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Roald Dahl rewrite shows need for new digital rules

The rollout of new "sensitivity" editions of the Roald Dahl books by Netflix is a symptom of poor market competition, assistant minister Andrew Leigh says.

Dr Leigh, who is in charge of competition policy, used the recent Dahl affair to highlight power imbalances in a concentrated digital technology market.

"It was revealed that hundreds of words have been changed or removed in new editions of Roald Dahl books, in an attempt to make them more inclusive," he said in a speech delivery to Monash University on Friday.

"Children are no longer described as 'fat'. Some references to 'mothers' and 'fathers' have become 'parents' and 'family'.

"Few noticed why it had occurred. Copyright in Roald Dahl's books is now wholly owned by Netflix."

Diversifying the digital technology market beyond conglomerates like Meta and Amazon is on the agenda for the federal government.

"Market concentration leaves us with less choice," he said.

"Consider those people who responded to recent changes at Twitter by moving to the platform Mastodon - only to find it was rather lonely there, and return to Twitter."

The government will be working with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to put in place new rules to encourage digital innovation.

Google, Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon collectively acquired 296 other companies between January 2016 and December 2020, according to the ACCC.

Amazon itself has come to control over half of the e-book market just through its use of digital rights management, Dr Leigh said.

It will also be acting on a five-year Productivity Commission inquiry report which found Australia needs to evolve with the changing business landscape or risk harming consumers and innovation.

The ACCC report recommended implementing a competition framework that subject digital platforms to mandatory codes as well as prohibiting unfair trading practices and unfair contract terms to encourage digital competition.

Mandating dispute resolution processes and obligations to prevent and remove scams are also recommended by the report.

Dr Leigh said while the government had yet to land on any decision out of the ACCC report, it supported targeted and practical changes.

The government legislated increased penalties for breaches of competition and consumer law and committed to establishing a National Anti-Scam Centre in 2022.

Additional projects led by Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus will work to respond to cyber security and online privacy issues.