Transcript - Sky News, AM Agenda with Laura Jayes

LAURA JAYES, HOST: X owner Elon Musk has taken another swipe at the Australian Government after defying orders to remove footage of a Sydney stabbing. The social media company is expected to return to the Federal Court this afternoon to argue why the footage of the Wakeley church stabbing should not be removed from the platform.
Joining me live from Canberra is the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Michelle, thank you for your time. Elon Musk has accused the Government of trying to control the Internet. What do you say to that?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I'd say two things, Laura. Firstly, the democratically elected Australian Parliament has chosen to enact a law, and that law enables an independent regulator, the eSafety Commissioner, to issue notices to remove certain content where it contravenes certain rules. They are all expressly set out in the law. Secondly, that eSafety is implementing its actions under that law.
The Australian Government has confidence in eSafety and backs the fact that it is implementing the law. Whilst I'm reluctant to go into the details of this case as it is ongoing, I would note that eSafety has taken action on this as permitted and as required under the law.
This is done for a very good purpose - the reason is this type of content is deemed to be class 1 content. It is actual violence that should not be viewed. That is a determination that has been made by the Parliament. As to the matters that will be discussed and decided by the court, they'll be ongoing today and over the next couple of days. But I reiterate that the Australian Government backs its independent regulator in implementing this law for the safety of Australians.
JAYES: Well, Senator Babet has thumbed his nose at these laws as well. Are there any repercussions for him, what do you think of his move?
ROWLAND: He can explain himself to the Australian public, but for the part of the Australian Government, we have made it very clear that this type of class 1 content - and I should point out this type of content also includes child sexual abuse material and pro terror content - the Australian Parliament has determined that this type of content should not be available for viewing in Australia.
The court will make that determination, but Senator Babet or anyone else can explain to Australians why he takes that point of view. From the Australian Government's perspective, we back eSafety.
JAYES: Do you see this court decision, if it does go in a favour of the Government, eventually can you see Elon Musk complying, given what he said so publicly over the last couple of days, and really, is there any repercussions that would make a billionaire like him comply?
ROWLAND: Well, firstly, as you point out, these social media platforms have market power and deep pockets. They have revenues that exceed some nations of the world. The fact that they have been demonstrated through their actions to be litigious and capable of carrying on this litigation, it is difficult to determine at what point that litigation actually does end.
The counterfactual, Laura, is for the eSafety Commissioner, for the Australian Government to do nothing in this area. We are choosing through eSafety to ensure that these laws are enacted. As to your point about what sort of penalties or sanctions might be available, these are precisely the issues that I announced when I kicked off the review of the Online Safety Act, which has only been in operation for a couple of years. I brought forward that review because in a short space of time, we've had so many new and emerging harms that have come to the floor, including through artificial intelligence.
JAYES: Okay, if I could play devil's advocate as well. Elon Musk has made the point that banning it in Australia is one thing, but banning it globally is a whole other issue. What do you say to that?
ROWLAND: These are matters that precisely go to some of the deliberations of the court. But for our part, Australia has determined that there is some content that should not be available in Australia, and that's precisely what is being argued here. As to the point, again, just returning to sanctions and penalties, for example, they're precisely the issues that we're looking at in the Online Safety Act, whether they're adequate in some jurisdictions. They actually take the view that it should be a percentage of revenue because that acts as more of a deterrent. These are issues that are being actively examined at the moment.
JAYES: I mean, this is just one example of how difficult it is to bring social media companies to account. They are massive, as you say - their revenue and profit are bigger than some countries - they're in the multi-trillions of dollars. They have shown time and time again that they're willing to thumb their nose at Governments right around the world. I mean, the ASIO and AFP are warning today that companies like Meta allowing criminals, drug dealers, terrorist activities, they're affording them protection with end to end encryption services, and these criminals are allowed to flourish. Can you do anything about that?
ROWLAND: No one doubts the difficulty of the task. I would point out that the Internet has actually never been an ungoverned space. There are rules relating to everything from defamation to misleading or deceptive conduct, to privacy. We've seen in Australia and around the world that those cases, including under competition law, that have been taken, have been successful in some areas.
The other issue is, of course, the technology like end-to-end encryption is one that our law enforcement agencies are very alive to and we have been very engaged with across Government. We take the view that this is an issue across a number of portfolios, including Home Affairs, Attorney-General, Youth, Women and Communications – and that's the way in which we've been approaching this.
I was fortunate to have been briefed recently by Commissioner Kershaw on this very issue, and look forward to seeing the comments of him and Mr Burgess, today. Again, I will point out that Australia has the best law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the world. They are looking at ways, including international cooperation, to be able to do their jobs. Whilst we understand one of the fundamental tenants of communication is about the privacy of communications, law enforcement agencies need to do their jobs.
We see that they do get results - you've seen the number of busts that are happened globally in respect to something like content as offensive as child sexual exploitation material. They are getting results, but they have issued, as you say, warnings. I look forward to seeing what they will say today. The Government is committed to working with our law enforcement agencies in this task.
JAYES: If there is noncompliance, I mean, would you consider banning Twitter in Australia?
ROWLAND: Well, I think that would be a very big call, but I think we should not get ahead of ourselves. Of course, freedom of expression and freedom of speech is again, one of the fundamental tenants. This has always been about balancing those needs against the needs to keep Australians safe. The way in which the Parliament went about designing the Online Safety Act was recognising that the Internet is a space where there are certain vectors for harms, and that's precisely what our agencies are telling us. I think we need to step back. We need to appreciate that we have a law that is being implemented at the moment – yes that is being challenged – and we will see the outcomes of that. At the same time, we have coordination across Government and across our agencies to do everything we can to keep Australians safe in the online environment.
JAYES: And you have bipartisanship to a large extent. I just want to ask you about a suggestion that's been put forward by the Coalition today, and that is putting an age limit on social media use. We've seen the harm it has caused young people. We've seen a relationship between the rise in social media use and suicide. Is this something that your Government would consider putting an age limit on social media so perhaps 16 and enforcing it?
ROWLAND: These are some of the issues that are being examined right now, as part of the Online Safety Act review. I want to make the lead point that no one wants vulnerable people, especially children, seeing certain content, and certainly not content that's age inappropriate.
If you go to the issues about the powers of the platforms, they have the ability now to understand their users through the use of algorithms and recommender systems in such a way that children are being served up misogynistic rubbish. As you say, making them think that they need to look a certain way and encouraging eating disorders –
JAYES: It’s like Andrew Tate, I mean, he flourishes on these social media platforms. How do you stop it?
ROWLAND: There is no silver bullet, and it's one in which we have been actively engaged with eSafety in looking at and how we can respond to this.
The first point I’ll make is, the platforms actually do have, in their terms of service, certain age limits. The issue here is getting them to enforce it. A lot of these platforms, through understanding their users, can actually tell if someone is underage and is not that age.
If, for example, they are a young child and they are otherwise looking at cat videos and unboxing videos, those sorts of behaviours actually tell the platforms about their users. As all your viewers will know, the platforms know more about ourselves than we do sometimes. That's why they're serving up what they do.
We are looking at every method to make sure that we keep, especially children and other vulnerable cohorts, safe. We're actively looking at issues around recommender systems, we are scoping an age assurance pilot that won't only go to, in terms of access to particular content like pornography, but also whether there's others use examples that can be applied to, and that's being looked at across Government. As a government, we're looking at all these issues.
I welcome bipartisanship on the issue of addressing the mis and disinformation that is proliferating on platforms – it’s one that Mr Burgess and Commissioner Kershaw I know are going to highlight as well. This is a threat to democratic institutions. It is a threat when we see the kinds of harms that we saw in Western Sydney, where mis and disinformation meant that police officers on duty were put in the line of harm. A riot essentially was instigated, public property was damaged as result of the proliferation of platforms who are not enforcing their own systems and processes.
The option here, Laura, is for Governments to do nothing. This is not a Government that is going to do nothing, and I welcome the engagement that has happened so far from a number of civil society advocates and experts in this area as we work through an issue that has been grappled with by Governments and regulators around the world.
I note that Peter Dutton and Susan Ley seem to have come out in the last few days saying they want to work with the Government on this. David Coleman seems to now be walking that back. They have not engaged on this issue. We will continue to work with all interested parties on this matter, including the independents and the crossbench, who have been very constructive and we look forward to doing everything we can to keep Australians safe from the harms that are caused by the proliferation of mis and disinformation on social media platforms.
JAYES: Yeah, they should probably pay for their news content too. Any sign of them doing that?
ROWLAND: They should. We're currently working through the ACCC processes at the moment. I'm confident that we will stick to the Code and work under that Code in order to get a result. What Meta has announced here is a complete abrogation of responsibility in terms of public interest journalism. That is one that we consider to be of the highest regard when it comes to, again, our democratic institutions and one we'll continue to pursue strongly as a Government.
JAYES: Michelle, thank you. We've taken up a lot of your precious time today. We really appreciate it.
ROWLAND: Pleasure.