01 March 2024

The Hon Michelle Rowland MP
Minister for Communications

The Hon Stephen Jones MP
Assistant Treasurer
Minister for Financial Services




SUBJECTS: Passing of Senator Linda White, Meta’s announcement on Australian media content, Telstra’s Triple Zero outage

STEPHEN JONES, ASSISTANT TREASURER: We are making a statement regarding the decision of Meta today in relation to news media in Australia. And we'll take some questions, obviously. But before we do that, we'd both like to put on the record our deepest sympathy and regret that Senator Linda White has passed away overnight.

I've known and worked with Senator White for close to 30 years now, a more passionate, energetic and intelligent person you could not meet. She dedicated her life to advancing the interests of women in the workplace, women in relation to superannuation - particularly service workers - and made a tremendous contribution to the labour movement and Victoria. I want to pass on my sympathies to her and condolences to her family and friends - she's going to be severely missed.

Earlier today, Meta advised that, in relation to the markets of the United States and Australia, it no longer intends to pay for the news media content that is published on its website.

The Government takes the view that this is a dereliction of its responsibility to Australia, in particular its contribution to the viability of journalism and news media content in Australia.

We're deeply disappointed and we've advised all of the publishers today that the Government will be taking all of the steps available to it under the News Media Bargaining Code from the Prime Minister to every Minister in his Government.

We want to make it quite clear that we're backing Australian journalism. To back Australian journalism means we have to have a viable news industry here in Australia. To have a viable news industry here in Australia, we have to ensure that people who use content are paying for it.

We're not talking about some plucky little start-up here, we're talking about one of the world's largest and most profitable companies. It has a responsibility to ensure that it pays for the content that is being used on its platform, and frankly, that it's making millions and millions of dollars.

The Government is adamant: we'll be backing the Code; we'll be taking all of the actions that are available to us under the Code. We'll be following the letter of the law scrupulously to ensure that in Australia, Australians can continue to benefit from quality journalism and our democracy remains a healthy place because of that.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The announcement by Meta today is an abrogation of responsibility to Australia's news media sector. Australian journalists provide one of the most important public goods in our democracy, and Australian news media publishers deserve to be fairly compensated for the investments that they make in that.

As the Assistant Treasurer said, Meta has decided to no longer pay for news content in a number of jurisdictions, and the Government is very disappointed at this outcome.

The decision undermines the viability of a healthy, democratic, open media. It removes a significant source of revenue to Australian news media publishers. As I said, Australian publishers deserve fair compensation for the content they produce and which is provided on Meta's platforms.

The Government, as the Assistant Treasurer said, is committed to the News Media Bargaining Code, and we've made it clear that we have always expected Meta to negotiate in good faith under that Code.

The Government has sought advice from both Treasury and the ACCC and we are working through the processes under the News Media Bargaining Code.

We have taken today to brief news publishers in Australia and to gauge their views. And I know that the ACCC will be engaging with all stakeholders, as well, and we expect the ACCC will also invite stakeholders to share information to assist with their analysis of the implications of this decision.

I also wanted to make a comment on the outage of the Telstra service.

The top priority of the Albanese Government is keeping Australians safe. We know that the availability of Triple Zero call transfers were impacted today between 3:30 am and 5:00 am. Of the at least 494 calls that were impacted, 148 of them were not able to be transferred to Emergency Services and information was relayed manually.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is undertaking an initial assessment of Telstra's compliance with its regulatory obligations. The Government understands that one of the impacted callers to Triple Zero has passed away. We are deeply saddened by this and our thoughts are with their family and friends. We have sought information from Telstra - who is the designated Emergency Call Person - to understand the full impact of the disruption, and the ACMA will continue its inquiries on this point.

We're happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: I think it's fair to say that all when can we expect the government [inaudible]?

JONES: Well, let's be very clear, the Government - and myself as the responsible Minister - will be following the law to the ‘T’. There are steps required to be followed by me under the News Media Bargaining Code, and I intend to follow them to the ‘T’.

But nobody should be under any doubt about the Government's resolve to ensure that we have a viable media industry in this country, and the spirit that lies behind the News Media Bargaining Code is fulfilled.

And to use the words that Minister Rowland has just used just right now, this is an abrogation of responsibility. It's a dereliction of responsibility. It's a pretty simple concept if you're using content; if you're making money out of publishing content, then you should be paying for it.

JOURNALIST: Tim Burrows from [inaudible] which is a media industry newsletter which I think I described as a platinum start-up. If you do choose to designate and Meta chooses to withdraw from Australia rather than comply, and that means no Facebook, no Instagram, no WhatsApp, no threads. Is that a price worth paying?

JONES: Look, I don't want to get into hypotheticals, but you can be confident that Minister Rowland and myself have been contemplating what we would do in the eventuality that Meta took this course of action.

I've got to say, regretfully, it hasn't been a surprise to us, given the statements and the stuff that's been coming to us from news publishers directly over the last few months.

So, we'll look at all of these things. Our plan, what we want to happen, is to see Meta back at the bargaining table, negotiating in good faith and doing the very Australian thing of ensuring that you pay for what you use.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] What are the other steps that need to be taken?

JONES: Well, there's a number of things - without wanting to get too technical - that I have to satisfy myself of. And the first is, that there is an abuse of market power.

And the second is, that a party or a potential designated party has not made a sufficient contribution to the sustainability of media in this country.

Now, I'm not going to pre-empt anything. I'm going to ensure that I follow the letter of the law, and that will involve going to the ACCC, and to Treasury, and to ask them to collect the information on behalf of the Government to provide a report on that for us. We don't intend to take months.

JOURNALIST: What are the maximum penalties placed for any potential or alleged breaches of the Bargaining Code?

JONES: I'll have to get back to you on the details of the penalties, but the whole spirit of the Code is not around penalties or breach notices; it's about getting parties around a bargaining table and negotiating in good faith.

And that's the outcome that we want here - having parties around a negotiating table having a commercial conversation about the value of the intellectual property that they're using.

JOURNALIST: Will you support media companies forced into arbitration?

JONES: It takes one step at a time. I've got to satisfy myself that the necessary steps have been made under the News Media Bargaining Code. Having done that, we'll then go to the next step which involves designation, and after that compulsory arbitration steps can follow. But let's be very clear: the Albanese Government's priority, and the Albanese Government's preference, is that negotiations in good faith are entered into willingly. The News Media Bargaining Code, which we fully support, is in place when all of that fails.

JOURNALIST: Minister, hypothetically, if their content is removed, is this a threat to publishers?

ROWLAND: It is a threat. It's a threat, and it's one that we take very seriously.

Unfortunately, Meta has made this decision. It's a decision which suits their commercial interests and imperatives, but it is inconsistent with the Government's overall aim of ensuring that we have strong public interest journalism in this country, that it is properly compensated, and that we have a healthy media ecosystem that supports a strong democracy.

It is of great concern. There are significant revenue impacts that are involved here, and even though we know that these commercial deals are confidential, we are aware of reports that it's some $200 million that will be impacted.

So that does have an impact on Australia's news media at a time when it has been under increasing stress from the digital platforms, in particular, and other matters as well.

JOURNALIST: The ABC funds 60 regional journalist positions with this money. Have you considered stepping in and funding those positions?

ROWLAND: I spoke to the Managing Director of the ABC today and he reiterated that this funding is used, amongst other things, to support those 60 journalists.

Now it is important for him to reassure the ABC as its Managing Director, that they are doing everything they can to ensure that they continue to provide a quality new service.

But we will treat the ABC just as we treat all other parties who have engaged with Meta in these deals and will be impacted by these deals.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that as a result of this move by Meta, rural and regional publications will be impacted?

ROWLAND: It is a real concern, and I have engaged with regional news publishers today as well. And let's also be clear, they are under increasing pressure already from a number of other factors.

It is deeply concerning not only for diversity of views, but also geographic diversity in terms of news being reported right around the country.

JOURNALIST: When the legislation first passed, the conversations were mostly around Meta and Alphabet. The world's changed a bit in the last three years, and TikTok has become [inaudible] Is that a platform you might consider designating?

JONES: I think I'm already on the record as saying the landscape has changed. TikTok really wasn't established in the Australian media landscape back in 2021. There wouldn't be an 18 year-old who didn't have a TikTok app on their mobile phone today. And you talk to your kids, most of them consume most of their news through an app like that.

We have reached out to TikTok a couple of weeks ago, and I know Minister Rowland has as well. And we say, we believe that they should be entering into the bargaining framework as well.

We have been doing that through my Department. It is also fair to say that the Canadians have the same degree of disappointment, particularly considering that they noted developments in Australia at the time and sought to achieve the same objectives.

We will continue to engage with other jurisdictions and as we go forward, we will be guided by one principle here, and that is that we support the news media bargaining code as it stands in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Why didn't the Government say something? Or step in earlier when it was clear all of the signs were coming in one direction?

JONES: Can I just be quite clear on that. For the last six months, I've been signalling quite clearly that we expect bargaining. For the last six months, I've been signalling quite clearly that we expect publishers and social media platforms who are parties to existing agreements to knuckle down and negotiate in good faith.

I don't have a power outside of the Code to tell them that they've all got to behave well and that they've all got to sit down and negotiate.

I do have a power within the Code, and in accordance with the Code, and they're the powers that I now have to be advised of, and ensure that I'm following. And if I decide to exercise them, that they're exercised in accordance with the law.

But can I just reiterate this: for the last six months, I've been saying, Minister Rowland has been saying, nobody should be under any doubt about our resolve to support Australian journalists, Australian journalism and the news media in Australia.

Nobody should be under any illusion about our resolve to use the powers that are available to us.

JOURNALIST: Meta said that news makes up just three per cent of the links that get shared on its platform. Has the situation changed 2019 because they created a News Tab and then deleting it now?

JONES: Really glad that you've raised that question. If you run a restaurant and then close the front door, it really doesn't make a lot of sense that a few months later you complain that you're not getting any visitors into your restaurant, and something similar has happened here.

You've got a de-prioritisation of news content. You have got to struggle to find it on your mobile phone app. So, yes, of course we'll take into account all lawful considerations. But as things stand at the moment, I'm not that persuaded by that argument.

Thanks very much.