ABC Weekend Breakfast with Damian Drum

27 July 2019



ABC WEEKEND NEWS BREAKFAST with Josh Szeps and Johanna Nicholson


SUBJECTS: ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry Report, Drought

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: To help us answer these questions were talking now with Labor MP Matt Keogh and Nationals MP Damian Drum. Thank you both for joining us this morning. Damian I might start with you and well start off with this ACCC inquiry into Facebook and Google, calling for the Government to take action, to reign in the power of these companies. The Government has said it wont release its response until a bit later, until the end of the year but what do you think should be done in response to this inquiry?

DAMIAN DRUM MP: Well its good news that the Government acted late in 2017 when we instructed the ACCC to conduct the inquiry way back then so we could see what was going on, we could see the problems that were emanating and to act so far away has meant the ACCC has been able to do an 18 month inquiry into this, handing down their 23 recommendations just the other day. Thats given us ample time now to put this out to the community, to do the consultation process. We expect in about 12 weeks well be able to consult with the community, with the industry, to make sure we protect consumers privacy rights, to make sure we create some more transparency and I think weve got the timing about right. We saw the big fines that came out of America just yesterday, huge fines of $7 billion. This is a real issue and its good to see the Australian Government is ahead of the game.

JOSH SZEPS: Matt the revolution thats taken place in information technology, going from an industrial economy to essentially an information technology. People are talking about it as a whole new form of capitalism, a kind of surveillance capitalism; were all using apps that are watching us all the time. Tailoring it to us and sharing our data in very complicated ways that regulators arent necessarily up to speed with. This is something that goes far beyond any nations borders, certainly beyond a medium sized country like Australia. Is there much we could do or should we be trying to work with other partners to regulate how these companies behave?

MATT KEOGH MP: Yes Josh youre right, theres a real difficulty when youve got these companies who operate on a global scale, how do you regulate them when they can potentially move themselves offshore and theyve become such an integrated part of our everyday life that of course Australian consumers dont want to lose access to the positive benefits that they bring. What is very important and this is mentioned in the report that came from the ACCC is making sure youve got synergies in approach between what we do and other nations. So youll see the EU for example has enforced things on google and its bringing in similar things in Australia. Its taking say the best of some of the other regulatory methods around the world and doing the same thing here so youre not creating those differences, a regulatory arbitrage which is a real risk with these sorts of huge, multinational entities.

NICHOLSON: What about Matt the potential for breaking up these companies. Thats something that the ACCC didnt call for in its recommendations but do you think given how much power theyre gathering, that could be something we look at in the future?

KEOGH: Its something the American competition framework has had for a long time; Europe has looked at going down that. Thats a great example of where Australia can run into trouble. How do you tell a Google to break itself up in Australia if theres no similar requirement in Europe or the US? But I think one of the recommendations is looking at the application when there acquiring even more power not misusing that power and its making sure weve got good applications there. Thats one of the concerns I do have. Not only has this review taken 18 months, we were asking the government to do this three years ago and theyve said in principle they like it but its probably another 12 months again before we actually see any action on this.

SZEPS: Damian, Matt just mentioned getting peoples consent using their data for privacy; this is something the Europeans have been struggling with as well. When you go to a British website Im sure were all well aware of when you have to click a little OK button every single website you go to because it says were putting cookies on your system and so on and eventually it just becomes a background din, it doesnt actually do anything, you just go yes yes yes yes yes. Are there more sophisticated ways we can think about empowering people to have control over their data than simply clicking yes every time they visit a website or open an app?

DRUM: I think the consultation process will find out those new ways of doing just that. But I think yes youre right. Were all sick of having our privacy not totally inflicted but certainly disturbed by the way you the world seems to know what youre doing. The world seems to know what restaurant youre in, the world seems to know what department store youre in, where youve been and I think so much of the information needs to be protected for our consumers. I think thats what well end up doing. We need to create more transparency, we need to make sure theres no anti competition in relation to whats happening and I think theres a great opportunity for us to act now in accordance with what mainstream Australia would expect us to do.

NICHOLSON: Well Damian it does feel a bit like the horse has bolted. Is Matt right in saying the Government has been a bit slow to act here?

DRUM: Well the opposition will always say we should have done it with a different colour, or we should have done it sooner or later or some other way. The fact is we acted 18 months ago, we could see the trends happening, we gave the ACCC 18 months to do a thorough investigation. It handed down 23 recommendations and were going to now take this to the industries. We need to make sure our news and our media outlets are protected and our consumers are protected. We will do what we have to do. Weve got a great base to work from now weve got the ACCCs report and recommendations in front of us and weve given ourselves the time to do it properly. The call has come for regulation and possibly legislation so we will do that. But again this is an ever changing landscape and we have been ahead of the game and we will continue to stay ahead of the game to protect Australias people.

SZEPS: Matt, one of the ACCC recommendations has to do with fake news and exactly how social media platforms should present us with news that might be misinformation or might be fake. Thats going to raise freedom of speech concerns because why cant I put my spin on the world and who is Facebook to tell me what Im saying is a distortion of the truth if I firmly believe it. Are you confident that regulators and governments can navigate that water?

KEOGH: Yes I saw those recommendations and look its a fraught area because youre essentially saying we want government to get into regulating what can be broadcast and how is that prioritised. I think also its really important to recognise the way in which entities like Facebook and google put their own manipulation over the top of that. Partly its about understanding how that works so theres transparency and a big part of this is also upskilling our population. Making sure that we have better digital literacy so people are able to better understand what theyre seeing at the top of their feed may not be the most accurate information it might be the way in which someones been able to manipulate those algorithms to get to the top of the feed and we do need to increase our digital literacy across the country on that as well as getting these companies to acknowledge that and be transparent about how they operate those systems so people can properly understand what theyre being presented with.

NICHOLSON: Alright, well this week new research came out saying that the speed and extent of global warming exceeds any similar event in the last 2,000 years. Damian on this issue you spend a lot of time in regional areas with people who are particularly feeling this drought. Is the Government treating this as the emergency it is?

DRUM: I think they are in relation to on the ground support and the emergency services were delivering to our people but the bigger issue has to do with our water policy. So right throughout the Goulburn Valley and Southern New South Wales weve got a situation where farmers are being forced off their land, forced off their farms. Theyve had their farms successfully for 20, 30 years; theyve been forced off their land because they dont have enough water. Yet the water is running down our rivers at near spilling capacity. So its this ridiculous situation where weve given so much water back to the environment that we need to fix that balance up to enable our farmers to continue to farm.

NICHOLSON: Obviously this has all got to do with climate change too Damian, I mean weve got Pacific countries calling on Australia specifically to do more about climate change policies so how do you measure up these things?

DRUM: Water allocation has nothing to do with climate change so

NICHOLSON: Surely the amount of water we have does.

DRUM: Yes so in years of diminished rainfall and run off into our river systems into our reservoirs, thats when the price of water spikes uncontrollably. Right now its $600 per mega litre. Most farmers are out of the game when the price of water goes past $200. Weve got a situation here where theres so much water running down the rivers for trade flows and also for environmental flows that theres actually water being done to our river system and every environmental scientist will agree there is damage being done to our rivers in the middle of a drought because theres so much water running down the rivers. Yet our farmers cant touch it. We really have to look at the purpose of these flows. Weve got environmental flows running down the middle of Goulbourn in the middle of winter to aid fish breeding facilities so weve got to find the right balance here to decide how much do we want to sacrifice in relation to our farmers welfare, to breed healthier fish.

SZEPS: Matt, were seeing more erratic weather systems all over the place. IN some cases that might mean more rainfall, in some places it might mean more cyclones, in some places it might mean drought. How do you manage that when youve got a very large country thats very dependent on our agricultural sector but in increasingly unpredictable weather systems.

KEOGH: There is a role for Government to play in mitigation systems and funding those. At the moment we see, whether its through drought and drought relief, we would like to see the government do more of. They made a lot of noise this week about supporting farmers but the funding theyve committed to wont be delivered for another 12 months at least but we also see Governments paying out when theyre having to repay the damage from cyclones. What we need to see is Government also invest in mitigation strategies. How do we make sure our farmers are best prepared for the low rain season? How do we make sure the people in North Queensland or the north of Western Australia are prepared for floods and cyclone damage so that cost is mitigated against because were understanding that the risks that are coming from the risks and those cyclones are going to be more Sophia and more frequent. We cant just be continually trying to repair something. We need to make sure were investing in making those peoples lives better going forward, in a more sustainable way.

NICHOLSON: How would Labor do that long term?

KEOGH: Well obviously just post the election everything is on the table. But it is something I was discussing with colleagues just this week, that we need to be conscious of having broader solutions available to people. How do we acknowledge people live in these difficult climates and these climates are getting harder to live in. Were seeing more frequent storms, more regular drought, how do we help them? This is why weve had irrigation efficiency schemes along the Murray, to help farmers produce a higher yield using less water. One of the effects of how thats occurred as weve seen in reports over the last few weeks is were seeing less run off from those farms because of more efficient irrigation techniques and we need to make sure those things are factored in as well.

SZEPS: Matt on the question specifically on climate change and not just on water and drought. Your party, the Labor party got smashed in Queensland at the last election in part because of some level of ambiguity and concern in that state about what exactly your climate policy was and whether it would have a bad effect on the mining industry. Are you optimistic you guys can sort out a very clear path that will appease both sides rather than standing on two barges in the middle of the water that keep getting so far away from each other you end up falling in the lake?

KEOGH: Im quite optimistic and as the Shadow Minister for WA Resources Im very clear that we are the Labor party, we are the party for jobs and the Party of making sure weve got sustainable job availability. That includes making sure we support our resources sector, which is a key driver of jobs across the country and across many different commodities.

SZEPS: So youre not the party for climate if the climate interferes with jobs?

KEOGH: We can make sure that were able to deliver on climate change policy and we can deliver on jobs and that includes jobs in the resources industry.

SZEPS: You cant do both

KEOGH: Absolutely you can josh and thats one of the dichotomies the Government tried to push against us last election which was incorrect. We got muddled in our language, I accept that and thats why Im being very clear with you today. We are absolutely a party that supports the resources industry and we also acknowledge, unlike the Government, that things need to be done more constructively around climate change. The country is crying out for a policy, any policy from Government. Theyve been there for 6 years and weve still got nothing from them.

NICHOLSON: Damian your response to that?

DRUM: Well weve got more solar panels going in in Australia per capita than anywhere else in the world. Weve got nearly double our closest competitor. On a per capita basis the amount of solar panels going in around Australia. People saying were not acting on climate change, were not acting on renewables. Its just an absolute furfy. We are leading the world, we are going to smash our Paris commitments, and we are so far ahead of our Paris commitments. I dont know what people want us to do; we are already on track to deliver our commitments on a global station. However we need to make sure we bring our people with us and dont go running off and smashing our communities and smashing the economies in the process. We can do it all, weve got the track record to suggest we can keep the economy going strong but we can also lead the world as I said with solar panels on a per-capita basis.

NICHOLSON: Right, Damian Drum, Matt Keogh, thanks for your time this morning.

KEOGH: Great to be with you guys.