23 February 2021




SUBJECTS: Facebook; JobSeeker; Electric Vehicles.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: My next guest this hour is the Shadow Minister for Industry and innovation Ed Husic. Welcome to you. Starting on this afternoon's breaking news. Facebook will start restoring Australian news pages after striking a deal with the Federal Government on the proposed Media Code. You welcome this?

ED HUSIC, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND INNOVATION: I do. I think it's a good outcome. I think, in particular, everyone was clearly stunned by what Facebook did last week and I think some of what they did was over the top in terms of taking down pages that a lot of people would rely on outside of news, particularly in terms of weather or health advice. But again, I think Facebook's concern was driven, in part - and they can obviously speak for themselves if they choose to - about some of the areas of the Media Code and whether or not it'd be workable. 

We've been saying as the Labor Party for some time, we wanted to see a workable Code in place. Clearly there's been a scramble over the weekend to try and get these issues between the Government and Facebook sorted out so that they can see the commercial negotiations recommence. We clearly need to see the detail and I understand the Shadow Minister for Communications is going to be briefed on what's being proposed in terms of the changes because we haven't had that full detail yet.

KARVELAS: Okay, no. But we know some of the detail because the Treasurer just made the announcement this afternoon. I've seen some analysis that the Government's caved in to Facebook. Do you see it that that way on face value?

HUSIC: The Government will say one thing and then the amendments themselves which have to get put before the Senate, will be another thing. So clearly, we'll have to wait and see the quality of the detail and if it matches, what's being claimed. I think in many respects, my interest in terms of what happens with the Code itself, is whether or not it does what was professed at the start of this process Patricia. We were told that media were under pressure, that this would have an impact on democracy, we needed to see a Code that would ensure that media outlets could survive into the future. 

I said in the Parliament last week, in my contribution to the debate that the test has to be will we see more journalists? Will we see more outlets? Will we see more diversity? Or will this simply be a transfer of wealth out of the tech companies to the shareholders of big media. Because if it only is that, then the entire process is another joke and has not met what everyone was told at the start this would be about, which was to inject more diversity in one of the most concentrated media markets on the planet.

KARVELAS: Two more questions on Facebook. It's going to be maybe a couple of days before news can be shared again. The Treasurer was asked why a couple of days. I would have asked that question too if I was at that press conference, because it seems why can't they just press a couple of buttons? I don't know how it works. But I'm assuming it's not that hard. Does that strike you as odd?

HUSIC: No, to be honest with you - as I always am when I speak with you Patricia - I would have to say that the type of changes that would need to be done to the platform to ensure that happens, I would expect that there be some time in terms of how that has to be managed. But having said that too, if Facebook, let's be frank about this, that didn't all happen last week, in terms of the shutdown, just at a whim. 

They would have planned it. So, they should have also planned for the restoration as well. I think while there might be some wiggle room on how long it takes to get back, you'd have to genuinely question if it takes too long. Because again, Facebook would not leave this to chance with a platform as complex as that social media network is.

KARVELAS: And in their statement, they've also made it clear that they're prepared to do this again. What do you make of that?

HUSIC: I think it just demonstrates again that there is some concern out there about how workable what's been put forward is. I noted the comment that Josh Frydenberg said this has been a proxy. I mean it has been a proxy for governments, but it has also been a proxy for big media globally as well. You've seen some of the deals that have been struck too. Some of the deals that have been announced locally, haven't even met the wildest suggestions that we saw some of the media companies putting forward, so we've seen a lot of heavy-handed negotiating tactics across the board. 

Putting all that drama aside again, I think the key now is accountability. Will this lead to more journalists, more outlets, more diversity or will it just be a way to make shareholders richer? This is what the test now needs to be. I think a lot of these play players, both the media and social media outlets, frankly, let's ignore the Government's spin, they wanted to avoid a horrendous legal quagmire that would have been this Code if it had taken full effect. I think their preference would have been to strike commercial deals as opposed to living life under a Code that frankly, I think there were a lot of question marks about how workable it'd be.

KARVELAS: Look would you spend money advertising on Facebook? I know you have some issues around this.

HUSIC: Yeah, I would. I've had issues in times past with the way that Facebook manages its advertising. For example, I've raised on your program, when I've said issues that have been critical of Facebook, they've miraculously, there's been a coincidence where my advertising has been held up. But on the whole, I think both social media for Parliamentarians is an important platform to be able to get your message out to the public. 

I'll be interested to see whether or not, as a result of the Code, News Limited and Fairfax resuscitate local newspapers that have been withdrawn by them. And the 21 Local Government Areas that don't have a social media presence, will they expect to see local media back. 

Because in the absence of that Patricia, I simply have no choice but to use Facebook, to communicate to my constituents because of the cost, the speed and the reach that it provides. Some of the talk about pulling out advertising as an MP, frankly I ignored. Because I'm not going to be dictated to by big media players that I would never be able to afford their advertising rates if I wanted to be able to get a message out to the constituents that expect information from me.

KARVELAS: Ed Husic, let's talk about JobSeeker. It's been boosted by an extra $25 a week taking the total allowance to $307 a week. Is that high enough or would you like it to be higher?

HUSIC: First, we want to see the detail ultimately of what the Government's putting forward. Again, they've made a claim about what they'll do and we'll see how that actually stacks up and what legislation is being put forward to back all this up. I certainly accept that the amount of money that people are expected to live off, in terms on a daily rate with the JobSeeker itself, is very hard for people. Particularly now if they've burned through their savings or they're in the private rental market. It's extraordinarily difficult. It'll be up to the Government to explain how their increase will be able to satisfy those concerns that will exist in the minds of the broader public. 

But again, we'll see what the detail is. We've been arguing as a Labor Party, for instance, that this needs to be adjusted and we need to have a way in which we work through that - the implications financially, but also how the social security system would work as a result of that. Importantly too the other thing that gets overlooked in this is how the Employment Services regime, Jobactive and the like, will actually ensure that people aren't stuck in unemployment for a long period of time. Because the statistic that's really indicative here, for every eight people on JobSeeker, there is only one job vacancy. So, there is an issue with high demand and low supply of employment.

KARVELAS: Yeah, look that is a big issue. Are you worried about consumer spending? That it may plummet or be really adversely affected as a result of there being obviously people seeing a reduction in their payments with the Coronavirus Supplement being taken away and this increase being the new reality for them.

HUSIC: So from my own neighbourhoods when I was speaking with, in particular small businesses, they said to me that they could see an absolute difference in behaviour. When the pandemic first hit around March last year, they saw a very sharp drop in spending. Once the wage subsidies that we had been pushing for as an Opposition, once the Government put in JobKeeper, they saw that change. Now it will be a test to see whether or not when they do remove JobKeeper in late March and changes that are made, what that does to consumer sentiment and whether or not that has an impact in businesses in neighbourhoods across the country, particularly for small business. Our argument has been, Patricia, for quite some time; don't set an artificial deadline, keep a close eye on how local economic conditions are going or sectors are performing, like for example, tourism and then make the call. It's better to do it in a way that has less economic impact than just to satisfy an artificial deadline.

KARVELAS: Just finally, I know you're pushing for Australia to manufacture electric cars. So, what timeline would you like the Government, or what does your policy work towards?

HUSIC: If I can just make the observation. I was asking the question recently, why aren't we building electric vehicles in Australia? We do have a history of manufacturing. Australians are proud of our manufacturing heritage. We're very smart people. We've got the money. We've got the finance, the know how - both technical and manufacturing - and also the way in which these cars are being built, has changed. 

Clearly there's also an environmental benefit of that happening as well. With the 17 million cars we've got on Australian roads, we need to upgrade the fleet so that we can see cars and transport in terms of reducing emissions a big thing. So, a win on manufacturing, a win on emissions, why can't we do it? We need to rebuild confidence in manufacturing in this country and I wanted to start that discussion, public discussion about, well, what does it take to do this? 

I have to say, I've been very grateful for the number of people that have reached out after raising that issue publicly, particularly from industry, who do want to explore the message about how we could do this. I certainly accept that it's a massive challenge to do this, especially after the Government chased out carmakers from the country. But I think Australians do believe that we have got a great track record on manufacturing. We got a lot to offer and why couldn't we make a big difference, a big push in this space?

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time.

HUSIC: Good on you. Thanks Patricia.