Step into my parlour, said the spider to the fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour, that ever you did spy,
Oh no, no! then said the fly, to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up to your winding stair,

Can ne’er come down again.

Mary Howitt’s old poem could well be describing another web, the one that ensnares us all – the world-wide-web.

Every aspect of our lives is connected to this web – most notably our source of nearly all the information on which we base life’s decisions. It is because of this web that we are now in this predicament.

We have all been caught, and to quote Mary Howitt, we’re ‘ne’er coming down again’.

What I would like to do in this examination of the Government’s Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation Bill is:

  1. Describe the proposed Bill.
  2. Explain why governments relish having powers such as the ones this Bill will give them.
  3. Reveal how governments enlist third parties to shut down information they do not like.
  4. Show how governments themselves are the worst perpetrators when it comes to disseminating misinformation and disinformation.
  5. Predict that the Bill will not be kind to Christians.

1. The Bill
In January 2023, the Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, announced that the Albanese Government would introduce new laws to provide the media regulator – the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – with ‘new powers to combat online misinformation and disinformation’.

The proposed new bill, the Communication Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill, would:

  • Enable ACMA to gather information from global tech companies and require them to keep certain records about matters regarding misinformation and disinformation and provide those records to ACMA.
  • Enable ACMA to request industry to develop, vary and/or register a code of practice covering measures to combat misinformation and disinformation on digital platforms, which ACMA could then register and enforce.
  • Allow ACMA to create and enforce an industry standard, should a code of practice be deemed ineffective in combatting misinformation and disinformation on digital platforms.
  • Empower ACMA to regulate electoral and referendum content, but NOT the power to regulate political parties with regard to misleading and/or deceptive conduct.
  • Empower the Minister to direct ACMA to conduct investigations into any matter regarding misinformation or disinformation and empower the Minister to set the terms of reference for any such investigation.

The Bill also provides for significant penalties for digital platforms or individuals that do not comply with the Bill and/or the new codes and standards that the Bill creates. Penalties include:

  • Imprisonment of up to 12 months for providing false or misleading information to ACMA.
  • Non-attendance at an ACMA investigation hearing of up to 33 penalty units ($9,000) for each day of non-attendance.
  • Non-compliance with a registered code of up to 10,000 penalty units ($2.75m) or 2% of global turnover (whatever is greater).
  • Non-compliance with an industry standard of up to 25,000 penalty units ($6.88m) or 5% of global turnover (whatever is greater).

Other penalties may also apply.

The government, of course, will not be subject to any of these new laws. It has exempted itself.

Ms Rowland said the government was committed to introducing legislation which would fine social media companies for ­allowing misinformation or disinformation to be broadcast on their platforms.

Misinformation is defined as false information that is spread due to ignorance, or by error or mistake, without the intent to deceive’.

Disinformation is defined as ‘false information designed to deliberately mislead and influence public opinion or obscure the truth for malicious or deceptive purposes’.

“In the face of seriously harmful content that sows division, undermines support for pillars of our democracy, or disrupts public health responses, doing nothing is not an option.

“The proposal would empower the regulator to examine the systems and processes these tech giants already have in place, and develop standards should industry self-regulation measures prove insufficient in addressing the threat posed by misinformation and disinformation”.

Harsh words indeed.

In its submission to the draft bill, the Law Council of Australia warned that the proposal could have a ‘chilling effect on freedom of expression’ by allowing social media giants and the communications watchdog (ACMA) to decide what constitutes information, opinion and assertions online.

And in case anyone was thinking this is solely a Labor Party contrivance, before the 2022 election, the Morrison government pledged to, ‘… introduce stronger laws to combat harmful disinformation and misinformation online by giving the media regulator stronger information-gathering and enforcement powers’.

To cap it all off, waiting in the wings is ‘mal-information’, defined as truth which is used to inflict harm on a person, organisation or country’ and ‘information that stems from the truth, but is often portrayed in a way that misleads and/or causes potential harm’.

To invoke Climate Czar and former US Presidential candidate Al Gore, mal-information might be otherwise described as ‘an inconvenient truth’.

On Wednesday, Part 2 …

Thank you for your support.

Bob Day AO
Federal Director
Australian Family Party
PO Box 7
Houghton SA 5131
Mob 0412 791 920
Email director@australianfamilyparty.org.au
Web  www.australianfamilyparty.org.au

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