House debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Questions without Notice

Online Harassment

3:06 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the member for Fisher for the question. I know that he's been an unwavering advocate for reform in this area, as has been the member for Forrest. I congratulate them both for their assistance with my office. The very sad fact is that publication of intimate images is a problem that's being faced by, very sadly, an increasing number of Australians, particularly women and girls. A recent RMIT report noted that one in five Australians, one in two Australians with a disability and one in two Indigenous Australians had been the victim of this very terrible behaviour. It's self-evidently degrading. It's humiliating. It is, very unfortunately, on the rise, and, when victims have their say on this behaviour, they describe how it can leave very, very terrible and lasting damage for them personally.

As a first step, the coalition launched the eSafety Commissioner's portal, which essentially was designed to provide all the assistance that we could through the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to people who had experienced this behaviour to try and have the material taken down. Notably, 70 per cent of the reports to date concerned female victims and 33 per cent concerned victims who are under the age of 18. That portal had 150,000 visitors in 12 months. That indicated to us that more needed to be done.

The next step was that we went through an online consultation and public consultation process, effectively, to test the desirability and viability of a civil penalty regime. One thing that was very notable was that the central concern of people who had experienced this terrible behaviour was that there would be a regime in place that could compel the taking down of the images in real and fast time. The bill that passed this place last week gave the eSafety Commissioner powers to issue what will be known as removal notices to compel websites and social media providers to take down these images. So it's our Prime Minister who, among many other achievements, has provided, for the first time ever, an Australian regime which gives victims timely, accessible and effective means to remove the private images from public view, thereby reducing the distress and damage to the victims. That is something that should have happened prior to this point, but it is the Prime Minister who has actually made it happen. We congratulate him for doing that.

The other thing that has happened in this bill is that there are now two new dedicated offences to the online provision and sharing in a way meant to harass with what is defined as 'private sexual material'. So we have the civil penalty regime and these two new offences. The first offence will carry a maximum of five years, and that's when the general harassment offence involves private sexual material. The second offence has a maximum of seven years and applies where someone has been the subject of three civil penalties. This fundamentally changes the legal system around these offences. I might note that these are the sorts of things that are very good to speak about in this House, because it provides all of us with an opportunity to send a message that this sort of behaviour is not a joke. It is seriously damaging and it is seriously criminal and now, for the first time, the subject of serious criminal penalties. (Time expired)


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