Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020

By Matt Keogh MP

17 February 2021

Watch Matt's Speech here

It is no secret that our media landscape has been changing in recent years and, in many respects, not for the better—be it the small local newspapers going bust or the big media conglomerates buying up outlets across the country and consolidating them. There are a number of reasons for this but a lot of them come down to that old chestnut of money. In the golden days of television and meticulously thumbing through the newspaper, advertising bolstered the coffers of the media giants. Traditional media has been fighting for survival for years—ever since news hit the web and people realised they didn't have to buy the paper to read the news. All the while, the daily classifieds in local rags disappeared. Small businesses discovered online advertising and online news.

The classifieds were rivers of gold. Now they are Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and Perth Beer Economy. It was a perfect storm that can only be blamed on progress and the advancement of technology, where policy has simply not kept up. This doesn't dismiss the fact that, sadly, this has unfortunately resulted in many local news outlets shutting up shop. Between 2008 and 2018—that's 10 years—106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia, decreasing our media landscape by 15 per cent. Since just 2019, that number has nearly doubled to 200. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't helped with that either. We expect that the number has only continued to climb.

Amongst all of this, the two most ubiquitous platforms on the planet—Facebook and Google—have grown their rivers of gold in online advertising, driving users to their sites and therefore to their ads in part by displaying news content. But none of these 21st century rivers of gold benefit these same news providers. The platforms do not share any of that revenue, revenue partly generated by eyeballs looking for and interested in these news articles from the advertisers who used to advertise with those news publications. So it's only right that we find ways, such as through this code, to ensure that there is a mechanism to enable those news publishers to share in the revenues that the platforms partly derive from the output of such news publishers.

We need a code that regulates digital platforms and ensures that people get paid for the work they do. We must support journalists and the fearless work that they do and the newsrooms that they work in to enable them to do what they do in the public interest. We must ensure that they're paid properly for their work, because, as much as a journalist is 'only as good as their last story', even if that yarn was a cracker that got lots of clicks, it's not currency to put food on the table or pay the rent or keep a suburban newspaper alive.

Labor support the bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 before us today as amended by the government. We have offered in-principle support for a workable code from the outset. This code, after all, is a key recommendation of the ACCC, following the 18-month long digital platforms inquiry. We're disappointed at the delay and the uncertainty that has come with this process. The government did say that it would get it done last year. The delay has delayed potential revenue for these media outlets. We must, of course, also be careful in how we implement this legislation and the code with it. That's why it's important that there will be a review of this code in a year's time.

It is important also that we have some awareness of potential unintended consequences that can arise if this code and the agreements that are made under it or arbitrational awards made pursuant to it are wrong. The code requires the sharing of information, for example, and of algorithms used by those platforms, which the news publishers that make agreements with them will be allowed to assess, allowing them to ensure their content is more likely to be displayed in searches or in feeds. Not only may this result in important advertising by small local businesses being deprioritised or not viewed at all; it may also mean that larger media organisations and their IT teams that are much bigger than our local suburban and regional news outlets are able to employ are better able to leverage such algorithms at the further expense of those smaller suburban and regional outlets, making it harder for users to find local news and harder for local businesses to get in front of their local customers through these platforms. The capacity of smaller media players to collectively bargain with the platforms is a very important part of the code in this regard, but it may still not be enough. For this reason, vigilance of the practical effects of the code and the agreements made pursuant to it and the consequences of that will be vitally important.

In conclusion, it shouldn't go unnoted that this government seems perfectly happy for businesses to collectively bargain under this code and yet continually tries to undermine a worker's capacity to collectively bargain, such as with its newly proposed greenfield agreement provisions in its Fair Work Act amendments and it's continual attempts to undermine Australia's union movement.