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Breakfast with Neil Breen – 4BC

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash


Subjects: Omicron variant, social media defamation laws

NEIL BREEN: The federal government has unveiled strict new reforms which will crackdown on trolling and bullying on social media platforms. If the legislation passes, it'll be world first and among the toughest approaches to social media giants. Under the new laws, Australian courts will have the power to order social media giants to identify bullies and trolls that hide behind anonymous accounts. If the social media companies refuse or are unable to identify them, they'll be faced with massive defamation costs. Social media companies will also have to establish a quick simple and standardised complaints system. That's key. I think Attorney-General Michaelia Cash joins us on the line. Good morning, Minister.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning, Neil. And good morning to your listeners.

NEIL BREEN: One of the keys here is say Joe Blow or Jill Smith feels as though they've been defamed on social media, Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is, stumping up the cash to fight a defamation is difficult when you're taking on Google that's worth $500 billion.

MINISTER CASH: That's exactly right. But that's why, in a world first, as you said, we're introducing new powers to force global social media giants to unmask anonymous online trolls, but also to better protect Australians online. In terms of those who believe they may have been defamed, we're going to require social media companies to have in place a complaints process. And the first part of the complaints process is for the social media company to inform the online troll or the commentator, that the comment is potentially the subject of a defamation complaint, and then to work with them with their consent to take the comment down. Because often as you know, Neil, sometimes that's all the person wants, just get rid of the material. So in the first instance, that's what we're going to do. But if you are the person who believes no, I'm actually not happy with that, again, working with the social media company, with the consent of the online troll, if we can unmask you, that will give you the ability to take a defamation complaint against them. In the event, the social media company cannot or will not give you that information, guess what, you sue the social media company, so they will still remain liable. This is all about saying for too long, trolls, bots and bigots, quite frankly, has flourished online, behind the digital curtain of anonymity. Enough is enough. It's time to unmask patrols, but also to make the social media companies more accountable.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, the interesting thing here, Attorney-General is, you know, I've got a very strong newspaper background, and I've always worked for mainstream media companies, we've been subject to rules since the first day I put pen to paper as a journalist in the news, and then social media came along and said, oh, we can do whatever we want. Well the Australian Government, your government, is the first government pretty much on the planet to say no, you can't. I'm surprised worldwide.

MINISTER CASH: The Prime Minister has said for some time now, and as you know, this just builds on all of the work we've already done in the online space, working with Julie Inman Grant, as the E-Safety Commissioner, this now builds on that work. The Prime Minister is very clear, as you've just said, what happens in the physical world, you every day Neil, you have rules that you must play by. When it comes to the online world, why is it that there is still confusion about what you can and can't do? What happens in the physical world should happen in the online world, and we are going to force social media giants to take further responsibility, and work with us to unmask anonymous online trolls. Because the reality is for all of us, and in particular, when you look at that younger generation, the language they speak is the language of being online. Now if we accept that, we also have to accept as a society, you must do everything you can to ensure they are operating in a safe space. And the Prime Minister has said enough is enough. To the social media companies, you've got to put in place better processes, and to the online trolls that box and the bigger. We're over you, and we will take action and unmask you.

NEIL BREEN: Attorney-General, we applaud the government with what you've done here, and it had to happen, but it's great stuff. Can I ask you, Omicron, the panic over the weekend, the Prime Minister and Paul Kelly, the Chief Health Officer, they've been out this morning telling everyone to stay calm. And the last thing we need is for a panic across Australia as we approach Christmas and open borders.

MINISTER CASH: Look, that's exactly right. And we're obviously in the very early stages of understanding the Omicron variant. But as you can see from the statements made by the Prime Minister and the actions taken by the government over the weekend. We've taken measured responses, the monitoring continues, and additional responses may be required as new information is discovered. But what I would say to Australians is this, you are in one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. That is a good thing. More than 92% of the eligible population aged over 16 are now protected with a first dose, and over 86% have now received a second dose. So our starting position is a much better one than when we first had Delta come into the country, but also in comparison to other countries in the world. But I'd also say to those who haven't been vaccinated, this is why we asked you to get vaccinated because there will be new variants. And we do need to live with these new variants. And the best way you can do that is by joining you know the almost 87% of Australians who have had a second dose and by getting vaccinated yourself.

NEIL BREEN: Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, thanks for your time on for 4BC breakfast.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you as always.