Taxpayers Pay $40,000 for Online Content Moderator’s Trip to World Economic Forum

‘I achieved more in four days than I could in four years,’ said Julie Inman Grant.
Taxpayers Pay $40,000 for Online Content Moderator’s Trip to World Economic Forum
Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant during Senate Estimates at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Feb. 15, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Australian taxpayers have been billed over $40,000 for the eSafety Commissioner’s four-day trip to the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2024 annual meeting, where she pushed for tighter rules on online safety.

In January, Ms. Inman Grant, accompanied by a staff member, spent four days meeting senior executives in the artificial intelligence and immersive technology field at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland.

At a Senate estimate in February, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts asked Ms. Inman Grant in what capacity she was present at the WEF meeting, what was the cost to taxpayers, and whether staff travelled with her at public expense.

The total bill was revealed to be $40,971.41 (US$26,350).

“I achieved more in four days than I could in four years,” Ms. Inman Grant told Mr. Roberts at the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on Feb. 22.

“I asked directly the decision-makers what they are doing to make their platforms safer. I was sharing our leadership and our model in terms of how we’re tackling online safety.”

Mr. Roberts replied, saying “I think we’re the ones to be assessing whether or not you’re justified.”

The eSafety Commissioner, who runs an online agency, argued she couldn’t engage with the forum online and that “not having those kinds of meetings can make a real difference for Australians in terms of [making] changes happening.”

In a post on X (formally Twitter) on April 19, Mr. Roberts said the $40,000 price tag was “outrageous.”

Commissioner Probed On Who’s The Arbiter Of Truth

Mr. Roberts also said in a post on One Nation’s website in February that Ms. Inman Grant was “planning to embrace global opportunities to help achieve the outcomes she perceives necessary for online safety” as an independent statutory authority.

“The Commissioner is seeking broader powers to achieve her agenda, for our own good, of course, and once again, this begs the question exactly who is deciding what is ‘good’?

“Listening to her speak about online safety regulations, the one word conspicuous by its absence is censorship. The other missing words were freedom of expression.”

During the Senate estimate, Mr. Roberts also probed Ms. Inman Grant on two of her statements at the WEF, in which she said, “We have started something called the global online safety regulator” and “There are lots of different tools and toolboxes we’ll be using.”

The “toolboxes” referred to a range of companies that “deal with cyberbullying, image-based abuse, adult cyber abuse, and the online content scheme.”

“Did you receive ministerial permission to involve Australia in another global power sinkhole?” Mr. Roberts asked.

Ms. Inman Grant explained that all of her powers are designed under the Online Safety Act, which she said decided the threshold for harm.

The Online Safety Act, which passed the Australian Parliament in 2021, “sets out what the Australian government now expects from online service providers” and “raised the bar by establishing a wide-ranging set of Basic Online Safety Expectations,” according to the eSafety commissioner website.

The Act is regulated by the Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland.

The eSafety office also has the power to require online service providers to report on how they are meeting any or all of the Basic Online Safety Expectations.

“Are you setting yourself up as an arbiter of what should and should not be seen online?” Mr. Roberts asked.

“No, I am not,” Ms. Inman Grant replied.

“I’ve been designated by the government as the safety commissioner and remediate harms of online individuals that have experienced online abuse.”

Global Regulator

Meanwhile, a global online safety regulator was set up in November 2022 with seven independent regulators including Australia, the UK, Fiji, France, South Korea, and South Africa. It was the “only global forum dedicated to supporting collaboration between online safety regulators,” according to its website.

The eSafety commissioner claimed the global network aimed to “achieve a degree of regulatory coherence for the technology industry and make sure that we’re working together to achieve better safety outcomes for all of our citizens.”

“We have lots of reporting and transparency and accountability measures themselves, and if there’s ever a question at any decision that’s made, they can be judged through internal review, the AAT (Administrative Appeals Tribunal) or through the federal court,” she said in response to a question about who and what processes held her accountable.

The news came as the eSafety Commissioner locked horns with X over her requests to remove videos of a Sydney church stabbing and a post by Billboard Chris criticising the World Health Organisation for selecting a trans activist to draft health advice.

X said it would take the commissioner to court.

“While X respects the right of a country to enforce its laws within its jurisdiction, the eSafety commissioner does not have the authority to dictate what content X’s users can see globally. We will robustly challenge this unlawful and dangerous approach in court,” X said through its Global Government Affairs account on April 20.

“Global takedown orders go against the very principles of a free and open internet and threaten free speech everywhere.”

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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