Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 18 February 2021
Scott Emerson: The Minister for Finance. He has had a very, very big day, not just obviously with the unemployment figures coming down, they've been good, some good numbers. The numbers have dropped again, which is great news given what's happening across the world. We're doing a lot better and the rest of the world at the moment in terms of the recovery coming out of COVID. But obviously, Facebook has been dominating all the news today in terms of this Facebook really taking on the Morrison Government and its media laws. I'm joined now by Simon Birmingham on the show. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive.
Simon Birmingham: Hello Scott, it's great to be with you again.
Scott Emerson: Now, first, let me talk about before I get to the unemployment figures, the stoush with Facebook this morning, were you taken aback by the decision by Facebook to close down access not just obviously to news sites, but a lot of community sites out there as well?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it was quite a shock and quite shocking in terms of what Facebook did. I think everyone would acknowledge they've lost a lot more friends as an entity across Australia today than they've gained. And from the government's perspective. And what we've been seeking to do is to make sure that in the online environment, the same type of rules and expectations apply as in the physical world, in the real world. And that includes that when journalists write stories and newspapers and media organisations publish stories that they have to be paid, if somebody else is going to go and reproduce them or publish them elsewhere, that you don't get to take somebody else's copyright or material or intellectual property and use it for your own profit or benefit without actually rewarding that person. And that's what this whole dispute has been about. We've been negotiating for some time and have also developed legislation to put in place a code of conduct there. And it can allow Australian media companies to negotiate with the big global technology players and get a fair outcome. And really, pleasingly, Google has been doing that and has reached commercial agreements under those terms with a number of Australian media companies. And Facebook today acted in a way that I think really showed a level of contempt. And the Australian Government, I can assure all of your listeners, will not be deviating in terms of our policy approach. We want to make sure that Australian media, Australian content that is produced in Australia for Australia by Australians isn't abused by global media giants, but is instead paid for when they reproduce it.
Scott Emerson : From what I understand is that behind the scenes, there's an expectation from the federal government that just like happened with Google, Facebook would come to the table and then eventually get some sort of negotiated some deals with some media organisations. But that obviously changed over the last 24 hours. What happened to make suddenly Facebook push the button and cut out not just obviously those news outlets, but all those community organisations as well?
Simon Birmingham: I'm not entirely clear, Scott, as to is certainly what made Facebook take such dramatic action and action that I think will have a lot of anger and contempt from Australians towards Facebook as a global company. And people will likely be frustrated when they see important government information services, health services in the middle of a pandemic where the services that it's so crucial in a country like Australia or even community services and organisations facing problems being targeted in this sort of way by Facebook. What I do know, though, is that the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, spoke with the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, this morning, and they discussed a few issues of continued concern. And the treasurer also made clear his concern at the action that Facebook had taken. And I'm pleased that at least some of those actions have been reversed. And I urge Facebook to reverse the whole lot and demonstrate that they can be a citizen and a global citizen who engages in good faith in these sorts of discussions with governments and ultimately to properly come to the table and make sure that Australian content is paid for when they use it.
Scott Emerson: Well, Josh Frydenberg also said that while that conversation was cordial, he'd also had conversations with many of his counterparts across the world who all said, we're watching these laws very closely. Don't back down, don't back down on these laws you're putting into parliament to deal with this issue. Obviously, is the issue not here, just in Australia, but across the world. Are you also aware of those kind of conversations with your counterparts around the world? They're watching this very closely to see how Australia acts on this and on taking on Facebook.
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, Scott. And our government has proudly sought to provide some global leadership, not just on this issue, but on a range of issues when it comes to how we deal with the world that we live in nowadays. Is where these technology companies have become massive global players and influencers in different ways, and so the types of steps we've taken be it from the earliest days of establishing the safety commissioner in Australia, putting in place legal frameworks where horrific content can be taken down through mandatory orders, the type of work that the Prime Minister did following the awful Christchurch massacre that was live streamed on some of these platforms to get other countries around the world to agree to higher standards and similar expectations about how quickly these companies will act to stop the streaming and remove content in those sorts of horrific circumstances. And, of course, here making sure that if we want to make ensure that Australian voices, Australian media can continue to be viable in reporting on what happened in Australia and carrying those that news to Australians that they also need to be paid for the use of that content.
Scott Emerson: Now, Simon Birmingham also-
Simon Birmingham: Don't get a free ride.
Scott Emerson: No, they don't. Exactly. Right now, Simon Birmingham, just very quickly, great numbers today. We've seen the unemployment numbers again fall six point six per cent, down to six point four per cent in January. The economy seems to be doing very well at the moment compared to what really we were expecting it.
Simon Birmingham: It is tracking. Well, Scott, we were just talking about global comparisons. And if you look around the rest of the world, in many other countries, their economies have continued to shrink, their unemployment queues have continued to get longer. And yet here in Australia, our economy has been back to growth. Our unemployment queues have been coming down, and the unemployment rate today coming down yet again. Another 29,000 jobs, all of which are full time being created across the Australian economy for that month, which means we've seen around 350,000 jobs created in the last four months and then around 93 per cent of those who lost their job or were stood down to zero hours at the height of the pandemic have had work come back. And that is a real testament to the resilience of the Australian economy. We know there are some still doing it tough out there. And we know that we won't be able to save every single business or every single job from the disruption. But-
Scott Emerson : All right, Simon Birmingham. We are coming up to the news, but great result, the unemployment. Thanks for being on for 4BC Drive this afternoon.