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Australia’s Online Regulator Admits It Lacks Authority to Compel Musk’s X to Pay Fine

eSafety admitted it had no enforcement power to make X pay a $610,000 fine.

The Australian eSafety commissioner (eSafety) has admitted she has no power to force social media giant X, formerly known as Twitter, to pay a $610,000 (US$393,000) fine issued last year.

During a Senate Committee hearing on Feb. 13, eSafety’s representatives said Elon Musk’s X had yet to pay the fine even though the deadline had long passed.

In September 2023, eSafety issued X with an infringement notice for failing to comply with the federal government’s requirements to crack down on child sexual abuse materials online, and fined the company $610,000.

The company had 28 days to request the withdrawal of the infringement notice or pay the penalty; however, it chose to apply for a judicial review of eSafety’s transparency and infringement notices.

As there was no stay attached to X’s judicial review application, the company was still required to pay the fine under Australian laws.

Nevertheless, X has not fulfilled its legal obligations so far.

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Greens Senator David Shoebridge questioned eSafety about what enforcement proceedings the commission had taken against X.

eSafety’s general manager of regulatory operations, Toby Dagg, told the Senate Committee that the infringement notice did not allow the commission to exercise any particular enforcement options against X.

As a result, the commission was forced to file a civil penalty application against the company in Federal Court.

“It’s up to the court then to determine the quantum of any penalty that comes down,” he said.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant also acknowledged that her agency lacked enforcement power.

“Enforcement is going to be an issue that every online safety regulator deals with,” she said.

X Making a Mockery of Australian Laws: Senator

Following the testimony of eSafety’s representatives, Mr. Shoebridge said X did not take Australian laws seriously.

“You [eSafety] have issued an infringement notice, and Twitter just thumbed their nose at you, at the laws of Australia, and just said we’re not paying your infringement notice of $610,000,” the senator said.

“And there’s nothing we can do other than start a whole fresh set of proceedings. They’re making a mockery of our legal structure.”

An image of the X (formerly Twitter) phone app in front of a laptop featuring the front page to Australia's eSafety commissioner website, taken in Perth, Western Australia on Jan. 22, 2024. (Wade Zhong/The Epoch Times)
An image of the X (formerly Twitter) phone app in front of a laptop featuring the front page to Australia’s eSafety commissioner website, taken in Perth, Western Australia on Jan. 22, 2024. (Wade Zhong/The Epoch Times)

“This is like dealing with a dodgy construction company or a phoenix company. You get an order against them, and then they just, through their corporate structure, basically avoid it.”

The senator then pointed out that there was a need for some urgent law reform to impose “unavoidable consequences” on companies failing to pay their fines.

Ms. Grant agreed with Mr. Shoebridge’s view, saying her agency welcomed a review of Australia’s Online Safety Act.

“We want to make sure that our fines and our enforcement powers are in line not only with domestic regulators but also with international,” she said.

Mr. Shoebridge also questioned whether X had any assets in Australia, effectively making it easier for government entities to enforce laws against the company.

In response, Ms. Grant said X basically had no physical presence in Australia.

“He [Elon Musk] got rid of the domicile here, and there is no more Twitter office,” she said, noting that any jurisdiction outside of the United States will have the same challenge enforcing laws against the social media giant.

“There are a few Twitter employees. But we’re engaged with X Corp, not what was formerly known as Twitter.”

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