House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Online Safety

11:25 am

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Services) Share this | Hansard source

There's always a lot going on in this place. It's probably one of the things we do agree on. Today is one of those days where we need to take a pace back. We need to really consider what this means and the gravity at the base of this bill. We need to remind ourselves what's really important. For me, and for everyone on this side, the answer is clear cut: there is no greater purpose of this Australian government than keeping its Australian citizens safe and protecting those when they can't protect themselves. That's why the Liberal-National coalition has always put national safety at the forefront of our policymaking agenda. We stand firm against entities, whether they be foreign businesses or individuals, that seek to harm us and harm our children.

That's why I'm standing here today. I'm standing up to condemn this government for refusing to take every single measure available to them to keep our children, our next generation, safe from online pornography and the range of negative consequences that comes from accessing that pornography. These negative effects include, but are certainly not limited to, lowering kids' self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, greater acceptance of sexual aggression, normalisation of violence against women and the alarming rise of child-on-child sexual abuse.

I just don't understand Labor's position on this. I can't fathom it. Those opposite think altering the self-regulatory porn industry codes will fix the problem. That's what they think. It beggars belief. What we must be investigating right now is the mechanism to prevent access to the source. We need to be cutting the head off the snake. Statistics around the world about children accessing pornography are confronting. Almost half of Australian children aged between the ages of nine and 16 experience regular exposure to sexual images. Over 80 per cent of young men aged 14 to 17 have been exposed to online pornography. A third of these first saw pornography before the age of 13.

This was an issue that the former Liberal-National government was tackling head on. We commissioned the parliamentary inquiries in 2016 and 2019. The 2019 inquiry specifically looked at using age verification to prevent children accessing online wagering and online pornography sites. For those who don't know or understand what that is, age verification is a process that confirms the person accessing an online site is the age that they claim to be, and if you can't confirm that age then you are blocked from utilising that site.

Key recommendations of the 2019 inquiry included that the eSafety Commissioner be funded to undertake a trial of age verification for online pornography. It was a recommendation to government that had almost universal support. More than three in four adults surveyed during the inquiry supported the implementation of age-assurance technology. The nation's leading child and women's safety advocates supported the trial, and of course the Liberal-National coalition supported the trial. We stood behind it. The two most significant stakeholders that don't support the trial are the pornography industry and this Labor government.

It's a national safety issue, and we now should be investigating all options, every single one, in order to ensure our most vulnerable kids are protected. Unfortunately, our children's safety is not this Labor government's priority. Instead, they've turned their backs on our kids, on our children, on our safety advocates and on their own eSafety Commissioner. They've turned their backs to the side and their one ally—the pornography industry—rightly so.

Child safety advocates have been swift in their condemnation of this government. Fifty leading advocates have written to the minister, urging the government to reconsider the decision and to reject the trial. The group, called Collective Shout, said the Labor government has prioritised pornography profits over the protection of our children. Why has this federal government put the vested interests of the global predatory porn industry over wellbeing and safety of our kids? It's shameful, and I call on Minister Rowland to reverse this bad decision and to listen to her eSafety Commissioner and protect Australian kids.


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