PM’s ‘anti-trolling’ bill unlikely to pass before election, inquiry pushed back

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Two inquiries into the controversial ‘anti-trolling’ bill will not report back until mid-March, with it becoming increasingly unlikely the legislation will be passed before the upcoming election, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison promising it would be “dealt” with in February.

On Tuesday morning the federal government moved to extend the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety, which it has been using to seek stakeholder feedback on its Anti-Trolling Bill, by a month until March 24.

After holding 10 public hearings and receiving 70 submissions, the Committee had been set to report back on the bill on Tuesday. The Committee is now accepting submissions again until 8 March.

Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison

The bill has also been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry, with submissions due 28 February and a report expected on 24 March.

This means there will now be two concurrent inquiries into the controversial piece of legislation, with questions around its necessity and effectiveness, and department officials directly contradicting the government over the true intention of it.

The Anti-Trolling Bill provides a “new novel framework to allow Australians to respond to defamatory content posted on social media”, enabling those who have been defamed to apply to identify the anonymous posters of this material.

The bill would also reverse the High Court’s Voller decision, making administrators of social media pages no longer liable for third party comments, and clearing big tech firms of liability if adequate complaints schemes are in place.

Despite Mr Morrison labelling the reforms as “some of the strongest powers to tackle online trolls in the world”, department officials told the inquiry that the bill was entirely about defamation, and not about tackling “trolls” or online safety.

Despite “trolling” being in the title of the bill, it is not defined in the legislation and does not even appear once.

Mr Morrison previously promised to have the legislation “dealt” with in February, but has failed to do so.

The bill was introduced to the lower house last week and is yet to be debated.

There are now only three full sitting days remaining before the upcoming federal election, and these will be largely devoted to the Budget, making it unlikely the “anti-trolling” powers will be passed during this term of government.

In a submission to the Select Committee, the Law Council of Australia said the reforms would do nothing to address trolling on social media, and may actually serve to restrict the recourse available to individuals and lead to more censorship by big tech firms.

The government’s own eSafety Commissioner is also “worried” about the reforms, telling the inquiry they may lead to vigilante justice and could confuse the public.

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