House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Online Safety

11:56 am

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Online safety for children is probably one of the most pressing immediate problems in this digital world now. We have all heard stories about the epidemic of childhood anxiety and concerns, and about the abuse of children. It is endemic. Unfortunately, most of the causes of the anxiety is happening online; that's where trolls, colleagues and peers of teenagers are abusing them. But there are people based in Nigeria, and around the world, that present themselves as people they're not. Often they're male, they're part of a gangster organisation and they're presenting as a cute teenage girl. And they entrap young boys and men.

Age verification software is part of trying to fix that problem. There are varying permutations of online child abuse. Having a roadmap for age verification seems like an eminently suitable initiative. Yet the minister is not following the advice of her own eSafety Commissioner. The government has refused to support the eSafety Commissioner's recommendation, and instead has backed the development of industry codes as a stop-gap measure. Industry codes sound good in practice, but these online platforms are a rule and a law to themselves. They would laugh at a roadmap. You've just got to see what they've done so far; for example, Meta have now refused to pay for all the media that they put on their platforms for free.

It's really counterproductive to not follow this advisory roadmap. During Senate estimates that was discussed. There is a range of software and apps that are ready to roll to do this. But we need to mandate it. We need to make it a regulation, not just a so-called advisory, if we are going to address the problem of young people being so distressed that they actually commit self-harm, up to and including suicide.

The digital world is with us and it's with our children and young people now. We really need to follow this train of practice, not just talk about it. We on this side are calling on the minister to reverse her position on an age verification mandate. Even if you're not going to do it, at least start a trial so you yourself can see it will be beneficial. The urgency of this is paramount. Every time I go home, throughout my time in parliament, telecommunications and IT issues always turn out to be one of the more common things. Amongst that IT-and-digital-world set of problems, this is palpable. Parents are worried about it. I'm worried about it. Many people on that side, on the minister's side, of this House are worried about it. It's not going to cost a fortune. It's going to be easy to implement. I just commend an age-verification process to be started as soon as possible.


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