The Good Oil by Rod Brown – Media policy – what a circus!

For three weeks we’ve watched the sentient monster lying out in the Brindabella Ranges. Will it gather strength and hurtle towards the southern suburbs of Canberra, taking our home and my son’s beef property with it?

Australia’s media policy is a big issue at the moment. It has several dimensions and the outcomes could have huge ramifications for Australian society. 

First, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is considering enforcement action against Google over allegations that it is wielding its market dominance in the digital advertising market. 

In reply, Google says, ‘it’s a competitive market with low barriers to entry…there are many companies, large and small, working together and in competition to power digital advertising across the web, each with different specialities and technologies’.

And Google’s relatively new MD for Australia/NZ, Mel Silva, upped the ante in her address to a Senate Committee Hearing in late January. She stated that in its current form, the News Media Bargaining Code (developed by the feds) is unworkable and would hurt not just Google, but small publishers, small businesses and millions of Australians. 

Her statement is worth a read because it goes on to explain in some detail how a fair and workable pathway for the Code could be constructed.

In her closing comments, Ms Silva opined that if the proposed media policy comes into effect, Google may have to consider exiting the market. This got the Senators bumping their gums, and PM Morrison chimed in within hours that ‘we won’t respond to threats’.

I’m not sure if Ms Silva really wanted to engage in brinkmanship, but she has surely made an impact. 

The second, related issue is media ownership. 

The Murdoch Press holds a dominant position in the print media in Australia. As everyone knows ex-PM Kevin Rudd is pushing for a Royal Commission of Enquiry. 

It’s unclear if it would uncover malpractice as such, but Murdoch’s fingerprints are all over the feds’ proposed action on Google. 

A case of one dominant media monopolist trying to rein in another!

The third issue is tax avoidance by media giants. 

I’m reliably informed that Google pays tax in each country and doesn’t run revenues through third nations. And it recently announced its settlement with the Tax Office after a decade-long dispute – $481 million is involved. 

On the other hand, Netflix revenue in Australia – somewhere between $670 million and $1.2 billion – flows to a Dutch arm.  

The above three issues are intertwined, and the risk is that the Morrison Government is going to come a cropper if it doesn’t tread carefully. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is leading a broad-ranging multinational tax avoidance push and the G20 is solidly behind this. 

The logical progression is that companies like Google, Netflix and indeed Newscorp will fall into line. And I’ve a gut feel that the silly parts of the draft News Media Bargaining Code can be addressed, thus avoiding the loss of Google products to the Australian market. 

However the right-wing bias of the Murdoch Press won’t be addressed by the current government.

Red Tape
In last month’s column I remarked that all three levels of government pay lip service to the costs and frustration of red tape. We had a great response, and a colleague in Victoria posted the following.   

“After the Kennett Government abolished the need for building permits for farm sheds up to a certain size, below a certain value and over 20m from a property boundary, I called the local council to ask whether they needed to inspect footings.

“The council officer confirmed that while a permit was not necessary, I would need to apply for a letter from Council stating that a permit was unnecessary.

“He was invited to visit a taxidermist.” 

Fraser Island
The bushfire that razed half of Fraser Island was so sad and avoidable. Early, large-scale deployment of big aircraft would have surely reduced the impact. 

The feds and state are yet to agree on whether to finance the purchase of such aircraft. Pity the firies didn’t have the lobbying power of defence companies!

Albo in the gun
The chattering class is aghast at Labor leader Albanese’s ‘inability to cut through’ against the Morrison Government. One journalist has run a story and immediately half the Press Gallery is following suit about a leadership spill.

Surely COVID-19 is the main game. If the feds and the states can steer us through this pandemic, they will all have a head start at their forthcoming elections. 

In the case of Albanese, he hasn’t any real scope to make waves at present, and the federal election is still eighteen months away. Talk about an early election later this year is fanciful.

However by mid-year Albanese could begin positioning a strong industry-jobs policy based around the environmental industries. 

My reasoning is that Job Keeper ends in March and the reality of unemployment, under-employment and mortgage stress will then hit home. Our industry policy needs a rev-up and this is Labor’s bread and butter. 

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network. 
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559