Fri, 22 Mar 2024 - 17:12



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




22 MARCH 2024

ERIN MOLAN: And joining me now is shadow government Services minister Paul Fletcher. Paul, great to see you.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you Erin. 

ERIN MOLAN: Thank you for coming in. I wanted to talk off the top. We know that Border Force is shutting down claims that some materials found late this afternoon off the coast of WA are from a new asylum seeker boat. But you know as well as anyone that even just the headlines of it will be used by people smugglers. This is just further evidence that any weakness, even if it is the same vessel from a month or two months ago, is still going to hurt us. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, let's wait and see what the facts are. But what we do know is certainly last month there was an arrival. And indeed the arrivals, those who had arrived were essentially discovered by  local Aboriginal residents. Um, the government was very unclear as to when they first discovered that people had arrived on an unauthorised maritime arrival. And yes, this is of concern. It's the government has an obligation to keep Australians safe, to maintain border protection. And what we have seen, sadly, from Andrew Giles and from Clare O'Neil, is a real lack of confidence. Australians really can't have much confidence that this pair is on the job. 

ERIN MOLAN: China's foreign minister is in the country at the moment. How would you rate at how Labor is handling this? Paul Keating the meeting obviously hurt them. Are they weak on China? Are they pandering to China, do you think, or are they doing the best job they can in difficult circumstances? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, obviously the relationship with China is very important. We want to have a mutually respectful relationship with China. But at the same time, there are differences in values between Australia as a democracy and China. It's a very important trading relationship. Um, and, uh, you know, we saw a lot of claims from the Labor government coming into the last election that in some way they could manage the relationship better. I think what's becoming clear with every passing day is that the coalition government got the balance right. Uh, and it is important to be advancing Australia's national interests in engagement, uh, with the Chinese government, obviously maintaining a mutually respectful relationship, but standing up for Australia and its interests. 

ERIN MOLAN: The United States is certainly standing up for themselves when it comes to Apple. They are suing Apple and America, accusing the tech giant of monopolising the smartphone market by illegally stifling competition. Paul, when you were the communications minister, you were one of the first people not just in this country, but in the world, to stand up to these big tech companies. It feels like the rest of the world is now following suit in a certain way. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, this is a very interesting development with the United States Department of Justice commencing action against Apple. Not the first time this has happened with huge tech companies. It happened with Microsoft in the 1990s, and in fact, going back to the 1970s and 60s, you had the Break-Up of AT&T, then the huge monopoly telco in the US. What the Department of Justice has said in its claim is that it's about Apple's enormous market power. They point out it's a company that had revenue of around 400 billion US net income, or profit of nearly 100 billion. This is a very large, profitable company, and they point out that it's using or their concern is it's using market power. They give several examples. One is that if you want to use if you've got an iPhone, but you want to use a smart watch other than the Apple Watch, then they use their control of the technology to make it less convenient to use other brands of smart watches. So that is an example of Apple using its market power. And the iPhone market to then extend into the smart watch market. And they give plenty of other examples. So look, I think people around the world will be interested to see how this plays through. They also talk about actually something else of interest to Australia, which is if you want to use your iPhone to tap and pay that third party providers, people, other than Apple who want to have that fact functionality, an app on an iPhone, Apple doesn't make that easy for you. And as we know, the banks in Australia have raised concerns about Apple's market power. So very interesting and important issues. 

ERIN MOLAN: I only smile when you're talking because my radio co-host, comedian Dave Hughes, was almost inconsolable this morning. He has a lot of Apple shares and he was very, very scared about what might be eventuating. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, ultimately this is about the interests of consumers. the US Department of Justice has talked about American consumers, but Australian consumers, all around the world. Look, Apple is a very innovative company, of course, and they've delivered great products. But at the end of the day, the issue is are they using their market power to make it impossible for people who've got an app that could, for example, deliver better services to consumers but Apple won't let them put it onto the App Store. Or, of course, the issue that Apple says if you come on the App Store, it's compulsory. We take 30%. Now there's separately legal action going on right now. Epic games, who make Fortnite have sued Apple in the US and they're also now suing them in Australia on that very issue. That's another example of market power. So it'll be interesting to see how the courts treat that in Australia and in the US 

ERIN MOLAN: The point I made earlier about you standing up to particularly social media companies, the coalition is now urging the government to, I guess, mirror what the US is doing when it comes to TikTok in terms of threatening to ban them if they don't sell off a major stake. Why? 

PAUL FLETCHER: So that one is a national security issue in terms of the actions that the US has taken, just to be clear on what the US has done so far, a bill has passed the House of Representatives. It would have to pass the Senate in the US to pass into law, but the House of Representatives have voted for it. Um, and what they've effectively said is if TikTok is to keep operating in the US its owner, ByteDance, the Chinese company would have to divest itself of TikTok. And the stated reason for that is because under Chinese national security legislation ByteDance is required, if asked by the Chinese government to hand over information about people who have used TikTok. And they're also required to do that in a way without disclosing it to anybody else.

ERIN MOLAN: Because they say ByteDance, that that's never occurred so far. Yes, the government has the power to do so, but if they can't disclose it when it does happen, how do we believe that? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, that is, I think, exactly the issue. And so in terms of how that plays through for Australia, what we've said is we're calling on Prime Minister Albanese to show leadership on this. He will be receiving briefings from our security agencies on these issues. And, um, he needs to explain to the Australian people what the Albanese Labor government is choosing to do on this. Certainly, we've said that if our major security partner, the US were to proceed to pass this into law, then it would raise some obvious questions for Australia about what we decided to do. 

ERIN MOLAN: Well, I note that the Chinese government was very happy with Albanese’s initial response to what the US was doing, which probably worries me more than anything. Uh, Paul Fletcher, brilliant. Thank you so much for your time. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks Erin. 

ERIN MOLAN: Really appreciate it.