Subjects: Labor’s Misinformation Bill, The Voice Referendum
Mark Levy: Now the Federal Government is under some serious pressure. Major doubt is hanging over its proposed Misinformation laws. Labor wants to tackle disinformation and misinformation online. But questions are being asked about the way they’re going about it. The proposed law will hand the Australian Communications and Media Authority the power to fine social media giants. They’ll be able to determine what is classified as harmful activity and if they are found liable, tech giants could face fines of up to $7 million. Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland released the draft Bill for public consultation in June. It attracted 23,000 responses. Some major players had their say. That included the Human Rights Commission, the Civil Liberties Councils in New South Wales and Queensland, and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Their response was overwhelmingly negative. Late last week, the Coalition raised concerns about Labor’s delay in publishing submissions about the proposed laws. This was despite saying they would be released in early September. We now learned that on Friday afternoon the Federal Government released 150 of the 23,000 submissions. That’s less than 1%. David Coleman is the Shadow Communications Minister and I’m pleased to say he joins me on the line right now. David, good morning to you.
David Coleman: Good morning, Mark.
Mark Levy: 150 submissions out of 23,000. That just won’t cut it.
David Coleman: Oh, not at all. No, it’s ridiculous, Mark. I mean, 23,000 submissions and comments just show how worried Australians are about this Bill. Because this goes to our freedom of speech, our ability to say what we think about politics and so many other issues. And so, we’ve got to get those submissions out so we can see what Australians have to say. It’s a month now since submissions closed and more than 99%, we still don’t know what people said and that’s just not on. And it’s ironic when you think about it. When this Bill is about information and access to information, that a month later and we still don’t have the submissions of what people have said.
Mark Levy: Is it fair to ask the Minister responsible in this role, what are you trying to hide from us, given that you’re only going to release less than 1% of the submissions you’ve received?
David Coleman: Well, yeah, I mean, absolutely. That’s the right question, Mark. Normally submissions come out very quickly. It should be a pretty simple process. The problem the Government has got is, virtually all of the submissions on this Bill are incredibly negative. This is a capital-D disaster for the Government because they’ve managed to unite pretty much all parts of the spectrum in Australia. More left-wing groups, more conservative groups, the Human Rights Commission, like pretty much everyone is against this Mark, because we live in one of the greatest democracies on the planet. And fundamental to that, is freedom of speech. And this Bill basically puts government officials ultimately in charge of determining what we can and cannot say. And that’s just not on.
Mark Levy: And my big issue here is, David, I mean, the definition of misinformation, who determines what is misinformation and what isn’t misinformation? I mean, you’re right. It’s an attack on free speech.
David Coleman: You’re totally right, Mark. And ultimately, who determines it? The Government. Because ACMA, which is the Government regulator, gets to decide if the platforms are doing enough, in its eyes, on misinformation. And to do that, they have to decide basically whether the platform’s deleting enough material. So, if ACMA thinks they’re not deleting enough material, ACMA can charge a fine that actually can go up into the hundreds of millions of dollars potentially. So, if you’re sitting at one of those tech companies and your job is to make sure you don’t get fined, what are you going to do? You’re going to delete a whole lot of stuff.
Mark Levy: And just to use an example, here right? If I am just sitting behind this microphone or Ben’s here on Monday, and is to highlight something the Government is doing and a decision that’s been taken, and we promote that on our social media sites and our websites and everything else, what’s stopping the Government from saying, well, that’s misinformation, it’s got to be taken down?
David Coleman: Yeah, well, the Government would say there’s an exemption for what they call professional media. But as Anne Twomey, who’s a top lawyer has pointed out, what’s going to happen is the platforms are going to say, oh, look, if this is misinformation, we’re just going to delete it regardless of the source. Because realistically, are they going to go through and say, oh, well, we’ll delete this bit and not this bit. They’re going to delete material that they think is misinformation and because their concern is going to be not getting fined, their concern is not going to be protecting the free speech of Australia. And so, the whole structure of the Bill, is set up effectively to ensure that a whole lot of material gets deleted. And in a democracy, that’s not what we’re about. I mean, in a democracy, the best defence we have is the common sense of the average person, not a government official, telling us what we can and cannot read.
Mark Levy: Well, look at the ABC. Their charter is to tell both sides of the story. We can’t even hear from Jacinta Price. They won’t even put her comments to air. So, you know, hello, I think they’re barking up the wrong tree. While I’ve got you, speaking of the Voice. Just on something else, today’s the last day people can enrol to vote in the Voice referendum. How do you see things going on October 14?
David Coleman: Oh, look, I think it is headed most likely towards defeat, Mark. The Government’s done a terrible job in putting forward this proposal. It’s not the right proposal for the country at this time. And I think people are saying, well, where’s the detail? As you said earlier, I mean, to ask for such a fundamental change to the Constitution without explaining, for instance, how people on the body are going to be elected. That’s not right. The Government hasn’t been open with the Australian people and that’s making people sceptical about this proposal. And that’s why I think it’s likely to fail.
Mark Levy: All right. Well, David, keep fighting the good fight in relation to these proposed misinformation laws. I think we’re treading a very dangerous path. And like I say, if the Government wants to be open, transparent with everyone, why are they only releasing 150 submissions out of the 23,000? I appreciate your time.
David Coleman: Thanks, Mark.
Mark Levy: That’s David Coleman, the Shadow Communications Minister.