Communications Minister touts the opportunities of a Google-less Australia

Paul Fletcher said Microsoft is at the ready to replace Google Search with Bing in Australia, while Treasury pointed to the existence of codes in the dairy and sugar industries as justification for pushing forward with the Media Bargaining Code.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Google last month threatened to pull its search engine from Australia if the Media Bargaining Code in its current form were to become law, but the prime minister and his army of ministers have said they are confident the likes of Microsoft could swoop in to fill the void if Google does in fact exit the market.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Sunday said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had spoken with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella about the opportunities for Bing in a Google-less Australia, and during his address to the National Press Club on Monday, the prime minister said Microsoft is pretty confident that Bing is a sufficient alternative.

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher joined the Bing support team, telling ABC News 24 that in the event Google leaves, he expects to see investment from other players in the local market.

"We know that big tech companies make these threats from time to time, they don't always follow through," he said of Google's potential departure.

"This is a potential commercial opportunity for other providers of search."

Fletcher was asked if Bing was a sufficient alternative for Google.

"I don't hold myself out to be somebody providing product ratings and clearly Google has a much bigger market share in the Australian market than Bing," he said. "But what is clear by the meeting initiated by Microsoft … is they're very significantly interested in the market opportunity in Australia should Google wish to withdraw its presence in Australia.

"There will be a strong market response."

While Fletcher was hesitant to answer if Google would follow through on its threat, he did say companies operating in Australia needed to abide by Australian rules and regulations.

"Ultimately at the end of the day, if you want to do business in Australia, you need to comply with the laws of the sovereign government of Australia -- that's not a particularly radical proposition," Fletcher continued.

"What we've seen in other areas where we've introduced laws that initially have been resisted by global technology businesses is that ultimately they have complied."

With the Media Bargaining Code in December passing the lower house, the Bill is before a Senate Committee debating its future. The committee on Monday afternoon heard from Treasury's Markets Group Deputy Secretary, Meghan Quinn.

She was asked if Treasury has looked at the implications of a Google-less Australia.

"We've looked at the possibility of the actions as stated by the parties, what the implications might be in a general sense, but exactly what they will do, more analysis is needed," she said.

"It's a little hard to think about worst case scenario -- it depends a bit on what that looks like."

Quinn and her fellow government representatives refused to answer if Bing or DuckDuckGo were sufficient alternatives to Google.

In justifying the decision to draft a code, Quinn pointed to other sectors that have competition law codes in place, such as in franchising, food and grocery, dairy, sugar, and horticulture.

"Many of the elements of the code before the committee are similar in intent to those found in these other codes … some include arbitration models," she said.

"One of the interesting things is the actual provision of a code in itself changes the market dynamics, without the code necessarily being invoked.

"We've seen that for example in the sugar industry, the existence of the code and the existing of the elements of mandatory arbitration have actually driven commercial outcomes without the arbitration mechanisms being sparked."

Treasury was asked about where the federal government spends its media and advertising budget, with ALP Senator Alex Gallacher arguing that the government has in fact been complicit in defunding traditional media organisations by moving to other methods of advertising.

"If you're doing what everyone else is doing, are we trying to save the Titanic that's sinking?" he asked.

The question was taken on notice by Treasury. 


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