediency and public gutlessness. The government has no place getting involved in a fight between the billionaires in legacy media and the billionaires in new media, yet it looks like that is exactly what our parliament is doing.

One Nation spoke with Google and we spoke with them again this morning, and it seems now that this matter has been resolved in private meetings with the government where assurances were exchanged. So Australia is now governed behind closed doors, and the people's house, the house of review, the Senate, is simply here to rubber-stamp what is put in front of us. One Nation does not own a rubber stamp. Our many reservations about this bill remain, even if Google has found a way to work with them. It's true that there are no clean hands in this debate.

When Facebook banned conservatives last year, the Left, or the control side of politics, applauded the move as the legitimate actions of a private company. Left or Right are useless terms; really it's control versus freedom. The Left likes to control. Yet, when Facebook banned Australia's left-wing news media last week, there was outrage. 'They're a public utility; they can't do this to us,' shrieked the left-wing commentariat. Perhaps Facebook got the idea of deplatforming from Channel 7 and Channel 9, who deplatformed Senator Hanson last year. Conservatives must now deal with the political Left and with a left-wing media that is so convinced of its own moral superiority that the suppression of dissenting opinions is now celebrated. The Left, the control side, have clearly not considered the norms they have created to destroy their opponents and that those same norms could one day be used against themselves.

Google is right on board with this agenda, demoting conservative websites in Google search results simply because they advocate values that everyday Australians still share and value. YouTube has cancelled thousands of conservative channels and demonetised many more to suppress our voice. Google has decided that conservatives and patriots are the enemy of their brave new world and must be silenced. Google propaganda is clearly on display in image search, where they operate to portray our world not as it is but as they wish it to be and judge that it should be. That is not their job. It's no surprise, then, that many Australians, especially on the conservative side, have left Facebook and Google. They had it coming.

Let me be clear: One Nation is a trenchant critic of the Orwellian nightmare social media has become. Our left-wing legacy news media, though, are no better. Some sections of the left-wing legacy media print very little material that could be described as journalism and a great deal of material that could be described as propaganda. The ABC spent two years conspiring with a foreign power to prepare a story that misled viewers as to the intent of One Nation's visit to the United States. We demanded the raw footage from the ABC to prove the story was manipulated, and the ABC refused. Truth and honesty are strangers to left-wing controlled media in this country.

One Nation is concerned about the small businesses this bill will hurt. Two examples are the Glasshouse and Maleny Country News and the Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspapersmall businesses that are resisting the takeover of country news by the media oligarchs and printing truth without fear or favour. These papers are not protected by this bill, which is only concerned with protecting large media organisations, who will receive extra money to continue their buy-up of country news. The National Party seem to be happy with this, once again turning their backs on their rural constituents to woo the urban bubble, marching to the Liberal wets.

Australian Associated PressAAP, as most people would know them—are not protected by this bill, since their model is copyright based and this bill only concerns itself with financial outcomes. AAP, though, employ 80 staff, and their newsfeed supports 250 rural news organisations. The increased revenue from Google will remain with the legacy media services and not feed back to AAP. This might have something to do with the Murdoch news media's new wire service, NCA NewsWire. They are just waiting for AAP to fall over so they can have a monopoly on news wire too. This will lead to a further consolidation of news ownership in Australia and yet more power to News Corp. Labor are supporting a process that will lead to more power for Rupert Murdoch. Kevin Rudd will be upset, won't he! When TheBetoota Advocate sounds more like a real news site than an actual real news site does, Australian media must accept they are the agents of their own demise.

Television is also on the nose. The highest rating program on television since the Sydney Olympics was the Australian Open final way back in 2005, attracting 4.3 million viewers. The MasterChef final in 2010 rated 4.1 million. In 2020, the MasterChef final rated just 1.6 million—60 per cent less. Tentpole programming is attracting half the audience it used to despite Australia's growing population. When Malcolm Turnbull destroyed community TV 10 years ago, it was to force their million-strong audience back to commercial TV. That strategy has been a complete failure and must be unwound.

Print newspaper circulations are also falling. Listen to these figures, Madam Acting Deputy President. Over the last 10 years, the Herald Sun has gone from 550,000 to 303,000, a 45 per cent fall. One Nation's great friends at Brisbane's Courier Mail, who bash us, are down from 211,000 to 135,000, a 36 per cent fall. And, wait for it, The Sydney Morning Herald is down from 210,000 to just 78,000. That's a 63 per cent collapse. With a lower audience, our conglomerate media companies are in search of more revenue and now want to take Google's. Is this the business of the Senate? This bill demonstrates a complete failure to understand how the internet works.

Let me give you an example. A startup media company trying to establish a user base would submit their news stories to Google. In return, that company, that startup, would pay Google so much per click for every person who clicked through to the startup news site. News stories cost between 20 and 50 cents a click in the Google advertising network. Over the last 20 years, Google has sent seven billion visitors to Australian news sites who, in turn, have used this traffic to monetise by showing advertising and encouraging subscriptions. If the Australian news media were paying for their traffic from Google, this bill would run into billions. This relationship, though, benefits both parties equally. So the basic assumption of the bill that there is a power imbalance is simply wrong. It is false.

Legacy media could have opted out, at any time, simply by adding a metatag to their header advising Google and other search engine crawlers to not index a page, section or entire site. News sites are not using that metatag, even though they could, because they want Google to index their stories in order to send them more traffic. Rather than paying Google for that traffic, legacy media now wants Google to pay them. We're only having this fight now because internet search has reached the top of the exponential growth curve. The market has reached maturity, as have digital advertising and online subscriptions. The $18 billion advertising industry is now equally split between digital and real world, with little opportunity for significant growth in a post-COVID economy.

To read this bill, one would think that real-world advertising and digital advertising were interchangeable. That's nonsense. They're not. Online advertising is suited to short messages. Legacy media is still king of longer format advertising. For over 200 minutes of advertising consumed online, 300 minutes is consumed in the real world. Both have their role in the economy.

As with any maturing market, Australian media has narrowed ownership so much it has effectively become a cartel. This bill represents nothing more than the billionaires in the media cartel thinking they have more power than the billionaires in the social media cartel, and, with an election looming, the government has decided to pick a side—because Mr Murdoch picks sides and decides who wins. That is the history of elections, in federal parliament, in Australia. The Liberals and Nationals want that, and Labor can't afford to let them have it. That is a terrible basis upon which to formulate public policy and legislation. The Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021 is a solution in search of a problem and should never have come before the Senate.

7:28 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank you, Senator Roberts, for your courtesy in allowing us to alter the order here this evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this very important bill today. I've received much correspondence on it, and it's one that is going to have dramatic implications if it is passed. I speak, of course, of the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021.

I want to say at the outset that I support adequate regulation of big tech platforms. That's needed for accurate information to flow through our democracy. The swift rise to global dominance of the internet and social media industry now can be compared to the introduction of the printing press in the 15th century. Australians growing up today have never had so much information at their fingertips but with less confidence about where it comes from. As traditional news has withered, particularly local and regional news, fake news and click bait has metastasised with, often, terrible consequences. We saw the horrifying effects of Trump's big lie about the 2020 election, with the Capitol riot, the domestic terrorism sponsored by the proliferation of the deranged QAnon theory and online message boards, and the incitement of religious and ethnic violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka prompted by incendiary and false social media posts. As we saw in the course of the pandemic, even basic facts about the virus and simple measures such as wearing masks became political and debated facts. Debunked cures such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin were promoted in the face of scientific evidence, and the wearing of simple cloth masks was called 'child abuse'. Almost all my colleagues in this place would recognise this as an untenable situation. We cannot continue to let lies spread across the search and social media platforms. We cannot continue to watch public interest, local and regional journalism decline. Yet this bill is so threatening to Facebook that Facebook has threatened to take its toys and go home at the slightest threat of regulation.

Although the Liberal government have completely botched their consultation process for this bill, I'm deeply troubled by the sight of a tech giant actively censoring its platform in a display of raw power. If the government were to fold on this bill, it would be a signal to other digital platforms that they can run roughshod over the Australian people with impunity and that they're above government regulation. I urge the government to fix this matter as a matter of urgency, which brings us to the bill that the chamber has before it today. This particular bill aims to introduce a mandatory code that would provide a framework and penalty system to address the bargaining imbalances between digital platforms and Australian news media. While this bill actively encourages agreements to be made outside of the code, it does establish minimum standard obligations for all businesses registered under the code, requirements for good faith bargaining and the application of final offer arbitration when initial bargaining between the parties doesn't succeed.

I note that Seven West Media has now signed a deal with Google worth more than $30 million a year, and that is even before the bill has passed. I do welcome this announcement and I hope that Google and Facebook accept regulation and their obligations to host countries to negotiate in good faith. This structure has proved successful for the dairy code and it should, indeed, be implemented across other sectors, particularly the car dealer industry and the franchising sector. We need to ensure that all Australian businesses and business owners have the opportunity to negotiate on a level playing field with vast multinational corporations.

This bill has been three years in the making, and I thank all the hardworking staff at the ACCC for their exhaustive work in drafting the code. I also support the planned review after a year. A piece of legislation this major, and one of the first in its field internationally, needs to be reviewed constantly to ensure that the intended purpose is being achieved and that unintended consequences can be dealt with swiftly. This code is not the final answer for, and nor is it the final saviour of, public interest journalism.

This government has overseen the rapid consolidation of most journalism in this country into the hands of two men, Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes. The government did that by the abolition of the longstanding protection of public interest journalism that was embedded in the two-thirds rule and the reach rule. Australia has now, as a consequence of this government's action, one of the most concentrated media markets in the entire world, and that this already restricts choice for Australian consumers is simply a fact.

Regional news media continues to decline and was almost wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that has ensued. Historic papers, such as the Barrier Daily Truth out at Broken Hill, were brought to the brink, and over a hundred print newspapers actually closed their doors in 2020. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, has confirmed that media diversity in regional and remote areas is already at or below the minimum number of voices in 68 per cent of licence areas. The ACCC also noted that, between 2008 and 2018, 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed, a 15 per cent decrease across all areas. That was even before COVID hit. This leaves 21 local government areas—broad communities across this country—without any kind of local newspaper. This regional media decline has serious implications for democracy at a local level. It erodes the accountability of regional councillors to their electors, it erases the proud identities of many local towns and regions and it further cuts off many First Nations communities from local voices.

The bill will ensure that media organisations have more money and more revenue from ad services, but it does not guarantee that that money will be spent on public interest journalism and on regional newspapers. I note that in 2017 the Nick Xenophon Team negotiated a $60.4 million package for regional media in this place. They did that in a deal for their support in watering down our media laws. As a consequence of that deal by Nick Xenophon, over 200 regional newspapers have gone under. I can remember being in this very place that night and predicting exactly that outcome, which was pooh-poohed by the government. Senator Xenophon, as I recall, had to explain the deal that he'd done because the government had done it so swiftly they didn't even know what they'd agreed to. But the consequences are real. I shudder to think what the media landscape will look like when Scott Morrison pulls JobKeeper on 31 March.

This bill is but one of a suite of measures that the ACCC recommended in its August 2019 report entitled Digital Platforms Inquiry: final report to ensure the sustainability and future of public interest journalism. It recommended media reforms, stable funding for broadcasters, tax incentives and philanthropy measures, among other important initiatives that could help to stop our haemorrhaging media landscape. This bill sets out six main elements to establish a mandatory code of conduct. Firstly, bargaining: this requires the responsible digital platform corporations and registered news business corporations that have indicated an intention to bargain to do so in good faith. Secondly, compulsory arbitration: where parties cannot come to a negotiated agreement about remuneration relating to making available covered news content on designated digital platform services, an arbitral panel will select between two final offers made by the bargaining parties. That is an important way to resolve power differentials in the community interest. Thirdly, general requirements: among other things, this requires responsible digital platform corporations to provide registered news business corporations with advanced notification of planned changes to an algorithm or internal practice that will have a significant effect on covered news content. Fourthly, non-differentiation requirements: responsible digital platform corporations must not differentiate between the news businesses participating in the code or between participants and nonparticipants because of matters that arise in relation to their participation or their nonparticipation in the code. Fifthly, contracting out: the bill recognises that a digital platform corporation may reach a commercial bargain with a news business outside the code about remuneration or other matters. It provides that the parties who notify the ACCC of such agreements would not need to comply with the general requirements, bargaining and compulsory arbitration rules, as set out in the agreement. Lastly, standard offers: digital platform corporations may make standard offers to news businesses which are intended to reduce the time and cost associated with negotiations, particularly for smaller news businesses. If the parties notify the ACCC of an agreed standard offer, those parties do not need to comply.

However, despite all that, I am very troubled by certain aspects of this bill. I'm concerned that, during the Senate Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill, concerns were raised about the use of delegated legislation to confer upon the Treasurer a range of powers, including the right to determine a 'designated digital platform service' and a 'designated digital platform corporation' without relevant parliamentary scrutiny. And this move for delegated legislation, giving all the power to one person—in this case, the Treasurer—and taking away the scrutiny of this place, the Australian people's place, where they send us to stand up for them, is just a signature move by this government; it's a concentration of power. I know that within the ranks of my great party, the Labor Party, and also the Liberal and National parties there are great concerns about the erosion of the democratic traditions that underpin good governance in this country. The Prime Minister doesn't seem worried about it, and it seems the Treasurer loves getting his delegated legislation, so maybe they are the two culprits who need to be accountable.

The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills labelled the clauses I'm talking about akin to Henry VIII clauses, which authorise delegated legislation to make substantive amendments to primary legislation. Despite writing to the Treasurer with these concerns, they were ignored by Treasurer Frydenberg. Labor supports the bill, because it attempts to arrest the freefall that public interest journalism has found itself in since the rapid expansion of the internet; however, I note the appalling rollout of the legislation, which resulted in Facebook erasing news media from its platform in a stunning slap in the face to the Australian people. For this reason, Labor recommends that the government use precise language in public statements regarding what designations it intends to make under the code. This is in order to save any misunderstanding or unnecessary uncertainty for the media, digital platforms, small businesses, and citizens and consumers who may be impacted.

You don't have to look too far back in this place—what happened when Senator Xenophon did a deal behind closed doors without adequate scrutiny—to see this government setting in train the demise of regional newspapers, the loss of the capacity to tell the stories of local communities, the terrible impact of the loss of jobs in those communities and the dislocation of families. Maybe mum was working on the local newspaper, and dad might have been the local doctor. All of that was eroded by a government that doesn't like the clear light of day. It wants to do deals in the dark, wants to do it behind closed doors and wants to get legislation through here but give itself power to just pull a little bit out and do a deal on the side. That's not good government, and the cost to Australia in the media sector has been the loss of a voice in local communities. And once these things go, you can't get them back. It's hard to build something, but this government is really, really good at breaking things. We are seeing the consequences of that in regional communities right across this country.

Labor supports the bill, because it does give local media organisations the appropriate carrots and sticks to do some bargaining with these large digital platforms. The legislation is a world first, and I hope it provides momentum to other movers to effectively regulate tech giants. We must ride over the waves of their petulance and pass legislation that's in the public interest, and I urge all members to support this bill.

7:42 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In a 1999 BBC interview, David Bowie told a sceptical Jeremy Paxman:

I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the Internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.

When Paxman retorts, 'It's just a tool though isn't it?' Bowie expresses his belief that it is going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about. The structure of the public sphere has been so much changed by the internet that it can only be accurately compared to the invention of the printing press and the print revolution that followed. The print revolution completely changed the structure of public life, increasing the volume of content and making it much more accessible. This same phenomenon is happening again with the internet but at a much faster pace, and we are struggling to keep up with all of the consequences.

One of these consequences is the effect on news media. As the internet has exploded in the last 20 years, it has completely changed how and where people get their news. Most people now read their news online rather than in print, with print advertising having fallen by 75 per cent since 2005. At the same time, online advertising has increased eight-fold, and so news media has adapted and moved online through websites and apps. However, the way people will come to this news is through big tech platforms like Facebook and Google. And because of the nature of the internet and how it has evolved, these digital platforms dominate the online advertising market. They do this by using a model where users are individually targeted based on large amounts of data that correspond to their likes, searches, purchasing, browsing and so on. With this in mind, most advertising dollars are getting snapped up by big tech, rather than the news companies, with Facebook and Google collecting a whopping 81 per cent of online advertising. This means that news media outlets have lost a major revenue stream and it makes it hard for them to stay afloat in the digital age.

This isn't just bad for these news businesses; it's bad for consumers. Having a healthy and robust landscape of public interest journalism is vital for a democracy to work. We need journalism that will hold government accountable and keep the public informed in an unbiased manner. Therefore, it's important that we pass laws that will protect journalism from unfair cartel-like business practices, which is what we're seeing with Facebook and Google, having built a dominant position in the advertising market for themselves.

It is unfair because digital platforms are profiting off the content that Australian news outlets create. When someone clicks a news link in Google, most of that ad revenue ends up with Google and not the news site. Yes, platforms help drive traffic to these news sites, but news is what draws people to, and keeps a lot of people on, the platforms. This is a symbiotic relationship in which both participants benefit but it is also one where the platforms hold all the power and are getting all the profit. This is what this bill aims to rectify.

This bill will make social media giants pay news companies for their content. These businesses put all the work into producing articles and news content and they should be appropriately compensated for it. Digital platforms have become the trading partners of news media, whether they like it or not, due to the way advertising works on the internet, and trading partners will usually strike deals as to the terms of their trade.

What's happening now is that there is a power imbalance in the negotiation because the platforms hold all the advertising dollars. What this bill does is establish a mandatory bargaining code which corrects the bargaining power imbalance. Now when a news company is in negotiation with big tech and is offered a deal that they are unhappy with they can trigger the code to come into effect. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement by themselves then the code will require both sides to come to the table and negotiate in good faith. The code also establishes minimum standards that must be met for their negotiations and, importantly, a final arbitration process. If the two sides can't come to an agreement after three months then both sides will each submit their own deal to a panel of independent arbiters who will choose the one they believe to be fairer. This way the government doesn't get involved with, or set the terms of, the deal but they incentivise businesses to strike a deal themselves or force them to come to the table. The code of conduct simply ensures that the deal actually happens and in a fair and timely manner. The coalition government is doing its job of regulating business when it needs to and breaking up monopoly power that the tech giants have gained because of their control of advertising revenue.

While the platforms will have to pay the news companies for their content, the bill has made concessions to big tech by acknowledging the value they bring to the relationship. This value comes from giving news content greater reach and circulation which arbiters must take into consideration in their final decision. This is considered along with the arguably greater value of the creation of original news content and the work that goes into its journalistic process. Digital platforms and news media have a symbiotic relationship, and this bill will ensure that it's a mutually beneficial, rather than parasitic, one. As well as the unfair market power that Google and Facebook have gained, they've also become the gatekeepers of how we access most of our news, and this has given them a power over the public arena that is concerning. Over a third of Australians get their news from Facebook, and many others find the latest headlines through Google either by searching or by having articles recommended to them. Their algorithms govern what news gets promoted and what gets suppressed.

During the drafting of this bill, we saw them threaten Australians by threatening to take news off their sites altogether. We won't be bullied. There is far too much power resting in the hands of a few giant companies, and their effect on news and its circulation is just one aspect of it. We saw them abuse this power just recently, as every major platform banned the then sitting President of the United States before, during and after the recent US presidential elections—a move that amounted to nothing more than censorship. In a dictatorship, it's the dictator who does the censoring, and the actions of the media giants reflect this.

Digital platforms should not have control over who can and cannot speak, especially when it comes to democratically elected public officials. Though they are private companies, their platforms have become the new public square where politics and business are done and where news is published. Global corporations just continue to get larger and more powerful, and they use that power to shape society. This is a very dangerous trend, because, in the Western world, many of the checks and balances the governments are subject to do not apply to corporations. Just as, when any new resource or technology becomes big, it's the government's job to step in and regulate the space, it's high time we started holding these companies to account. These companies must come under the same scrutiny and regulation that traditional media has come under over the years, as our world evolves in a new direction. This bill will be an important regulating factor in keeping these tech giants in check, by forcing them to pay their fair share for content and also by requiring them to inform the news companies of any algorithm changes that are likely to have a significant effect on their website traffic.

Given how quickly the internet has evolved, we're still figuring out when to regulate it, how to properly regulate it and how it fits into greater society. Where the internet was once the Wild West, big tech companies have become powerful oil barons controlling the land. It's time for the government to step in and break up the monopolies. When it comes to news media and breaking up the market power these digital platforms have over news distribution, having a mandatory bargaining code will set an important precedent for other nations as they start regulating these digital platforms.

Another area that we should seriously consider is whether people who set up accounts on these social media sites should actually use their real names, rather than anonymous avatars. They often proceed to bully other commentators if they don't agree with their point of view. This type of behaviour wouldn't happen in real life. If some of the comments that were made on social media were said face to face in a pub, it's highly likely you wouldn't walk out in a vertical position, yet on social media people seem to get away with the most heinous insults, with very little respect to those posting other comments. We get plenty of this in the political space, but, for me, the real concern is the psychological effect it must have on our children going forward when they're bullied relentlessly on social media. I know we've had some tragic cases here in Australia. I would like to see further controls on the social media giants in this space, because there's no decorum on social media. Quite frankly, it's a cesspit. It's a gutter and it needs to stop. If Facebook and these other media giants aren't going to demand that people use their true identities or, if it's a corporation or an organisation, be fully transparent—democracy is based on transparency and accountability, yet it's very difficult to hold people accountable for often abusive or defamatory comments when they hide behind avatars. Sure, you can go and take out a legal case, but a lot of people don't have the money or the time or the inclination to try and track down who the anonymous people are behind the bullying on these social media giants.

Another area where we need to crack down on these social media giants is their ability to transfer profits offshore or even keep their profits offshore. If you look at the Google special purpose accounts issued in 2019, they paid $3½ billion in service fees to related parties. Where that money went, I have no idea, but I do know where the problem lies, and it's in accounting standard AASB 124, which relates to related party transactions. Effectively there's a distinction in Australia between the types of accounting reports that you have to release. If you're an Australian entity and you're a big organisation, you have to do general purpose reporting and you have to disclose a lot more information. But, if you're a big tech or a big company and you can wrangle your way out of having a public interest test here, you only have to do special purpose reporting, and that special purpose reporting requires a lot less disclosure, hence it becomes a lot easier not just for digital multinationals but for all multinationals to hide their related party transactions. And, yes, the tax office can go after these guys, but it is very difficult for the tax office to go after every multinational that's been set up in Australia. I think, if every multinational was required to give much greater disclosure of related party transactions, you'd find that there'd be vigilant antiprotectionists and patriots who'd happily pay 70 bucks to ASIC to get a hold of their accounts to troll through the related party disclosures.

Anyway, business always performs better when there is competition, and this government is doing its job to regulate the market when there is a problem. This will be an important step in redistributing the overall power these platforms have and it will preserve the integrity of our public interest journalism and, in turn, our democracy. This bill won't fix all the problems with big tech, but it is an important first step in standing up to them. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Rennick. I'm just contemplating or digesting the thought of walking out of a pub vertically, but I think I get what you mean!

7:57 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. Whatever your view of this bill, if passed, there is no doubt it will constitute an important global milestone in the regulation of digital platforms. Its advocates see the bill as pushing back on the unaccountable and invasive behemoths of surveillance capitalism: these global giants who have power and profits unprecedented in world history.

In my first speech in this place, I called for these companies to be held to account and to pay their fair share of tax. The Morrison government likes to describe the fight with Facebook and Google as an issue of national sovereignty. If they really believed that, they would be taking unilateral action to tax these companies properly, rather than simpering on the sidelines waiting for the OECD to get the United States to agree to a global system to tax multinational corporations. I also called for regulation to ensure that their staff, their contractors and the smaller businesses that rely on them are paid and treated fairly. I remain strongly of the opinion that taxing these companies fairly and squarely is what we should be doing, and I include all the other foreign companies, media and otherwise, who avoid tax and seek to benefit from Australian government contracts, customers, skills, workers and infrastructure.

I believe this media bargaining code, developed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, was developed with good intentions. It tries to address the power imbalance between the digital platforms, Facebook and Google, and the news media companies that produce the journalism content that is viewed and shared on these platforms. But it is important to see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is the functioning of democracy and the scrutiny and accountability that journalism brings to this parliament and all our institutions. The problem with this code, as the government has constructed it, is that it fails to genuinely protect the media diversity that underpins our democracy.

My test for this bill is twofold: firstly, whether it encourages and supports a thriving media ecosystem that includes the start-ups and future titles that the internet encourages and, at the same time, arrests the decline of public interest journalism in Australia, including the haemorrhaging of small and regional newspapers and broadcasters and the threats to independent news wholesalers like AAP; secondly, whether it supports jobs in the industry. The success of Australian democracy depends on a free press and the diversity of voices within it, and that ultimately depends on media jobs. If people are employed in the media industry without reporters, producers, researchers, still and video photographers, and without expert analysis, there is no media industry and no democracy worth its name.

Democracy needs a busy, noisy, competitive and competent ecosystem of voices. This includes a diverse media as well as labour unions, charities, academics, think tanks, churches, other civil society actors and not-for-profits. All of these voices are threatened when a diverse media industry is threatened. But the truth is that the money that this media bargaining code delivers to local publishers has no conditions attached. There is no requirement that money be spent on public interest journalism. There is nothing to stop Rupert Murdoch using it to pay out News Ltd executive bonuses, just as we saw with the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which also had no accountability built into it. There is nothing to stop former Liberal Treasurer and chair of Channel 9 media, Peter Costello, from deciding to redecorate his office if he is so minded. There is also nothing stopping these companies using the money to gobble up their small competitors and close them down.

We could very well get to the end of our first year of the media code and find that we have fewer jobs in public interest journalism and less competition in the market. Google, Facebook and the other digital platforms have, no doubt, had a profound impact on our media environment and have challenged business models. But the strength and diversity of public interest journalism had been on the decline for years prior to the arrival of Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

I now want everyone in this chamber to reflect on the closure of regional and small publishers around this country in the past year or so. We have to make sure that this never happens again. Before 2018, there were the following closures around Australia: the Comet News, The Advocate, Hills Avon Valley Gazette, Midland Kalamunda Reporter, North Coast Times, The Western Herald, Hills News, Rouse Hill Courier, Penrith City Gazette, Mt Druitt St Mary's Standard, Blacktown Sun, Parramatta Holroyd Sun, Cooma-Monaro Express, Wagin Argus, Merredin Wheatbelt Mercury, Central Midlands & Coastal Advocate, The Roxby Downs Sun, Casey Weekly, Frankston Weekly, Casey Weekly Cranbourne, Knox Weekly, Monash Weekly, Maroondah Yarra Ranges Weekly, Peninsula Weekly, the(sydney)magazine and TheMelbourne Magazine. Seven suburban newspapers in Melbourne's south-east, including the Frankston Weekly, the Monash Weekly and the Peninsula Weeklyhave closed since 2018. But News Corp has closed a further 122 papers. A total of 76 papers will become digital only, bringing the number of online titles published by the company to 92 after News Corp launched 16 new online titles in recent years.

But 36 small papers will disappear entirely, including Queensland's Buderim Chronicle, Caloundra Weekly, The Capricorn Coast Mirror, Coolum News, Nambour Weekly, Ipswich Advertiser, Maroochy & Kawana Weekly, Gold Coast Sun, Hervey Bay Independent, Maryborough Herald, Balonne Beacon, Surat Basin News, Herbert River Express, Innisfail Advocateand the Central Telegraph. In New South Wales the titles to fold are Coastal Views, The Northern Riversecho and The Richmond River Express Examiner. In Tasmania, there is Tasmanian Country.

The following regional titles will become digital only: in Queensland, Mackay's The Daily Mercury, Rockhampton's Morning Bulletin, The Gladstone Observer, Bundaberg NewsMail, Fraser Coast Chronicle, Gympie Times, Sunshine Coast Daily, The Queensland Times, Warwick Daily News, The Central & North Burnett Times, Central Queensland News, Chinchilla News, Dalby Herald, Gatton Star, Noosa News, South Burnett Times, Stanthorpe Border Post, The Western Star, The Western Times, The Whitsunday Times, Whitsunday Coast Guardian and Bowen Independent.

News from towns covered by the Atherton Tableland are The Northern Miner, Port Douglas and Mossman Gazette, and The Burdekin Advocate. This will contribute to appear as it does now, under the regional sections of The Cairns Post and Townsville Bulletin. In New South Wales there are Tweed Valley News, Ballina Shire Advocate, Byron Shire News, Coffs Coast Advocate, Grafton's Daily Examiner and Lismore's Northern Star. In the Northern Territory, there is Centralian Advocate.

Community titles in Melbourne will become digital only. They are at Stonnington, Mornington Peninsula, Knox, Whitehorse, Monash, Northern, Whittlesea, Maroondah, Moorabbin, Moreland, Lilydale, Yarra Valley, Frankston, Bayside, Cranbourne, Greater Dandenong, Moonee Valley, Maribyrnong and Wyndham, and they include the Mordialloc Chelsea Leader and Caulfield and Port Phillip Leader.

Also moving online are local news titles in New South Wales and the ACT: Fairfield Events, Penrith Press, Macarthur Chronicle, Blacktown Advocate, Canterbury-Bankstown Express, Central Coast Express, Hills Shire Times, Hornsby Advocate, Liverpool Leader, Manly Daily, Northern District Times, Parramatta Advertiser, Inner West Courier, Southern Courier, Illawarra Star, Wagga Wagga News, St George Shire Standard, The Canberra Star, Newcastle News, The Blue Mountains News, Central Sydneyand The South Coast News.

Queensland titles to cease printing are: Albert & Logan News, Caboolture Herald, Westside News, Pine Rivers Press, Redcliffe & Bayside Herald, South-West News, Wynnum Herald, North Lakes Times, Redlands Community News and Springfield News. South Australian papers to cease printing and move to digital are: Messenger South Plus, Messenger East Plus, Messenger North, Messenger West and Messenger City, Adelaide Hills News and The Upper Spencer Gulf News.

These are just some of a number of closures that have already taken place. The real test for this government, and for this bill, is that no other companies fall into disrepair and our democracy is not further undermined under this government's watch.

8:09 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I asked people online what they'd like me to do with this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. You wouldn't believe it, but it seems that they're a lot smarter than we are, because, out of nearly 2,000 who responded, 70 per cent said they're opposed to this code. How is it that they understand what's at stake better than do the people in this building? Why does that not surprise me? When you are charging a business every time a customer enters their store, you're going to break that business. That's what this code does. Every time a person shares a news story on Facebook with their friends and family, Facebook has to pay. Facebook is paying for someone else's use of their platform—oh, dear!—a platform they're providing to that user for free. Something's not right here; it's not common sense.

Some people in this place have argued that we should support this legislation only if the ABC and SBS are included in the code. What a terrible, terrible idea this is. It will not lead to a cent of new money for the ABC or SBS. The only people who are able to decide how much money our public broadcasters have are those in the government. Every extra dollar from Facebook or Google only stays an extra dollar if the government were to let it stay that way. If the government were to decide that the ABC or SBS don't need the extra money, they just cut the budget—just like that. There's no difference between how much the ABC or SBS would have before and after the media bargaining code comes into effect. Do you know what would be different? Facebook and Google don't offer three-year funding certainty to ABC or SBS, unlike the government. So all we would be left with is public broadcasters with less funding certainty and no extra funding that are now reliant on two multinational corporations to cover their costs. We have hit a whole new low in this country.

This is the big win secured by the Labor Party and the Greens. Well done to you; great negotiators you are! In fact, Labor would have you believe that, if it weren't for them, this bill wouldn't proceed and journalism in Australia would be over. Well, I reckon you've done that yourselves. Labor would have you believe that they've delivered a bipartisan solution to ensure that journalism survives in Australia. Do you know what you've actually done? Please, just have a good think about it. I'll tell you what you've done: you've made the Australian media landscape more dependent on the success of Google and Facebook, not less. Great job! Well done! media diversity saved! What a load of rubbish. The Greens think they've secured a deal that ensures that every dollar that comes from this bargaining code gets spent on journalism. Oh, surely not! I cannot believe the Greens have fallen for this. This is biggest joke I've heard all day. Even the Greens have fallen for it.

Let's say that every day I spend $10 on lunch. You give me $10 now and say that the condition is that I agree I can only spend it on lunch. I say to you, 'Yeah, no worries. That's fine, mate,' because that is what I was already going to spend. But what do I do with the $10 I normally spend? I put it in my pocket and walk off with it. You think you've got what you were after, and I've got 10 bucks to spend on whatever I want. This is exactly the same situation the Greens amendment has put News Corp and Nine in. This is the extent of the protection the Greens have managed to achieve. This is it. Well done! Nice work! I'm sure that Australian journalists are sleeping easy this evening. The people who are going to pay for your big tax on digital part players are the people with no choice but to pay it: the ones who want to advertise on Google or Facebook. This is what is at stake, because the media companies don't pay to put their stuff on Google or Facebook, do they?

The ones who pay for the services provided by Google and Facebook are advertisers, and the average small business advertising on Google spends $30 a day on advertising. Do you know how much advertising space $30 a day will get you in the papers of News Corp or Nine? Let me put it this way: you had better get out your magnifying glass because you're going to need it. It's that simple. They know as well as any of us in this place do that they are not competing for those same advertisers because not every business has a lazy few million dollars to drop on wall-to-wall full-page advertisements in every edition of the local paper. For every JB Hi-Fi or, of course, Harvey Norman, which is flogging it out there—I'm keeping them alive at the moment—there are 10,000 small businesses doing their best to try to earn an honest crust, because that is all they can afford. They are not going to the newspapers to get in front of customers, because it's not cost effective to do so; it will take them out. They could get in front of their customers for pennies on the dollar if they were to go through the digital players. They're the ones whose prices are set to go up as a result of this code. The big news players don't care about that. They don't give a stuff about small business. Why would they? They have never done so before and they're sure as hell not going to start today.

For them, nothing changes. Google and Facebook created a new market for advertising that was targeted, cost effective and local. The news companies have invested precisely nothing in developing this market, but they still want some of the benefit of it. They say, 'Yes, well, it's our stuff on Facebook and Google that people are clicking on, and, if it weren't there, Facebook and Google would have fewer people visiting.' Okay. Does my Aunty Mabel get money from this code, too, every time she shares her cat video? Every time my cousin shares her famous recipes, should Facebook have to pay her for that privilege? I'm sure she'd love it. She'd love to be paid for her pies, I can assure you. These news companies have their own websites, where you can find all their news content whenever you want. If I want updates from Aunty Mabel, I've got to go to social media companies to get it.

Australia has a need for decent-quality journalism, and we are losing it at a rapid pace. But you can't slap together a popular problem and an unpopular company and say the solution to one is to shake down the other. The solution isn't to break the way the companies operate. For all the bluster, this is just a really bad idea done very badly. If you want Google and Facebook to fund public interest journalism, then it's simple; it's really easy. It's called 'tax'. One simple procedure: tax. This code amounts to a white flag in tackling tax avoidance. The real tragedy is that every payment Google and Facebook make under this code will be tax deductible. So not only are we not going to make Google and Facebook pay more tax; we're actually going to make them pay less tax. This just keeps getting better. Also, Rupert Murdoch and Peter Costello can cut themselves a fatter cheque. How about that? Look who's winning here. It wouldn't have anything to do with those political donations, would it? Of course not. I've got no doubt that the 200 subscribers to News Corp's latest streaming service, Binge, will be over the moon that their parent company can now afford to buy the rights to more American TV content. Yay! And shareholders of News Corp and Nine will be delighted that their dividend is about to be fattened up on the back of shareholders in Facebook and Google. How is that fair, though?

If we want more money for journalism, let's tax companies making heaps of money and put that money into supporting journalism—put it directly into journalism. If we want Google and Facebook to pay more tax, let's make them pay more tax. Let's say they do, and let's say there's an extra $200 million to spend. Who in Australia really thinks that the best way to spend $200 million is to give more money to media companies? Media companies need money—I get that. But you know who needs money? Everybody. Welcome to the real world. This solution to the problem of how to fund public interest journalism is totally unlinked to the extent of the problem itself. It throws a bucket of money at the problem at the expense of spending on it on any other worthy cause for time immemorial. If all it takes to fix the problem of funding public interest journalism in Australia is $100 million, why do we justify the overspend of the other $100 million that this policy will provide? Are we really saying that, even once the problem is solved, there's still no better way to spend money? Not ever?

It's a basic standard of how to do good policy to say that you don't provide an unlimited supply of money to fix a problem that doesn't require an unlimited amount of money to fix. This code delivers an uncapped value to news companies, completely divorced from the scale of the problem that we all acknowledge exists. It doesn't scale when the scale of the problem changes; it just slugs the end user for now—until this foolish and short-sighted policy meets its fully justified end. Between now and then, we all suffer. Some of the problems that are caused by this policy will be irreversible. We can't put the genie back in the bottle. If we spill this, it's staying spilt—it's that simple. It's finished. It's not cleaned up with a simple repeal. This breaks the media and it breaks the internet, and it does so permanently.

Everybody making their speeches has failed to offer a number for what it will take to fix a problem that we want to solve, because they have no idea. That should scare us. Nobody knows what it will take, so the squeeze on small business will just continue forever—all this because a few media barons decided we should start the squeeze. Maybe food-bank charities should just buy themselves the newspapers so you guys will start falling over yourselves to give them some money! This whole exercise has been so embarrassing. You're all so desperate for positive press that you're prepared to make bad policy the law of the land because you think it will make them like you.

Let me tell you what's going to happen next. News Corp is currently trying to make its own newswire service a profitable product. Currently it's competing with a non-profit alternative, the AAP. AAP is not included in the code. News Corp is included in the code. News Corp will get money from the code. It will be able to use this money to cut the price of its products. This will put pressure on its only competitor, a not-for-profit that currently provides news to, among many, the ABC and the SBS. If AAP is unable to compete with the only competitor it has, it will go out of business. It is that simple. If AAP goes out of business the only competitor available to take up its position in the market is News Corp. How convenient for Mr Murdoch!

Thanks to this media code, we're one step closer to having News Corp write copy for the public broadcaster. Thanks to this media code, we're one step closer to the public broadcaster being financially dependent on the private sector for their funding. Thanks to this media code, we're now making it more expensive for small business to get into the market and cheaper for large businesses to maintain their share of the market—all in the name of encouraging competition, huh? Is that what you call it! This is your competition policy—really?

This is bad policy done badly, for bad reasons and for reasons of interests. Anybody who supports a strong public broadcaster should oppose this legislation. The Greens and the Labor Party should be embarrassed with themselves. Seriously! Anybody who supports a free and fair market, operating efficiently, should oppose this. It is a shakedown. This is a bipartisan shakedown delivered by a consensus of absolute stupidity here this evening. Journalism is important enough to deserve better than the poorly researched, poorly understood justifications being thrown around by a political class that's desperate to be noticed by the people it's clambering up to serve. Great work, everyone here this evening! You've all made the same passionate speech as each other, all defending why you're supporting such crappy bad law. You're about to make a terrible mistakes, with both eyes open. You are displaying the same indifference as the major news players to the interests of the little guy.

The crime we're all apparently trying to correct with this bill is that digital platforms are collecting revenue from news stories they don't pay for. They're collecting revenue by selling advertisements. Revenue from those advertisements doesn't go back to the person who produced the stuff they're selling ads against. This legislation is so badly designed it would be like making Channel 9 pay for every Coles ad it runs during program breaks because Channel 9 has created valuable real estate in the form of a television program, just like Google has created real estate in the form of search results. Channel 9 makes money by selling advertising space against a television program, just like Google makes money by selling advertising space against those search results. To argue that Google should have to pay news companies for every dollar it makes against the real estate it produced from nothing is like arguing that people who appear in the evening news should be entitled to revenue the TV company collects by selling advertising between breaks in the 5 pm bulletin. Let's advance that and see how Channel 9 feels about that, shall we? Of course they'd oppose it. They'd say, 'That's not fair.' What part of that example is wrong, though? What is the difference?

The contributions to this debate have been full of people complaining about the practices of digital platforms. If you want to run a business out of town because you don't like how it's doing business then fine. But when you're gone it won't be journalism that suffers. We all pay the price so you can get a headline. What's more important and what's even sadder is that we've already lost enough journalists over the last five or six years. The people who are going to suffer more than anyone are those journalists right down at the bottom. You can guarantee that this revenue ain't going down to them. That's absolute rubbish. If you thought we had fake news beforehand, watch it come in spits and spats now. It's coming!

8:24 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would love to spend the next 15 minutes explaining what those differences are and how my good friend across the aisle there doesn't quite understand this law and I will explore exactly why that is. I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020. It's clear there has never been a more important time to get this bill passed than today. Mr Zuckerberg and Facebook think they can hold this government for ransom; they can't and they won't. Cutting off small media publishers, government pages, even the CSIRO public health advice in the middle of a pandemic in a bid to intimidate this Senate to not pass this legislation is just not on.

This is Australia, and we won't be told what to do by a US conglomerate. Let me make one thing clear: this government will not be held to ransom by this tech giant. This tech giant is acting like a child who isn't getting their way. It is acting like a child who just got bowled out in backyard cricket and is picking up their bat and ball and taking them home. I say to Facebook, 'Don't let the gate hit you on the way out.' This government is going to keep batting on, whether or not Facebook likes it. These actions reinforce to me the importance of this legislation and, importantly, the tough stance the Morrison government has taken on this issue.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 establishes a world-first, mandatory code to address the bargaining power imbalances that exist between digital media platforms and the Australian news media businesses. This piece of legislation reflects a change in the media environment we're currently facing. This legislation has been brought about in no small way through Facebook's own actions. With consumers now turning more and more to news online, news media businesses are grappling with the challenge of finding a viable and sustainable business model for the provision of public interest journalism. Public interest journalism plays an important role in our society and this role can only be fulfilled by a strong, diverse and sustainable Australian news media sector. This bill ensures that the Australian news media sector remains sustainable and we continue to get quality local news.

This bill responds to the key findings of the digital platforms inquiry. As all senators know, the conclusion of that inquiry was that a significant bargaining power imbalance exists between digital platforms and Australian news media businesses. That's a common-sense conclusion that, I think, any ordinary person in the street would quite readily recognise to be the case. While these platforms have emerged from almost nowhere, 15 years ago or less, companies like Facebook, Google—indeed, Amazon—were just start-ups in university dorms. I was working in Silicon Valley at the time that these start-ups were just starting to get going. These platforms were the disruptors of traditional industries and businesses, and they have certainly disrupted. However, today, such companies are the behemoths of the business world.

Governments should not prop up industries past their use-by date but public interest journalism should not be taken and not paid for. The size of these platforms, not only their market capitalisation and corporate power but also their dominance in our personal lives, is just too much. Today, these digital companies are now the modern railroads and utilities from last century and they are central to 21st century living. Life as we know it today would not be the same without them. They keep us connected and they keep us informed. Not only do they help us communicate but they are now the platforms on which we conduct commerce, consume entertainment and get our news and journalism. In a sense, they're an indispensable part of our everyday lives.

While digital technology companies are booming, traditional media has been crippled under competitive pressure. Traditional media has relied on classified advertising to form the backbone of its revenue and the backbone of its business model. Classified advertising really underwrote journalism, printing costs and almost everything else in a media business. In many instances, and certainly for print journalism, as much as 90 per cent of revenue came from classifieds. Classified advertising has been disrupted by these online platforms, and it's safe to say it's been disrupted in a number of ways. If you look for a job in Australia these days, you might go to Seek or LinkedIn. If you're looking to buy a car, you might go to Carsales. If you're looking to trade something second-hand you might go to Gumtree. If you're looking to buy real estate, there are any number of online platforms you would go to. All of these revenue sources have been taken from traditional print media and are now in the hands of well-established and successful technology companies that have taken a large portion of this business and found a way to make money from it.

While that is great—as a Liberal, I will always support free enterprise—it is vital that we also protect our news media. These classified ads, which are now dominated by tech companies, previously funded our news media in Australia. Without the revenue sources that they used to get, news media in Australia will no longer exist. This legislation is protecting exactly that. It is unacceptable that big tech giants are earning significant revenue from the effort of Australian media outlets. This bill responds to the key findings of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Digital Platform Inquiry. The ACCC conducted a detailed world-leading inquiry over almost 18 months and set out a series of recommendations in response to the substantial market power that has arisen through the growth of digital platforms, their impact on competition in media and advertising markets, and their implications for news media businesses, advertisers and consumers. The ACCC found that digital platforms had become unavoidable trading partners of news media businesses, resulting in a substantial bargaining power imbalance.

Since commissioning the ACCC inquiry in December 2017, the Morrison government has undertaken an extensive policy-development process that has been going for almost three years, which has included public consultation on a position paper and exposure draft legislation. As the Prime Minister has said, the laws of the digital world should reflect, as far as possible, the laws of the physical world. We are not seeking to protect traditional media companies from the rigour of competition or from technological disruption, which we know benefits consumers. Rather, we are seeking to create a level playing field where market power is not misused and there is appropriate compensation for the production of original news content.

To that end, this bill will establish a new, world-leading code of conduct for news media businesses and digital platforms. The code ensures that digital platforms share the benefit they obtain from using Australian-sourced news media content with the news businesses who create that content. The Treasurer will be able to determine that a digital platform is subject to the code, having regard to ACCC and Treasury advice as to whether a substantial bargaining-power disparity exists. ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, would assess the eligibility of Australian news media businesses to participate in the code against criteria set out in that code. The framework contained in the bill recognises that agreements can be entered into outside of the code. Indeed, they are encouraged to be entered into outside the code, and we acknowledge that Google are currently in the process of entering into similar sorts of agreements with Australian media companies. This is a far better example of corporate responsibility than the heavy-handed tactics of its Silicon Valley counterpart, Facebook. Where a news media business reaches an agreement with a digital platform, it can agree not to bargain or pursue compulsory arbitration under the code. If news media business cannot reach an acceptable agreement with a digital platform outside of the code, it will have the option to trigger aspects of the code to address the difference between bargaining powers. This includes minimum standards obligations that digital platforms must meet for all news media businesses registered under the code, requirements for good-faith bargaining over remuneration, and the application of final offer arbitration if bargaining between the parties does not succeed.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code is a world-leading initiative. The senators in this place should make no mistake: the world is watching. This code is designed to level the playing field and to ensure a sustainable and viable Australian media landscape. It's a key part of this government's strategy to ensure that the Australian economy is able to take full advantage of the benefits of digital technology, supported by appropriate regulation, to protect key elements of Australian society. One such key element is a strong and sustainable news media landscape.

In testimony to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, Free TV, the industry body, argued:

… in a well-functioning democracy there is a responsibility that falls on the businesses that become gateways between the community and information.

They go on to say that this responsibility has been borne by commercial TV broadcasters for some time and that, for decades, as an influential media platform, these businesses represented by Free TV have operated under a regulatory compact that requires them to pay broadcast licence fees, pay spectrum fees and meet stringent content obligations. They say that this responsibility should now be shared by companies of the size and influence of Google and Facebook.

A submission to an ACCC concepts paper, which was drafted collectively by 88 regional, state and national news publishers, argued that the establishment of the news media mandatory bargaining code 'is likely to be one of the most important media policy decisions affecting Australian democracy for decades'. So, as you can see, many key organisations support this legislation, while big tech giants—Facebook, Google, Twitter—are seemingly opposed to it, although some are coming around. Some have even said that this legislation doesn't go far enough. Reset Australia, which describes itself as, 'an independent, non-partisan organisation committed to driving public policy advocacy' and committed to fighting the 'digital threats to democracy' supports the bill but believes it should go further.

It is clear that there are many views on this legislation—some for, some against and some wanting to go further. That said, the Morrison government has tried to juggle the many views and strike the right balance. As such, the bill which is before the Senate today does just that. It strikes just the right balance.

I want to end by thanking the communications minister, Minister Fletcher, for his fantastic work, and the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, for pulling this legislation together. In the face of bullying and intimidation from Facebook, these ministers and the departments around them have stood up for Australian local news media. The bill before the chamber tonight should be supported by all senators.

8:38 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. I've spoken many times in this place about the importance of supporting regional media organisations and ensuring there is a balance within our media market. Although we may not have balance in this country, I will do everything in my power to support the ability of regional media to tell the stories of our beloved communities—firstly, because they deserve a voice, and telling the story of our country in this place is paramount to our democracy, and, secondly, because the free flow of information has become such a normal part of our lives, and it helps solidify us as a people.

Facebook and Google are amongst the most powerful entities in the world. They wield so much power over our lives, firstly, in their ability to provide us with information and, secondly, in their ability to control many aspects of what we see and how frequently we see it. It's an unparalleled power. They are more powerful than government and traditional media.

People have strong views about social media platforms. For the most part I believe they are a wonderful resource for a curious mind, but in recent times they have become a matrix which we almost religiously tap into and follow every day, sometimes getting lost. Screen time for many of us would now average between three and four hours per day, without us even being consciously aware of how often we are using the platform and the devices on which we access this information.

Over many years Facebook has evolved from a platform that connected individuals and created networks to a most comprehensive piece of infrastructure to provide us with information about anyone and anything. It is an advertiser's dream, with access to every company and brand the world over. It has also become such an important source of news and stimulation for over 19 million Australians. Traditional media, like newspapers, radio and television, have since been bypassed. For too many Australians, Facebook is where they get their news from.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Facebook provides us with the ability to access news media when they allow news organisations to utilise their platform to reach millions of Australians, and now it has unceremoniously taken that from us.

Facebook has a particular business model and it expects all others to pay it for the service it provides, to pay for its infrastructure and technology that connects 2.8 billion people globally. Facebook does not want to pay news services for their content. I believe that's a bit unfair. Many have argued that this act displays an arrogance from an extremely powerful entity that has too much power over the way we live our lives. Others are concerned we will now have less informed opinions because people will not be able to access the news and read it as they have become accustomed. For many, this means that, if they want to consume news, they will have to seek out more traditional forms of media or download the specific app of a news service and potentially pay a subscription to access the information that they want.

I believe there is broad in principle support for a code and regulation of digital platforms. The Morrison government has been late to the party on this issue, like so many others. These social media giants have been in our lives for nearly two decades now and they have been largely unregulated. Mr Morrison has mismanaged this reform like he has mismanaged every reform in this space. In fact, he has mismanaged so many reforms, as we have spoken about so many times in this place.

Many stakeholders have serious and specific concerns with the bill as drafted, and Labor concurs with them. Google and Facebook explained that they would withdraw products and services from Australia if their key concerns were not addressed. It is a failure of the Morrison government for not managing this process better. Australia is trying to recover from a global pandemic. We are a country prone to bushfires and floods. To have a global giant, without a social conscience, that controls the dissemination of information is a dangerous position for this country to be in.

This government is not a government that negotiates or enjoys being critiqued, and now Facebook's decision has disrupted 19 million Australians and 1.3 million small businesses. Labor recognises that the timing of debate and amendment forms part of the government's negotiation strategy with Google and Facebook, but the government really has failed to cooperate with Labor regarding these reforms.

We recognise the power imbalance identified by the ACCC between news media companies and digital platforms and the importance of supporting a diverse public-interest news sector in Australia. Australia needs a workable code, and the Morrison government must address stakeholders' concerns with this bill to ensure that happens. Labor recommends that the government use precise language in public statements regarding what designations it intends to make under the code. It's important that there be no unnecessary uncertainty for the media, digital platforms, small businesses, citizens and consumers who may be impacted.

I want to address the concerns of local media in my home state of Tasmania, because last week, when Facebook decided to cancel journalism on their feed, many journalists feared for their future and their job security, and we know that there already has been a huge impact from so many print media closing their doors, which means fewer opportunities for journalism in this country. Facebook blocking news content hurts everyone. After all, when we are less informed, we are less likely to make rational decisions. Facebook makes millions of dollars out of journalism in Australia. Google has acted constructively with the government and publishers while airing its concerns, and I hope that Facebook does the same.

We need to be grateful that, as Australians, we do have a free press. Although certain news organisations increasingly have agendas and philosophies of thought, we still have a free press. They make editorial decisions and they pick sides, which isn't always dignified, but they make that choice. That is so very important to the health of our democracy. Choice is fundamental in the media market, and now it means Australians will be forced to seek out media instead of seeing it so easily on their Facebook feeds. I think that journalists and media organisations will rise to the challenge they now face. Their work can be accessed via their websites or apps or via Google News Showcase.

Facebook is a huge part of Australia's culture. Most Australians use the platform, and they deserve to have their access to news media readily. A well-informed public serves our democracy better than a public which does not question its government or the actions of politicians. Not being able to access information will damage our communities. People need to access information, including emergency warnings, which affect people's lives in a crisis. I hope that Facebook does the right thing by all Australians. Facebook profits from the 19 million Australians who use its platform to stay in contact with their loved ones and organisations, and it could save a person's life. Facebook is a matrix which promotes the most powerful companies in the world. It's also the largest piece of propaganda infrastructure the world has ever seen. Good, bad or downright ugly, we all use this platform. It can be better, and it should be better.

After all, Facebook, at the moment, couldn't have picked a worse time to take the news feed off their platform. We are facing the worst pandemic in more than a century in this country. At a time when we need to roll out the vaccine to help protect Australians from COVID-19, that platform would have been a vital part of disseminating information. There is a challenge for this government to be able to disseminate information in relation to the vaccine and reassure the Australian people that they should have this vaccine. The rollout, the opportunities and the categories of people in the order in which they will be vaccinated are all very important things that are facing the Australian people at this time. We have managed the pandemic very well compared to overseas countries. There is still a lot more work to be done. We still cannot be complacent, and that's why we need to ensure that people do take the opportunity to have this vaccine. It is not mandatory, but we on this side of the chamber and those on the government side—in fact, I would think, everyone in this chamber—would encourage all Australians to take that opportunity. It does concern me that, with the news feed now being removed from this platform, it will engender some more difficulties in disseminating this information. Facebook can be better, so I urge them to negotiate in good faith and to have a social conscience and a compact with the Australian people.

People have been speaking in this chamber, and I've been listening to the debate, about the money that's going to be raised and where that needs to go. And I know there are going to be amendments to ensure that there is proper funding of the ABC, the public broadcaster in this country, which serves this country and has served this country for decade after decade. So there will be amendments, and I'm looking forward to the debate and the arguments that are put forward then. But I think, too, we must always remember that it's the journalists and the best, most educated and smartest people who work in this field who should be encouraged and should be supported.

In my home state of Tasmania, we have seen a cut to the media, whether it's the journalists or whether it's the television camera people. Being able to access news and to get good news stories out into our community is fundamental to having a robust democracy. I urge those people who are negotiating with Facebook to negotiate in good faith, and I urge people to consider very carefully how we support good journalism in this country—how we can ensure that there is diversity in the media and the presentation of media. We do want to ensure that we have freedom of speech and freedom of media, and we have to do everything we can to ensure we secure that platform for the future.

8:52 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. The purpose of the news media bargaining code is to level the playing field between news media companies and big technology—Google and Facebook in particular—when negotiating commercial agreements. The code was recommended by the consumer watchdog, the ACCC, after its inquiry into digital platforms in Australia.

I'm sure all Australians realise that Google and Facebook are the gatekeepers of the internet and that these tech giants profit off the advertising revenue that's used to support independent media. Often when you click a link in an article that you found on Google or Facebook, the money from those ads goes to the tech giant; it doesn't go to the person who has written the article. The Greens are really proud that our spokesperson, Senator Hanson-Young, secured the inclusion of public broadcasters—the ABC and SBS—in the code and that we were able to negotiate for public funding to protect that other news wire service, the AAP, in the short term. But let me be crystal clear: we know that this bill cannot solve all of the issues of public interest journalism or media concentration in Australia, and we acknowledge and are at the forefront of all the work that still needs to occur.

We remain greatly concerned about the role that the Murdoch media monopoly plays in our democracy. That's why we have, since time immemorial, opposed all of the moves to further concentrate media ownership and we have always voted against laws that would seek to facilitate that concentration of media ownership. It's also why we supported the petition of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, which gained the support of half a million Australians, I might add. It's exactly why there was a need for the media diversity inquiry to be established, which we participated in setting up—indeed, we chair it, and we heard some great content just last week.

But no billionaire—no individual, whether it's Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg—should have control over the news and the information that Australians are allowed to access. We need a free press. We need a diversity of news ownership, a diversity of news and views, and we need strong public interest journalism. That is what helps keep a democracy robust; it is what helps hold power to account.

The other tasks are, of course, to make sure that new and big tech companies pay their fair share of tax, to raise the revenue to fund public broadcaster and public interest journalism. I'm going to speak a little bit more about that this evening and, indeed, move an amendment that addresses that very point. We also desperately need to secure the ABC's funding in legislation so it cannot be cut by future governments. This particular government has a terrible track record of slashing and slashing and slashing the ABC. They have lost so many staff. Every year, there's a new round of excellent-quality journalists who are then put on the scrap heap thanks to this government continually cutting the ABC's funding. We could fix that by securing that funding in legislation, and the Greens intend to continue to lead the charge for that to occur.

We also need to protect the AAP Newswire with long-term public funding. It, too, is a crucial news service and it also helps bolster some of those regional and rural outlets that provide excellent local news but that also rely on AAP copy, again, undertaken by very well-qualified and very efficient journalists. They are the broader issues that we at the Greens are conscious still need to be rectified. We don't propose that this media bill is a solution to those things—it is one step—but we will continue to campaign for all of those reforms to ensure that we have diverse, properly funded public broadcasters and public interest journalism, which in fact benefits all Australians and makes our democracy function more strongly.

The Greens will be moving several amendments to this bill. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young has already talked about the fact that she will move a second reading amendment to ensure that the government doesn't cut ABC funding in a manner that might offset the money gained under the code. We very much look forward to support for that amendment; it is a crucial one. Another colleague will also move an amendment relating to protecting data rights and ensuring that users have control over how their data is collected—much like the gold standard the EU have recently implemented.

I'll come back to the amendment that I will foreshadow and speak about, but we'll also have some amendments when we come to the committee stage to make sure that the money that news organisations gain through the code is spent in the newsrooms, not in the boardrooms, and that that money is invested in public interest journalism, not just into the pockets of shareholders or overseas parent companies as profit. We'll also move substantive amendments to make sure that the impact that the code has on small and independent and startup news organisations is examined with a 12-month review of the code. I note that many of those smaller outlets, including The Guardian and Junkie to name a few, are in strong support of this code. Nevertheless, we think it is prudent to review the effects and the operation of the code after 12 months and we will be moving an amendment to that effect as well.

If I can come to the amendment that I foreshadow I will be moving, it is to note that billionaire Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation controls much of the Australian media, that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook controls much of Australia's online activity, and that both big corporations pay little to no tax in Australia. It would also note that the Senate is of the opinion that implementing a media code is not the best way of addressing the growing power of the billionaires and the big corporations and that, in fact, we call on the government to deal with the growing concentration of media and online ownership by implementing new tax measures, by funding public interest journalism and by increasing media diversity. So with that said, I foreshadow that I will so move that second reading amendment on sheet 1213. I conclude my remarks.

8:59 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my great pleasure to rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. This bill brings together the results of three years of extensive public consultation by the Morrison government with stakeholders right across Australia's vast media landscape. These laws were drafted closely with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which had found that government intervention was required to correct the enormous imbalance of bargaining power between digital platforms and local news businesses. The code represents a world first. This is a global first in tackling the glaring issue of the decline in traditional advertising revenues, where traditional media organisations in this country are being subjected to what we can only say—and in recent days we've seen this, obviously, from Facebook—is nothing less than abuse of market power. There has been a dramatic change in our media landscape.

Fundamentally, this bill is about ensuring that journalists are properly remunerated for the content they generate, which, of course, so benefits the global technology platforms. I understand firsthand the sweat, the blood and the tears that go into producing quality journalism. I worked over some 16 years for a number of media organisations, including channels 7, 9 and 10 and the ABC, in various roles in news and current affairs. I also made a few documentaries. I well understand the hard yakka it takes to produce one one-minute news story. It involves a lot of resources, a lot of people—camera operators, journalists, editors, producers—and all of the technical requirements to actually broadcast. Things have changed a lot, of course. It is now a lot easier to broadcast live than it was in the old days. But there has been a dramatic change in our media landscape, where the margins of our traditional media companies are being squeezed by the big global players. This code is all about providing a level playing field.

A strong democracy requires a free, diverse and sustainable domestic news media sector. This bill will support Australian publishers and broadcasters, big, medium and small, through a number of crucial measures. These include measures to encourage parties to undertake commercial negotiations outside of the code and to support small news media businesses with efficient pathways to finalise agreements with platforms by enabling them to publish standard offers.

Another measure is to establish a negotiation framework under the code which allows parties to bargain in good faith and reach binding agreements. In contrast to the appalling behaviour we have seen from Facebook in recent days, I do want to commend the conduct of Google, which has entered into a number of very significant deals with media companies in this country, including News Corp Australia, the Nine Network and the Seven Network. I hope and trust that there will be more deals to follow, including for smaller regional players, which are also vitally important in holding us as a government to account, in our democracy and, of course, in ensuring that public interest journalism in Australia is alive and well.

There is a measure in the bill which sets clear and workable minimum standards for digital platforms, including requiring 14 days advance notice of deliberate algorithm changes which impact news media businesses, and a measure which ensures that an independent arbiter is able to determine the level of remuneration that should be paid under a fair and balanced final-offer arbitration model, should the parties be unable to reach agreement. So in this country we legislate for Australians and for the benefit of Australian companies. This is landmark legislation. I pay credit to the Prime Minister, to the Treasurer and to the communications minister, who led the charge on this very, very significant legislation.

The Morrison government has also introduced a range of technical amendments and clarifications which will improve the workability of the code whilst retaining its overall effect. These changes include streamlining the requirements for digital platforms to give advance notice of algorithm changes to make them more workable, clarifying the arbitration criteria so that it considers the reasonable costs of both the digital platform and news media businesses, clarifying the role of the ACCC and ensuring its focus is on providing factual information to assist the arbitrator, adjusting the effect of anti-avoidance provisions so they take effect from the commencement of the code and ensuring the government's policy intent of not interfering with existing contractual rights under the code is achieved. To ensure the code is working as the government intends, the code will be reviewed by Treasury within one year of its commencement.

I mentioned the conduct of Facebook in recent days and I've already made some statements on the record about this but I want to reiterate my disappointment and my disgust at how Facebook has blocked Australian news. In doing so, it has done so much to trash its reputation in this country. It is completely irresponsible for Facebook to have blocked vital health information pages during a pandemic. It is completely irresponsible for Facebook to have blocked a wide range of vital information pages, including pages belonging to the Royal Children's Hospital, MS Australia, a number of Indigenous health services and The Kids' Cancer Project. This conduct is an assault on Australian's freedom and a gross abuse of power. We contrast this appalling behaviour with the behaviour of Google, which has operated in good faith to reach the deals that I referenced earlier. As I say, we expect that more deals will follow, and I think, as a result of the good conduct of Google, its reputation will be further enhanced in this country. Make no bones about it: the conduct of Facebook has ricocheted around the globe. Many other citizens in many other countries are appalled at what has happened here in this country. We will not be bullied. We will not be intimidated. The Morrison government have consistently said that we want to see Facebook and Google remain operating and viable and thriving in Australia but we also expect them to comply with the laws passed by our democratically elected parliament of Australia.

I am pleased to report that there has been some very good progress in some other countries such as Canada. Some initial reports that have just come out in the last day or so have indicated that Canada is poised to support the very landmark and world-leading example of the Morrison government and make companies like Facebook pay for news content generated by Canadian publishers. The Canadian heritage minister, Steven Guilbeault, strongly condemned Facebook's move. He is quoted as saying:

I think what Facebook is doing in Australia is highly irresponsible and compromises the safety of many Australian people.

What Facebook did was highly irresponsible. It did compromise safety.

I received an email from a person—I won't identify this person—who said that he was most distressed because a friend had posted about her very traumatic experiences as the victim of a crime. She had spent a number of years doing so on her Facebook page, including posting a number of very relevant news media articles concerning the trauma that she had suffered. These articles have now been removed. Her plight, her position, her decision to fight for what she believed in have been undermined because of Facebook's conduct.

I really hope that we do see other countries around the world following the lead of the Morrison government and taking a stand against these global giants. I will say something to Facebook: Mark, if you're listening, I worked for a news corporation in New York in the late 1990s and early 2000s at a time when News Corporation acquired Myspace. Myspace was going to be the big, new global platform and there were great aspirations for its future, but within a number of years that particular platform gradually died away. If Facebook, in this country, becomes a place where people can no longer trust the information it publishes, if it becomes a place where credible news can no longer be found, where credible journalism can no longer be found, then Facebook's role in our democracy is diminished. Not only is this an issue of its reputation; this is an issue of its relevance. I say to Mark and all of his other executive team all around the world, as they count their billions of dollars, including billions of dollars of advertising revenue, just have a look at the demise of some other platforms when they do the wrong thing by the people they serve. Facebook is only as good as the people who use it. If they lose the trust and confidence of those who use Facebook then Facebook may well one day see a similar demise.

This code is healthy for our democracy. It preserves jobs in newsrooms, in media organisations, around this country, from the small country towns to our big cities. It gives great confidence to those young men and women who want to forge a life in journalism, who want to forge a life working in media, including in traditional print or broadcasting.

We understand that public interest journalism often requires lengthy, complex and cost-intensive investigations. These laws will ensure that journalists and publishers are rightly rewarded for their work, rather than it being ripped off by the platforms, as has been occurring.

Of course I'm also very pleased to make mention of the fact that the bill involves substantial penalties for breaching the code's main provision and these penalty provisions will be enforced by the ACCC.

It is good to see universal support for this bill across this chamber. I acknowledge that there are some proposed amendments. But it is wonderful to see, across this chamber—from the Labor Party, the Greens and the crossbench—a strong backing for this landmark legislation. As I say, I really hope and trust that our bill and our aspirations for our Australian media companies are picked up by other countries around the world and adopted, which can only be a very good thing for our democracy.

9:14 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In September 1993 Rupert Murdoch gave a speech from London that was broadcast via satellite to analysts and investors at various locations around the world. In the speech he announced for the first time that his business would expand to the internet, offering 'endless data and information', even electronic newspapers, to anyone in the world with the necessary equipment to receive it. He said:

Technology is racing ahead so rapidly, news and entertainment sources are proliferating at such a rate, that the media moghul has been replaced …

…   …   …

The consumer is in the saddle, driving the telecommunications industry. The technology is galloping over the old regulatory machinery.

The parliament finds itself today debating how the regulatory machinery can catch up. It's no small irony that Mr Murdoch, still a media mogul, has championed this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021.

The next year brought the first mention of the internet in this chamber. In August 1994, Senator John Tierney reported, 'I recently returned from a study tour to the United States where I looked at the information super highway, its implications for Australian industry and society and its implications for the parliament in terms of the regulatory framework that we establish and modify to assist the development of this new stage of the industrial revolution.'

From the very beginning it was widely understood that the internet would have a profound effect on our society. Over the decades speeches given to this have chartered the internet's development. The first mention of Google in Hansard was in 2001, the first mention of YouTube in Hansard was in October 2006, the first mention of Facebook in Hansard was in April 2008, and the first mention of Twitter in Hansard was in May 2009. There is no record that I could find of a mention of Myspace.

The optimism of the early 1990s has given way to a certain grimmer reality. There are deep concerns about the privacy of consumers, concerns about the power of internet companies and concerns about the democratic principles at stake, particularly after the 2016 election in the United States. Those concerns wrote to specific forms of power that the large tech companies have acquired through a cycle of accumulation described as surveillance capitalism—that is, the capacity to collect large amounts of data and the ability to process that data through sophisticated algorithms to build a profile of users that can predict what they will do so they can sell advertising based upon that information.

Importantly, the cycle of accumulation leads the tech giants to accumulate ever greater amounts of data and engage in ever-intensifying behaviour modification. This power has created immense wealth for the global tech giants. Rarely did these companies, nor senators in this chamber, pre-empt the dark implications of this new power. Rarer still were the attempts to substantially regulate them. The power of these platforms has grown mostly unchallenged, particularly as platforms began to take on the role of a fundamental public service. That power was nakedly on display last week when Facebook denied access to Australian news sites to millions of their Australian users. Facebook's actions were not only a disgraceful response to a matter of public debate but a risk to public safety, including by blocking resources for domestic violence victims, blocking the Bureau of Meteorology potentially during an emergency and blocking government health advice during the global pandemic.

The University of Canberra's Digital news report: Australia 2020 found that during the COVID-19 outbreak 49 per cent of respondents used Facebook as their only source of news about the coronavirus. A vital public service that informs millions of Australians about a deadly pandemic was held ransom to the political will of a large multinational company. As I speak in this chamber, Facebook continues to block Australian citizens from consuming news on their platform. It is an extraordinary situation, and so we do debate this bill with the eyes of the world upon the chamber.

Labor will indeed support this legislation. We have some reservations about some aspects of the legislation that will be the subject of amendments, I imagine, tomorrow morning. And there has been some debate in the community about the bill and whether or not the bill prefers the interests of one set of global media giants over another. I say to this place: this should not be the last time we consider these issues. We've got to look past the interests of global media giants and see the interests of ordinary people—the citizens of the country. We've got to be determined and carefully watch developments, particularly in the US, where the last congress and the new Biden administration appear to be developing an approach to antitrust legislation. We should carefully consider our approach and our response as those global developments occur.

It remains to be seen whether the government's code is workable and how big a difference it will make. The code has exposed a large number of Australian businesses to uncertainty. It doesn't guarantee any particular outcomes for media organisations, journalists, citizens or consumers. It's not clear how the money raised will be directed towards public interest journalism; in particular, regional journalism, where 150 titles have closed over the life of this government; investigative journalism, which was referred to in the last contribution; and news wire services, such as AAP.

It is indeed heavily weighted to the large media interests. Australia has one of the most heavily concentrated media markets in the world, and the bill contributes very little to enhancing our media diversity. It doesn't deal with the parlous state of employment in journalism, and it's unclear how the code would affect future funding arrangements for the ABC and SBS. It's not clear that the code is the most efficient or effective way of directing resources from the tech giants to support journalism. It is only one of the ACCC's recommendations to support public interest journalism. Other recommendations include genuine media reform, stable and adequate funding for public broadcasters, adequate direct funding, and tax incentives and philanthropic measures.

The Morrison government is yet to explain what is going on and what this means for Australians, but it is indeed a start. It is a first step for this place and for Australia in dealing with regulation for this very important sector of our economy. I look forward to seeing a focus—noting some of the other contributions—on the tax paid by some of these global giants, and some proper, effective regulation. I suspect that some of the answers lie in what this parliament does, some of the answers lie in what legislatures overseas do, and some of the answers lie in global cooperation, in the interest of citizens, to make sure that we don't see abuses of market power and the misuse of the power of information around the world.

Google has now signed deals with 50 Australian publishers, amongst them Seven West, The Guardian Australia, Nine, Australian Community Media, Schwartz Media and Junkee. The world-leading nature of this legislation does rekindle Australia's role as a social laboratory. In the early 20th century, Australia led the world in social reform such as the minimum wage, unemployment benefits and the age pension. There were democratic experiments as well: the secret ballot, mandatory voting, women's suffrage. At the same time, Australia should be a place where we develop novel approaches to regulation for technology companies. Australians are early adopters of these technologies. Rarely disconnected from our phones, we are enthusiastic users of smartphone technology. We should be paying attention to these issues here. It has made Australia a place where there are soft launches of apps and features. It was in Australia, I'm less than pleased to report, that we first had access to the wonderful features of Pokemon GO. It was a big feature of my kids' lives. It did mean that I could observe them playing Pokemon GO in places all over Sydney. Despite the fact that they were very connected to their telephones, it did mean they got a bit of exercise and got out in the sun a little bit more than they otherwise might have. I am reliably informed that Senator Duniam, who is in the chamber, can be found at various locations around Tasmania clocking in, or whatever it is you do on Pokemon GO.

Senator Duniam interjecting

That's it. Do they have branches in Tasmania?

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, one.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Good. It makes sense that Australia is a place where that work can be done. Many countries will be watching our progress.

Australia must be vigilant about the digital threats to our democracy, both from overseas and, in particular, from extremist organisations here.

In his 1993 speech, Mr Murdoch claimed 'Advances in the technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere.' History hasn't been kind to Mr Murdoch's optimism and it wasn't only him who was optimistic about that. I think many of us, as we were observing the growth of the internet and social media, thought it would be a useful adjunct to enrich our democracy. The spread of social media hasn't been followed by a wave of democratic sentiment across the world. It's fomented a distrust in elected government, wild conspiracy theories, reactionary political movements, including fascism. The fault is not solely with the tech platforms. Some of the media companies have been engaging in exactly that kind of behaviour as well. I have to say that some of the material that Sky News circulated on its platform that was then reinforced across Facebook, posting figures like Lauren Southern and Steve Bannon and wild conspiracy theories about the American election, was enthusiastically posted by some of the people who sit on the other side of the chamber. I'm pleased to say they are not represented there this evening but some of the characters in the LNP circulate that material as well. Of course, that kind of sensationalism, that kind of appeal to a sort of reactionary base element is a result of a deliberate strategy to ride the algorithms of social media. It encourages users to seek out media they already agree with. The feedback loop creates a radicalising effect. There are consequences for this deliberate attempt to write off the spread of conspiracy theories.

Late last year Sky News Australia shared videos across its digital platforms that cast doubt on the result of the American election. There are some still on its YouTube page. One says 'Pennsylvanian postal worker who claims US vote was rigged denied he recanted allegations'—1.1 million views. Another story says there is 'something odd about postal votes which magically materialise for Biden'—an editorial from Alan Jones, 760,000 views. 'US postal service worker alleges potential voter fraud, according to Project Veritas'—nearly 900,000 views. 'Something stinks to high heaven in the US presidential election', from former Senator Bernardi—nearly 800,000 views. The false belief, the deliberately propagated, deliberately misrepresented, often propagated by interests hostile to the interests of the US was directed deliberately towards the insurrection at the US Capitol, which was a direct attempt to overturn the will of millions of American voters. Five people died; 140 were injured. It could indeed have been much worse in casualties or its impact on American democracy.

We can't afford to ignore that the most significant threats to democracy always come from inside. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

… the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories.

The spiralling mix of algorithm and politics is an oppression that has not existed yet in the world. It divides our society in new and complex ways. It undermines our ability to have a shared view of facts and reality, and it radicalises people and movements purely for profit. Responding to it will require long-term leadership, proactive attempts to regulate our public sphere and require accountability from our media for the views that they publish. The code is a start, but there is indeed much more work to do.

9:29 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. As other senators have done so far in this debate, before I turn to the bill itself I want to make some observations about the events of the last week. As I've said many times before, as somebody who believes in private property rights, I accept the fact that a social media company who wants to run their platform without any news on it has every right to do so. However, their users—and everyone else—are entitled to make judgements about them if they do so. In their desire to avoid the implications of the news media bargaining code, Facebook has removed news from their platform and delivered a significantly diminished service to their users as a result. As we've heard throughout this debate, many Australians do turn to Facebook for their news and current affairs, and they are now not able to do so. Inevitably, Facebook will become a less attractive platform for them as a result.

In my capacity as Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I am also concerned about the implications of this decision for the spread of misinformation and disinformation. The spread of misinformation and, in particular, state sponsored disinformation, is of great concern. It contributes to many of the problems that the PJCIS will be examining this year, including foreign interference in our democracy and increasing extremism and online radicalism, and they are also apparent in debates about the safety of vaccines.

Some examples of this misinformation appear to be, at face value, at least trivial, like a recent viral post purporting to explain that the real reason why we celebrate Australia Day on 26 January is not in fact because of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet landing on that day in 1788 but in fact the passage of a citizenship act in 1949. I've no doubt many senators received the email I did and saw the Facebook post that that originated from.

But there is a much darker side to this too. One very troubling recent example of an apparently state sponsored disinformation campaign was exposed in The Daily Telegraph by Ellen Whinnett. She wrote about the experience of a young researcher, Vicky Xu, who, courageously, has exposed the shocking mistreatment of the Uighur people by the Chinese Communist Party, both in her capacity, previously, as a journalist and then as a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. For her troubles, she was targeted by a transparent attempt to discredit and intimidate her in the form of a social media video which smeared her reputation. Regrettably, Western social media companies, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, were all vectors for this disinformation. Some of those platforms took far too long to address it or only did so after receiving a media inquiry about it.

There have been proposals for quite heavy-handed government-led solutions to these problems that I fear could easily end in a form of state censorship. As a supporter of free speech, that is the last thing that I want to see happen. I would much rather see social media platforms take their own initiatives to combat these problems, as Facebook has been at pains to assure this parliament and other legislatures around the world they are doing. But one of the best tools we have to combat false information is to make it easy for truthful information from trusted sources to be more easily shared. With their decision to ban news in Australia, Facebook has—perhaps inadvertently, perhaps unintentionally—made that task much harder.

I believe—contrary to some of the things we hear in this chamber and elsewhere in public debate about the Australian people—that, by and large, actually, most Australians are pretty savvy about the information they consume. Polling shows that Australians place different levels of trust in different media channels, such as television, radio, print and online, and they even differentiate in their level of trust in individual news outlets or news brands within those categories. But, if they lose one of their main avenues to access that information, inevitably the overall quality of the information they can access about events and the world will decline—particularly as what is replaced in their news feeds will not just be photos of friends and family and music and cat videos, but also the sorts of wild and lurid posts that can unfortunately go viral on those platforms.

In a climate where confidence in vaccine safety and efficacy is so important to Australians returning to a normal life, this is not just an academic concern. We will all pay an enormous cost if access to factual, evidence based information about COVID-19 vaccines, for example, is replaced by false information which needlessly undermines Australians' trust in them. In that light, it is particularly unfortunate that, in seeking to remove the ability of Australians to share news on their platform, Facebook also, apparently inadvertently, took down a range of official sources of health information, along with charities and others who are really quite distantly removed from the provision of news. Facebook may have unwittingly contributed to a problem I believe they are genuine in tackling, and I urge them to carefully consider the implications of their decision.

Throughout this debate, I've met with and heard from both the media and tech companies, and I understand the different perspectives they bring to it. I also participated in the Senate select committee on public interest journalism in 2017 and 2018, which first grappled with many of these issues. It was a classic Sam Dastyari/Nick Xenophon trip down memory lane—I think Senator Hanson-Young participated in it also—but it was launched for very good reasons and in recognition of the important role that public interest journalism plays in our liberal democracy.

Of course, our democracy is not just the act of voting at a polling booth every few years; it's the complex, fragile and interrelated institutions that help hold democratically elected leaders to account. In addition, of course, to the role that parliaments, independent courts and civil society play, journalism plays an indispensable and vital role in that process. It's completely understandable why media organisations, academics and Australians more generally are concerned about the loss of revenue that media organisations have suffered from the transition to a digital online world and the impact that has had on the public interest journalism they provide. It has clearly made it much more difficult financially, economically, to provide support for public interest journalism in the digital world.

Print newspaper outlets in particular have lost that effective monopoly they once had on classified advertising, which for decades cross-subsidised the important public interest journalism they undertook. I suspect that, in years gone by, people who chose to advertise their house or their car through a print newspaper didn't realise or even really care that they were bankrolling public interest journalism and investigative journalism. But that is the effect of what they did and the migration of that advertising to online sources has had a massively disruptive effect on our media industry. Tech companies, admittedly, have found what is often a much more efficient and effective way for advertisers to reach those audiences. They can do so much more directly, and often more cheaply, but in doing so they are bypassing news media companies. In recognition of the important work that news media companies were able to do because of that cross-subsidisation, we have all been grappling with how we ensure they are sustainably funded going forward.

The inquiry looked at other things, including tax deductible awards for organisations, tax deductible funding for news media organisations, more public funding and even a direct tax on tech platforms. I admit that, during the inquiry process, I was quite attracted to the idea of allowing tax deductible donations for philanthropic contributions towards investigative journalism in recognition of the fact that we allow tax deductible donations towards advocacy on matters like environmental issues, social justice issues, refugee issues and general welfare issues. Why would it not be the case that other things of public value, including investigative journalism, could be funded by generous philanthropists through tax deductible donations? I note that there are in fact many philanthropists who operate in this space in Australia and overseas who do put their own money behind these efforts in a very commendable way. I thought providing them with a tax deduction to facilitate and encourage that was one possible part of the solution to this problem. But I also accept that none of the solutions canvassed by that Senate inquiry was perfect, because this is a difficult problem to solve due to the very nature of journalism in a democracy; and that's probably why none of the ideas proposed by that committee were taken up by the parliament.

For very good reasons, we are all appropriately wary of direct government intervention in the form of funding or regulation of media outlets. By its very nature, if we want journalists to hold governments to account, we want politicians as far as possible from decisions about how they are funded. History and, indeed, sadly, much of the world today contain salutary lessons about why that is the case. Inevitably, with these other options canvassed, politicians would have had a hand in deciding which media outlets would have qualified for funding and the basis on which they did so. All of the problems that would have entailed for their independence are fairly obvious.

A virtue of this code is the fact that the parties have been encouraged to take—and some are, indeed, undertaking—commercial negotiations outside the code in the hope that the code never needs to be invoked, let alone the arbitration provisions of the code, which have been very controversial, I note, through the Senate inquiry and public debate. It is welcomed that Google, for instance, appears to have reached agreeable commercial terms with as many as 50 media outlets without the code being invoked. I think it would be fair to say that most members and senators, and certainly me, have a very strong preference for these issues to be resolved commercially, with the least involvement possible from the government.

I also appreciate that tech platforms, particularly Facebook and Google, contribute enormous value to media companies in the form of the significant referral traffic that they send their way. That's perhaps why no media company has ever elected to remove themselves from those platforms, despite their concerns that tech companies were freely profiting from their efforts. In this respect, I particularly welcome the inclusion of the two-way value exchange in the code. In my view, this is a significant improvement by the government on the original draft code proposed by the ACCC. In my view, it was an oversight of the ACCC not to recognise that two-way value exchange inherent in these relationships between tech companies and media organisations.

It's appropriate to recognise that, while there is value for tech platforms in hosting news on their sites—we all go to these sites to look for news—there's also value for the media companies to be linked to by these platforms. I think it's also sensible that the digital platforms have been permitted to publish standard offers, in recognition of the fact that smaller media organisations are clearly not equipped to engage in complex legal negotiations with large multinationals. I also welcome the fact that there is a one-year review by Treasury of the effectiveness of the operation of the scheme. Even with our best intentions in this place, we should always be wary of the potential for unintended consequences in the laws that we pass.

In concluding my remarks, I turn to the report of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee into this bill, capably chaired, as always, by my friend Senator Slade Brockman, which had an important contribution to make on this issue of further reviews and consultation. It notes:

… even supporters of the bill, felt that further amendments were possible to improve the law. Free TV recommended a series of amendments, as did SBS, the ABC, the MEAA and Solstice Media, amongst others.

Treasury also acknowledged that, despite the many and varied consultations and legal advice, that as is commonly the case for all legislation: 'there are legal risks associated to the bill, both domestic and international.' Treasury also noted that the government, in developing the bill, had considered its domestic and international law obligations.

The committee accepts that there remains the possibility that not all risks have been taken into account, and that further refinement may be needed to the arbitration mechanism and other parts of the Code so that they work in an optimum manner. Accordingly, the committee strongly supports the 12 month review mechanism built into the legislation.

I, too, strongly support a robust and independent review of the effectiveness of this code and its operation to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and inadvertent effects, that it is achieving the government's policy objectives and that Australia does remain a very attractive place for innovation and for tech companies to invest and base themselves here. If we are to be a prosperous 21st-century country, then we want to ensure that we are an attractive, safe and reliable place for them to invest and that they are not discouraged by excessive or burdensome regulation.

9:43 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It seems a fair proposal: a code to ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia. But, like so much with this government, the difference between what is talked about and the reality of the impact it has on people and businesses is vast. It's that vast gap between reality and delivery that's the hallmark of so much of what this government does.

Like many Australians, I woke up on Thursday 18 February and started flicking through my Facebook news feed, and it quickly became apparent that there wasn't a lot of news in my feed. It wasn't just the mainstream news organisations whose posts were missing; it became apparent that many, many organisations were no longer visible. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which uses its Facebook page to deliver climate updates and severe weather warnings, was blocked. So too were fire and emergency service pages and state health departments, where daily coronavirus figures and information about potential exposure sites are listed. They were deleted, as was the official page for the governments of the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania. Homelessness services, crisis centres, legal services—all blocked. First Nations organisations in the arts, health, media and community sectors all found that their news feeds had been blanked. Thankfully, a lot of these pages have been reinstated, but the pages of many First Nations media organisations are still blank and are likely to remain so, caught in the crossfire of what has become—pun intended—a face-off between the government and a multinational tech giant. Organisations such as NITV, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, CAAMA, Bumma Bipra, 3KND, the National Indigenous Times, the peak body First Nations Media Australia and so many others have all had their social media voices silenced. Ironically, First Nations media organisations are in many ways the very definition of public interest journalism. They tell our stories in our way, keep our language and culture strong and alive, and reflect us out to the wider community as well as to ourselves.

Back when I started as a cadet with the ABC, way back when, there were very few First Nations people on television and on radio. Stories about First Nations issues, people and communities were usually negative and didn't receive a lot of prominence—certainly not on a national level. And while this is changing, largely due to the work of the trailblazing First Nations media workers and organisations, it's not just the big headline stories and issues that are important. Our community based media organisations tell the stories that mean so much at the grassroots level.

I don't know how many of you have ever watched ICTV, for example—Indigenous Community Television. ICTV is an independent, not-for-profit First Nations media company based in Alice Springs. Most of its content is contributed voluntarily by production companies, organisations and individuals who are in remote communities or providing services to remote communities. Over 50 per cent of their content is in an Indigenous Australian language, and more than 50 language groups are represented. ICTV's television service broadcasts for 18 hours per day, seven days per week, on channel 601 VAST across remote Australia and on free-to-air digital services on Channel 41 in Alice Springs, Broome and Roebourne. Their core purpose is to improve the lives of First Nations people, especially those living in remote areas, by providing media distribution outlets that enable the active sharing of stories, culture and language.

They also produce some of their own content, such as the wonderful Our Bedtime Stories, which presents stories for children in language, using traditional storytelling techniques together with animation, music and film. If you aren't fortunate enough to have a set-top box or to live in one of the free-to-air regions of ICTV, you can catch their programming on ICTV Play online. And I certainly urge you, senators, to jump on and enjoy some of the content produced in some of our very remote communities. While you're online, jump on to indigiTUBE, a project of First Nations Media Australia, that is an amazing resource of audio and visual content from around the country, including documentaries, music, animation, podcasts and much more. Just these two services will give you a taste of the rich variety of stories that glimpse into the lives of First Nations people around the country. These services fortunately still have their social presence, but they will be impacted by this media code. It could bring them benefits, if this government does its job properly by making available funding that will support their work and the work of other organisations in the First Nations media sector.

Debate interrupted.