Google is “prepared to punish the whole of Australia” to quash a plan to make it pay for Australian news content, a top media executive says.
Google and Facebook on Friday fronted a senate inquiry into the federal government’s proposed media reforms, which would see the tech giants pay news outlets for content appearing on their platforms.
Google threatened to remove its search function from Australian users if the legislation was passed, but described the plan as a “worst case scenario”.
The tech giant claimed the legislation would make its Google Search unviable, despite paying just $59m in corporate tax last year while reporting revenues over $4b.
Campbell Reid, an executive at News Corp, the publisher of this article, said Google was corroding news outlets’ ability to produce content but remained of “immense value” to people accessing information.
“That’s the good part. The bad part about it is the situation we’ve been in: the commercialised monopoly. Now in a genuine monopoly statement, they’re prepared to punish the whole of the country,” he said.
Liberal senator and committee member Andrew Bragg said Google’s “threats and blackmail could not be taken seriously” while it had not put forward its own proposal.
“The big tech companies are the railroad and oil companies of the 21st century. They have more power and influence than any other organisation at the moment,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“The fact that they can’t come up with a decent model that they can live with is a real indictment on them, and shows how arrogant they’ve become.
“The elected government of Australia isn’t going to give into the big tech titans.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found Google accounted for 95 per cent of search traffic in Australia, but Mr Bragg was confident other search engines would “fill the void” if Google carried out its threat.
“Google doesn’t own the internet, there’ll be innovation. If organisations want to leave Australia, that’s a matter for them. The sun will rise the next day,” he said.
But Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the search engine had become an everyday utility, and might be considered an essential service.
“If you ever needed an example of what big corporate powers looks like, this is it,” she told reporters on Friday.
“This is a company that hardly pays any tax in Australia. It comes into the parliament, sits in a senate inquiry, and demands the Senate does what they want, or game over.
“This is a failure of the market. It’s time we regulate big tech.”
Chris Cooper, executive director at Reset Australia — an initiative designed to “counter digital threats to democracy” — said Google’s appearance showed it had “the body of a behemoth but the brain of a brat” and urged the government to stand firm.
“When a private corporation tries to use its monopoly power to threaten and bully a sovereign nation, it’s a sure-fire sign that regulation is long overdue,” he said.
“Internet search is necessary for society and the economy. Google enjoys the enormous advantage of being a giant in the space, but thinks it can eschew the responsibility. That’s just not how things should work.”
Mr Reid said although Australian news outlets had never had bigger audiences, revenues were “perversely” decreasing as big tech muscled in on the industry.
“Google hasn’t replaced a horse and cart with a car. It doesn’t replace news services with journalists, and has no newsrooms,” he said.
“It doesn’t provide the services that it feeds off, we provide (that).”
Facebook also told the inquiry a plan to bar its 17 million Australian users from accessing news content was not a threat, but “designed to inform the policy process”.
It comes after Google claimed hiding some news sites and stories from Australian internet users was the company “scenario planning” for the laws.
But independent senator Rex Patrick said Google was mimicking China’s strongarming of Australia over its call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
“The Australian government is leading on a proposal in relation to the Wild West web. Our government steps out first, and the very large organisation that is Google threatens to leave our market,” he said.
But Paul Maric, who runs car review website carexpert.com.au, said while Google was a “fat cat in terms of income” forcing it to pay publishers would deny smaller outlets the chance to compete.
“We wouldn’t be able to be in front of anyone, we would be pushed down the list, and people wouldn’t see our content as much as they would competitors. That would put small publishers like us at a disadvantage,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“Google is paying to deliver traffic … So it’s kind of like double dipping (by) getting free traffic plus more money for your display ads.”