Australia: Technology, media and telecommunications election policy tracker – May 2019

The Corrs Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) group's Election Policy Tracker reports on the various policies, announcements and public statements of the major parties in the areas of telecommunications, media and technology.

This May update focusses on Labor's announcements on regional communications and comments on spectrum policy, the roll-out of 5G and the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry. It also covers the Coalition's recent online safety package and funding commitments for a Tasmanian space facility.

Our previous March and April updates focused on the Federal Budget and other announcements made by the Coalition and Labor.

To access our March Election Policy Tracker click here.

To access our April Election Policy Tracker click here.

Labor Announcements

Regional Communications Policy

Labor has announced a commitment of $245 million to improve regional connectivity if it wins the upcoming election. Specific funding announcements include:

  • $160 million for a further two rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program; and
  • $60 million to develop 'Connected Community Plans' for local connectivity projects and digital literacy initiatives.

Labor has also committed to improving mobile coverage maps, empowering the ACCC to track investment in regional mobile networks, ensuring better cooperation with state and territory governments to coordinate investments, and improving back-up power arrangements in bushfire prone areas. Labor's policy aligns closely with the Coalition's existing regional communications policy and helps create certainty for industry.

Status: This policy has now been announced and is likely to be implemented by Labor should it win Government.

New space facility in Queanbeyan

Shadow Minister for Industry and Innovation, Senator Kim Carr, has announced that a Labor Government would provide $20 million to establish a space industry hub in Queanbeyan. The money would be provided to the Australian Space Agency to attract an 'anchor tenant' for the High Tech Industry and Innovation Park at Jerrabomberra.

The plan follows a $35 million space announcement which was made in 2018, with Labor committing to:

  • four Space Industry Research Hubs and two Space Industry Training Centres;
  • a dedicated Space Science and Industry Agency;
  • a Space Industry Supplier Advocate to attract investment; and
  • a Space Industry Innovation Council to develop an industry wide agenda.

As part of these announcements, Labor has indicated that it wants to double the size of the Australian space industry within five years.

Status: This policy has now been announced and is likely to be implemented by Labor should it win Government.

Australian Content

In a sign Labor is considering changes to Australian content requirements, Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, and Shadow Minister for the Arts, Tony Burke, have announced that a Labor Government would convene a Taskforce to conclude the Australian and Children's Screen Content Review.

The Coalition Government had initially announced that the Review, which was being conducted jointly by the Department of Communications and the Australia Media and Communications Authority, would conclude by the end of 2017. However, the report has not been released.

Labor has announced five 'core review principles' which will characterise the work of the taskforce including the need for Australian content online, a requirement that online providers contribute to the Australian screen sector, a consistent set of obligations and incentives across all platforms, and diversity of Australian content across all services. These principles indicate Labor is inclined to extend Australian content obligations to include on-demand streaming services.

Status: Labor's comments on Australian content have been fairly strong to date, indicating that a taskforce is likely to be the precursor to stronger Australian content requirements if Labor is elected.

Spectrum review

Rowland has opened the door to further consultations with industry and consumer groups on spectrum reform if Labor wins Government.

The Coalition Government released and consulted on an Exposure Draft of a Radiocommunications Bill in 2017, which was designed to implement the recommendations of the 2015 Spectrum Review. Rowland has publically said that Labor would prioritise concluding this consultation and reform process.

Status: Labor has not released an official policy on further spectrum reforms but is committed to the consultation process.

Labor hints at defamation reform

Rowland has indicated that a Labor Government would be open to changing defamation laws to make it more difficult to successfully claim for defamation. Rowland expressed concerns that Australia is becoming the "defamation capital" of the world.

Status: Labor's comments on defamation laws have been largely rhetorical to date and no clear policy has been released.

5G reforms

Rowland has been critical of the Government's ability to lay the ground work for a regulatory environment that is conducive to the rollout of the 5G network, calling for 'immediate' and 'practical' changes.

In 2017, the Coalition Government developed a 5G working group, which brings together representatives from across Government and industry to discuss 5G issues. The Coalition Government had announced that the group would be reviewed before 30 June 2019 to ensure it was meeting its' objectives. Rowland has committed to this same timeframe for a review if Labor is elected.

Status: A review of the 5G working group is likely to be Labor's first step in this area before any meaningful reform.

Increased regulation for tech giants following Digital Platforms Inquiry

Rowland has indicated Labor is sympathetic to the preliminary recommendations of the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI), which proposed a range of ambitious regulatory changes.

The final DPI report is due to be released on 30 June 2019, with Rowland's comments indicating that Labor is prepared to increase regulation around market dominance, use of consumer data, privacy and harmful online content. Rowland was particularly critical of the way technology companies have collaborated with the Coalition Government, and has called on the industry to actively propose solutions to regulatory issues.

Status: Rowland's rhetoric suggests that Labor recognises the need for the ACCC DPI and will consider its recommendations.

FIRB to consider tax implications under Labor

Labor has indicated that it may require the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) to consider the tax regimes and corporate structures of foreign companies before granting investment approval.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has raised concerns about Brookfield's takeover of Healthscope, writing to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg seeking assurances that the FIRB considered tax avoidance issues before granting approval for the takeover bid.

Status: Bowen's letter suggests that a future Labor Government may direct the FIRB to take a more interventionist approach towards tax issues when considering foreign investment approvals.

Coalition Announcements

Online safety package

The Coalition Government has announced that, if re-elected, it will introduce an Online Safety Act, which will:

  • increase the maximum penalty from three years' imprisonment to five years for using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence;
  • introduce new offences for providing electronic services to facilitate child abuse material and 'grooming' of third parties using post or carriage services to procure children for sexual activity; and
  • increase mandatory minimum sentences for using carriage services to transit indecent communication to a child.

The Coalition Government has also announced that it will work with industry to ensure that online apps, games and services which are marketed to children default to the most restrictive privacy settings at set-up.

Social media companies will also be forced to release transparency reports of online abuse on their platforms including data regarding the number, type and respond to reports about illegal, abusive and predatory content disseminated by users on their platforms.

Status: This policy has now been announced and is likely to be implemented if the Coalition Government is re-elected. We expect that a Labor Government would consider similar reforms.

Funding commitment for Tasmanian space facility

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, has announced that a re-elected Coalition Government will spend $1.2 million to upgrade space tracking facilities at the University of Tasmania. The upgrades will enable precision tracking of satellites and spacecraft. The money will be sourced from the Government's $19.5 million Space Infrastructure Fund, which was announced in the April Budget.

Status: This policy has now been announced and is likely to be implemented if the Coalition Government is re-elected.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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