Australian prime minister labels Elon Musk ‘an arrogant billionaire who thinks he is above the law’

<span>A rift has deepened between X owner Elon Musk and Australian authorities over the removal of videos of a violent stabbing in a Sydney church.</span><span>Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters</span>
A rift has deepened between X owner Elon Musk and Australian authorities over the removal of videos of a violent stabbing in a Sydney church.Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Australia’s prime minister has labelled X’s owner, Elon Musk, an “arrogant billionaire who thinks he is above the law” as the rift deepens between Australia and the tech platform over the removal of videos of a violent stabbing in a Sydney church.

On Monday evening in an urgent last-minute federal court hearing, the court ordered a two-day injunction against X to hide posts globally containing the footage of the alleged stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel on 15 April. The eSafety commissioner had previously directed X to remove the posts, but X had only blocked them from access in Australia pending a legal challenge.

Anthony Albanese on Tuesday said Musk was “a bloke who’s chosen ego and showing violence over common sense”.

Related: Elon Musk hits back at Australian court order against X images of stabbing

“Australians will shake their head when they think that this billionaire is prepared to go to court fighting for the right to sow division and to show violent videos,” he told Sky News. “He is in social media, but he has a social responsibility in order to have that social licence.”

He told the ABC that Musk was “an arrogant billionaire who thinks he is above the law”.

“What the eSafety commissioner is doing is doing her job to protect the interests of Australians. And the idea that someone would go to court for the right to put up violent content on a platform shows how out of touch Mr Musk is,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Musk tweeted that the company was concerned that if “ANY country is allowed to censor content for ALL countries, which is what the Australian ‘eSafety Commissar’ is demanding, then what is to stop any country from controlling the entire Internet?”

“We have already censored the content in question for Australia, pending legal appeal, and it is stored only on servers in the USA.”

Overnight Australian time, Musk tweeted a meme claiming that X represented the “truth” and “free speech while other platforms were censoring content” and “propaganda”, and added “don’t take my word for it, just ask the Australian PM!”

He also reposted a tweet from a user claiming that Albanese was “advertising” for Elon by mentioning that other platforms had complied with requests to remove the content while X had not. Musk added: “I’d like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one.”

Related: Australian court orders Elon Musk’s X to hide Sydney church stabbing posts from users globally

X had withheld access to the tweets for Australian users but Christopher Tran, the barrister for the eSafety commissioner, argued this did not represent removal of the posts that were deemed to be “class 1” content under Australian classification law – that is, material deemed to depict “gratuitous or offensive violence with a high degree of impact or detail”. This was because the posts were still available outside Australia, and to Australian users accessing X using a virtual private network (VPN).

The federal court has issued the injunction until 5pm on Wednesday 25 April, pending X’s local legal counsel receiving instructions on X’s response to the case.

On Monday night, a spokesperson for the eSafety commissioner said Meta, Google, Microsoft, Snap and TikTok had worked to remove similar content in the past weeks, and eSafety “will continue to use its suite of powers under the Online Safety Act to protect Australians from serious online harms, including extreme violent content”.

The United Australia Party senator Ralph Babet posted two versions of the video on both X and Facebook on Monday. One video was posted on its own, while the other was embedded within his commentary about the attack.

“To the Australian government and the eSafety commissioner go fuck yourselves,” Babet posted alongside one of the videos.

“This opinion piece contains the video that the Australian Government has gone to the Federal court to have removed. I WILL NOT REMOVE IT. Without free speech our nation will fall. The Liberal party, The Labor party and the eSafety commissioner are a threat to democracy,” Babet claimed.

The eSafety Commission has been contacted for comment, but in a statement to Guardian Australia, the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, slammed Babet’s response.

“This is appalling behaviour by a serving senator and he needs to explain why he’s sharing this harmful content,” the communications minister said.

Despite Meta’s claim the company auto-detects new uploads of the video, Babet was able to upload it and post it online for several hours. The videos were later removed by Meta.

“The video and the Reel have been taken down. Our team is investigating why it wasn’t caught automatically,” a spokesperson said.

Guardian Australia asked the office of the eSafety commissioner if X has yet complied with the order. On Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson said X had 24 hours to comply with the interim court order, putting the deadline at Tuesday night.

The spokesperson said eSafety expected a further hearing will take place “in the coming days” to determine whether to extend the injunction – due to expire at 5pm AEST on Wednesday – before a final hearing.

The spokesperson said eSafety will seek a permanent injunction and civil penalties against X.

No hearing dates have yet been listed.

X was also approached for comment. Uncensored videos of the alleged stabbing were still searchable on X as of Tuesday morning, but the eSafety spokesperson acknowledged it would not be possible to remove every instance.

“While it may be difficult to eradicate damaging content from the internet entirely, particularly as users continue to repost it, eSafety requires platforms to do everything practical and reasonable to minimise the harm it may cause to Australians and the Australian community.”

Independent senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie deleted her X account on Tuesday, telling Sky News that politicians must lead by example.

“I don’t give a stuff about the platform – I am happy to go off the platform today,” she said.

“I suggest that the other 226 ... members of parliament do the same thing and show them that you mean business. When you want to lead by example, it has to happen from here.”