Subjects: Passing of Simon Crean, Misinformation laws, Mobile Black Spot Program
Mark Levy: Things are heating up in Canberra and there are some big changes on the horizon for the digital world. New historic legislation has been tabled by the Federal Government and targets disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms. It will apply to search engines, social media sites and dating platforms. The Australian Media and Communications Authority would enforce it and they would have the power to hand down fines of almost $7 million. Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland has praised the bill. She says the changes ensure that ACMA has the power it needs to hold digital platforms to account and that it essentially means that the regulator is able to look under the hood of what the platforms are doing. But the Opposition is not convinced, they’re concerned it’s on the verge of Government overreach. David Coleman is the Shadow Minister for Communications; I’m pleased to say he joins me on the line. Mr. Coleman, good morning to you.
David Coleman: Good morning, Mark.
Mark Levy: Before we get into this story and this legislation, I thought we’d start with the passing of former Labor Leader Simon Crean who’s died age 74. He left Parliament by the time you were elected, but his influences long remain.
David Coleman: Absolutely Mark. Universally respected figure right across the political spectrum, Simon Crean. It’s a very sad day. He is someone who fought for what he believed in, always did that with great integrity. And it’s a sad day for the country. He will be very much missed.
Mark Levy: A giant of the Labor movement, that’s for sure. Now, under this new bill, it seems like a good idea in theory, Mr Coleman, but is this not limiting freedom of speech and expression?
David Coleman: Well, we got to be very careful here, Mark, because freedom of speech is just so fundamental to our country. We’ve got millions of Australians who have immigrated to the country because of our freedoms, including freedom of speech, and we’ve got to protect that. It’s very important. And the risk here is if the Government doesn’t get this right, there is the risk that freedom of speech is limited, and that would be a bad thing for the country. And so, we’ve got to be very cautious here and review this legislation very carefully.
Mark Levy: Well, it gives the Australian Communications and Media Authority a hell of a lot of power. Do they get to decide what qualifies as misinformation or disinformation? And would it be a group of people making the call or is it just one person making the decision?
David Coleman: Yeah, what they do is basically that the authority requires the platform to have rules and procedures about misinformation and they can decide whether they think those procedures are good enough or not. Now, the risk is that the platforms get worried that they’re going to get fined and so in the process, start to self-censor and start to remove a whole lot of content. And some of that content might be content that’s controversial, or it might be an unfashionable opinion or whatever it is, but we’ve just got to be very careful that the legitimate views of Australians on different topics aren’t removed from these platforms, because it’s potentially at risk of being seen as misinformation. And that’s the risk here.
Mark Levy: Well, what are you proposing instead?
David Coleman: Well, we’re going to look at the legislation very thoroughly, so it just came out yesterday. And there is a process over the next couple of months where people can review it. We’re going to be reviewing it and we’re not just going to give this a tick unless we’re satisfied that it protects freedom of speech, because this is a new law. This is a significant new area for the Government to go in, to start to regulate what is misinformation and require companies to remove potentially a whole lot of material. And that’s a big thing for a government to do. So, we’re going to look at it carefully and we’ll see where the Government gets to when they’ll have their final legislation in a couple of months, and we’ll certainly have an opinion on whatever the final law is.
Mark Levy: Alright, just one quick one before you go, if I can, Mr. Coleman. You have also been chasing up Labor’s Mobile Black Spot Program because there’s something dodgy going on here. This all relates to Round Six of the Improving Mobile Coverage Scheme. 40 out of the 54 funding allocations were awarded to Labor held seats. The Coalition has attempted to launch an inquiry into the program. That was blocked this week after the greens sided with Labor. Have you got an update on this for us Shadow Minister?
David Coleman: Yeah Mark. So, we’re waiting on the Auditor-General to decide whether he’s going to do an inquiry. He said there is merit in an inquiry and we’re expecting an answer very soon. It could be as soon as next week and it’s really important that there is that investigation because this is super dodgy. 27 out of 27 locations in New South Wales chosen by Michelle Rowland, all in Labor electorates. Ben did an interview with Michelle Rowland back in March which was an absolute shocker for the Minister and really exposed what’s going on here. And now we need that thorough investigation because Labor’s got to be held to account on this. Because this is pork barrelling at a shocking level, and it’s completely wrong what they’ve done.
Mark Levy: I appreciate the update thanks for your time as always.
David Coleman: Thanks Mark.
Mark Levy: That’s David Coleman, Shadow Communications Minister.
The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks