Facebook said on Tuesday it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news after a deal was struck with Australia's government on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed in statements that they had reached agreement on amendments to proposed legislation to require the social network and Google pay for Australian news that they feature.
Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday.
The Senate will debate amended legislation on Tuesday.
“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement.
Google has been signing up Australia's largest media companies in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.
The platform says it has struck deals with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and more than 500 publishers globally using the model which was launched in October.
Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers under its own model, Facebook News.
“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 recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said in a statement.
“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, ” Easton added.
Facebook announced Thursday it has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on the platform because of proposed laws in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism.
Australian publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences, the U.S.-based company said in a statement.
Australian users cannot share Australian or international news.
International users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news.
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said.
“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter,” Easton added.
The announcement comes a day after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described as “very promising” negotiations between Facebook and Google with Australian media companies.
Frydenberg said after weekend talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, he was convinced that the platforms “do want to enter into these commercial arrangements.”
Frydenberg said he had had a “a constructive discussion” with Zuckerberg after Facebook blocked Australian news.
“He raised a few remaining issues with the Government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward,” Frydenberg tweeted.
But communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government would not back down on its legislative agenda.
“This announcement from Facebook, if they were to maintain this position, of course would call into question the credibility of the platform in terms of the news on it,” Fletcher told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“Effectively Facebook is saying to Australians information that you see on our platforms does not come from organizations that have editorial policies or fact-checking processes or journalists who are paid to do the work they do,” Fletcher added.
The Australian Parliament is debating proposed laws that would make the two platforms strike deals to pay for Australian news.
The Senate will consider the draft laws after they were passed by the House of Representatives late Wednesday.
Both platforms have condemned the proposed laws an unworkable. Google has also threatened to remove its search engine from the country.
But Google is striking pay deals with Australian news media companies under its own News Showcase model.
Seven West Media on Monday became the largest Australian news media business to strike a deal with Google to pay for journalism.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has since announced a wide-ranging deal.
Rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly close to its own pact and ABC is also in negotiations.
News plays a larger part in Google's business model than it does in Facebook's.
Easton said the public would ask why the platforms were responding differently to the proposed law that would create an arbitration panel to set a price for news in cases where the platforms and news businesses failed to agree.
“The answer is because our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news,” Easton said.
Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology think tank, said Facebook's decision "will make it a weaker social network.”
“Facebook actions mean the company’s failures in privacy, disinformation, and data protection will require a bigger push for stronger government regulation,” Lewis said. “Without fact-based news to anchor it, Facebook will become little more than cute cats and conspiracy theories."
Australia’s acting prime minister on Tuesday defended his comments comparing the attack on the U.S. Capitol building with Black Lives Matter protests despite criticism from Indigenous and human rights groups.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is acting as the conservative government’s leader while Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on vacation, has come under widespread criticism since Monday, when he described last week’s insurrection on Capitol Hill that claimed five lives as “similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year.”
McCormack, who leads the rural-based The Nationals junior coalition partners, used several television and radio interviews on Tuesday to reject calls for an apology over his comparison.
He said the Black Lives Matter protests last year had claimed 19 lives across the United States.
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“Amnesty International and others — and I appreciate there are a lot of people out there who are being a bit bleeding-heart about this and who are confecting outrage — but they should know those lives matter too,” McCormack told reporters. “All lives matter. People shouldn’t have to go to a protest and lose their life.”
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Lead, Nolan Hunter, said McCormack was “continuing to show his ignorance about what Black Lives Matter means and how it affects our mob right here in Australia.”
“Ignorance of the issues that affect Indigenous people in Australia is why we are behind the rest of the world and lock up little children as young as 10 (and) why Indigenous children are 27 times more likely to end up in prison than their non-Indigenous peers,” Hunter said in a statement Tuesday.
“Instead of backing up President Trump, the acting prime minister should be backing up Indigenous people in his own country and take the lead in addressing these issues,” Hunter added.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of New South Wales state tweeted, “It’s a disappointment (to say the least) to see the Acting P.M. mischaracterise our fight for justice as ‘race riots.’”
“Our demand that Black lives be valued and defended against state-sanctioned violence is in no way comparable to attempts to violently overthrow an election,” it added.
Senior opposition lawmaker Chris Bowen also demanded that McCormack apologize for his comments.
“Those people around the world who engaged in peaceful protest in the Black Lives Matter movement deserve better than to have the acting ... prime minister compare their actions to the violence and thuggery that we saw at the U.S. Capitol last week,” Bowen told reporters. “Australians of color deserve to know their government thinks more of them than that.”
“To have the acting prime minister spout the words ‘all lives matter’ to diminish the Black Lives Matter movement was beyond disgusting,” he added.
A shocking Australian military report into war crimes has found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.
Australian Defence Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell said Thursday the shameful record included alleged instances in which new patrol members would shoot a prisoner in order to achieve their first kill in a practice known as “blooding.” He said the soldiers would then plant weapons and radios to support false claims the prisoners were enemies killed in action.
Campbell told reporters in Canberra the illegal killings began in 2009, with the majority occurring in 2012 and 2013. He said some members of the elite Special Air Service encouraged “a self-centered, warrior culture.”
The chief was announcing the findings of a four-year investigation by Maj. Gen. Paul Brereton, a judge and Army reservist who was asked to look into the allegations and interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Brereton recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police for possible charges, including murder.
“To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers,” Campbell said.
He said he’d spoken directly to his Afghan military counterpart to express his remorse.
“Such alleged behavior profoundly disrespected the trust placed in us by the Afghan people who had asked us to their country to help them,” Campbell said. “It would have devastated the lives of Afghan families and communities, causing immeasurable pain and suffering. And it would have put in jeopardy our mission and the safety of our Afghan and coalition partners.”
As well as the 39 killings, the report outlines two allegations of cruel treatment. It says that none of the alleged crimes were committed during the heat of battle.
Only parts of the report have been made public. Many details, including the names of alleged killers, remain redacted.
The report said a total of 25 current or former troops were involved as perpetrators or accessories in 23 separate incidents, with some involved just once and a few multiple times.
It said some Australian troops would regularly carry “throw downs” — things like foreign pistols, radios and grenades that they could plant on those they killed so the Afghan civilians would appear like combatants in photographs.
The report said most of the alleged crimes were committed and concealed at a patrol commander level by corporals and sergeants, and that while higher-level troop and squadron commanders had to take some responsibility for the events that happened on their watch, they weren’t primarily to blame.
The report paints a picture of a toxic culture in which soldiers were competing against those from other squadrons, accounts of deaths were sanitized or embellished, and many procedures to ensure safety and integrity had broken down.
“Those who wished to speak up were allegedly discouraged, intimidated and discredited,” Campbell said.
The report recommended 19 soldiers be referred to federal police for criminal investigation. Campbell said he’s accepting all the report’s recommendations.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already announced a special investigator will help pursue possible prosecutions because the workload would overwhelm existing police resources.
Many troops are also likely to be stripped of their medals and the defense force will undergo significant structural changes. The report says that where there is credible evidence of unlawful killings, Afghan families should be compensated immediately by Australia without waiting for the criminal cases to proceed.
“This will be an important step in rehabilitating Australia’s international reputation, in particular with Afghanistan, and it is simply the right thing to do,” the report states.
Spending on health care in Australia surpassed 190 billion Australian dollars (138.1 billion U.S. dollars) in 2019, said a report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) on Friday.
It revealed that health spending increased by 3.1 percent to 195.7 billion AUD (142.2 billion USD) in the financial year 2018-19 - down from an average increase of 3.5 percent per year over the last decade.
More than two thirds of that spending was by governments on services such as Medicare, Australia's universal health care system, with the federal government spending 80.6 billion AUD (58.6 billion USD) and state and territory governments a combined 53 billion AUD (38.5 billion USD).
The report covers a period prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, with spending expected to have increased significantly in 2019-20 as a result of the pandemic.
"Spending in 2018-19 equated to an average of 7,772 AUD (5,650.8 USD) per person," Adrian Webster, an AIHW spokesperson, said in a media release.
"In real terms, this was 111 AUD (80.7 USD or 1.5 percent) more per person than in 2017-18, slightly lower than the average growth over the decade of 1.9 percent.
"Health spending represented around 10 percent of economic activity in 2018-19, roughly the same as the previous year. This has not increased since 2015-16."
Government health spending accounted for 24.3 percent of tax revenue, down from 24.5 percent.
"In terms of the key health services, spending on hospitals grew by 2.8 billion AUD (2.03 billion USD) in real terms to 79 billion AUD (57.4 billion USD), making up 40.4 percent of total health spending," Webster said.