Interview on 4BC Drive with Scott Emerson

Topics: Media bargaining code; Jobseeker increase



Scott Emerson: There’s been a very big day in Canberra today. Obviously, the breaking news this afternoon has been the agreement for Facebook to return to news content next couple of days after an agreement was reached with the federal government earlier in the day. I think the big story was the increase in JobSeeker, an extra 50 dollars a fortnight. Now, Simon Birmingham is the federal minister for finance. He’s got part of the purse strings he’s got to look after and he joins me on the line now. Minister, thank you for being on 4BC Drive.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Scott. It’s great to be with you again.


Scott Emerson: Now, get on to JobSeeker in a moment, Minister. But first off, the decision regarding Facebook. How hard was that negotiations between the treasurer and the head of Facebook?


Simon Birmingham: Well, full credit to Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer. He had multiple discussions right off of Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg and throughout the weekend and in recent days, either side of it, and indeed over a much longer period of time, the negotiations to reach a point where we can have confidence that these big global tech giants, Google and Facebook, will actually enter into agreements with Australian news media organisations to pay for the content that is shared on those tech platforms. And that’s ultimately what all this is about is I think we discussed the other day the importance of making sure that Australian journalists still work for viable Australian news organisations, generating stories about Australia from Australia. And we want to make sure that these global tech companies, who many people now use as platforms to look at read and view news, are actually contributing to the news content that is being generated.


Scott Emerson: Now, Facebook was taking a very hard line last week. Did they blink today?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve negotiated some very minor changes to the legislation that we’ve put in through the parliament right now. These are changes, for example, to establish a two month mediation process if the parties can’t manage to reach agreement between themselves. So that type of thing is a very minor change, some technical changes about the way in which the code, the mandatory code will be triggered. But all of these changes, we hope, will encourage Facebook now to negotiate with Australian news media companies in exactly the same way as Google has already done. Google has already done deals with many Australian news media companies to pay them on the basis of the news content that Google shares from Australia. And hopefully Facebook will now get on and do the same thing. It’s positive that we’ve reached this point in the legislation and it’s positive that they’ve indicated they intend to step down from the ridiculous and inappropriate blocking of certain Australian news and information sites.


Scott Emerson: Minister, this is- the world was watching this battle. This is a big win for the Morrisson Government to take on the social media giant that the kind of the monopoly holder on social media in terms of what we’ve been seeing there, do you think now, given we’ve seen this result, that other nations will now take Australia’s lead, take the Morrison government’s lead in implement and similar legislation?


Simon Birmingham: I think many other countries, will look carefully at what has occurred in Australia and news organisation, as in many other countries, will absolutely take a close look at what’s happened here and will talk to their governments about it and where you’ll have a little bit of parochialism about us as different countries. Quite understandably so. We want in Australia for the stories of our country to be told by Australian journalists working for news organisations based here in Australia. And for that to happen, they have to be viable. Somebody has got to be paying for the content that people are reading, viewing, listening to you run ads on your programme to help pay the bills. But of course, if somebody were to go and pick up extracts of your programme and just replay them for free endlessly without those ads, well, that would undermine the revenue of the radio station that you’re working for that pays your wages and your producers wages and everybody else. And so this is the problem we’ve been grappling with. Other countries are dealing with the same problem. I’m proud that we’ve managed to tackle this and set some global leadership, just as Prime Minister Morrison did after the Christchurch terrorist attacks, when he went onto the world stage and got other countries to agree with us that there should be some standards that force the taking down very, very quickly of those horrific types of scenes that the Christchurch terrorist attacker tried to relay to the world or did relay to the world through these same types of platforms. We’ve got to hold them to account in this modern era for the enormous power that they wield. Do it in a way that’s responsible, recognising that they provide important services, but that we should expect the same sorts of standards of them around content and around paying for content as we do in the physical world.


Scott Emerson: This has turned to the increase in JobSeeker an extra fifty point a fortnight. Why that amount?


Simon Birmingham: So this is after careful consideration about the very long running debate that has existed as to whether JobSeeker is adequate and by acting and increasing JobSeeker by fifty dollars a fortnight, our government is applying the largest increase to JobSeeker since 1986. So it’s a very significant step taken today. But I know it will be criticised by many who claim it should be even more. What we’ve sought to do is to provide any increase that we don’t think dis-incentivises people from looking for work. In fact, we’ve accompanied this increase with some tighter mutual obligation requirements around those who receive JobSeeker having to definitely be looking for work, being audited and scrutinised more in terms of their search for work and their acceptance of work where it’s available so that Australians can have confidence. There’s a balanced package there that, yes, there’s an increase in the payment, but there’s also scrutiny to make sure that people will actually use that allowance. They’re being paid through JobSeeker to sustain themselves while genuinely looking for work.


Scott Emerson: All right, then, Simon Birmingham, I really appreciate you being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Scott. My pleasure.