Friday, July 26, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Taking on big tech
The government and ACCC to crack down on the digital giants

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Source: Twitter

If it does indeed follow through on the recommendations from the competition regulator’s landmark Digital Platforms Inquiry, the federal government should be applauded for standing up to the world’s most powerful companies, Google and Facebook. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, speaking alongside Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, today hailed the ACCC report as “truly a world first”, and declared that “the government accepts the ACCC’s overriding conclusion there is a need for reform”. As with the laws banning the sharing of abhorrent material in the wake of the live-streamed Christchurch massacre, or with December’s rushed encryption-cracking “access and assistance” laws, the government has shown that it is willing to take on the tax-dodging US technology giants on behalf of Australian consumers and businesses. The usual threats of an investment strike – made by any industry facing regulation it doesn’t like – should be stared down.

As The Australian [$] and Guardian Australia have reported this afternoon, the ACCC has not recommended the break-up of Facebook or Google, which would be overreach, but which Australia would be powerless to do in any case. Instead, it has recommended a new digital division inside the competition regulator itself, to ensure that there is a level playing field, transparency and accountability between the platforms, advertisers and rival firms. This is encouraging, because the ACCC is one of those rare, trusted regulators that has not allowed itself to be co-opted by big business over three decades of neoliberalism – unlike its counterparts in the banking, property, agriculture or mining industries, to name a few. The overview of the ACCC report has some strong language, citing deep concerns ranging from “disinformation and harmful content, to the scope and scale of user information collected by platformers, and to the risk of exploitation of consumer vulnerabilities”.

Frydenberg sounded like he meant it today when he said that the digital platforms “need to be held to account, and their activities need to be more transparent”. Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers and shadow minister for technology Clare O’Neil said in a statement that the Opposition would consider the ACCC’s 23 recommendations, and observed: “Let’s not forget why the inquiry was commissioned in the first place: public-interest journalism. It’s not just police raids that make it hard for journalists to do their jobs these days. Digital platforms have disrupted and transformed a range of industry sectors, including the business models that underpin public-interest journalism.”

It was encouraging to hear Frydenberg welcome the ACCC’s focus on ensuring a viable media landscape, and particularly his observation today that “news and journalism is a public good”. The ACCC report makes worthwhile recommendations to support news media, including taxpayer funding for local journalism and tax-deductibility for non-profit public-interest outlets.

The report also recommends that digital platforms provide codes of conduct that govern their relationship with the media, including potential sharing of advertising revenue – but sadly, it suggests that negotiation of the codes will be overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, a co-opted and toothless regulator. ACMA is also given responsibility for providing oversight of processes for identifying fake news, which means the open slather is likely to continue. Nonetheless, the report was welcomed today by La Trobe University associate professor Andrea Carson, author of the newly released book Investigative Journalism, Democracy and the Digital Age, as the first indication of a political will for change in media regulation.

It’s about time.

“There is a [carbon] price … At the moment it’s implicit, and where do you see that price? You see it in the price of electricity and gas, and until we have a sensible set of policies that can be sustained in the long run, then we will have prices above what we need to have … The whole point of a price on carbon is that there is no other way, there is no way that can be cheaper than an emissions trading scheme.”

Outgoing head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson tells the ABC’s political editor Laura Tingle why Australia needs a price on carbon.

“I am a proud farmer in my electorate and I will always seek and receive briefings on policies that impact them.”

Energy and Emissions Reductions Minister Angus Taylor, claiming yesterday that he sought a 2017 meeting with environment department officials in response to farmers’ concerns over the listing of critically endangered grasslands. It transpired later that the farmers’ letter tabled as evidence in the Senate was dated almost seven months after the meeting.

Labor strategy and ‘the secret agenda’
The Labor Party has come back to parliament with a plan to ignore Scott Morrison, making the most of an ill-disciplined backbench.

The additional amount that Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s chief of staff, David Barbagallo, invested in the CruiseTraka app at the same time the company applied for financing through Queensland’s $80 million Business Development Fund.

“[The alcohol industry would] not be eligible for membership of the reference group … Australia does not support any ongoing role for industry in setting or developing national alcohol policy.”

The sentences that were deleted from the draft National Alcohol Strategy, according to leaked documents obtained by the ABC’s Background Briefing program.

The list

“Where once Australia looked like a pyramid in terms of its social strata, with the working class as its broad base and ballast and the rich at the top, it’s come to resemble something of a misshapen diamond – wide in the middle – and that’s no bad thing in and of itself. I say that, of course, as a member of the emblematically widening middle. The problem is those Australians the middle has left behind without a glance.”

Early last month, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un criticised and then suspended the latest Mass Games spectacle, held at Pyongyang’s gigantic May Day Stadium. Why?

“‘Watch out for the bat droppings,’ Ricardo says with a smile. Ricardo is a Portuguese architect turned rideshare driver whom I met through a service for travellers undertaking long-distance intercity road trips. When, on our arrival in the university town of Coimbra, he discovered I had been lured to his country by its majestic libraries, Ricardo appointed himself as my unofficial tour guide.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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