Thu, 07 Mar 2024 - 17:30



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




7 MARCH 2024

CHRIS KENNY: I want to go back to federal politics matters now and catch up with the manager of opposition business, Paul Fletcher, joining us from the Sydney CBD. Thanks for joining us, Paul. I'm very interested in your thoughts as a former communications minister about what's going on with the digital giants here in Australia at the moment and Meta or Facebook looking to end these deals where it actually pays Australian media companies some share of the money it makes from hosting their content. Um, these laws will bring in brought in under the coalition government. They, aim to sort of coerce or encourage companies to make these deals. And that's what happened But now that a deal has been broken off, what sort of action must the government take?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, thanks, Chris and good to be with you. You're right that the news media bargaining code was legislated under the Morrison government, passed the parliament early 2021 after that notorious day, February the 18th I think it was when Facebook shut down the Facebook pages of Australian news media businesses as well as a rape crisis centre and health departments and other vital community services. And there was strong cross-party support for those measures. What those measures seek to do, as you rightly said in your introduction, is essentially bring the parties to the bargaining table. If Google and Facebook, if these digital platforms are using content that is paid for, generated and paid for by Australian news media businesses. So it might be you know, a 90 second clip from National nine news. It might be that a Google search leads you to an article in the Herald Sun. Uh, that is content that's been paid for by Australian news media businesses. Yet it's helping the digital platforms attract eyeballs, so they should be paying for it. In a normal competitive market. They would be commercially negotiating for it. What the news media bargaining code is designed to do is give the parties the incentives to sit down and negotiate commercial terms. As you say, it worked very successfully. Over $200 million estimated to be paid under the deals that have been done so far, some 11 by Meta or Facebook, I think around 19 by Google or Alphabet. But I should say that the code also contemplates that those deals might not be done voluntarily, and it contains a pathway for Australian news media businesses to be able to initiate a negotiation process and ultimately a compulsory arbitration. So there is a long way to go here. And a first step would be for the treasurer to what's called designate, meta or Facebook as a designated digital platform. Now the treasurer needs to receive advice from the ACCC to that effect. I certainly think that it would be a logical step for the current government to be calling for that advice and to consider pretty rapidly whether there is a case for Meta to be designated, which would then mean that an Australian news media businesses could initiate this process.

CHRIS KENNY: Yeah. Let's have a look at what the assistant treasurer had to say on this today

Obviously, a lot of money at stake for media, whether it's the ABC channel nine or News Corp who own this outfit of course. What could be lost here by consumers? Could you see a situation where Facebook and Google are actually blocked from operating in Australia if they don't pay their fair share?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, let's go back to the reason why the Morrison government introduced this legislation. It was, first of all, because of a competition policy problem that Google and Facebook have very substantial market power in the market for digital advertising. They're using that market power to compete with other businesses like News Corp, Nine Entertainment Limited, Seven West Media, uh, ABC So government owned, uh broadcasters as well. Um, and they're using their market power to avoid doing the commercial deals to pay for content that would occur in a normal commercial market. So that's a competition policy problem. It's also a media policy problem because it threatens to weaken our media businesses, weaken their capacity to pay for and deliver independent, quality journalism. Uh, and of course, that's also a problem for our democracy, uh, because a weak media, uh, is a problem in a, pluralistic democracy. Now, as the coalition's communications spokesman, David Coleman, has been saying in the Morrison government, period, there was engagement on this at the very highest levels. Then Prime Minister Scott Morrison was directly engaged, as was treasurer Josh Frydenberg. I was communications minister. The three of us worked closely together. We held conference calls with chief executives of Google and Facebook, for example. I think we need to see a level of engagement from the Albanese government. It's a bit troubling that so far we're only seeing the assistant treasurer, for example, and our government was the treasurer. -

CHRIS KENNY: Yes, I would have thought Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese need to step up on this one.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I think if you want to get an outcome from these guys, these are big, tough global players. You know, there have been several attempts around the world in earlier years in Spain, I think in 2014, Germany and other countries to try and get similar outcomes. Those outcomes all failed. What the Morrison government achieved was world leading, and there's been a lot of interest from around the world. We've got to make it stick -  

CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, it's being tested now and we need to see a bit of fortitude from the Albanese Labor government on this. Thanks for joining us, Paul, I appreciate it.