04 February 2021




SUBJECTS: News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code; Michelle Rowland 2.0.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: What is the story with these laws and what is their status? Is there bipartisan support? Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications. She joins me live now from Canberra. Do you have any lingering concerns about this Bill? Ultimately, will Labor vote for it when it gets to the Parliament?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The premise of the Bill before us is sound, and it arises of course from an extensive process undertaken by our competition and consumer regulator which found that the market power of the digital platforms was having a negative impact on the news media to remain viable in Australia. So, the premise is very sound. We have said from the outset that we support that in-principle and we support a workable Code. Where we are currently is that the Senate is examining the Bill. There have been some public hearings on this at which concerns have been articulated from both publishers and business groups alike and other stakeholders. We are progressing that and strongly participating in that process with stakeholders.

JAYES: Okay there might be some unintended consequences here. Do you essentially want to make sure the little guys, the little publishers are protected and do have that bargaining power with Facebook and Google?

ROWLAND: That’s absolutely essential, but I do also think that we need to recognise some of the evidence we are getting from those hearings is that the Code could have a disproportionate impact on some players versus others; and equally, there could be a disproportionate impact if the threat of Google to withdraw did actually come to fruition. As you would know, some of the newer players – ostensibly online publishers – rely on traffic that they’ve calibrated for their business models. The withdrawal of Google would certainly have a detrimental impact on them.

At the same time, I think we need to remember what the impetus of this Code actually is: to ensure that we have a strong and viable news media sector as part of a functioning democracy, and that it is essential to ensure that proper compensation is paid to publishers for that and that consumers overall benefit as a result.

JAYES: Well, Bing has come into the mix here, with Microsoft offering its services if Google did indeed follow through with its threat. Are you convinced that that vacuum can just be filled by another search engine if that were to occur?

ROWLAND: It’s not surprising that Microsoft has stepped up and said they’re available. Similar to Google and Facebook, they are commercial entities who would be seeking to expand their market share. I see from reports today that Microsoft would expand their innovation in Australia and that should always be welcomed. But I think we need to remember that Australians deserve choice and Australians deserve the best. There are still many unanswered questions here about what the impact would be. It was somewhat concerning that at the hearings this week, Treasury and Departmental officials were questioned about the scenario planning they’d done in the event the Code gets passed, how revenues will flow, when they will flow, what would be the impact of the withdrawal. There really seems to be a lack of certainty in that space from Treasury and the Department. So we are stepping into the great unknown here, Laura.

JAYES: It certainly seems like we are. It’s been reported that the Prime Minister has been meeting with the head of Google this morning. Don’t know how that meeting went, but you’d welcome that meeting of course?

ROWLAND: Absolutely, but one thing that I would caution is that these threats of withdrawal were made around mid last year. One would have thought that, given this is a matter of such import, you would have had lots of discussions take place earlier. But as you say, it is welcomed and it is appropriate, because this does go to one of the central pillars of a proper functioning democracy.

JAYES: Just before I let you go, finally, this is a bit of an odd question, but you look fabulous. I’ve spoken to you about this off-air, so I hope my audience doesn’t think I’m very rude asking this. You’ve lost so much weight, you’re really healthy and you’ve said it’s really changed the way your constituents deal with you.

ROWLAND: Well, it is quite confronting when you’ve been trying to lose weight your entire adult life like I have – I’m sure this goes for a lot of people in our community, I’m not exactly special – but when you get to a point where a health professional tells you you don’t actually need to lose anymore weight and you move into the next phase of wanting to be stronger and eating more to build muscle, it does do a lot for your personal confidence. I do think this is a journey that many people are going on, I have found that being out and about in the community, people do see this as an issue that is very relatable to them. I guess my message remains the same: if I can do it as a busy working mum, anyone can. So go for it!

JAYES: So you’ve become more approachable you think?

ROWLAND: I’d like to think so, not that I think I was unapproachable before, but I certainly feel that I have greater mental clarity and certainly more confidence in myself. I’ve done something Laura that’s really hard. When you do that, people notice and I appreciate it.

JAYES: Well done! We appreciate your time here.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.