Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – 2GB Drive with Chris O’Keefe – Labor’s Misinformation Bill

Subject: Labor’s Misinformation Bill


Chris O’Keefe: Well, the Albanese Government is pushing ahead with this proposed Misinformation Bill despite some pretty vehement opposition from every direction. People have been calling it a Ministry of Truth, including me, right here on this program, because it basically gives ACMA, the Federal Communications Body, the power to decide what is true and what is not. And everyone’s come out and said the proposed laws are dodgy. Human Rights Commission has warned against it, even ACMA themselves have said, ‘oh look, it’s probably a bit much.’ I think the only person who thinks it’s a good idea is the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, and she’s told the Coalition don’t go soft on big tech companies who allow misinformation to be distributed online. I reckon Michelle Rowland is a bit soft herself. She keeps refusing to come on this program and answer questions. I’ve asked time and time again. And guess what? She’s always busy. So, while she runs and hides, Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman’s on the line. David, will the Coalition oppose this? Have you come to a position yet?

David Coleman: Chris, there’s a lot of red flags with this legislation. Lots and lots of red flags. We’ll go through our normal Shadow Cabinet process, but we’ve got huge concerns about it. As you say, this basically allows ACMA to determine whether or not social media platforms are doing enough to stop so-called ‘misinformation’. It gives them a huge power and what it will almost inevitably lead to is suppression of legitimate views of Australians. So very concerning legislation.

Chris O’Keefe: And my concern is not just here on the radio, but my concerns are now being mirrored by the Human Rights Commission, and even ACMA themselves.

David Coleman: Yeah, well, I mean, the definitions in the Act, I mean, misinformation is incredibly broad what they’re saying, and it includes an unintentionally misleading statement. Now, think about that, Chris. I mean, there are a lot of things that people say that someone would say, ‘oh, that was unintentionally misleading.’ Now under this law, if it’s unintentionally misleading, and it causes so-called ‘serious harm’, which again, is very broadly defined- it’s ‘misinformation’. And so, if you’re one of these tech platforms, and you’re threatened with potentially very big fines, what are you going to do?

Chris O’Keefe: Censor it.

David Coleman: Censor stuff, because you don’t want to pay the fines and in the process, it’s almost inevitable that legitimate views of everyday Australians are going to be removed. And that’s wrong. Democracies have always been very, very reluctant for governments to get into the business of saying, what is true and what is not. And for governments to say what is acceptable political speech, and what isn’t acceptable, and this would enable that to occur. Through ACMA’s oversight role, so, yeah, look, it’s concerning. I think the Minister has got a lot of questions to answer here.

Chris O’Keefe: And the carve out is for government, professional news outlets and electoral materials, so you could have somebody running for Parliament, putting on social media, whatever they want and that’s fine. ACMA can’t do anything about it. But, you know, Joe Public could be censored because it could be deemed misinformation by ACMA.

David Coleman: Yeah, that’s right. And I think also, even if a journalist says something outside of their job, like on their personal Facebook page, or Twitter or whatever, that would be captured by this law. And even on political speech, it’s only authorised political communication. So that’s like brochures and things like that. If someone says something at a public debate or in some other political discussion, regardless of who they are, it could potentially be captured by this definition. So, it’s really broad, as you say, it excludes the government. So, it excludes the government…

Chris O’Keefe: …because the government doesn’t lie.

David Coleman: Well, I mean it’s interesting that the government is excluded but the average Australian isn’t.

Chris O’Keefe: Correct.

David Coleman: So the average Australian, under this law Chris, could say exactly the same thing, for instance, as the government, but the government would not be liable for it to be described as misinformation, but the average Australian would. And so this is why this is such a very, very difficult area for the government to get into and that’s why there’s so many issues.

Chris O’Keefe: So it’s clear that the Coalition, both the National Party and the Liberal Party will almost certainly oppose this bill. So if you do, does Labor have the numbers in the Senate to get it through?

David Coleman: Well, it would depend on what the crossbenchers do in that situation. So if the Greens support it, yes, they do. And, you’d have to ask the Greens, what their opinion is on it. But, I think, regardless of whether you’re from a more conservative political view or even a left-wing political view, the principle here is the same. And the principle is that in democracies, people should be allowed to express themselves. Democracy can be messy, it can be untidy. But there are lots of examples in history, Chris, of controversial views, that would have been, that could have been labelled misinformation under this law, that turned out to be true.

Chris O’Keefe: Well, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Imagine if you said that in 2003, ACMA would have said, ‘Oh, that’s disinformation. That’s misinformation,’ well it turned out it was true. Sharri Markson, when she came out and said, ‘Oh, you know what, this COVID thing might have come out of a lab in Wuhan’, that would have been misinformation. Turns out the CIA thinks it is probably true. How can you possibly pass a law that allows ACMA to decide the bona fides of this stuff?

David Coleman: Yeah, and there’s lots of scientific examples in history too, where people have had scientific theories that were ridiculed as completely wrong, and turned out to be true. So, for ACMA to be in the role here of determining whether or not enough is being done on misinformation, I mean, they can only do that if they, ACMA, are forming a view about what is and isn’t misinformation and that’s a very, very vexed area for a government to be getting into.

Chris O’Keefe: David Coleman, appreciate your time.

David Coleman: Thanks, Chris.

Chris O’Keefe: That’s the Shadow Communications Minister, David Coleman.

The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks