The Corrs Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) group’s Election Policy Tracker reports on the various policies, announcements and public statements of the major parties in the areas of telecommunications, media and technology.
This April update focusses on funding commitments outlined in the Federal Budget, Coalition policies targeting social media companies and Privacy Act compliance and Labor’s recent statements on the nbn and media reform.
To access our March Election Policy Tracker click here.
To access our May Election Policy Tracker click here.
Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material legislation
In the last sitting week of Parliament, both major parties supported the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 which passed both houses.
The Act introduces two new offences relating to the notification and removal of ‘abhorrent violent material’:
- a requirement that social media platforms notify the AFP if they become aware abhorrent violent material is accessible through their service. A failure to comply will be punishable by fines of up to $168,000 for an individual or $840,000 for a corporation; and
- a new criminal offence for social media platforms who do not expeditiously remove abhorrent violent material, with a punishment of up to three years' imprisonment or fines of up to 10% of the platform's annual turnover.
The laws apply to both hosted service providers and social media platforms and commence immediately.
Key industry concerns with the new laws include:
- the possibility that the changes will encourage proactive surveillance of internet users by social media platforms and other content hosts;
- the application of the laws to services which enable content to be hosted and privately shared (i.e. email services) and the potential ramifications for end user privacy; and
- a lack of consultation with industry to ensure that the laws can be implemented as intended.
Status: The obligations under the Act have commenced. Importantly, while Labor supported the changes as part of its commitment to bipartisanship on national security issues, Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General, has stated that if they are successful in the upcoming election they will refer the laws to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence for a review and then amend the legislation as necessary.
The Coalition has announced a plan to increase penalties under the Privacy Act and introduce new obligations on social media companies and online platforms, including:
- increasing the maximum penalties for breaching the Act from $2.1 million to $10 million or three times the value of any benefit obtained through the misuse of information or 10 per cent of a company's annual domestic turnover – whichever is the greater;
- providing the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) with new infringement notice powers backed by new penalties of up to $63,000 for bodies corporate and $12,600 for individuals who fail to cooperate with efforts to resolve minor breaches;
- requiring social media and online platforms to stop using or disclosing an individual's personal information upon request; and
- introducing specific rules to protect the personal information of children and other vulnerable groups.
Status: The legislation to facilitate these changes is yet to be released, however the Coalition have committed to releasing draft legislation for consultation in the second half of 2019 (if they are re-elected). Labor has also made supportive comments about these changes indicating that reform is likely to occur.
Funding boost for OAIC
As part of the Budget, the Government announced that it will provide the OAIC with an additional $25 million in funding over the next three years to improve resourcing. The funding is designed to expedite the OAIC’s response to privacy complaints and support enforcement action against online platforms.
The boost in funding and proposed changes to the Privacy Act signal a significant shift in Government thinking about the importance of privacy and the functions of the OAIC. In the 2014 budget, the Government announced it would abolish the OAIC, with the functions to be absorbed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Attorney-General’s Department. However, the changes were abandoned when the Government did not have the support to pass the legislation.
Status: The funding was announced in the Budget and is likely to receive bi-partisan support.
Regional Broadband Scheme Reduction
The Government will reduce the cap on the Regional Broadband Scheme (RBS) from $10 to $7.10 per month. The RBS, which is yet to be legislated, would impose a monthly levy on fixed line services to fund service provision by nbn in remote areas where access is provided at a ‘loss’. The charge will be indexed yearly to the CPI.
As part of this announcement, the Government will also provide a five year exemption from the RBS charge for the first 55,000 greenfield premises activated on certain carriers.
Status: The RBS legislation is currently before the Senate.
ACMA to gain oversight of TIO; Carrier License charges to increase
The Government has announced that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will commence oversight of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), with responsibility for benchmarking and monitoring performance of the TIO and introducing enhanced public reporting on telecommunications complaints.
An additional $7.2 million will be provided to ACMA over the next four years to ensure consumers' issues with telecommunications services are resolved quickly and effectively.
This increased funding is being met by an increase in the Annual Carrier License Charge paid by telecommunications network operators, beginning in the 2020-21 financial year.
Status: The measures were announced in the Budget and are likely to receive bi-partisan support.
Labor commits to nbn’s ‘multi-technology mix’
In an address to the recent CommsDay Summit, Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications, set out Labor’s policy on the nbn. Notably, Labor has committed to working with nbn’s ‘multi-technology mix’ and has ruled out large scale changes to the nbn or network wide upgrades. This helps provide certainty to the industry in planning for what the national infrastructure will look like when the roll-out is complete in 2020.
Rowland announced that a Labor Government would conduct a review of the nbn’s ongoing financial position. This includes the implications of the multi-technology mix for nbn’s long-term cash flow position, capital structure, pricing evolution, options to grow revenue, options to reduce cost, and the capacity of nbn to co-invest in future infrastructure upgrades. We expect that this review will be the trigger point in Government for Labor to initiate structural changes to the economics of the nbn.
Labor has also committed to:
- an additional $125 million in order to fix in-home wiring problems for up to 750,000 people; and
- $60 million to conduct trials of targeted high-speed fibre connections for 20,000 people.
Status: We do not expect Labor to make any significant further policy announcements about the nbn prior to the election.
Reform of the Media Regulatory Framework
A Senate Committee report on Australian content regulations in the digital age was released in late March 2019, with Labor Senators recommending that a new regulatory framework which reflects digital modernisation be implemented. That said, both Labor and Coalition members have provided little detail about whether they support a specific legislated Australian content requirement for online streaming providers.
While Rowland appears to be advocating for ‘converged’ media control and content regulation, it is unclear at this stage whether this would equate to less regulation for traditional media or more for new media. Rowland has also said that ensuring local content is of great concern.
Status: Comments on this issue have been largely rhetorical, but a policy announcement is possible closer to the election.
This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.