House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Online Safety

11:51 am

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The internet has provided many transformative positives for our society, but it's also brought with it ethical dilemmas on how we can regulate it and its impacts. Arguably, the failure to do so in the early years of the web have left us, at times, trying to retrofit and play catch-up.

Most people do not dispute that the internet should be free and open to all so all can explore ideas and communicate across distance and cultures. At the same time there are few who would advocate that the internet should be a place of perfect freedom, a place where criminals should be free to exploit citizens. Most consider, as philosopher John Locke did, that there is a role for government in protecting the natural rights of citizens. In the case of the internet, that includes combatting internet criminals and protecting vulnerable citizens from exploitation and undesirable online contacts and content. We must ensure that the parliament remains united in its mission to minimising the harm that comes from children accessing content online that's not appropriate for them. The Albanese government is committed to doing this and is particularly concerned with the negative impact that exposure to online pornography can have on children and young people.

On 31 March 2023, the eSafety Commissioner delivered the roadmap for age verification to the government. The roadmap explores if and how age verification and other measures could be used to prevent and mitigate harm to children from online pornography. The roadmap made a number of recommendations, including that the government invests in research, education, awareness and resources and pilots age-assurance technologies before seeking to mandate them. A pilot is now under consideration, and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts is currently scoping this work across government.

This government is also committed to completing the implementation of the Online Safety Act—importantly, the powers it provides the eSafety Commissioner to develop new mandatory industry codes to protect children from online pornography. These codes will apply to all different sections of the digital industry. Under the law, if the codes do not provide appropriate safeguards, the eSafety Commissioner can reject them and move to enforceable standards. Industry also faces penalties for noncompliance. Advice from the eSafety Commissioner on the kinds of measures that could be incorporated include a clear minimum age to use the service and enforcement of that through age-assurance mechanisms, among other measures, such as proactive content detection and moderation technology.

The roadmap calls out the importance of respectful relationships education, and the related topics of online safety, sexuality and consent are integral to addressing the harms associated with online pornography.

The government is delivering on these by providing: $83.5 million over six years to support the delivery of age appropriate, evidence based and expert developed respectful relationships education aligned with the Australian curriculum; just under $40 million under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 to develop a prevention campaign on consent and respectful relationships; and just over $100 million over five years to support Our Watch to deliver on its priorities in the national plan and to continue successful initiatives for the primary prevention of violence against women and children.

We acknowledge that parents, carers and other members of the community who care for children may feel overwhelmed by this issue. Advice and support are available. eSafety has published a range of practical online resources with easy-to-follow advice about how technology and parental control settings can prevent children from accessing online pornography.

Education is not a quick solution but it is essential and highly effective. It will play a crucial role in protecting current and future generations. In addition, this government has brought forward the independent statutory review of the Online Safety Act, which will be completed in this term of government. With the online environment constantly changing, an early review will ensure Australia's legislative framework remains responsive to online harms and that the eSafety Commissioner can continue to keep Australians safe from harm. The Albanese government is committed to ensuring that Australia has world-leading online safety laws that allow Australians to harness the potential of the digital environment while also keeping them safe online.


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