Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – Sky News with Tom Connell- Misinformation Bill, Mike Pezzullo

Subjects: Misinformation Bill, Mike Pezzullo


Tom Connell: A lot of talk around misinformation in society today and this particularly increased in terms of talk about what to do about it during COVID. The Coalition previously spoke about introducing legislation for it, now Labor is taking up that mantle, but according to the Coalition, going way too far. Joining me now is Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman. Thanks for your time. You’ve been pretty strong on Labor’s Bill. Can you say succinctly the differences are what Labor’s doing, that you weren’t going to do that you have an issue with?

David Coleman: Oh Tom, we would never, ever do anything remotely like this. This Bill is quite extraordinary. It’s remarkable that the Government put it out in the first place and there’s numerous things Tom. Firstly, the Government is incapable of being involved in misinformation under this Bill. But if you criticise the Government, that can be misinformation. That’s absurd. Comedians are exempted under this legislation, but not Australians expressing religious beliefs. That’s completely absurd. The definition of harm under this Bill, Tom, is so broad it would capture thousands of things that Australians say every day about the economy, the environment, so many things. The definition of misinformation itself Tom, includes an unintentionally misleading statement. Now think about that. How many things do Australians say every day that one could argue were unintentionally misleading? This is just an absolute shocker of a Bill and that’s why pretty much to the broad cross spectrum of Australian society has slammed this Bill because it is an absolute disgrace.

Tom Connell: So the misinformation that the Coalition wanted to crack down on, so it was a Bill introduced by Paul Fletcher back before the election and never came to pass. What are some examples of misinformation that any Government should be free to crack down on in some way?

David Coleman: Firstly that’s not quite right Tom, so the Coalition didn’t put forward any legislation on this matter. It’s the Labor Party that’s done that. I mean, clearly there are issues around things like disinformation put forward by foreign states and the Senate Committee on Intelligence and Foreign Affairs has put forward some bipartisan recommendations there. But this Bill doesn’t do that. This Bill goes into day-to-day conversations by Australians and it’s a really fundamental point, Tom, because the ultimate defence, I just want to make this point Tom, because the ultimate defence we have in a democracy is the common sense of the average person, not a bureaucrat with a red pen. And this is about giving far too much power to bureaucrats and it’s completely unacceptable.

Tom Connell: Well, let me go to some examples that are happening out there at the moment. For example, the referendum a lot of information being put out there, a lot of misinformation, including stuff like, well, Dominion voting machines could rig the result of this referendum. Is that misinformation that Government should be able to crack down on in some way?

David Coleman: Well, Tom, I wouldn’t get into specifics, but what I would say is this. Whenever you start to say the Government is going to intervene in political discussion and say this can be said, this cannot be said, you are on very dangerous ground. And you’re right to raise the Voice, because in that context, there are many things that have been said where people say, well, that’s misinformation or disinformation. But often those things are really just disagreements about various matters. And ultimately, we should as a society trust the common sense of the average person. That’s the coin of the realm in this country and we should put our faith in that.

Tom Connell: All right but you can say it’s you know, a lot of that is sort of grey area, and that’s fine. What I gave you was not a grey area. If you’re going to talk around whether this information should be cracked down on or not and the Coalition did have a press release saying there would be legislation out on this area is the example I gave a clearly incorrect statement, a lie blatantly around dominion voting machines which don’t exist in Australia apart from all the stuff that’s out there about them. But if someone’s trying to undermine our democratic process, is something, is that something that should be cracked down on?

David Coleman: Well again Tom, I wouldn’t get into specific examples. I’d point to the Senate committee around foreign interference and so on-

Tom Connell: Why not, don’t we need to know examples? Legislation is full of, you know, definitions. We need to know examples, don’t we? Of what you’d consider something that could be censored or cracked down on in some way. What’s wrong with going through an example of it?

David Coleman: Well Tom, in advance of the next election, we’ll put forward all of our policies in the usual way. What we’ve got before us today is a Bill by the Government of Australia. We’re not talking about the bylaws for the local hockey club. We’re talking about the democratic free speech of Australians, and we have one of the worst pieces of legislation that has been put forward in recent times by an Australian Government. And a big part of my role, Tom, is highlighting the extraordinary failure of the Government on this legislation and we would never put anything remotely like it forward.

Tom Connell: And that’s fair enough to have that opinion and we will talk to Labor more about their policy if we can we’ve invited the Minister on, but I’m asking about your approach because the release that we had from Paul Fletcher I’ve spoken about, ‘we’ll introduce legislation this year to combat harmful disinformation and misinformation. It will provide ACMA with new powers to hold big tech companies to account for harmful content on their platform’. So, what sort of harmful content were you or are you seeking to crack down on?

David Coleman: Well again Tom, we’ll put forward our policies well in advance of the next election, which is still some at least 18 months or so away. The issue that we have before us today is the Government of Australia has a law, an exposure draft on the table today, and you don’t put out an exposure draft because you think something is a really bad idea. You put forward an exposure draft because you think it’s a really good idea. And it is very disturbing, to be frank, that this Government thought it was a good idea to put out this exposure draft because it is just so manifestly flawed and that’s why Anne Twomey, the Law Council, the Human Rights Commission and just about everyone under the sun has a problem with this Bill.

Tom Connell: I’ve spoken to people on the program that do have a problem with it, as I said, and it’s fair enough criticism of that. But I’m still trying to get more of an idea of your view. Here’s another example for you. What about someone out there saying that vaccines, any given vaccine, will give you autism? Is that the sort of thing that there’s a view there that that should not be the sort of thing that can just go unchallenged online?

David Coleman: Well Tom, there are various laws in relation to this through the Online Safety Act about different areas of bullying and harassment. There’s the issue around disinformation and so on and as I say, we’ll fully provide all of our policies on this well in advance of the next election. But what we’ve got on the table now is an actual law, and it goes Tom into political debate. It has no exemptions for political debate other than for authorised election material and for things that the Government authorises and it’s outrageous. And as I said, as a general principle, Tom, we should err on the side of trusting people to work out what they believe and what they don’t. It is a dangerous area where you start to say, we’re going to give bureaucrats the power to determine that. We have not done that in our history. We are one of the great democracies of the world Tom and that didn’t happen by accident, we need to be very cautious in this area.

Tom Connell: All right. Just finally, briefly, we’ve seen claims made about leaked texts concerning Michael Pezzullo, Anthony Albanese has asked him to stand aside while there’s an inquiry, is that an appropriate course of action?

David Coleman: I saw that Mr. Dutton had made some comments before and I support those and clearly now obviously there’s an investigation underway so I can’t really comment on that further. But I support what Mr. Dutton had to say.

Tom Connell: But he commented before the stand down decision had happened. Do you have a view on whether or not he should have been asked to stand down.

David Coleman: I actually wasn’t aware of that Tom that must have been quite recently. But the bottom line is it’s appropriate for it to be investigated and we will wait and see what comes out of that.

Tom Connell: Alright David Coleman I appreciate your time. Thank you.

David Coleman: Thanks Tom.