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Laura Jayes, AM Agenda, Sky News, 2 February 2023

LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live now to Liberal Senator and Shadow Communications Minister Sarah Henderson. She joins me here at the desk.

I wanted to start by asking you about Alice Springs. You worked in the media. You worked at the ABC. There has been a lot of backlash from locals after it was reported that this meeting with thousands of people attended. That’s no mean feat because Alice Springs has 24,000 total population, thereabouts. So thousands of people attending this meeting.  It was reported, particularly on radio and the ABC, that this was about white supremacy and a meeting of white supremacists. How concerning is that to you? Because as I understand it, local ABC reporters in Darwin and Alice are livid about this as well.

SENATOR HENDERSON: Laura, good morning. Great to join you.

And I am very concerned about the ABC’s coverage, not by the local ABC reporters but by someone else, an indigenous affairs reporter who gave a very one-sided view of what happened at the town hall meeting, which was called by small business people, by community leaders, by local residents to address the growing crisis in Alice Springs, including terrible violence, the treatment of children, the abuse of children. And for the ABC to depict this that some attendees were just white supremacists without telling the full story is absolutely disgraceful. And I note Michelle Rowland has said, “Oh, well, they can just issue their complaint to the complaints department of the ABC.” Well, from the Communications Minister, that is not good enough.

The bottom line is that the ABC has a statutory responsibility to report the news impartially and accurately. It has monumentally failed to do so in this case.

And we and all Australians are depending on the ABC, of course, and other media organisations to tell the truth about what’s going on, to understand the Albanese Government’s massive failures in not continuing the alcohol bans under the Stronger Futures legislation, things that are critical for this community and other indigenous communities.

It is a shocking indictment on the ABC that they have so failed, and I am calling for an urgent apology and retraction and also a review of journalistic training. And of course, as we know, the mayor of Alice Springs, Matt Patterson, he has demanded a retraction and is deeply upset.

LAURA JAYES: So I didn’t know there hadn’t been a retraction so far. But look, let me play devil’s advocate here. This reporter made a mistake. We all make mistakes. It can be a pretty tough gig when you’re flying in and you’re covering a situation where emotions are running high.  Do you need to look at the ABC’s coverage of this in total? I mean, is it unfair just to look at one report and say that was wrong? Are you concerned about any other, or is just one aspect?

SENATOR HENDERSON: Well unfortunately, the ABC has got a recent history of getting a lot of things wrong, and that’s part of the problem. They have a statutory responsibility under the ABC Act to report the news impartially and accurately. Yes, the point you made is absolutely spot on. Journalists do make mistakes. I worked at the ABC. We all make mistakes. But what I’m more concerned about is ABC senior management’s defence. They don’t seem to get it. They don’t seem to understand that if a mistake has been made, it’s got to be corrected. There’s got to be an investigation. The ABC’s defence of this report was actually more concerning than the mistakes made by the journalist. So there needs to be…

LAURA JAYES: Well you’ve got to back your staff, in a way. You understand that. And support your staff. Pressure on one journalist can be a lot, but is it more about the practices, perhaps? You know, there was no safety net for this this reporter, the host of the radio program, the producer of the radio program, allowing a one-sided report to go through. As I understand it, there was no other interview disputing that.

SENATOR HENDERSON: Well, look, there were certainly some failings at an editorial level. The ABC can’t just let this one journalist be hung out to dry. But at the same time, ABC management have a responsibility, Laura. They must report the news accurately and impartially. And when they make a mistake, it’s got to be corrected, it’s got to be retracted; there’s got to be an investigation into what went wrong so the processes can be improved. If this journalist has been let down by inadequate training, not enough supervision. we need to understand that. And let’s not forget, the ABC is funded by Australian taxpayers – more than $1.1 billion. It’s a very important institution in our country. I’m a great supporter of the ABC, but it has got to do better than this.

LAURA JAYES: Are you still a great supporter of the ABC?

SENATOR HENDERSON: Yes, I am. I am a great supporter of the ABC. I worked there for nine years. I have a great love of the ABC. Many of the journalists work very hard and do a great job, but I think they are being let down at the moment by a management team that is not paying enough attention to the importance of holding its journalists, its news divisions, to the very highest journalistic standards.

LAURA JAYES: Okay. you’re going to meet with the ACCC today. One of the things on your radar is, again, digital platforms and the proliferation of scams. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen one of these scams. There hasn’t been a scammer that hasn’t attempted to scam someone else. How do you stop it?

SENATOR HENDERSON: Look, it’s absolutely horrendous. The ACCC estimates that Australians have lost $2 billion from scams, but it could be up to $4 billion.

What I’m really concerned about, Laura, they handed down a very significant report three months ago. I called for the Government to take note of that report and to act urgently. The ACCC wants to see urgent reform on addressing scams, and of course other organizations are also calling for the Albanese government to address banking and financial organization scams. The banks have got to do more, but so far this government is missing in action.

When we were in government, we took a whole range of actions to amend the Telco Act to address scams sent by telephone, by text message. But the Albanese Government is doing nothing, has said nothing about these urgent reforms.

LAURA JAYES: Just quickly, what can the banks do?

SENATOR HENDERSON: Well, one of the things that they could do is implement some technology so as to identify their customers. So if a customer gets a request to transfer money or do something, the customer has a way of ensuring that they are actually dealing with the bank. And so the bank is not, the banks are not doing enough.

LAURA JAYES: Just to explain that to our audience this morning, there have been scams at the moment where it’s looked like a legitimate, for example, Commonwealth Bank page, it has not been, and people have been, customers have been transferring money on this platform, but it’s going straight to the scammers’ pockets.

SENATOR HENDERSON: That’s right. So confirmation of pay technology is one option. There are a whole range of other things that the banks can do, I think.

LAURA JAYES: Two-step identification, stuff like that.

SENATOR HENDERSON: absolutely. But whatever the options are, I mean, as I say, from this report, from this ACCC report, we have seen absolutely nothing said. Michelle Rowland has been completely silent. And meanwhile, Australians are suffering hand over fist.

A young couple just a couple of weeks ago was speaking about the fact that they lost their life savings, $100,000 because they thought they were doing the right thing, transferring their funds to another account because they thought they were protecting their money.

So the bottom line is I’m meeting with the ACCC again today. I am deeply concerned. The Chair called for urgent action three months ago in Estimates. I mean, what is this Government doing? Australians are suffering and we do need to see urgent action on scams and other online safety measures. Apart from dating app safety, and the Minister has taken some action on that, we’re not seeing any focus by this government on online safety. A paltry amount has been dedicated in funding for schools. There’s been no funding or no extra funding for the eSafety Commissioner, of course, a very important initiative of the Coalition Government. We really do need to see the government step up on these critical issues.

LAURA JAYES: Sarah Henderson, thanks for your time.

SENATOR HENDERSON: Yes, great to talk to you, Laura.

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