Shadow Minister Questions Slow Release of 23,000 Submissions on Misinformation Bill

“It’s likely there’s been an avalanche of negative submissions on the government’s appalling plan,” said Shadow Minister David Coleman.
Shadow Minister Questions Slow Release of 23,000 Submissions on Misinformation Bill
The icons of mobile apps are seen on the screen of a smart phone in New Delhi on May 26, 2021. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)
Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman is critical of the Labor government's decision not to release all 23,000 public submissions made on its proposed "Combating Misinformation and Disinformation Bill."
So far 150 submissions have been released by the communications ministry on the proposed bill that would give new powers to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to combat online "misinformation and disinformation." 
The ministry says on its website that public submissions will be released in “several tranches as they are processed.” 
However, Mr. Coleman has questioned why Minister of Communications Michelle Rowland cannot release all submissions at once.   
“How can the public be confident that the minister won’t pick and choose friendly submissions first in a bid to spin the story about her Misinformation Bill?” said Mr. Coleman. 
“It’s likely there’s been an avalanche of negative submissions on the government’s appalling plan.”
It says on the ministry website that they have to take into account the volume of submissions and how that will affect processing times, among other concerns. 
“All submissions must be reviewed to ensure that the privacy of submitters is respected and for any other legal considerations such as defamation. Offensive and abhorrent material must also be removed before publishing,” it says on the ministry’s website. 
Ms. Rowland says Labor is committed to keeping Australians safe online and that includes "ensuring the ACMA has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis- and disinformation on their services.”
“Mis- and disinformation sows division within the community, undermines trust, and can threaten public health and safety,” she said.
In staunch opposition to Labor’s plans, the Coalition wants the legislation “torn up,” saying it will lead to tech companies self-censoring.
“Freedom of speech is fundamental to our democracy, and the Coalition will always fight for it,” said Mr. Coleman. 
The proposed law could see tech companies like Meta or X (formerly known as Twitter) fined if they fail to remove misinformation or disinformation.

Human Rights Groups Take Issue With Misinformation Bill

Several groups, including the Victorian Bar, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and the Australian Human Rights Commission have raised concerns about the proposed legislation. 
Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay warned in The Australian newspaper in August that the bill will privilege government content, and also cautioned about the dangers of allowing the government to determine what is true. 
“The draft bill aims to give the Australian Communications and Media Authority increased powers to combat online misinformation and disinformation, but in a way that does not find equilibrium between censorship of objectively untrue content and protection for freedom of expression,” wrote Ms. Finlay. 
The Human Rights Commission also made a submission on the proposed Misinformation Bill, taking issue with the government’s approach. 
“Legislation that necessitates censorship to fight misinformation and disinformation must do so in a way that prevents harm without unduly silencing reasonable minds we disagree with,” it said in its submission. 
“Unfortunately, this initial Exposure Draft Bill has not found that equilibrium." 
However, the Commission welcomed the opportunity to engage in future consultations on any amended version of this Bill.
Meanwhile, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the proposed law threatened free speech and democratic rights. 
“The proposal in the bill to clamp down on people whose commentary may disrupt public order or cause economic harm could have a chilling effect on the right to protest, stifling debate and freedoms of assembly,” said NSW Council for Civil Liberties President Josh Pallas.
Daryl Vandenberg is a journalist based in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. He is a former news anchor for Canadian radio stations Moose FM, 99.1 FM Ontario, and Newcap Radio.