Monday, 08 April 2019

Money News on 2GB with Ross Greenwood


Subjects: Trespassing animal activist protesters, Abhorrent violent material on social media

ROSS GREENWOOD: It's interesting because just on Friday last week, there was another map that was being used by the vegan activists that is going to be falling under Australia's Privacy Act, because they've been using this map effectively to work out which farms they should target. Now today, the Prime Minster Scott Morrison went one step further. Here's what he said.


PRIME MINISTER: If there are pastoralists, or farmers, or graziers, or groups that are in a position to actually bring a civil action against these groups, these green-collared criminals, who are looking to undermine their livelihood and the economy of the Australian people, then the Commonwealth is totally open to supporting them in a test case to show these green collared criminals that you don't get to go and pull the rug from under our Aussie farmers.

(End of excerpt)

ROSS GREENWOOD: Well, the person who would be behind any test case in Australia would be our Attorney-General. The Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter is on the line right now.

Many thanks for your time, Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks, Ross. And I would be very enthusiastically behind such a test case. I mean this raises real issues about the ability of hardworking Australians simply to make a living.

ROSS GREENWOOD: So, just explain how a test case such as this would work. Because obviously a person, not only trespassing on somebody else's land but then clearly trying to, sort of if you like, disrupt their business, that's a key thing, but where does the law sit on this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, there's a lot of different aspects to this law. So last Friday, we made regulations which now means that Aussie Farms, which is the activist group that display the map that you've just spoken of, will be subject to the Privacy Act. So previously, they weren't subject because they represented a business with a turnover of less than $3 million. So we've prescribed them so that now they are absolutely subject to the same rules regarding people's privacy that other larger businesses would be subject to. So they can face very stiff financial penalties of up to $2.1 million for the misuse of Australian farmers' personal information. And in fact, I've written today to the Information Commissioner to ask for her to assess their recent efforts and behaviours in light of the fact that they are now subject to the Act.

The second thing is, I've written to all my state and territory counterparts requesting that they look into their present criminal trespass and unlawful entry rules and criminal laws to see whether or not they are fit for purpose, and whether or not the penalties are strong enough. The third thing is the one that you've mentioned. There's of course well-known civil tortious action, particularly with respect to nuisance but also with respect to trespass. And it may well be that one of the farmers or one of the agribusinesses that's been affected by the reprehensible behaviour of these groups wants to take such a civil action, and we have long had the ability under the Commonwealth guidelines for legal financial assistance to offer support for such an action if it would resolve an important question under Commonwealth law that affects the rights of a section of the public, which are important, and where they are suffering a disadvantage, which is, I think, exactly what's happened here. So we have the full ability to give them help in their civil action.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. So this Aussie Farms website with this map, which effectively is showing, say, abattoirs; it's showing feedlots; a range of other areas which they have concerns about. The truth of the matter is that those businesses, if they fall within the Australian legal framework, are able to go about their jobs. But then on the other side of it, there is a protest. If these people are motivated by their own beliefs, they can protest. But the question is how they protest and whether they go about disrupting those businesses.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, no one's arguing against lawful protest, but we're well and truly beyond lawful protest here. I mean, you gave one example in your lead in to this story. Another example is the Millmerran incident, where a hundred trespassers converged on the feedlot in Millmerran. And once you start trespassing onto someone's private property under the guise of political activism, disrupting their business, taking their livestock - I mean, does anyone think, honestly here, that taking livestock, or goats, or other livestock off farmers who know how to deal with livestock, is actually going to improve the lot of that livestock once they're in the hands of activists who wouldn't know the front from the tail end of a goat. I mean, it is absurd, but it's a level of absurdity that is causing immense commercial damage to hardworking Australians; many of them, for instance in Queensland, that have suffered all of the downturn effects of drought. I mean, our Australian agricultural sector and agribusinesses just deserve to be left alone to run their business in a lawful way. And this is mass trespassing. And the website that shows the map of individual businesses enables and facilitates that trespass, and that's something that can be looked into now that we have prescribed the group. It's something that we think should be the subject of the full force of Australian trespass laws, which occur basically at the state level. And I've seen today that the Queensland Minister for Agriculture has come out in very strong terms, saying that if they reveal potential prosecutions, people will be prosecuted. But the third thing is, that if any of these businesses want to run a civil action against any of these characters that are disrupting and destroying their businesses through unlawful activity such as trespass, and which would form a tort of nuisance, then we, as the Commonwealth Government, would be very pleased to look at that and give every assistance that we could.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Alright. The other issue I want to talk to you about is about the whole issue of live streaming of violent crimes. Now, given the Christchurch attack and the aftermath, and the Government has called in the heads of the big social media groups here in Australia. We spoke to the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield last week about that. He said he was underwhelmed by, in particular, the response of Facebook. But then after that, once legislation was enacted in those last two sitting days, there was some who called it being, well, unsatisfactory. They weren't happy with it. One of those people I spoke to last week on Thursday - Mike Cannon-Brookes, the founder of Atlassian, one of Australia's tech entrepreneurs and pioneers. Here's just a little of what he told me.


MIKE CANNON-BROOKES:You know, the main concern is in the rush to try to get this out, presumably before the election, they've created more confusion in a bill that lacks clarity and has a lot of open-ended things with some pretty serious penalties, right? Ten per cent of revenue, multiple-year jail terms for executives of companies globally. And a lot of parts of it just don't make sense, right? I mean, no one wants this violent content to be online. That, everyone agrees in. But if your job is to pass really good laws then you can't do that in a rushed way that doesn't solve the problem.

(End of excerpt)

ROSS GREENWOOD: As our Attorney-General, do you believe that these were really rushed laws, but basically inadequate laws?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I agree that we moved ungently, because there was an urgent need to provide a legal recourse to ensure what Facebook did after Christchurch doesn't happen again, and that we have a legal recourse against Facebook or any other social media platform who let mass murder live stream and play on their service, in this case for over 70 minutes, which is absolutely unacceptable. So, we acted urgently. But the laws are well-drafted. They will work and we will see them work. And particularly, what we hope most is that they work to change the behaviours of the larger platforms in terms of the diligence with which they understand the nature of the material that they are streaming or playing on that platform and act expeditiously to take that material down.

I might say that I did speak with representatives of the organisation that you played there and stepped them through some of the legal aspects of the bill and how they address some of the concerns that they had. But it's actually a relatively simple piece of drafting, in that what we effectively require be expeditiously removed is a very narrow range of material. It's material that depicts violence of the most heinous type - murder, rape, kidnapping, torture, the worst types of terrorism. And the footage has to emanate from the perpetrator. So, in effect, the person committing the murder is the person filming the footage or a party to that offence is filming the footage; that is the material that we say a service like Facebook has to show greater diligence with respect to understanding whether or not it's on their system. And they cannot allow it to be recklessly on their system, and they have to remove it very quickly once they know that it's there.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Because as you say, 70 minutes in Christchurch was way, way too long, and the point is then, A, that somebody's got to make an assessment as to what is unsuitable images. [Indistinct] you can spell those types of images out, but it's a case of whether one minute; 30 seconds; five minutes; ten minute; that's the issue for people because- and I know as somebody who was reporting in the immediate aftermath of Christchurch, it was impossible not to have seen those images. And I've got to tell you also now, it's impossible not to unsee those images once seen. That, I think, is the biggest issue here.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there are three types of general scenarios that this legislation is meant to cope with. One is where a content server is hosting the material of this type, is requested to take it down and they just thumb their nose at the authorities, which is what 8Chan did with respect to the request of the New Zealand Government to take the material down.

The second is where a social media platform knows - like, actually knows that the material is on their platform - and fails to take reasonable efforts to get it down as quickly as possible.

And the third is where a social media platform is just utterly reckless as to the existence of the material on their platform and so therefore don't take reasonable efforts to remove the material.

Now, what's a reasonable amount of time to know or be construed to know that the material's on your platform? And once you know, what's a reasonable amount of time to take it down? Like many formulations in the criminal law, these will be questions ultimately that would have to be answered by a jury. So, of course it's difficult to say: what is the precise minute, for instance, with respect to the Christchurch material, that it was reasonable that they knew and took efforts to take it down. But keep in mind, Ross, that they live streamed it from zero to 17 minutes, it was then available to be played and replayed and downloaded up to 72 minutes. At 29 minutes, they themselves received a formal complaint through their website, Facebook, that this material was there, and it wasn't until about the 62 minute mark when New Zealand Police contacted them, they even took the first steps to remove the material. And in all of that, there's no recourse against Facebook for allowing mass murder to stream and play on their service for 72 minutes that any Australian, in fact, a ten-year-old Australian could have logged on and looked at.

Now, what we say is that there should be, and now is a law, that says you can't be reckless as to the existence of that content on your server, and once you know or ought to have known that it's there, you've got to take it down within a reasonable period of time. It would be up, as it is with all of these types of matters, to the state, to the prosecutors, to prove all the elements of the offence. But it is a serious offence to be wilfully blind or not take appropriate action to take down material that we would never let a television station play or any other traditional media that's bound by a range of quite proper regulations that we see as serving the best interest of the Australian people.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Attorney-General, Christian Porter, great to have you on the programme this evening and we appreciate your time.