Topics:  Online safety; Australia-PNG relations; Tone deaf ACTU statement;  

07:45AM AEST
23 April 2024


Pete Stefanovic: Let’s bring in the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham now. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, who are you taking in this war of words between Anthony Albanese and Elon Musk?


Simon Birmingham: G’day, Pete. Well, I think it’s a pretty clear message for social media companies, and that is that there’s one law in Australia everybody should comply with the law in Australia. And our law has been built on the basis of Australian values and Australian standards, and which are that we don’t want our children or other Australians exposed to dangerous, violent online content. And we do expect social media platforms to be able to use their immense technological power and prowess to be able to remove such content. If you think about what social media companies are able to ram down your throat through their algorithms and targeted content, they definitely have the capabilities and power to remove this stuff and to do so much faster and more comprehensively than they choose to do so at present.


Pete Stefanovic: Elon Musk’s argument, though, is that that is an attack on free speech, and it leads to the distribution of propaganda, though. I mean, is he- well, he appears to be trying to take the high road on that. Is he right on that front?


Simon Birmingham: Well, he’s dead wrong. Now, we all support legitimate free speech. But ultimately, these freedoms do have limits when it comes to content and information that can be harmful. And in this type of case, what we know is that images such as the stabbing of Bishop Emmanuel are not only disturbing in and of themselves, but they are frequently used by people to stir up trouble in communities through coupling of disinformation and misinformation with that imagery. So there are multiple layers of reasons as to why this stuff shouldn’t be online, shouldn’t be accessible to children and others. And Elon Musk’s arguments run completely counter to the facts and the evidence as to how this type of information is used in a dangerous way that drives disharmony and discord within our community.


Pete Stefanovic: The takedown of the vision, though, I mean, what’s that going to achieve in the long run? Because it seems as though Elon Musk has got no intention of playing ball here, and it’s his business. He doesn’t appear to care.


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is where, if need be, laws need to be further strengthened and action will have to be taken. We’re proud to have been the parties, the Liberal and National parties in government who established the eSafety Commissioner, who put in place the Online Safety Act, who put in place the types of powers to try to drive these sorts of takedown arrangements. But of course, these things in a battle against emerging technologies cannot be set and forget. That’s why the Albanese Government needs to look at what powers are necessary and what enforcement is necessary, and to get social media companies to take notice and to behave like decent moral citizens, rather than outliers who are allowing all sorts of material to propagate.


Pete Stefanovic: Anthony Albanese, he’s in Papua New Guinea this morning. He’s about to do the Kokoda Trail – these days after China inked new trade deals with PNG. So, we will always be closer but money talks at the end of the day. So, what are your thoughts on PNG at the moment?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s welcome the Prime Minister is in Papua New Guinea. The visit just before Prime Minister Albanese, of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, is well and truly a reminder that the battle for the relationships and positions of different countries across our region is a constant one, and there will be no let up in it. There will be a consistent attempt to try to shape and frame those relationships by others and by China in particular, in different ways. And we need to make sure that Australia, and together with all of our other friends and partners, are there and driving those relationships forward in ways that underpin respect for the sovereignty of those countries and get to ensure that whether it’s Papua New Guinea or any others, they understand that our relationship, our funding, our values are all about support for them and their future and do so in ways without inappropriate strings attached or any other type of undermining of their systems.


Pete Stefanovic: Just a final one here, Simon. The ACTU has this morning called on the government to end military trade with Israel, enforce targeted sanctions against offending officials and inject another $100 million of humanitarian aid into Gaza and West Bank. What do you make of that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this ACTU statement, this two-page statement, it doesn’t mention Hamas once and was released on the eve of Passover. It is a completely one-sided statement that shows no consideration for the role that terrorists have played in relation to the conflict happening in the Middle East, and that is completely tone deaf in terms of the timing, to put it out at such a sensitive time for Australia’s Jewish community, and the ACTU ought to be apologising for the timing and ought to be reconsidering the content of that statement.


Pete Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, thanks, as always, for your time.