Google's Australian managing director Mel Silva (Image: Supplied)

Google is threatening to remove its search engine from Australia if the government passes a proposed news media bargaining code that would make big tech platforms pay media companies.

The company’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva told a Senate Estimates hearing Google would have “no other choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia”, confirming what was predicted in Crikey last week.

Key to Google’s objection to the code is a requirement that it pays media companies for links and snippets that appear in search, and a mandatory arbitration process between the tech giants and news outlets over the value of content.

Such processes, Silva said, presented “unmanageable financial risk” for the company and were “simply untenable.”

“This is our worst case scenario,” Silva repeatedly said, of the company’s threat to rob users of its search engine.

Google’s proposed solution was to partner with publishers through its News Showcase initiative, where it enters commercial arrangements with individual media companies to create panels of news and give users access to paywalled stories.

But so far, Showcase isn’t available in Australia, meaning the government, regulators and media outlets aren’t able to assess whether it’s a workable solution.

“No one can see Showcase. How can we take your blackmail and your threats seriously?” Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg said.

Silva said Google was committed to launching Showcase in Australia.

Last week, Google flexed on Australian users by running an experiment where news results were hidden from the search engines of about 1% of domestic users.

Silva said those experiments were “forced on us” and were part of Google’s scenario planning.

If the company follows through with its worst case scenario, domestic users who landed on a Google search page would be presented with a screen telling them why they could not use the website in Australia. Silva conceded that the value of advertising on Google for domestic businesses would be substantially diminished.

Senators expressed outrage at the company’s attempted shakedown of Australia. Independent Senator Rex Patrick compared it to China’s escalation of a trade war after Scott Morrison called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Bragg said the company was attempting to blackmail Australian users.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young accused Google of paying inadequate tax, and said it misused its substantial market share.

“You have amazing market power in this country, and now you come to the parliament and say change this or we’ll shut everything down. How do you justify that in the public interest?” Hanson-Young said.

On Thursday, Google signed a deal with French media companies under which it will pay publishers for content.