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Wednesday, 04 December 2019 11:32

Govt fearful of power wielded by global digital giants

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Govt fearful of power wielded by global digital giants Pixabay

Faced with the power of global digital companies, the Federal Government appears to have lost its cojones. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and a host of other Coalition MPs and Senators have waxed voluble about the need to crack down on the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter, but when it comes to action, they are all like wilting willows.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was asked to look at the role these companies play in Australia and the way they have decimated journalism. Rod Sims came up with remedies which are, at best, middle of the road, steps which can hardly be called extreme.

Yet, even those small steps are too much for the likes of Morrison, Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Why was an inquiry held at all? Why act like lions before the inquiry and now behave like the smallest and quietest of mice?

It is entirely possible that the people within the Canberra bubble have taken note of the US warning to impose a 100% tax on French goods in retaliation for a 3% digital tax that Paris imposed on the same digital firms that were the subject of the ACCC report.

The government has used its favourite media organs — the Murdoch press — to float some really crazy suggestions about why it is hesitating to respond to the ACCC report, something it pledged to do before the end of the year.

According to The Australian, the government fears that asking the digital firms to pay for content they use from media companies would be considered a tax. So what? Everyone pays when they use content from someone else. Why should tax-evaders like Facebook and Google get an exemption?

Another "fear" is that Facebook and Google will move offshore if rules are placed on their operations, resulting in a loss of revenue and jobs. Really? Where are they going to move – Vanuatu? Tuvalu? Fiji? Samoa? This is a big bluff from lobbyists who are paid heavily by the digital firms and if the government swallows this, it will swallow anything.

This, by the way, is the same government that dismissed fears voiced by technology companies last year when very real evidence was produced to show that the encryption law which was being pushed through would endanger the small tech industry that Australia has. Warnings came from countries around the globe and not from paid lobbyists, but from technically qualified people.

But, hey, what use does the government have for such people? The way it has driven the education system into the ground is a clear indication that education is the lowest priority on its agenda – that is, if it has anything close to an agenda.

If all the ACCC's work goes in vain, then Morrison might as well give Facebook and Google non-profit status and exempt them from all taxes. After all, they pay very little now and the government does not seem keen to force them to pay their rightful share.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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