Subject: Labor’s Misinformation Bill
Sharri Markson: As I mentioned at the start of the show, the Coalition today decided to oppose Labor’s misinformation laws. And joining me now is Shadow Minister for Communications, David Coleman. David, welcome to the program. Why have you made this decision and are you concerned that already, Australians are subject to too much censorship online?
David Coleman: Oh Sharri, look we made a very clear decision today that this Bill is just utterly unacceptable. I mean, this Bill, it should be torn up into little pieces and thrown in the bin. It is absolutely outrageous some of the material that’s in this Bill. It is so broadly defined that misinformation could capture so many statements by Australians, about politics and so many other things that it’s just a complete non-starter. It’s quite extraordinary that the Government has put this forward, that Minister Michelle Rowland has put her name to this. I think it is frankly, somewhat alarming. And look, it’s a terrible Bill and obviously our focus is very much on opposing it.
Sharri Markson: So at the start of the show, I spoke about if an individual is accused of misinformation they could be hauled into ACMA, and if they don’t show up, they could be fined $8,000 every single day. You know, is this right? Talk me through this and how is this appropriate?
David Coleman: Yes, look, I don’t think it is right Sharri. So basically under the Bill, if ACMA thinks a person has information about misinformation or disinformation on a digital platform that’s relevant to ACMA’s role, so that pretty much could be anyone that ACMA thinks has that sort of information, it could require documents from that person. It can require that person to appear before it, at a time and place of ACMA’s choosing. And if the person doesn’t appear every day, the fine is $8,000. And again, it’s just so broad. In a democracy like Australia, Sharri, safeguards around these issues are so important, and I don’t think that the average Australian would think that was appropriate. The other thing, Sharri, it’s a crucial point, any authorised content from the Albanese Government cannot be misinformation under this Bill. But if you criticise the Albanese Government, that can be misinformation.
Sharri Markson: Well, I wanted to ask you about it because often there’s political scare campaigns that you know, both political parties would say is misinformation. We’ve heard the Government describe members of the no campaign, accusing the no campaign of misinformation. So you know, under the legislation, could this be captured?
David Coleman: Yes, that sort of thing could be captured because it’s basically content which is misleading and capable of causing serious harm. It doesn’t have to be content, which is deliberately misleading. So the person could make that statement in good faith. There are some exceptions like for government content, for authorised content in elections and so on. But if a politician said something at a community meeting, or just put something on someone’s Facebook page or whatever, yes, that could be captured, absolutely. And if you’re the digital platform facing these big fines, what are you going to do? You’re going to say, ‘well, we better censor a lot of material because the last thing we want is to get a massive fine from ACMA’. And so, when the Government says ACMA is not directly censoring information I mean, it’s not really relevant because ACMA is in control here. And the platforms will not want to get those fines and so they will self-censor.
Sharri Markson: Yeah, it’s absolutely extraordinary. David Coleman, thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.