House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business


8:30 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am very pleased to speak on this motion, moved by the member Forrest, who has been a very strong advocate on the topic of cybersafety for several years. Last year, building on the member for Forrest's work, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, established the Coalition's Online Safety Working Group to consult around the country in developing policies to assist parents, carers and teachers to better protect children and young people from the risks associated with the internet and social media.

As the chair of that group and in working with parliamentarians from every state and territory, we have conducted a very extensive program of consultation around all states and territories. We have spoken with many parents, teachers, industry representatives and children, from age six up to 17. We visited almost 20 schools and held a range of community forums and meetings in every state and territory. Of course, those meetings continue. Just recently I, along with the member for Casey, held cybersafety forums in Upper Yarra and Yarra Junction.

It is very clear that children's online safety is a major concern for parents and teachers. We have heard some very troubling stories about cyberbullying. Let me mention some things I was struck by. A 13-year-old from Caboolture told us that she had over 800 friends on Facebook and admitted she did not know many of them personally. A principal in Perth told us that he had been sorting out Facebook disputes between children as young as six and seven. A mother in Tasmania sought a court order protecting her daughter from online bullies, including an order that they not contact her on Facebook, an order which was refused by the magistrate because, he said, 'I don't know how it works'. There is plenty of evidence that parents and children who run into difficulties with online bullying and other undesirable behaviour do not know where to turn. The major social media outlets are often not as responsive as they ought to be.

So in our discussion paper, which we issued late last year, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for communications, we recommended some key measures which we believed would go a long way towards addressing these issues: establishing a children's e-safety commissioner to take a national leadership role in this area; implementing rapid removal protocols for large social media outlets, for material that is targeted at and likely to cause harm to an Australian child through a co-operative regulatory scheme; assisting parents and carers to make informed decisions about devices such as smartphones and tablets, by establishing recognised branding, indicating their suitability for younger children and teenagers; providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the National Safe Schools Framework, and assisting with online safety resources for schools; and undertaking a national public education campaign to highlight online safety issues.

A key proposal in the discussion paper is for greater support for schools in their work to assist the children in their care to be safe online. This would involve providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the existing National Safe Schools Framework.

After several years of no action from this government with regard to protecting children online, it was good to see an announcement from the current government in January this year. The coalition welcomed the fact that that announcement followed the lead that the coalition had established in key areas, announcing an education module for school children and voluntary protocols, involving some social media outlets. While these arrangements are welcome, it is clear that this announcement by government does not go far enough.

The coalition has made it clear that we expect the major social media outlets to step up and show a greater degree of social responsibility than they have shown to date in working with government and regulatory agencies to address the problem of providing rapid responses to cyberbullying when that is experienced by children.

The coalition expects that our discussion paper 'Enhancing Online Safety for Children' will stimulate discussion. Indeed, we have received an extensive range of submissions, which we are working through. Based upon our discussion paper and those submissions we will be bringing forward a policy at the next election. We expect that, in response to that, social media outlets and other internet companies will be better placed to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility in protecting children from harm. We also want to see enhanced cybersafety education through providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the National Safe Schools Framework. We also want to see a national public education campaign to highlight online safety issues. I commend this motion and congratulate the member for Forrest on her significant work in this area.


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