Dutton backs misinformation crackdown after stabbing

Andrew Brown |

Stabbings at a Sydney church and shopping centre have renewed calls for tougher misinformation laws.
Stabbings at a Sydney church and shopping centre have renewed calls for tougher misinformation laws.

Tougher penalties forcing social media companies to remove misinformation from their platforms need to be rolled out to set a benchmark for the rest of the world, the opposition leader claims.

Peter Dutton has backed efforts calling for harsher sanctions to combat misinformation online, after false theories and graphic content were posted to platforms following a stabbing at a Sydney church on Monday and the Bondi Junction attack.

The incidents have sparked a renewed push for the government’s misinformation laws, which were delayed due to freedom of speech concerns.

Peter Dutton
Social media platforms “see themselves (as) above the law”, Peter Dutton says. (Aaron Bunch/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Dutton said the coalition was willing to work with the government surrounding the proposal.

“What (social media companies) are worried about is the flow-on to other markets if Australia’s laws are upheld, and that’s all the more reasons, I think, for us to take a stance,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“It’s important for us, but for other democracies as well.

“We know that the companies … see themselves (as) above the law and the Australian law should apply equally in the real world as it does online.”

Under the laws, tougher penalties would apply for social media companies who fail to remove misleading content from their platforms.

While the coalition expressed concern with the government’s original plan for the misinformation bill, due to fears it would stifle political debate or dissent for ideas, Mr Dutton said a tougher stance on social media platforms was needed.

“We need to get the right balance, so that is, we don’t want to impinge on your ability to express a view in a democracy,” he said.

“We are (prepared to back the laws) and happy to look at anything the government puts forward.”

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said he was hopeful the outcry over social media failing to remove content following the stabbing incidents would lead to changes to misinformation laws.

“I certainly hope that the events of the last week, including the proliferation of misinformation on social media, has given everyone thought about why we do need stronger laws,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

“The technology we are dealing with is rapidly changing, and it shows why the laws we have in place need to rapidly change as well.”

Senator Watt said the previous laws regarding social media content had not kept up with the technology.

Murray Watt
Murray Watt says it’s time to tackle the “proliferation of misinformation on social media”. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“What we want to do is go further and mandate the kind of laws that apply around misinformation, rather than just have a voluntary code that can just be ignored by social media giants,” he said.

“The last week showed that we need to do more.”

Social media platform X has vowed to fight orders from Australia’s online safety watchdog to remove posts about the church stabbing.

“While X respects the right of a country to enforce its laws within its jurisdiction, the eSafety Commissioner does not have the authority to dictate what content X’s users can see globally,” the platform’s global government affairs account posted on Saturday.

“We will robustly challenge this unlawful and dangerous approach in court.”

The requests for the takedowns have also been criticised by X’s owner Elon Musk.

Senator Watt said the billionaire had demonstrated contempt for Australians for the refusal to take down the violent content.

“The public’s had a gutful of these narcissistic billionaires, who think they are above the law,” he said.

Opposition foreign spokesman Simon Birmingham said support for the misinformation laws would depend on the bill’s contents, but supported stronger action on social media companies.

A 16-year-old boy was charged with terrorism offences after he allegedly stabbed Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, 53, who was delivering a sermon on Monday night.

The attack triggered a riot outside the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, leaving dozens of police officers injured.

Three men have been charged in relation to the riot, including Issa Haddad, 28, who faced court on Sunday.

Haddad, who was charged with making threats of violence to cause fear, was bailed on the condition he not enter Wakeley and report daily to police.