Subjects: Omicron variant, social media defamation laws
SYLVIA JEFFRIES: So let's bring in now Attorney-General Michaelia Cash in Canberra. Attorney-General, thank you for your time this morning. The Omicron variant we know has entered the country via Sydney. So does this put Aussies’ plans to reunite at Christmas in doubt? Should it?
MINISTER CASH: Well, in the first instance, we're obviously learning more every day about the Omicron variant. As a government, we have already put in place some very measured approaches to ensure that Australians are safe. What I would say to Australians is this though: we are now one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. We have, it's around now 87% of eligible Australians over the age of 16, have received their second dose. So we are actually in a very, very good position as a country. But at this point in time, we will take a measured approach. And I think as the Premier of New South Wales has said, Dominic Perrottet, we need to learn to live with the virus, but we have one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world and we come at this new variant from a very good position.
SYLVIA JEFFRIES: Okay, we'll get more on the federal government's response to Omicron with the Prime Minister in the next hour, but I'd like to talk to you if I can about your new anti-trolling laws to prevent defamatory comments on social media. How exactly will these laws tackle online bullies?
MINISTER CASH: Well Sylvia, this is all about keeping Australians safe online. In the first instance, we're going to ensure that Australians know that if a third party makes a defamatory comment on your social media page, you will not be liable for that, we will deem the social media company, the publisher for the purposes of those third party comments. And in relation to someone who believes they've been defamed online, we're going to get you to work with the social media companies. And with that person's consent to unmask that troll and in the event, the troll won't allow you to unmask them by the social media company, you can go to the Federal Court, and you can get an end user information disclosure order so that you are able to take action against the troll. For too long now, Sylvia, online has meant that you can be anonymous, and you can basically say terrible things about people. That is unacceptable. And we are now saying enough is enough. And we're going to give everyday Australians the ability to unmask these trolls, and we're going to keep them safe online.
SYLVIA JEFFRIES: Any crackdown on trolls, I think it's safe to say, will no doubt be supported by most Australians. However, most Australians can't afford to fund a defamation case. So will this legislation only protect the rich?
MINISTER CASH: No, absolutely not. In the first instance, when you work with a social media company, it may be that all you want is that allegedly defamatory content taken down, you can work with the social media company to actually have this person take down what they've said about you. And often for people, that's all they want. In the event that you're not satisfied with that and you're able to get the unmasking of the troll, whether it's via the social media company with consent or via the court, you will be then able to take defamation action. We're also going to ensure that the Attorney-General is able to intervene in appropriate cases. One of the issues with the online world in defamation is you know what the laws of defamation are in the physical world. But the online world the laws are still unsettled. So we'll also set up an appropriate mechanism for the Attorney-General to intervene on behalf of the complainant in appropriate cases. We need to send a very clear message to social media companies. Enough is enough. We need to ensure that all Australians, it does not matter who you are, you are online, you are operating in a safe space and you should never be subjected to derogatory and potentially defamatory behaviour.
SYLVIA JEFFRIES: Okay, so legally though this is quite challenging, right? We are one country up against global organisations. So let me ask you this for example, if an Australian citizen has set up their account in London, will they be subject to these new rules?
MINISTER CASH: So what we're going to do is, we're going to ensure that the social media company themselves have a nominated entity in Australia. So obviously, you will be able to serve that nominated entity in the event that a claim is made. We're also going to ensure that the country location data of where the comment itself is made, is provided to the person who believes they may have been defined. So there are a series of steps that are able to be taken, but this is in relation to nominated entities and comments that are made in Australia. Just on that global scale, though, this has actually been welcomed globally. And we've already had interest being shown from other countries. You'd be aware that this is a long time conversation that our Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been having at a global level, because you are right, this is not an issue just for Australia. We will take action to protect Australians online. But certainly from that global perspective, social media companies, they are on notice. It is time to step up and put in place those processes to ensure that those who use your services, in this case Australians, they are safe online.
SYLVIA JEFFRIES: We'll certainly be interesting to see how Facebook and Twitter respond in the coming days. Attorney-General Michaelia Cash we appreciate your time. Thank you.