Nothing says, “a great democracy” quite like an extremely controversial free speech-affecting legislative effort by a country’s government, does it?
Unfortunately for Australians, and judging by reports, their current cabinet is now trying to convince the world that it is the caretaker of that kind of democracy – and, yet, at the same time, push through a bill of, well, that other kind.
The “magic word” rears its ugly head again here – misinformation. That’s the centerpiece of Australia’s Communications Minister Michelle Rowland‘s plan for what could end up as her democracy and free speech takeover.
Namely, Rowland, nicknamed by some as “minister for misinformation” – and, interpret that turn of phrase as you wish – is on record as saying that it will be her right and power of office to “direct the media watchdog to investigate instances of online misinformation.”
And the misinformation we’re talking about here is delineated (to suit those who engineered the “definition” rather than be properly defined without bias) in a draft, referred to by critics as “censorship laws.”
The bill in the works for some time now is meant to amend existing regulation so that it tackles misinformation better.
In a June letter Rowland addressed to current Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese (another documents obtained thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request) she effectively states that the proposal, if eventually adopted, would make her the misinformation “tzar” (or tsarina, really).
Writes Rowland: she would be given the power to “direct” the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to “commence investigations,” reports are now saying.
ACMA, for its part, would be given the right to fine social media giants “millions of dollars” if their platforms are found guilty of misinformation and harmful content.
And we know how it goes when Big Tech has to choose between saving money and just in general currying favor with government(s) – vs protecting free speech.
The latter option virtually never wins.
Nevertheless, Australia has managed to emerge from its shocking pandemic human rights and speech restrictions as still a democracy – at least as in, some people can speak out against what they consider to be wrong government policies.
But even they have to be careful to incorporate “Russia and China” into their message.
Thus, Joe de Bruyn, ex head of the largest private sector trade union in Australia, “shoppies union,” had this to say:
“The faceless bureaucrats of the ACMA are to be empowered to restrict free speech in accordance with their own judgments on social media platforms.”
And, even though this is clearly a problem Australia has with itself – he made sure to stress, “ordinary citizens will be muzzled (… it will) lead the nation down the path of Putin’s Russia or Xi’s China.”
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