Go to top of page

AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

E & OE

KIERAN GILBERT:
Let's go live to the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, joins us from Melbourne. 
Minister, if Zuckerberg himself can't protect his data how could we?

FIFIELD:
Well Kieran it's very important that all of us when we are online, all of us when we're interacting with social media organisations, recognise that whatever we give, whatever we provide, is to some extent leaving our control and going into the hands of others. 
It's important that people look at the privacy settings that they have. It's important that people look at the terms and conditions. People need to recognise that the online environment, you are giving away information.
In parallel to that, obviously, we have privacy laws and you would be aware that the Australian Information Commissioner is undertaking a formal investigation to see if Australian Privacy law has been breached by Facebook. And there are reports, as you'd be aware, that maybe 300,000 Australians might find themselves in this situation. So we need strong laws, but people also need to be aware as to what it is that they're providing online.

GILBERT:
Minister, would you be open to something akin to what we have seen, for example in mortgages with someone. Where terms and conditions have been simplified because you know yourself when you sign up to an app or something online and you see some lengthy term, 51 page to 60 page terms and conditions. You're not going to read it all. 
Is there some way to make that more simple for people to check whether or not their data is going to be used appropriately?

FIFIELD:
We want consumers to be well informed. And, you're right, some of the information that is provided by social media organisations is pretty impenetrable if you're endeavouring to determine what the terms and conditions are. 
There's a really important thing that we've done recently. And that is to give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a reference to look at the market power of social media organisations. And to look at the whole environment in which they operate. And what the implications are. Not just for news and advertising, but also when it comes to issues of privacy. 
I think you're right, consumers don't necessarily know how the data that they provide is going to be used. So that's really important work that we've commissioned the ACCC to undertake.

GILBERT:
Okay. And in relation to that other major breach via Facebook. That was during the 2016 Presidential Election, in fact Zuckerberg said it was his greatest regret. How do we go about protecting our democracy from that sort of incursion?
Is there a way to block Russian operatives for example like paedophiles and other malicious users of the internet are blocked, terrorists and so on?

FIFIELD:
You would be aware that we have foreign interference legislation that's currently before the Parliament because we are aware that there are foreign actors who, from time to time, seek to have inappropriate influence in Australia. So we certainly have that on the books. 
But I think you've also got to ensure that we have a well-informed community. Who are discerning. Who look at the information that comes to them from a variety of sources. And look at it and question it. 
It's always good practice, even with the mainstream media, to be questioning. It's even more the case when you're receiving your information from a wide variety of online sources who don't necessarily have the same editorial processes that mainstream media does. So you've always got to be a thoughtful consumer of information that's available.

GILBERT:
To some other news now and the Prime Minister has confirmed in the last half hour or so that there will be billions of dollars for that Melbourne - Tullamarine rail link. Not a moment too soon. As a Melbourne Senator you'd be warmly welcoming this decision by your government. And it's been discussed for decades hasn't it?

FIFIELD:
For the best part of 50 years there have been reports, commissions and inquiries into the need for a rail link to the airport. We've decided that look enough is enough. It's just time to crack on and to build this. So congratulations to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. We've put $5b on the table. We hope that the Victorian Government matches that so that we can start building this. We want to be partners with the Victorian Government. We've got similar models in New South Wales. But the time for talk is over. The time for action is here. We've got our money on the table. And we very much hope that the Victorian Government accepts the hand that's been extended to them. And that we can work and achieve this. It's of critical economic importance to Victoria. Most major cities around the world take for granted this sort link to the Airport. It's high time that it happened. And we're going to make sure that it does.

GILBERT:
On to some international issues, and in fact my Sky News colleague James O'Doherty is reporting this exclusively that the Foreign Affairs Department in New Zealand, it was requested by the Turnbull Government to keep open the idea of a resettlement offer in New Zealand even though publicly, the Minister himself Peter Dutton is warning this could restart the boats - as he put it.

FIFIELD:
Successive New Zealand Governments have made this offer. And the Australian Government has thanked New Zealand governments for that offer. We've also been very clear that our focus is on our arrangement with the United States. It's very important in this area that we don't send messages to people smugglers, that you've got an opportunity of being located in this very sought after neighbourhood. We have arrangements in place with the US.

GILBERT:
Did you ask New Zealand to keep open the offer?

FIFIELD:
Look I'm not aware of anything along those lines. All I'm aware of is what the Australian Government position is. Which we've made very clear.

GILBERT:
On the other story that is generating a fair bit of attention this morning, China denying senior ministers visas in the wake of the foreign interference laws which you touched on earlier, specifically what Beijing perceives as anti-China rhetoric. Is this a worry to you that relations have cooled to this extent?

FIFIELD:
There is no diplomatic freeze, Kieran. We have a good and a strong bilateral relationship with China. We have two way trade of about $175 billion a year. Yes, we do, on occasion, state our view very clearly and very openly on issues such as the South China Sea. But we always express our views respectfully with our Chinese counterparts. That's the way that we conduct our relationship. And it's strong.

GILBERT:
More broadly, in terms of the politics of the situation in this country at the moment, we're seeing further agitation from Tony Abbott pollie pedal this week. Obviously a very good cause that he's undertaken has done for many years; throughout the week making various comments critical of the Prime Minister including again yesterday. Is there any way to stop the agitating from Mr Abbott and those around him. Because without a cease to that you will really struggle to be competitive at the next election.

FIFIELD:
Well Kieran you're right, the pollie pedal is a great venture. And in years gone by when I was the disabilities and carers minister, Pollie Pedal raised great money for carers and people with disabilities – which I know is an issue close to your heart. But look backbench Members of Parliament, even former prime ministers, do have a right to contribute to the public debate. It's the trade off. If you don't have executive office you have a greater freedom to speak. But it's incumbent on all backbench colleagues that in making public contributions, while we all have that freedom, those who are in that situation, you've always got to recognise that that there's a responsibility not to be a distraction. Not to do anything that might be at odds with our electoral fortunes.

GILBERT:
Is Mr Abbott being that distraction, in the context of this week?

FIFIELD:
I'm just making a general observation for all colleagues, Kieran.

GILBERT:
What's the mood like in the Coalition? Is it a matter of wait and see how the budget goes, is it hopefully things pick up. Is that the view?

FIFIELD:
Kieran the mood is fantastic. You've just got to stop and think for a second. This was the Parliament that they said would never work. They said we might be in office, but we won't be in power. Since the last election we've secured the passage of 200 pieces of legislation. We've ticked off the items on our freedom agenda. Legislated the reestablishment of the ABCC. Put in place the Registered Organisations Commission. Put in place protections for CFA volunteers. Reformed the processes of the Human Rights Commission. Our social agenda. We've reformed childcare. Education. Economic agenda. We've got the economy going extremely well. We've legislated our first tranche of company tax cuts. We've legislated $34 billion worth of savings. We're on track for surplus in 2020/21. Things are going well. And look Malcolm Turnbull has made us competitive. He's kept us competitive. We won the last election. We won the Bennelong by-election. Every electoral outing that Malcolm has led us on, we've won. So look, we're competitive. We're achieving. And the mood is really good.

GILBERT:
Deputy Leader of Government in the Senate and Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield great to have you on AM agenda we'll talk to you soon.

[ends]