Subjects: Labor’s Misinformation Bill, Online Child Safety Age Assurance, Australia Post Stamp Prices
Greg Jennett: David Coleman, welcome back to the program, as always. Now you’re running a big campaign of scrutiny over the Government’s Misinformation Bill, including in the Parliament, where I think you’re trying to, well you can explain it to us. But you’re so critical, I think, of the Bill, you’re actually trying to force the Government to bring it on and demolish it in the Parliament.
David Coleman: Oh, look, it’s a complete disaster, this Bill, Greg. So this Bill, the Misinformation Bill, would create unprecedented restrictions on free speech in Australia. And basically all sections of Australian politics have condemned this Bill. You’ve got the civil liberties groups, you’ve got the Human Rights Commission, you’ve got the peak legal body in Australia and even the journalist’s union out there just really decimating this Bill. So we think the Bill should be binned. The Government should rip it up. It is frankly disturbing that the Government would publish a Bill like this because, you don’t publish a Bill unless you think it’s a good idea. So this Government thought this Bill was a good idea and they should withdraw it because it’s a terrible Bill.
Greg Jennett: Why can’t it be salvaged with some amendments? Because I know that’s been the thrust of a number of submissions, not all of which I think have been officially released, but some have been individually released. Critical thinkers in this area, lawyers from universities are suggesting that it can be tweaked and improved.
David Coleman: The problems are just so fundamental with this Bill. I mean, this Bill says, Greg, that an unintentionally misleading statement, think about that, an unintentionally misleading statement, people make thousands of statements every day, could be misinformation. This Bill says that in the words of the Law Council of Australia, alleged misinformants could be required to appear before ACMA and fined $8,000 per day should they not appear. This Bill captures political speech, including by politicians, except for Government politicians, because authorised content from Government is excluded. It is quite remarkable that the Government’s put this out. And how do you take something which is just so profoundly wrong and turn it into something that’s reasonable? I don’t think they should do it. I think they should rip it up and just frankly acknowledge, ‘we got this wrong, it was a terrible mistake and we’re going to bin the Bill.’
Greg Jennett: You’ve had enough time to think of an alternative approach here. And I think you’ve told us on previous occasions, David Coleman, that you don’t have a problem per say with reining in misinformation. So what is the better approach if it’s not this one?
David Coleman: There’s a number of things in place already. So for instance, the Online Safety Act already deals with issues around bullying, around abuse, around incitement to criminal activity or violent activity. There’s bipartisan recommendations from a Senate committee into foreign interference about dealing with state-based disinformation. There is some very interesting recommendations there. And we will we look further into those issues.
Greg Jennett: Although, some of those are a soft touch approach, aren’t they? They require greater levels of transparency on the part of platforms themselves, driving the onus of responsibility out there. Is that philosophically your preference?
David Coleman: Well, I think between the Online Safety Act and the recommendations from the Senate committee, a large proportion of this issue is addressed. And well, we’ll continue to look at the issue. But what we certainly won’t be doing ever, is anything remotely like this Bill, which is literally one of the worst bills I think an Australian Government has ever put forward. It is extraordinary.
Greg Jennett: That’s got a way to run, which means we’ll be talking to you about it. Let’s move to age verification because the eSafety Commissioner has recommended a trial of age verification for adult porn sites, which the Government has said, ‘no thanks, we don’t really want to touch that just yet.’ Does that mean that in criticising that approach, which you are, you are comfortable with multinational porn sites having access to personal identifying data of Australians?
David Coleman: Well, what we’re comfortable with is the eSafety Commissioner’s recommendation, which is to conduct a trial. And there are technical complexities in this area, but this is so important, Greg. The U.S. Surgeon General put out a report recently about the mental health of kids and he described it as a crisis, and he talked about online content having a very significant negative impact on the mental health of kids. Now some of that can be adult content, but some of it could be violent content or a whole range of inappropriate content for kids. This is a defining issue of our era, I think. And why on earth the Government would not take this very sensible recommendation from the Commissioner, trial technology, work through the different options, move towards prescribing this to protect kids, I am genuinely baffled. You’ve got a situation where the National Children’s Commissioner, Anne Hollonds, has condemned the Government, but the pornography industry has welcomed the Government’s decision. Now that’s a problem and I think the Minister should reconsider this decision because it makes no sense at all.
Greg Jennett: Can it be done safely, age verification? I don’t know whether it’s through your driver’s license or other information that you’re going to have to give away to verify it, can it?
David Coleman: Yeah, there’s a range of different technologies. And people are moving forward in France and Germany and the UK. And as I said, there are technical complexities here, but you don’t not try something or pursue something because it’s complicated. The theory of relativity is complicated, but also very important, and so is this. And I cannot understand why the Government would make a decision that’s been welcomed by the adult industry, but condemned by the National Children’s Commissioner, which is what has happened here.
Greg Jennett: Alright, well, we’ll follow that through if we get the opportunity. Very quick, one final one, David. The Australia Post proposal to increase stamp prices. Sure, not everyone sends letters anymore. Thirty cents might seem modest to many, but are you opposed to that on cost of living grounds?
David Coleman: It is a very substantial price increase that they’re proposing, 25%. And in an environment of huge cost of living pressures, which we’re seeing under this Government, that is a very big number for it to increase by. We do recognise that Australia Post is facing structural pressures.
Greg Jennett: $384 million losses.
David Coleman: Yeah, Australia Post is facing pressures, we recognise that. But this is a very large increase and the decision-maker here is the Minister. It’s not the ACCC, it’s not Australia Post, it’s Michelle Rowland. And if she were to approve that increase, she would need to think very, very carefully about that and we would be looking at that very carefully ourselves. We’re particularly concerned about the regional network of Australia Post offices, and we want to ensure that regional network is protected. And we also think that cost of living considerations has to be paramount in the Minister’s decision here.
Greg Jennett: Okay, which also goes to, I suppose, the broader review that she’s conducting into Australia Post right now, which we will have further discussions too. David Coleman, thanks for joining us.
David Coleman: Thanks, Greg.