House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Online Safety

11:04 am

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that the:

(a) eSafety Commissioner recommended a mandated trial of age-assurance technology in her Roadmap for Age Verification, as a way of protecting children from online harm;

(b) Government refused to support the eSafety Commissioner's recommendation and instead backed the development of industry codes as a stopgap measure; and

(c) Government's decision has been widely criticised by leading child and women's safety advocates across Australia;

(2) further notes the evidence of the eSafety Commissioner during Senate Estimates on 13 February 2024, in which she confirmed there were already a range of age-assurance technologies that can be used to protect children from online harm, and that such 'technologies are getting better all the time';

(3) condemns the Government for:

(a) its refusal to support the recommendations of the eSafety Commissioner to support a mandated trial of age-assurance technology; and

(b) failing to support the Opposition private Member's bill for the introduction of such a trial; and

(4) calls on the Minister for Communications to:

(a) reverse her position on an age verification trial and support the Opposition's plan to implement a trial;

(b) announce plans for a new trial within 30 days; and

(c) commence a trial of age verification technology within three months.

There is nothing more important than the safety of children, and there is nothing more important than protecting the safety of children online. Who should we trust on this issue? Who is the top expert in Australia when it comes to protecting the safety of children online? It's the eSafety Commissioner.

About three years ago the coalition asked the eSafety Commissioner to look into the issue of age verification, which is about ensuring that children do not access content that is dangerous for them, particularly pornography, but it can be other things as well. The eSafety Commissioner spent two years looking into this. She came back to the government and said:

… implement a trial of age-assurance technology to protect children from dangerous online content, particularly pornography …

building on the very good work of the member for Fisher and many other esteemed members who were on a committee that looked into this issue some years ago. The eSafety Commissioner said: 'Do something. Run a trial. Mandate that a trial must occur with a view to putting in place a formal system after that trial.'

But what did the government say? The government said: 'No. We're not going to do that. Instead we're going to let the industry write the rules.' The industry here is the pornography industry. That's what the Minister for Communications said. She didn't want to do what the eSafety Commissioner said. She said that, instead, the industry should write the rules.

We brought a piece of legislation to parliament on this very issue last year. It was widely supported across the parliament and was basically saying, 'Let's do what the eSafety Commissioner wants us to do and let's put in place a trial of age-assurance technology.' Pretty much everyone in this parliament, except the government, supported that because it's so simple, it's so sensible and it's clearly the right thing to do. But it's not just people in parliament who want this to happen. Australia's top experts on children's safety want this to happen as well. Tomorrow it will be six months since a group of experts wrote a very powerful letter to the minister asking her to act on the eSafety Commissioner's recommendation. They wrote that letter six months ago. What's happened in response? Nothing. They said:

It is our strong view that the Government has allowed itself to be swayed by industry resistance to an age verification system. Vested interests should not have been put before the wellbeing of children.

Those are very strong words. Who said those words? People, including Robert Fitzgerald, the former Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, did. People like Chanel Contos of Teach Us Consent signed the letter. People like Grace Tame, of the Grace Tame Foundation, signed the letter. People like Alison Geale, the CEO of Bravehearts and, of course, Melinda Tankard Reist, from Collective Shout, signed the letter. Fifty people signed this letter. What did the government do? Nothing. They've had the letter for six months.

Just last month, the eSafety Commissioner was asked about this issue again at Senate estimates. What did she say? She said:

There are a range of technologies out there that are being used for the purposes of gambling and alcohol and can be used to protect children from pornography as well in a way that is privacy protective and enhancing.

Even since we delivered the roadmap in March last year, we've seen even more maturation of the age-assurance industry. The technologies are getting better all the time. And then she said:

The ecosystem is now mature enough that we could architect an age verification trial that would work. The technologies are evolving. The age-assurance industry is maturing. I think the time is right now that we all move forward.

The eSafety Commissioner, as she always does, was speaking in a very clear voice in the interests of keeping Australian children safe. But the minister—this hapless Minister for Communications—doesn't want to do it. There is no reason for that other than that the minister wants to support the industry over the interests of Australian children. That is utterly wrong in every possible way one could look at this issue. It is a shameful decision of this government, fully supported by the Prime Minister. It needs to change, and the government needs to reverse its position and get moving on this issue.


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