Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Facebook to reverse news ban on Australian sites, government to make amendments to media bargaining code

Facebook will walk back its block on Australian news sites after the government agreed to make amendments to the proposed media bargaining laws that would force major tech giants to pay news outlets for their content.

The social media giant blocked Australian users from sharing or posting news last week

"The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days," a statement from the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said.

In the statement, Mr Frydenberg and Mr Fletcher said the government would make further amendments to the news media bargaining code.

Last week Facebook stopped Australian users from sharing or posting news links in response to the code.

A number of non-news pages were swept up in the ban, including community organisations and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Facebook said in a statement that it was "pleased" the company was able to reach an agreement with the government. "[We] appreciate the constructive discussions we've had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week," it said.

"After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.

"As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days."

Mr Frydenberg thanked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for engaging in "constructive" discussions over the code, saying the company had "refriended" Australia. "It has been a difficult process, but these are really important issues," he said.

The Treasurer said Mr Zuckerberg had told him that he intended to sign commercial deals with news publishers.

"Facebook is now going to engage good faith negotiations with the commercial players," Mr Frydenberg said. "They are pretty advanced with a number of parties."

He said he hoped businesses would "sit at the table" and hopefully sign off on the deals.

Mr Frydenberg also confirmed the government was looking to bring back its advertising on Facebook after withdrawing it in the wake of the news ban.

Seven West Media, Nine, News Corp and the Guardian have all struck content deals with Google to show their content on its News Showcase platform.

Facebook wants to bring its Facebook News service to Australia, but has yet to sign any deals with local publishers.

The amendments to the code include a range of changes, including that final offer arbitration — something both Google and Facebook were strongly opposed to — is considered "a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months".

Final offer arbitration would mean if a deal could not be reached, both the news publisher and the digital platform would present their proposed deals to an independent mediator, who would then pick one and that would become binding under law.

The Treasurer will also have to give advance notice to a platform if it is going to be "designated" or included under the code, and also has to take into account any deals the company has done.


Unemployment benefits are about to undergo a major overhaul

The end of the coronavirus supplement is close, leaving jobseekers without a top-up payment.

The government has announced a plan for a modest increase to the base payment, but it falls short of what many have been calling for.

And more will be asked from recipients in exchange for the increase, including face-to-face appointments, more job searches and an intensive training scheme for the long-term unemployed.

Here's what we know so far.

The government has announced a $25 per week increase in welfare from April 1.

This means 1.95 million Australians who are currently on working-age payments will receive a boost, including those on JobSeeker, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance and Austudy.

For individuals without children, the maximum payment right now is about $282 per week, paid fortnightly.

That will increase to $307, and other payments such as rent assistance and energy supplement will still flow.

However the coronavirus supplement — currently an extra $75 per week — will end so, overall, recipients will be worse off.

Recipients will be able to work slightly more before their payment starts to reduce, up to $75 per week from $53 per week.

The changes will have to pass Parliament before they are implemented.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash announced an increase in "mutual obligations" on recipients on Tuesday.

The government will reinstate face-to-face appoints with job services providers. She said these had been suspended during the pandemic.

The number of job searches a recipient must undertake will also rise from 8 per month now to 15 from April, then 20 from July.

Senator Cash also announced recipients would "enter an intensive training stage" after six months of receiving payments. She said this would be a short course "to enhance their skills or to do some work experience".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the coronavirus supplement — which gave hundreds of thousands of Australians a financial boost — was temporary and would have to end at some stage.

He has been under pressure from business leaders, civil society and other political parties to increase the rate of the JobSeeker scheme.

On Tuesday he said the increase was "appropriate" as the country recovered from the pandemic. The changes will cost $9 billion over four years.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the government needed to strike a balance. "We need a system that is fair and sustainable for the people who need it and the taxpayers who pay for it," she said.

Senator Cash also raised the supposed issue of recipients declining employment to remain on welfare. She said the government would introduce an "employer reporting line". This is set to allow employers to contact the Department of Employment if a jobseeker declines a job.

Senator Cash warned any reports may be followed up with recipients questioned why they said no. "In the event that they do not have a valid reason, they will be breached for that," she said.


Anzac Day events to go ahead in Queensland as Chief Health Officer hopes life can 'return to normal'

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today announced ANZAC Day services, parades and commemorations will be held as normal this year.

Last year's restrictions saw thousands of Queenslanders stand on their driveways and light candles to pay their respects.

"Initially we were looking at alternative venues, whether we could do the march around a stadium, around the EKKA, and when we presented this to Dr Young, Dr Young said, 'Everything can go ahead as per normal, as in the past', so this is fantastic news," Ms Palaszczuk said. "This is going to mean a lot to families and veterans."

RSL Queensland President Tony Ferris said he was "overjoyed" at the news and expected this year's parade to be bigger than ever before. "The fact that we now have ANZAC Day back, it's hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff," Mr Ferris said.

"The communities and our veterans will now be able to step out with their comrades and continue down the path of remembering those veterans who have served, those who have given everything and those that are currently still serving."

Dr Young said she was able to approve the return of ANZAC Day marches because of the continued lack of community transmission in Queensland. She said in April last year, there were more than 270 active cases in Queensland — and now the state has just seven.

"We do not have community transmission here in Queensland today, and we probably don't have any community transmission anywhere in the country today and that's what the difference is," Dr Young said. "So that's why we can move forward and quite rapidly really return to normal.

"We've got to start working through what we need to continue to do as we transition to a more normal way of life."

The COVID-19 vaccine has begun to roll out in Queensland, with 203 frontline workers vaccinated at the Gold Coast University Hospital yesterday.

The rollout will begin at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane tomorrow and at the Cairns Hospital on Friday.

Next week it will extend to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, the Sunshine Coast University Hospital and the Townsville University Hospital.

Dr Young said ANZAC Day events would go ahead no matter where the state was up to with the rollout of the vaccine.

"Remember these services are perfect in a COVID environment we know that the risk of spreading COVID-19 outdoors is very, very, very low," she said.

"So for the parades, the dawn services, the vast majority of those more formal events are outdoors.

"Once people go indoors the risk increases but we have processes in place that will continue to be in place."


Construction union and boss Jason O'Mara threatened businesses to establish a cartel, prosecutors allege

The ACT construction union has been accused of threatening to "run businesses out of town" that did not meet its demands, on the first day of a hearing into charges the union tried to induce cartel behaviours.

Over 40 witnesses are expected to be called by the prosecution, including former union official Fihi Kivalu who previously pleaded guilty to blackmail

The charges against the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) and Canberra boss Jason O'Mara emerged after the trade union royal commission in 2016.

Prosecutor Rowena Orr told the ACT Magistrates Court that in 2012 and 2013 the union negotiated new pay deals, first with a group of steel fixers and later companies involved in scaffolding.

Ms Orr said the five steel fixing companies involved told the union they feared they could not afford the new agreement.

She said her case would show that the union, and Mr O'Mara, then allegedly suggested they could make an arrangement with each other to set a minimum price, so they could afford the changes.

The court heard a similar arrangement was allegedly suggested to the nine scaffolding companies.

Ms Orr told the court she would call nearly 40 witnesses, including for former union figure Fihi Kivalu, who was arrested for blackmail at the Royal Commission. He later pleaded guilty the crime.

Ms Orr said witnesses would tell the court how the minimum price arrangements were discussed. She said some witnesses would also give evidence about alleged comments made by the union leaders, including threats to anyone not sticking to the minimum price. "If the union saw anyone charging below the union rate they would run them out of town," she said.

She said it would be alleged that at one point the union said it would like the companies to send their tender documents to show they were keeping to the rates.

When charges were laid in 2018, the head of the consumer watchdog ACCC, Rod Sims, said cartel activity hurts consumers.

"It's, in general terms, where competitors get together to agree prices, to raise prices, or to restrict supply and have the same effect as raising prices, and that has obvious harm to consumers."

"The penalties … are either up to $10 million per breach, or three times the profit made, or 10 per cent of turnover.

"In terms of individuals, the maximum penalty can be up to 10 years in jail."

The hearing in the ACT Magistrates Court will assess if there is enough evidence for a trial


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com (TONGUE TIED)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

https://heofen.blogspot.com/ (MY OTHER BLOGS)


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