Google, Meta, TikTok and Twitter to appear before committee

SOCIAL MEDIA and technology industry giants Google, Meta, TikTok and Twitter will be appearing at public hearings examining online safety matters with the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety.

These hearings will be held on Thursday, January 20, And Friday, January 21, 2022.

Committee Chair Lucy Wicks MP said these hearings would enable the committee to scrutinise the industry’s response to online harms and abuse faced by everyday Australians.

"The committee’s early hearings received powerful evidence from people who have experienced different types of online harm, and in these hearings the committee can examine how the industry intends to move forward and protect its users," Ms Wicks said.

Other witnesses across the two days include further stakeholders from the technology sector, including the Digital Industry Group (DIGI), Reset Australia and the Centre for Digital Wellbeing. The committee will also hear evidence from academics and researchers, mental health organisations and government agencies.

Programs for both hearings can be found on the committee’s website.

The committee will hold further hearings in coming weeks. Submissions have closed, and the committee is reviewing evidence received in from the community in addition to evidence gathered in the public hearings. The committee anticipates tabling its final report in the Parliament by February 15, 2022.



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Union calls on Federal Government to pay everyday Australians to help solve aged care crisis

THE Health Services Union (HSU) is calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to fund a ‘home guard’ style system which would allow everyday Australians to provide support to the overwhelmed aged care sector.

The emergency initiative, similar to the Volunteer Defence Corps deployed during World War II, would help alleviate pressure on exhausted staff and provide a way for Australians who can and want to help to do so, a union spokesperson said.

It comes on top of requests from aged care providers and unions today to deploy the Australian Defence Force to support the sector and provide staff with an additional direct payment.

HSU national president Gerard Hayes said the sector was in the middle of an unprecedented crisis and requires immediate assistance.

“Conditions for both staff and residents are deteriorating rapidly as COVID cases in aged care continue to rise,” Mr Hayes said.

“We are hearing horrific reports from our members. Some facilities are so short staffed residents aren’t being showered for days. Others are experiencing food supply issues.

“The majority of staff are exhausted and many are quitting. It is an unmitigated catastrophe.

“The Morrison Government failed to prepare before letting Omicron rip and this is the disastrous result. The Prime Minister could help fix this crisis now by paying everyday Australians to provide support to aged care facilities in roles which don’t require training such as food delivery," Mr Hayes said.

“Australians could become ‘community angels’, helping facilities in dire need of assistance, particularly in regional and remote areas.

“The Morrison Government needs to do whatever it takes to relieve pressure on aged care. Rapid Antigen Tests should also be made free and available to all and the sourcing of adequate Personal Protective Equipment for all workers should be made a priority.

“Overworked, modestly-paid staff and aged care residents, who helped build this country, deserve better.”



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Everyone’s a critic, but small businesses need kindly customers

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson is urging people to refrain from posting negative online reviews, as short-staffed small businesses struggle to stay open.

Mr Billson said many small businesses were working hard to keep their doors open and their employees and customers safe, as Australians learn to live with Covid.

“Small businesses are doing their best to serve their communities, despite the challenges that come with having staff in isolation and supply chain disruptions,” Mr Billson said.

“The best way to support small businesses is to be a kindly customer – patient and understanding, with good and generous intent. Small businesses are run by real people who deserve our respect and empathy.

“Negative online reviews can be devastating for a small business, particularly those that are struggling to recover from tough couple of years. So just put the phone away. Resist the urge to give that unfair one-star review.”

The Ombudsman’s comments about the lasting and damaging impacts of negative online reviews, follows a submission to the Federal Government’s social media inquiry calling for digital platforms to make it easier to remove fake reviews.

“Our office has assisted more than 30 businesses dealing with fake reviews in recent years,” Mr Billson said.

“These so-called reviews hurt business reputations and cause significant distress to staff and business owners.

“Unfortunately, small businesses have few avenues for recourse when a fake review is posted, which is why there needs to be a transparent review system in place.

“In the US, Google acted to protect the interest of the investment application Robinhood by removing hundreds of thousands of fake reviews on its Google Play Store. We believe small businesses should be afforded similar protections of their interests.

“We recommend digital platforms build tools to prevent fake reviews and be clear about the evidence small businesses need to provide to have fake online commentary reviewed and removed.

“Small business owners are under enormous strain as they work get their businesses back on track. Fake reviews are contributing to those mental health pressures. Digital platforms should be doing more to support the small business community.”



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Public urged to be cautious before donating to help those in the Queensland flood disaster zone

AUSTRALIA's charity regulator is urging people to be cautious when they make a donation to help people impacted by the disastrous floods in South East Queensland.

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commissioner Gary Johns recommended donors check the ACNC Charity Register to verify that organisations claiming to support flood victims were real charities.

“Our hearts go out to everyone in South East Queensland, many of whom have been devastated by the floods around Bundaberg, Gympie and the surrounding region. We see images on the news of people who have lost everything and we want to help,” Dr Johns said.

“Unfortunately, we know scammers will often try to take advantage of our goodwill and generosity following a natural disaster. So, it is important to quickly check the Charity Register to make sure you are giving money to a legitimate charity, rather than someone pretending to be one.

“The Register will show you information including that a charity is officially registered, the kind of work it does, where it operates, its ABN and a link to check if donations are tax deductible. That means you can be confident that your donation is going to a really deserving organisation doing great work. Charities provide essential support to people at times like this and, in turn, rely on the community to support their work.”

Before you make a donation the ACNC recommends you:

  • Look for established, registered charities running verified appeals.
  • Do a quick check to see if the organisation is on the ACNC Charity Register and details about its main work.
  • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails and social media posts which may take you to a fake, scam website. Find the charity’s website in a search engine or on the Charity Register.
  • Don’t give your credit card and bank account details on social media and be cautious online.
  • If you get a call claiming to be from a charity, say you’ll call back. Search the Charity Register and call back on the number shown there.

Dr Johns said cash donations are often of most value to charities, rather than material goods, as it allows them to provide the particular type of assistance most needed. He said many may also need extra volunteers at this time, as the pandemic is creating extra pressure on volunteer resources.

The ACNC has also announced that charities operating in the declared disaster zone will be granted an automatic extension on annual reporting deadlines. Affected charities should check the ACNC website for more information.


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Parliament seeks views on access to regional news

A NEW online survey is seeking views on how Australians living in regional, rural or remote areas access news as part of a Federal Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s regional newspapers.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts Chair Dr Anne Webster MP said, "Over the past 10 years news outlets in rural, regional and remote communities have closed their doors which has resulted in a substantial reduction of articles covering local issues.

"It is important that we listen to our communities about what's important to them. This survey provides an opportunity for these communities to express their views on whether the loss of their regional voice has directly affected them.


"I encourage anyone who lives in Australia’s regional, rural or remote areas to participate in the online survey."

The survey is open until February 11, 2022 and takes less than 10 minutes to complete.

The committee is continuing to accept new submissions until January 28, 2022.

Information about the committee may be found on the committee’s webpage.



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