Google’s ‘disregard’ for Aussies exposed


Big tech's threats to punish Australians for proposed media reforms show its "sobering power" but are unlikely to be carried out, a senate inquiry has heard.

Treasury and Communications Department officials will front the inquiry on Monday, as it sits for the second and final day.

The federal government has stood firm in its push to force social media giants to pay for news content, despite an angry backlash from Facebook and Google.

Google threatened to remove its search engine from Australia users at the inquiry last month, but described the outcome as a "worst case scenario".

It has also launched a massive public relations campaign, including linking all Australian users to criticisms of the proposal.

Chris Cooper from Reset Australia - an initiative designed to "counter digital threats to democracy" - told the inquiry the backlash showed tech giants' "entrenched disregard" for the community.

"The last few weeks we have experienced the sobering power these platforms have over our lives," he said.

"Big tech has threatened to pull services from the country.

"They have altered the content that thousands of Australians see in the name of a media stunt, and they have actively used the monopoly control over information markets to try and influence Australian opinion.

"This reveals an entrenched disregard for community welfare and threatens to undermine Australia's public decision making processes."

Australians would be forced to find an alternative for the 95 per cent of searches conducted via Google if the company carried out its threat.

But although Google's threat should be taken seriously, it would likely prove "empty" given the value of the Australian market, he said.


Josh Frydenberg says he won’t back down over the laws. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Crosling
Josh Frydenberg says he won’t back down over the laws. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Crosling

"They know that when it comes to search, there's plenty of other search engines," he said.

"I think that is clearly a demonstration of a corporation that has too much power, to be able to threaten that kind of withdrawal of services that Australians rely on.

"So it's not an ideal scenario, and we shouldn't take it. But I do think that it's largely an empty threat."

But Dr Bronwyn Kelly, founder of the Australian Future Planning, warned the discussion had become "an attempt to solve the problems of some big private news businesses" that had not adjusted to the digital age.

She said conversation on diversity within Australia's media landscape had been sidelined.

"I'm sure this is a big turning point for Australia's democracy. We can make it or break it with the legislative decisions made here," she told the inquiry.

Dr Kelly said although it was "terribly sad" to see non-digital businesses in decline, there was a "choice wide open to them" to create a more sustainable business model.

She said Google granted news outlets access to a wider audience than they previously had.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed on Sunday that Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg had lobbied the government directly over the laws.

Google’s Mel Silva made the threat at the last sitting of the inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
Google’s Mel Silva made the threat at the last sitting of the inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

"Mark Zuckerberg didn't convince me to back down," he told the ABC's Insiders on Sunday.

Facebook has previously said it could prevent Australians from posting and accessing news content on its platforms if the bill was passed.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva argued the laws would make Google Search unviable, but conceded news searches accounted for only 1.25 per cent of searches conducted in Australia.

News Corp executive Campbell Reid said Google was prepared to punish "the whole of the country" over the proposal.

Independent senator Rex Patrick accused it of mirroring Chinese government tactics by strongarming Australia over an individual law it did not approve of.

The threat came after Google temporarily hid news sites from Australians in what Ms Silva claimed was an "experiment" that had been "forced upon us" by the federal government.

Originally published as Google's 'disregard' for Aussies exposed