Liberal Senators’ Big Tech inquiry gets knocked back

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

A Liberal Senator has failed in his second attempt to launch an inquiry into the influence of Big Tech in Australia, after the motion was blocked by Labor and the crossbench.

South Australian senator Alex Antic moved a motion on Tuesday for the establishment of a Select Committee on Big Tech Influence in Australia, which would look into disinformation, “de-platforming”, fake accounts and the extent that the likes of Facebook and Google comply with local laws.

But the attempt was dismissed by Labor, who said there are already too many select committees, and the Greens, who took issue with the language of the motion, which they said was used “overwhelmingly by the far right”.

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Big Tech: The senate has declined to establish a new select committee to investigate

Senator Antic had originally planned to move the motion last month, but put this on hold. This was the same day that the government announced it had reached an agreement with Facebook over its media bargaining code, with news allowed back on the social media platform.

He tried again on Tuesday, attempting to launch a select committee that would investigate and report on the activity of major international and domestic tech firms, specifically looking at disinformation, misinformation, shadow banning, de-platform and monetisation, fake accounts and bots, the companies’ terms of service and their compliance with Australian law.

The motion was voted down with Senators drawn at 32 votes for and against.

Labor voted down the motion due to the amount of Select Committees already operating.

“We were advised by the government that they are concerned at the number of Select Committees that are currently operating in the Senate and at the level of work references committees have – that Select Committees are perhaps filling part of the role that references committees had in the past – only to be given this motion on the Notice Paper,” Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said.

“So we won’t be supporting this today, based on the government’s own advice that there are too many Select Committees at this point in time.”

Crossbench Senator Rex Patrick also voted against the motion for this reason, saying it would mean there are 10 Select Committees, even though it is recommended there should only be three at any one time.

Senator Patrick said he would have supported an inquiry by a references committee into Big Tech.

The Greens voted against the motion due to the language used in it.

“There is no doubt that we do need an inquiry into the influence of Big Tech in this country, particularly its impact on our democracy and our media and the way that Big Tech has allowed for the proliferation of far-right extremism on digital platforms in Australia,” Greens Senator Nick McKim said.

“However, this motion contains language which concerns the Greens. It is language which is used overwhelmingly by the far right, including terms like shadow-banning and deplatforming.

“While we won’t be supporting this motion today, we do remain open minded and of the view that we need to have a look at some of the impacts of the Big Tech sector on those areas I mentioned earlier.”

Shadow industry minister Ed Husic last month labelled the attempted motion a “joke”.

“On so many levels this was a joke and a poor one at that. There are countless reports gathering dust now on what needs to be done to combat some of the excesses in technology that this government has ignored,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus in February.

“On top of that did anyone seriously think that this government that had pulled the handbrake on implementing Royal Commission recommendations against big banks was serious about a Big Tech inquiry that would produce a report that would go nowhere?”

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