House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business


8:00 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that:

(a) cyber-bullying and inadequate cyber-safety poses a significant threat to the welfare and security of all Australians, especially young people; and

(b) this threat will increase with new technology and greater connectivity; and

(2) calls on the Government to enhance cyber-safety education in all Australian schools.

The reasons for my motion are extremely clear. When eight- to 10-year-olds tell me they say they are 42 years old to get onto Facebook and that they have hundreds of online friends that they do not know in person, I know we have a major problem. When a teenager in Perth is stalked using geotagging, I know we have a major problem. When teenagers Carly Ryan and Nona Belomesoff are lured to their deaths by someone they met online, I know we have a major problem. When a family has to leave a community because their daughter was bullied through the distribution of a sexually explicit online video, then I know we have a problem. When children do not know that everything they post online is there forever, I know we have a major problem, particularly when it comes to sexting messages, the sending of sexually explicit images or videos. With mounting numbers of young people committing suicide because of online bullying that can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I know we have a major problem.

My motion before the House is designed to help our young people to manage online risks they are facing every day. I want them to be much more aware and alert than they are now, for them to be confident, smart, safe and responsible online so that they can make the most of their online opportunities. We need a national coordinated response We all know the internet is a fantastic tool, providing amazing opportunities. We can learn in our own homes, achieve degrees and qualifications, shop from home, do our banking, license our vehicles, pay our rates and get most of our business advice. We communicate with our extended families. In fact, many of us are actually reliant on the internet.

Young people are particularly active on the net. It is their world. They are voracious users and rely on technology. It is—and will always be—part of their daily lives. According to Telstra, Australian kids aged between 10 and 17 are online for an average of two hours a day, amongst the highest internet usage rates in the world. In my experience, in many instances this is actually a conservative estimate of the time spent online. However, many young people are completely unaware of both the power of the internet and the risks it entails. For instance, picture yourself walking through an open door where almost anything goes. For our children that is exactly what the internet is—the open door—so we need to provide as much education as possible so that young people can make good decisions online to help protect themselves and their families. Surely this is the most important goal of cybersafety policy. And surely it is obvious that self-protection relies almost entirely on education.

Over the past three years, much of my time has been spent providing cybersafety and cyberbullying sessions for schools—from preschool through to year 12, at times with Australian Federal Police and state police officers. In my experience during this time, the majority of young people and their parents are not aware of online risks, particularly those on social media sites. This is backed up by research that shows that 61 per cent of 16- and 17-year-olds accept friend requests from people they do not know. By year 11, 17 per cent have sent sexting messages and at least seven per cent meet someone in person who they have only met online according to the Australian Institute of Criminology. Seven per cent have been victims of cyberstalking and at least 25 per cent of children have been cyberbullied.

From what young people have said to me, they often believe that in some way they are anonymous online: 'because no-one can see me, I am safe!' I have found that view most prevalent in the five- to eight-year-old group. Some also believe, because they think they are anonymous online, that they can send or post the nastiest or most disgusting messages at times! Young people are also not aware that material they post online can stay online forever because the digital footprint of internet access is indelible. It is there forever and it is a permanent digital footprint. They simply do not understand that the internet never forgets.

The impacts of sexting are permanent, the images are on the internet forever impacting on that individual's reputation and opportunities in life. Universities, award donors and employers search the social websites on the internet. In the US, research shows that 70 per cent of recruiters rejected candidates for jobs based on information found on social websites. Young people are also unaware that sexting may be considered a criminal offence. Filming and online sharing of sexual activities of people under the age of 18 can lead to young people being charged by police and ending up on the national sex offenders list.

All Australians need to be better educated about cybersafety and young people are a key part of this in helping to educate their peers and other generations of Australians. This includes their parents, their grandparents but very importantly their younger brothers and sisters who often put themselves and their families at risk with their online postings. I have heard this repeatedly in my school sessions.

Young people also need to be taught the legal risks and the potential liabilities of social networking sites; of photo sharing; the short- and long-term consequences of sexting; and how to use their instincts online to recognise and deal with cyberstalking, online grooming, cyberbullying, their exposure to illegal or inappropriate material including the risk of inappropriate social and health behaviours, of privacy and identity theft and online security. They need to be taught about the issues of defamation, privacy disclosure and confidentiality, legal and ethical issues, intellectual property rights and copyright infringement, criminal laws including harassment and offensive material, computer gaming addictions, accessing of risk-taking sites, and the risk of posting personal identifying material that includes names, addresses and birthdays. These are the issues young people tell me constantly they are exposed to and dealing with online on a daily basis. It is difficult for young people to know exactly what their risks and liabilities are, because there is a fragmentation of cybersafety across agencies and jurisdictions, which is why a national coordinated approach is essential.

There will be even more risk in the future. It changes constantly. That is why at a purely personal level I believe cybersafety should be a core part of the national curriculum. It needs to be taught as part of information technology and, in my view, the only way to achieve uniformity of curriculum quality is to put cybersafety into the national curriculum and, through education, empower these great young people not only to help each other but also to help their families.

Ongoing education of students is a necessity given the rapid and constant changes in technology in apps, and I think we need to keep parents up to date through annual parent information sessions. We need a national commitment to educating our young people. I have spent three years doing cybersafety presentations in schools and I have listened to our great young people. I have come to the conclusion that education is a critical starting point for managing online risk. I will continue my work with my colleagues and members of the community to better include cybersafety in the national curriculum.

While I am here I would like to thank every great young person—and there have been so many of them—who has attended my sessions. I want to thank them because they were honest with me. They gave me great information about exactly what they are dealing with online. I have every confidence that they are a major part of the answer to the online challenges confronting us all. I still have many cybersafety sessions booked for the weeks and months ahead, and I also want to thank the principals, teachers and parents for enabling and attending the sessions to date. I also really want to thank the Australian Federal Police and local state police officers who have come along with me. As I said in the initial sense, we very much need a national, proactive, coordinated approach to give children the education and coping skills to manage what they are doing online.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak after the honourable member who is equipped with a lectern and ready to go.

8:09 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Wentworth for his deferring to a lectern! I rise to speak on the motion of the member for Forrest that makes many suggestions and claims that I fully support and some that I do retreat from. I am on the same committee—the cybersafety committee—as the member for Forrest, so we have sat through many of the same presentations, and I do commend her for her role in educating her electorate about some of the issues associated with cybersafety. I also, as a member of this side of the chamber, am obviously happy to detail some of the appropriate actions that the Gillard government is taking to eradicate the issues of cybersafety and cybersecurity. I would also like particularly to acknowledge the role of Senator Bilyk, the chair of the committee that the member for Forrest and I are on, and the deputy chair, the member for Mitchell, for their contribution and their raising awareness of this issue amongst young people, amongst seniors and amongst Indigenous Australians—some of the groups that we have particularly targeted in our inquiries over the last few years.

I do not have a crystal ball for where the internet will take us. If I did have a crystal ball, I am not sure if it would be a dark crystal or a light crystal in terms of the opportunities the internet will provide for us in the future. It is a great tool, but it also does provide opportunities for those who are, sadly, ill-disposed to take advantage of people in the community. In Australia—as we are focusing on this motion by the member for Forrest—one of the first comprehensive studies of cyberbullying shows that about 10 per cent of teenagers and children have experienced some form of sustained bullying using technology. The reality is that it is probably more. I would be interested in seeing the data from the member for Forrest on what is going on in her electorate. In our inquiry, when we went to my electorate years back, it seemed to be more.

That is the reality of the internet; people take their school environment home. When the member for Forrest and I were at school, when you went home it was perhaps a safe environment. You at least had your family and support people and you did not take the schoolyard home. Sadly, as we have heard from school students in my electorate and throughout Australia in our inquiry, people take the schoolyard home. It can be a good thing in that you stay connected and you can share information and all the benefits that come with this wonderful tool—the internet—but it also means the tooth and claw of the schoolyard can be taken home to your bed at midnight. I have seen it. I have seen with family members where, when things go bad, you cannot escape from the bullying. When things go bad and people wish to bully you, when I was in school they had to drag you out the back of the bike shed and you could deal with it, but now you can be bullied, harassed, excluded, victimised, targeted and defamed—all of these things the member for Forrest detailed in her speech—in what used to be the safety of your own bedroom. This is the modern reality that we have heard evidence about. This is the reality confronting people as young as 10, 11 or 12—not just adults who might make an informed decision about the bullying they receive but people as young as 10, 11 or 12 and perhaps younger, especially with mobile phones being such that people can access the internet from anywhere.

And this bullying behaviour can have tragic consequences, as touched on by the member for Forrest. The cyberbullying committee reports found an overwhelming number of incidents where victims fell subject to a range of bullying from simple stuff like abusive phone calls, offensive photos or photos the content of which the Australian Federal Police might want to be aware through to stalking. The consequences of that can lead to depression, anxiety and further symptoms. Young people especially have suffered these symptoms when their self-esteem is affected. We have heard evidence in our electorates of cases of suicide and very serious immediate and long-term effects. This happens particularly when someone is a little bit different. The same rules of the schoolyard have existed for 2,000 years but now differences can be exploited, promulgated and distributed much more readily.

Between 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2011, the Queensland Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian's child death register recorded 140 deaths of children and young people due to suicide. Sadly, my wife in her public service job has been connected with most of those deaths. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy. Those 140 deaths are a cold, hard statistic but we can only imagine the tragedy associated with losing one of your children.

The Gillard Labor government takes the safety and security of all Australians, especially our young, seriously. That is why in 2008 the government committed over $120 million towards a range of cybersafety programs to inform and educate young people as part of our cybersafety plan and has continued to invest in cybersafety initiatives. The cybersafety plan includes initiatives such as (1) the expansion of the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations team that has resulted in a total of 316 offenders having been arrested or summonsed for 840 child sex offence charges since mid-2009; (2) the improved handling of prosecutions; (3) funding for the awareness of cyberbullying so people are prepared; and (4) funding for a national cybersafety education program, which is something that was touched on by the member for Forrest.

The Labor government has also provided an additional $3 million to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for a national pilot of its eSmart initiative, which I was proud to hear will be rolled out in all Queensland state schools. The Labor government has committed $4 million to develop new online tool kits to help parents, teachers, those training to be teachers, and students deal with school bullying. These tools will be available early in 2013. They include resources for parents, teachers and school support staff, as well as equipping graduate teachers with the knowledge and skills when they first enter the classroom. This is particularly important as there has been a recent surge in older graduates going back to teachers college or university to become teachers. I know that my four-year-old and my eight-year-old have more knowledge in certain areas of the internet than I do as a 47-year-old. That is scary. Certainly they have knowledge of the iPad and things like that. I imagine there are many teachers who have life skills but are not internet savvy.

Cybersecurity is a collective responsibility shared by all who use the internet. It is important, therefore, that businesses and individuals are proactive in taking measures to protect themselves while online. We need to start making progress in providing education for parents, teachers and young people about what they can do to speak up against bullies and the other risks that are on the internet. With a staggering one in six students being bullied weekly and one in five students having experienced some form of cyberbullying, it is clear that we need to take a stronger stand against bullying and encourage more people like Tom Wood, who has previously been a target of cyberbullying. Tom made it through these terrible situations and has now become an activist, speaking out in schools about tackling cyberbullying.

The Gillard Labor government is committed to tackling the threat of cyberbullying and enhancing cybersafety education in all of our schools. One of the Gillard Labor government's key priorities is to provide all Australians, particularly our younger Australians who might be tech savvy but socially unaware, with the information, the confidence and the practical tools to protect themselves online. Some of these methods include: the development of the Stay Smart Online website and social media channels as key sources of information for all Australians on the simple steps they can take to be secure and confident online; the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission operated SCAMwatch, which provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams; the National Cyber Security Awareness Week held each year in partnership with industry; and the department's interactive self-learning cybersecurity education modules for primary and secondary school students that are free for all Australian students. The education package includes comprehensive resources for teachers and has been embraced by them. (Time expired)

8:20 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband) Share this | | Hansard source

The two honourable members who have just spoken—the member for Moreton and the member for Forrest—have both given very good speeches. The member for Moreton's speech was memorable but the member for Forrest's speech was so outstanding that it should be printed and circulated everywhere because it represents an extraordinarily comprehensive and concise summation of these important public policy issues. I really want to commend my colleague the member for Forrest for her work in this area. She has been a tireless advocate for greater awareness of cybersafety for Australian children. She has conducted so many cybersafety seminars in schools and has been a real example to all of us. I am sitting here next to my colleague the member for Casey. I remember a cybersafety session we had at Mooroolbark College, in the honourable member's electorate, that was inspired by the member for Forrest's work. All of us have become really energised and made aware of this issue by the member for Forrest's hard work.

I beg to differ somewhat from the member for Moreton, our friend on the other side, on this point. I am very optimistic about young people and the internet. I think the digital natives who have grown up with the internet have developed skills of discernment that their parents and grandparents by and large do not have. In my observation they recognise that online there is a vast mass of material and they seem to have developed a very considerable skill for working out what is reliable, what is not reliable and so forth. They are less gullible than their parents who, of course, are used to dealing with sources of information, in printed form or on broadcast television and radio, which were essentially curated. It is the uncurated nature of the internet as an information platform that provides so many challenges.

Nonetheless, there are very real concerns about the extent of bullying online. Most children are subject to bullying in one form or another. You do not need to read Lord of the Flies or be a schoolteacher or parent to know that children can be cruel to each other, and at a very vulnerable time of life. The problem with cyberbullying is that that cruelty is amplified to an enormous audience, and so what was a nasty remark behind the bike shed, as the member for Moreton said, is now broadcast to the whole school and community.

This is where education and awareness is so important. It is important, also, for young people to recognise that the anonymity they think they have online is pretty spurious. There is a famous New Yorker cartoon of one dog sitting at a chair with his paws on the keyboard of a computer, looking down to another dog on the floor, and he says to the dog on the floor: 'On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog.' Regrettably, increasingly everybody on the internet knows exactly who you are. Privacy on the internet is a very spurious concept. As the member for Forrest said—and this is really one of the key messages that we need to get across to young people—throughout all of human history, the default has been to forget. We have had to make an enormous effort to remember things. We had to paint pictures of mammoths on the walls of caves or remember great ballads, develop a writing system and carve letters in rocks, or paint pictures and take photographs—but generally we forgot things. The reality now, in the digital world, is that it is almost impossible to delete anything, so it is almost impossible to forget. This is the important thing for young people to remember: those embarrassing photographs that they take of themselves or their friends and post on Facebook today could be around for ever. They may take them off their Facebook page but they can be captured, they can be downloaded by someone else, a screenshot can be taken of them and they can be recorded for ever, so sober awareness is of critical importance.

I want to end where I began, by commending the member for Forrest for bringing this motion before the House and supporting her in her effort to make our children more aware of the internet. (Time expired)

8:25 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Cyberbullying is an extremely dangerous and hurtful form of bullying which has no boundaries and takes bullying to a new level. Cyberbullying is particularly harmful because it can reach anyone and a lot of people can take part in it. It is often done in secret, with the bully hiding who they are by creating false profiles or names, or sending anonymous messages. It is difficult to remove, as the previous speaker stated, as it is shared online and can be recorded and saved in many different places. It is hard for a person being bullied to accept if they use technology often. The content—photos, text or videos—can be shared with a lot of people, and this content may also be easy to find by searching on a web browser.

While cyberbullying is similar to face-to-face bullying, it really takes bullying to a new level. It can occur 24/7 and be difficult to escape. It is invasive, impacting on students' social worlds at school and at home, often online. It can have a large audience and is readily shared with groups or posted on public forums, and it is very, very difficult to delete. I am sure every member of this House has come across incidents where students in their electorate have been bullied on the net. The government has recognised the impact and dangers of cyberbullying and that is why the government has invested in the cybersafety plan to help schools and educators protect children from inappropriate material and contacts while online.

If you are a young person and you are being sent threatening emails, being teased or made fun of online, having rumours spread about you online, having unpleasant comments made about you, being sent unwanted messages, having somebody use your screen-name or being deliberately ignored or left out of things, these are the kind of activities that really impact on you. That is why we need to make sure that action is taken in this area.

I would like to recount the story of one young woman, a young girl attending one of the local high schools in my area, who received texts and messages on her Facebook page. These were very threatening. She was threatened with physical harm—not only within her school but, because of the nature of the Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and Hunter area, that threat and those comments that were made about her spread throughout the whole of the Hunter. They were then published on sites down on the Central Coast and this young woman, this young girl attending a local high school, was scared to leave her home. She was terrified—absolutely terrified. This is why cyberbullying is particularly dangerous, as it depersonalises the abuse and the abusers are not held to account. They can say whatever they like on social media and it is really hard to track them down and hold them accountable.

Leigh Sales, on 7.30,detailed the case of a young girl, Zara Nasr, who idolised the pop star Delta Goodrem. She was subjected to the most dreadful abuse on the internet. This is a problem facing our community as a whole. I hope that we all come together on this important issue. Cybersafety is a collective responsibility. It is the responsibility of government, schools and individuals. Parents should monitor very carefully their children's computer usage. Children should not be allowed to sit in their rooms, in front of their computers with no controls whatsoever. Controls on websites are very difficult to enforce because many of the websites are offshore. Many challenges need to be addressed if cyberbullying is to be stamped out and it can only happen if all sides of parliament— (Time expired)

8:30 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to speak on this motion, moved by the member Forrest, who has been a very strong advocate on the topic of cybersafety for several years. Last year, building on the member for Forrest's work, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, established the Coalition's Online Safety Working Group to consult around the country in developing policies to assist parents, carers and teachers to better protect children and young people from the risks associated with the internet and social media.

As the chair of that group and in working with parliamentarians from every state and territory, we have conducted a very extensive program of consultation around all states and territories. We have spoken with many parents, teachers, industry representatives and children, from age six up to 17. We visited almost 20 schools and held a range of community forums and meetings in every state and territory. Of course, those meetings continue. Just recently I, along with the member for Casey, held cybersafety forums in Upper Yarra and Yarra Junction.

It is very clear that children's online safety is a major concern for parents and teachers. We have heard some very troubling stories about cyberbullying. Let me mention some things I was struck by. A 13-year-old from Caboolture told us that she had over 800 friends on Facebook and admitted she did not know many of them personally. A principal in Perth told us that he had been sorting out Facebook disputes between children as young as six and seven. A mother in Tasmania sought a court order protecting her daughter from online bullies, including an order that they not contact her on Facebook, an order which was refused by the magistrate because, he said, 'I don't know how it works'. There is plenty of evidence that parents and children who run into difficulties with online bullying and other undesirable behaviour do not know where to turn. The major social media outlets are often not as responsive as they ought to be.

So in our discussion paper, which we issued late last year, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for communications, we recommended some key measures which we believed would go a long way towards addressing these issues: establishing a children's e-safety commissioner to take a national leadership role in this area; implementing rapid removal protocols for large social media outlets, for material that is targeted at and likely to cause harm to an Australian child through a co-operative regulatory scheme; assisting parents and carers to make informed decisions about devices such as smartphones and tablets, by establishing recognised branding, indicating their suitability for younger children and teenagers; providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the National Safe Schools Framework, and assisting with online safety resources for schools; and undertaking a national public education campaign to highlight online safety issues.

A key proposal in the discussion paper is for greater support for schools in their work to assist the children in their care to be safe online. This would involve providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the existing National Safe Schools Framework.

After several years of no action from this government with regard to protecting children online, it was good to see an announcement from the current government in January this year. The coalition welcomed the fact that that announcement followed the lead that the coalition had established in key areas, announcing an education module for school children and voluntary protocols, involving some social media outlets. While these arrangements are welcome, it is clear that this announcement by government does not go far enough.

The coalition has made it clear that we expect the major social media outlets to step up and show a greater degree of social responsibility than they have shown to date in working with government and regulatory agencies to address the problem of providing rapid responses to cyberbullying when that is experienced by children.

The coalition expects that our discussion paper 'Enhancing Online Safety for Children' will stimulate discussion. Indeed, we have received an extensive range of submissions, which we are working through. Based upon our discussion paper and those submissions we will be bringing forward a policy at the next election. We expect that, in response to that, social media outlets and other internet companies will be better placed to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility in protecting children from harm. We also want to see enhanced cybersafety education through providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the National Safe Schools Framework. We also want to see a national public education campaign to highlight online safety issues. I commend this motion and congratulate the member for Forrest on her significant work in this area.

8:35 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to speak in this debate on cybersafety and I thank the member for Forrest for bringing this very important issue before the House. As a parent I am very interested in this area and I know that people other than parents of course are also very interested in this area and rightly so. This motion raises a number of very important issues about the role of regulation in our society. When we talk about emerging technologies, a debate will always happen on how best to regulate where regulation should occur. While we have that debate, I think two things should remain paramount. Firstly, the safety of children is paramount—we call it cybersafety and we need to focus on the issue of safety—and, secondly, harm minimisation generally as it applies to users of technology.

I think it is very important to have in that process, as previous speakers have said, education in schools targeted specifically at young people. But I also think a very important role is to be played by parents. I think that is one area where education could focus in particular on things such as ensuring that parents speak to children about it. Even 30 years ago, or a couple of decades ago, there were questions in Dolly magazine—I am showing my age—like, 'Have your parents talked to you about sex education?' Well, today we know there are so many different ways that that information can be gleaned, but I think the real question today is: how much do young people know about the dangers of getting involved in some of these practices that, unfortunately, a lot of people consider to be normal?

As previous speakers have said, and it is very true: content does not just disappear. It probably does not amaze a lot of people here, who have been engaged in this debate, but you would be amazed to know, in society, how many young people in particular think that, because they have deleted a post, text or picture from their device, that content is gone forever. But of course it is not.

The other thing to remember—and I think the member for Shortland highlighted this—is that this is a practice and a phenomenon that has no boundaries. It does not matter what you post in the digital age; anyone will be able to access it. That brings up particularly important issues for people who live in small towns. I am sure the member for Forrest will have seen it, but last week, on the 7.30 program, there was a story with a focus on sexting—in particular, on issues that are happening in Victoria and on an inquiry that has just finished in Victoria—and there was a focus on some things that were happening to some girls in a small Victorian town. I will quote from the transcript:

One in five young women have posted images of themselves nude or semi-nude online. Nearly half the girls have been asked to.

In this story there was a focus on a small Victorian country town where Facebook forums, it said:

… have trashed the reputations of local girls.

In small towns, where news spreads fast, and even faster in digital format, the lives of these young people have been, in some cases, I think, irreparably damaged, when you look at some of the evidence.

One of the people who were interviewed for this program, named Fiona Coe, talked about these girls and said:

They had the photos of them, they had their names underneath and it said, you know, phrases like "Your local slut" such and such a name with their photo or, "Look, she wants this." … so it was quite putdown and bullying, really.

I think it is very disturbing that we have these things going on.

I note that there was, as I said, the inquiry specifically into sexting by the Victorian Law Reform Committee, which looked at the cybersafety committee's report that was done by this parliament. But I also think it is instructive to look at a couple of other things that were mentioned, in terms of Australian statistics. The Australian Council for Educational Research cited a Victorian study on the prevalence of sexting and it said that a 2009 survey of 4,770 students in years 5 to 11, from 39 independent schools in Victoria, found that overall 7.3 per cent of girls had been asked to send a nude picture of themselves, and this increased with age. I think it is very important, as the member for Forrest rightly states, that we have education in place. We do need consistency in this area, and we do need effective education that is targeted towards these very practices that we are seeking to make sure are stamped out as much as possible.

8:40 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with great pleasure to support the motion of the member for Forrest in relation to cyberbullying and cybersafety posing a threat, especially to young people. I want to note the contribution of the member for Forrest in this space in this parliament. She has done an enormous amount of work on the committee and the parliament's Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. Indeed, this motion represents yet another step forward in acknowledging that this House calls for greater education and enhancing cybersafety education in all Australian schools. I want to rise to support that in particular, because, after an inquiry into cybersafety and young people, and with all of the experience I have had in my role as the deputy chair of the cybersafety committee, I am aware that education is put forward as the best solution to this challenge facing young people today.

We have heard from members of this House about the challenges facing young people in a rapidly changing world and, indeed, it is telling when all groups—the internet industry, all of the different businesses associated with providing the internet in Australia, parent groups and academics—say that the best thing they can do is encourage, educate and equip young people with things that they need to prevent these things from happening in the first place. Perhaps the most telling thing that was said in evidence in the time that I have been on this committee was, when we were discussing internet filtering—a pet hate of mine—a witness said that we need to teach these young people to use the filters in their heads. I think that was perhaps the most telling crystallisation of the concept.

We know that most Australian children are immersed in the internet. We know that the attitude of social media and social networking is evolving in this country. We know that Facebook has opened an office in Australia, which is a great triumph for Australia and Australians, and I commend the work of the committee and the member for Forrest in forcing this. And we have rejected the attitude of Mr Mozelle Thompson from Facebook who said, under questioning from me about the issue of children under the age of 13 using the Facebook site, when challenged on the fact that there were tens of thousands of young people under the age of 13 using Facebook:

I accept that there are people who lie, and sometimes those are younger people who maybe do not belong on the site. Facebook has mechanisms to try to detect them, but it is not perfect.

This was the response of Facebook—and, of course, every kid in my street under the age of 13 is on Facebook. That attitude is a thing of the past. Indeed, I call again for the internet industry to understand that self-regulation is better than failing repeatedly in this space and having governments—bad governments and good governments—legislate over the top of them. There is a great role for self-regulation. There is an even greater role for cybersafety education in all Australian schools.

I was privileged to launch, with Kids Helpline and Optus, a resource that went into all 10,000 of Australia's schools, the 'Make cyberspace a better place' campaign. This initiative of Kids Helpline and Optus saw this resource—which was an education pack containing information on cyberbullying, sexting and the safe use of technology—go into 10,000 primary and secondary schools. It was piloted at Oakhill College in my electorate, and I want to re-commend the kids there for the work that they did in improving the quality of those lessons and ensuring that they were young-people relevant.

But, as to the breaking up of these categories into the right age groups of primary schools and high schools, where to fit in sexting, where to fit in cyberbullying and where to fit in the safe use of technology is an evolving discussion. But it is a critical discussion. It is something which I completely support as the best mechanism available to our society to help protect young people from the dangers they face online. It is certainly better than passing a law through this place. It is certainly better than seeking to impose unnecessary red tape and other institutions like filtering to pretend to parents and to communities that the government can filter out negative or harmful consequences of the online space—it cannot.

That is why I am very pleased to rise in support of the motion of the member for Forrest. She has put forward something that is common sense and that ought to be common sense; that is, when we move into this era where online digital use is prevalent among all our young people, it is absolutely vital that we ensure this is part of our education system, that we equip our children with the tools they need to make their own decisions and protect themselves online as the best way forward.

8:45 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Forrest has probably been overwhelmed with compliments tonight, but it is a reflection on both sides of the House recognising and commending the member's efforts in this space. I had the opportunity to listen to the member for Forrest's contribution from my office before coming to the floor and, seeing all the work that she has done, I know this is not just a motion in word but in deed as well. I join with others in commending the member for Forrest in bringing this to the House.

As is evident from the contributions this evening, we all take the security of Australians seriously, particularly as it impacts on younger Australians. I was fortunate to serve for a brief period with the member for Forrest on the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety when it handed down its interim report in June 2011, titled High-wire act: cyber-safety and the young. It had about 32 recommendations to it.

Cybersafety remains an important area of personal protection for all Australians, and educating people is very important, as has been reflected on a number of times tonight. There is no doubt schools and early childhood education have a role to play in shaping protective behaviours long before cyberbullying becomes a problem. The government has made enormous commitments in the area of cybersafety across portfolios. As has been mentioned by my colleague the member for Moreton, there has been a $3 million grant to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, and a national pilot of its eSmart cybersafety initiative has now been delivered to approximately 1,600 schools.

Parents are critical. They will form the front line in helping to keep young people safe online and in keeping lines of communication open, particularly on sensitive issues. Parents will be the key group in this area of education. There are positive signs worth reflecting on, including a 2010 parents survey commissioned by the government which found that one in two parents, or 46 per cent, feel that they are 'well informed' about cybersafety issues. What was interesting in the survey was that it found the majority of parents—84 per cent—had spoken to their children about the risks of being online, and 80 per cent had implemented preventative measures to minimise those risks. That is an encouraging start, but the findings demonstrate the need for further work.

The government has committed a total of $125.8 million on its cybersafety plans to combat online risks to children and help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material. Under our plan the government has established a range of advisory groups to ensure world's best practice when it comes to protecting children online, including a Consultative Working Group on cybersafety and a teachers and parents advisory group on cybersafety.

I make special mention of the Youth Advisory Group on cybersafety, or YAG, as some like to call it, which provides students from all over the country a direct voice to the government on cybersafety issues. Nearly 3,000 students from 400 schools will participate in the 2013 program via online consultations and a cybersafety summit, including students from the electorate of Chifley. I am proud to say that students from Evans High School participated in the YAG, and I commend them for their efforts.

Additionally, and quite separate to this, I pay tribute to the Youth Advisory Group of Mount Druitt's headspace, which recently walked me through this issue and talked through some of the pressures that young people are facing from online bullying and—as has been mentioned tonight—the ever-present danger there. It is not just a matter of being at school; this is something that goes home and is almost like a 24/7 phenomenon. This is a reflection on the fact that social media has become an integral dimension of so many young people's lives and where they are most vulnerable. No longer are computers the sole domain of social media; this transfers onto platforms through mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That is why the government's Cybersafety Button has become an important tool, ensuring young people have 24/7 access to cybersafety resources and advice and can report inappropriate behaviour, including to the AFP. Since it was launched in 2010 it has been made available on nearly one million computers and mobile devices.

This demonstrates, too, that social networks need to be mindful of the danger and ever-vigilant. As much as there has been negative comments about social media sites like Facebook, having met last year with Facebook's Product Manager for Site Integrity and Trust Engineering, Jake Brill, it seems there are some encouraging signs. But we still have a lot of work to do and we need to keep the focus on this. Having a parliament debate is one way we can do this. Congratulations.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.