24 February 2021




SUBJECTS: News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code; COVID-19 vaccine rollout; Linda Reynolds; culture within the Labor Party.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications Minister, she joins me now. Who won here, Facebook or the Government?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I think if you read some of the commentary, Laura, each side is being written up as being the winner, or the other side having backed down. I think the reality is that a compromise has been struck. Facebook will return its news services to Australia. The Government will be amending its legislation. We need to remain outcomes-focused as Labor has always been, and that’s about ensuring that news media is appropriately recompensed for the valuable role it plays with public interest journalism.

JAYES: Does this effectively allow Facebook to avoid forced arbitration?

ROWLAND: There will still be an arbitration process. That has been extended. But again, these are untested territories and the operation of the Code is of course something we haven’t seen yet in Australia and it certainly hasn’t be done around the world. That remains to be seen, but it appears that was one of the requirements of Facebook in its negotiations and that arbitration period has been extended, according to reports of the Government’s amendments.

JAYES: Reading Facebook’s statement, I’ve got to say, it seems like a veiled threat that Facebook could pull news again at the flick of a switch. It’s really in control here, isn’t it?

ROWLAND: And again, this goes to its market power. That’s the reason why the proposal that was contained within the ACCC’s project was essentially about incentive regulation. You provide the right incentives for commercial negotiations and deals to be done in the absence of regulation. Exactly as you say, if Facebook or any of the other platforms decide that it is not suitable for them, unless there is some enlivened provisions of the Code, you could say, then it is open to them to use this type of behaviour again. It is hoped that if these types of deals are done, and that will satisfy their requirements to continue participating in the media ecosystem.

JAYES: Shadow Minister, if you can indulge me in a few other things. Big breaking news today. First to Queensland. It seems a doctor has given an overdose of the Pfizer vaccine to two elderly nursing home residents. This really goes to undermine the whole rollout on Day 3, doesn’t it?

ROWLAND: It is concerning, and it would be opportune for action to be taken swiftly because as we have seen, again just linking back to Facebook, the propensity for misinformation and disinformation to thrive online is unfortunately very high. We want to make sure that people want to be vaccinated, that they come forward, and it is most unfortunate that this has happened in these circumstances. It is should be rectified quickly and people assured the vaccine is safe and processes will be properly undertaken.

JAYES: Linda Reynolds has also taken some medical leave. She went to hospital as a precaution today. She’s been under enormous pressure.

ROWLAND: We are all human, and I am sure everyone would wish the Minister well in her recovery. She has had the foresight to appreciate that she needs assistance, and we should always support people who need help in this place. It’s a difficult job and difficult circumstances. Putting aside everything else, we are all human and she deserves her space.

JAYES: Just finally, I spoke to Emma Husar earlier in the programme. She has levelled some pretty strong accusations at the Labor Party, saying it’s no better than the Liberal Party when it comes to the treatment of women. She says she was slut-shamed on the floor of the Chamber and then told by her own colleagues that she should cover it up. She also accused Anthony Albanese of treating her as a political problem, using her to undermine Bill Shorten when it suited her. What do you have to say about those allegations?

ROWLAND: Well, two things. I can only speak for my personal experience. Being a woman in the Labor Party, I’ve always felt supported, particularly in the last ten years. I’ve had two children while in the Parliament, I’ve been put on the frontbench, kept on the frontbench and elevated. I can appreciate that this is an environment where people have gone out of their way to support my career.

As to the specifics of Ms Husar’s comments, she has been through a very difficult public period, and I can certainly appreciate that, including defamation proceedings which would not have been easy. At the same time, I would note that there was a very strong statement made by Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek acknowledging two things. Firstly, that the workplace culture in Parliament House needs to change. But secondly, that Labor conclude its own review of our complaints and harassment processes. We can always do better. The mission is never done to ensure that women are valued, are represented, and have a place in our parliamentary process.

JAYES: Is it still a boy’s club? Is there disdain for women in the Labor Party?

ROWLAND: Personally, I don’t believe there is. Secondly, from my own observations, I believe that there is a real sense of wanting to be inclusive of not only women, but of diversity generally. As I say, the mission is never done. 20 or so years ago when we embarked on affirmative action, this was seen as something that was apparently going to be the downfall of the Labor Party. It is something that has only made us stronger. Whilst we continue on that quest to make sure we are more inclusive, there will be challenges, there will be opportunities for people, but we need to keep our eyes on what should be the ultimate outcome here, and that should be an inclusive workplace and a party and a Parliament that represents the Australian community.

JAYES: Shadow Minister Michelle Rowland, I appreciate your time.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.