House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business


6:29 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to commend the motion of the member for Forrest on cyber-safety and to speak in support of it. As the motion states, cyberbullying and inadequate cybersafety pose a significant threat to the welfare and security of all Australians—especially young people. This threat will increase with new technology and greater connectivity.

Before I get into the body of the speech, I would just like to recognise and acknowledge the work of the member for Forrest and her continual forums that she holds in schools educating and telling our children, the children of Australia, about the threats of cyberbullying and the ways to protect themselves from that. She has brought this motion to the House and I would like to acknowledge the fine work she does in her electorate to prevent cyberbullying.

The best way to combat this threat and ensure that generations of young Australians can benefit safely from new technology and increased connectivity online is for the government to enhance cybersafety education in all Australian schools. The risks children may face on the internet are currently one of the most significant welfare concerns facing Australians and it is essential that this parliament acts decisively to ensure our young people are equipped with the knowledge to use online tools safely.

I addressed the House in 2011 on the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. I then spoke briefly about a visit I made to the Carlisle Primary School in my electorate of Swan to talk to the students about cybersecurity and the importance of protecting their online image. At the time I commended Carlisle Primary School's anti-cyberbullying stance and encouraged other schools to do the same. While I believe most schools have a non-tolerance policy for cyberbullying, it is essential that we assist our local schools to teach our students about online cybersafety and security.

For example, there were students I spoke to who thought that the photos or personal information they shared on sites such as Facebook were secure and private. Clearly that is not the case, as with many other social media platforms children and adults use. Many also did not realise that what they posted would be recorded online forever even if they deleted it. What they post online today may affect their future when it comes to applying for a job or acceptance into university. This is why it is so essential that we continue to educate our young people on internet usage, acceptable online etiquette and behaviour.

I also spoke to the Sevenoaks Senior College at one stage, talking to them about online images. I asked them to imagine what it would be like for them now to see a picture of their mother or father online from 20 years ago. I said to them, 'If you now post these pictures of yourself in awkward positions, this is what your children will see in the future.' I think they go it then when they imagined trying to see their own parents.

The internet and the world we live in are constantly changing. New social platforms and ways to interact online are constantly emerging. People are becoming more knowledgeable about the online world and more people from are countries are using worldwide web services. With these advances come many great opportunities but the risks will always increase as well. This is why a one-off education and an occasional research paper on cybersafety are not enough to continue to protect and educate our young people. It has been suggested that cybersafety should be a part of the national curriculum, taught alongside information technology and computing classes. This is a possibility that could be explored to ensure that future generations will be equipped with the knowledge necessary to stay safe online.

Unfortunately, Australia is lagging in the cyber education front. Whilst many schools run programs such as cyber friendly schools project introduced by Edith Cowan University in my home state of Western Australia, these programs are often voluntary and are not consistently utilised in all schools. I must also acknowledge the Youth Advisory Group on Cybersafety, or YAG, which was first launched in 2009 with the purpose to provide feedback and advice in youth cyber issues to the Australian government. The program is a forum which allows representatives from schools across Australia to come together and discuss their experiences with online issues such as cybersecurity and cyberbullying. This is a good first step. However, to successfully reduce the incidence of cyber related issues—be they related to online bullies, scammers or predators—the Australian government must be prepared to support a focused nationwide cybersafety education program that is common to all schools across Australia.

The United Kingdom has already adopted cybersafety education in their national curriculum which has been widely welcomed by education and cybersafety experts in the UK. Children need the advice and skillsets to recognise and avoid online dangers.

Young people are particularly active on the internet, which makes them one of the groups most vulnerable to lapses in cyber-security. This young generation are more tech-savvy than their parents—I know my son is—and they rely on technology on a day-to-day basis, be it for social interaction, learning or productivity. With many young people having close to unlimited access to the world wide web through a variety of devices such at internet-enabled smartphones, tablet computers, laptops and various family PCs, it is essential that they are equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves. According to a Telstra report released earlier this year, Australian children aged between 10 and 17 are online for an average of two hours per day, amongst the highest internet usage rates in the world.

The internet can be a confronting place for many parents. While their children are learning more and more skills online, such as reading and mathematics, they are also navigating a plethora of social networking sites, blogs and chat rooms, on which they can unwittingly divulge personal information, act anonymously with no accountability or even take on a whole completely new persona. Furthermore, online predators can potentially communicate with them 24/7 on any screen or internet-connected device inside the family home.

Although law enforcement agencies in Australia and around the world are getting better at apprehending and preventing cyber-predators, scammers and bullies, they will not disappear from the internet; instead, their ploys and schemes will become even more sophisticated and seemingly genuine. This, however, is no reason to abandon the benefits and opportunities the internet can provide. Rigorous education for both children and parents is the best means to ensure that our children are forewarned and equipped to recognise and protect themselves against the online bullies, scammers and predators.

I would like to take the opportunity to describe some of the issues our young people may face when interacting online, to illustrate why education for both children and parents is necessary in this cyber age. The first is known as cyber-bullying. The Australian parliament report of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety defined cyber-bullying as being over time and including, but not limited to, mean, nasty or threatening text messages, instant messengers, pictures, video clips and emails that are sent direct to a person or others via a mobile phone or the internet. Cyber-bullying is different to traditional face-to-face schoolyard bullying, as the perpetrators are able to remain anonymous and the bullying can continue 24/7—out of the schoolyard and into the victims' homes.

Due to the ultra-invasive nature of cyber-bullying, experts believe it can be even more damaging and hard to escape than face-to-face bullying. Cyber-bullying can be incredibly hard for children to cope with, but studies have shown that when children are equipped with the appropriate coping mechanisms and knowledge, they are often able to prevent or block the bullying from occurring. Reports indicate that as many as one in 10 children will become victims of cyber-bullying and up to one in four have experienced cyber-bullying in some way, either as a victim, a witness or a perpetrator.

It is also incredibly easy for users of social networking sites to remain anonymous or even pretend to be someone they are not. Online predators are able to pose as friends or other young children in order to gain private information. Children may want to meet up with friends they have only ever communicated with online, potentially placing themselves in harm's way. Many social networking sites also allow for geo-tagging as a default setting, allowing followers or the public to see the young person's location or whereabouts. This can be a frightening world, where any person with access to the internet can pretend to be someone they are not in order to gain the trust of vulnerable young people.

A rigorous national cyber-safety education program would ensure that children understand how to set privacy settings on social network sites, communicate with adults about their online activities and are able to recognise when situations may be dangerous or not quite right. Again, I congratulate the member for Forrest. It is essential that this government recognises that the detrimental effect of cyber-bullying would be best combatted by a co-ordinated national response. Thank you.

6:39 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Throughout my time as the member for Canberra, the issues of cyber-safety, cyber-security and cyber-bullying have all been raised with me by members of my electorate again and again. I know that I have spoken in this chamber and in the House many times about the online scams that my own family members have been victims of—including my mother and my father-in-law. My father-in-law, immediately after my mother-in-law died, was racked with grief and was the victim of an online banking scam. So I am well and truly aware, both from my family's experience and the experience of people in my electorate, of cybersecurity issues and cyberbullying. I have been approached by parents who are concerned about their kids' actions; by young adults who are concerned about their own online presence; by older Canberrans who want to engage with the internet but are scared about the threats they might face; and by everyday men and women, boys and girls, young and old, who have been the victim of some form of attempted scam or phishing exercise. Cybersafety concerns us all and we can all very easily become victims.

That is why over the past few months I have been running a series of cybersafety forums in my electorate. These free community forums are designed to engage and inform the community about how they can be smarter and safer online. I held two pilot forums about a month ago, and they were a great success. I am holding three more in July, one targeting older Canberrans, one targeting parents—through school, through the P&C—and another targeting small business. They are all different audiences but quite often they have things in common in terms of their concerns about the cyberenvironment. But they also have their own specific interests and concerns. That is why I was very keen to hold these forums for these three target areas.

Contrary to what we have just heard—and I have the greatest respect for the former speaker for raising this issue of cybersecurity; I think it is really important that we talk about it often out in our communities—there has been a lot of work done in the school space, the space for young people. But I felt that there was a gap in the market for small business, for older Canberrans and for parents, which is why I am holding these forums. The presenter at these forums is Alastair MacGibbon, from the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra. Alastair is an internationally respected authority on cybercrime, including internet fraud, consumer victimisation and a range of internet safety issues. He has worked in Washington for the AFP and other security agencies. He has worked in the region. He is an incredibly well-respected authority. I am very lucky to have him help the people in my electorate to navigate the maze of online security. I thank him for his time in helping the people of Canberra to deal with these issues.

In the forums I have held to date, Alastair has given some pretty frightening examples of ordinary Australians who have been the victim of online scams. I was really saddened to hear that the most common type of scam is a romance scam. We have all heard the story: you meet someone online; you email for a couple of months and everything seems perfect, but unfortunately your new loved one lives overseas, so you send them some money for a plane ticket; however, on the day of their flight something goes wrong—a family member of theirs is in an accident and for some reason their insurance will not cover it—so you send them more money for medical costs. Then you never hear from them again.

Alastair provided many examples of these romance scams that exist. There was an extraordinary one in The Australian a few weeks ago. A physics professor at a US university is in jail in South America for some extraordinary romance that he has been involved in. Things became very unstuck for him. You hear about these sorts of scams—of that proportion but also of a more general nature, where people are ripped off for money. It really does highlight how predators play on the vulnerabilities of people who are looking for love. It is just tragic. It is exceptionally cruel.

Alastair also told the incredibly sad story of a beautiful young Australian girl, Nona Belomesoff. Nona was an 18-year-old animal lover who thought she had been offered her dream job working with the New South Wales Wildlife Information and Rescue and Education Service via Facebook, but instead she was lured to her death. Nona's heart-wrenching story is the very worst kind of story, but we can all learn something from her cruel and unnecessary death, and that is that we need to be smarter online and we need to teach our kids to be smarter online.

Having run my own small business, I know that cybersafety for small business owners is a particular concern. Often, when you are running a small or micro business, you are the jack-of-all-trades. You are managing every aspect of your operation. Quite often, the IT security reminders are put to the bottom of the in-tray or the bottom of the jobs-to-do list because you are so busy marketing yourself or out meeting new clients or delivering jobs. However, if you are not equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to manage cyberthreats, it is a difficult task to face and that is why I have designed my forums for these small-business groups.

The internet has the capacity to transform this country. Through the internet, the vastness of our land will no longer be a barrier to education, to health, to community and to culture. That is why this government is investing in the National Broadband Network. However, with expanded opportunity comes expanded risk. Cybersafety is likely to be an issue that we must face well into the future. I am really pleased with what the government is doing on this front. We are taking this issue seriously.

We are delivering a $125.8 million cybersafety plan to combat online risk to children and to help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material and content while online. This list is incredibly long in terms of what we are doing on that front as part of this plan, but I would just like to take the time to go through some of the measures. These include: funding for cybersafety support, education and awareness-raising initiatives and law enforcement. We have provided funding for the expansion of the AFP's Child Protection Operations team to detect and investigate online child sex exploitation. This includes funding for 91 additional AFP officers. This has resulted in a total of 316 offenders being arrested and summonsed for 840 child sex offence charges since mid-2009.

Funding has also been provided to increase the capacity of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that prosecutions are handled quickly, and it has also been provided for education and awareness-raising resources through the ThinkUKnow program. I was involved in the launch of this program with Canberra Grammar a few years ago. This program assists parents and children to deal with the risks posed by online predators.

Funding has been provided to develop and maintain online tools, like the Cybersafety Help Button and the Easy Guide to Socialising Online websites, and we have provided funding for the Australian Communications and Media Authority's Cybersmart program. There is a whole website called It is a national cybersafety and cybersecurity education program.

In addition, we have provided $3 million to The Alannah and Madeline Foundation for a national plan for its e-smart cybersafety initiative, and following the success of this pilot e-program—which has been delivered to 1,600 schools—the Victorian government has announced funding for its own program, and the Queensland government has too. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation are discussing similar rollouts of this program with other state education departments.

To support the take-up of the National Safe Schools Framework, we have also committed about $4 million towards the development of new resources for school communities. Part of this plan is also the funding of the National Cyber Security Awareness Week, which this year ran from 20 to 24 May. The awareness week is a partnership with industry, community organisations and all levels of government. For this year's awareness week, around 1,400 organisations, including 700 schools, partnered with the government to deliver cybersecurity and cybersafety messages around Australia.

I know that there are a number of programs rolling out in my electorate. There are pilot programs at Wanniassa School, programs at Canberra Grammar and programs right throughout the electorate specifically designed for students. I am focusing on small business, parents and older Canberrans. Cybersecurity is a collective responsibility and it is shared by all of us who use the internet. It is important that we all take measures to protect ourselves online.

6:49 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion from the member for Forrest, Nola Marino, regarding the ongoing concern about cyberbullying and cybersafety. Cyberbullying poses a particular threat to the welfare and security of young Australians. Children across Australia, no matter their age or what school they attend, continue to struggle with bullying in all its forms. We continue to hear reports in the media of students who suffer from bullying which goes unnoticed for years—or, worse, of students who feel so vulnerable after years of unrelenting harassment that they take their own lives. When we hear of such events, all parents take stock and ask themselves, 'What if that were my child and I did not even know that it was happening?' Unfortunately, today, with technology being increasingly woven into the lives of students and children, bullying occurs not only in the schoolyard; it can occur online at home in the child's bedroom—completely out of a parent's sight.

I therefore thank not just the member for Forrest but all those involved with school communities across my electorate who are trying to raise awareness and to increase education about the prevalence of cyberbullying and the serious consequences it can have. Every parent knows that severe or chronic bullying can lead to serious emotional consequences, leaving victims at greater risk of suffering from anxiety, depression and other stress related disorders. Cyberbullying can be extremely upsetting, especially as the scale and speed of the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week digital world means it can take place anywhere and at any time.

Earlier this year, researchers presented their findings on the prevalence of cyberbullying in Australia. Some 3,000 students from grades six to 12 across three Australian states completed a questionnaire and shared their thoughts about bullying and cyberbullying. The research showed that 14 per cent of students reported being victims of cyberbullying in the last year, while seven per cent of students reported experiencing both cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying. Females were more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying.

One of the most significant findings is that 83 per cent of victims knew the person who was bullying them in real life. For most victims, those who engaged in cyberbullying went to the same school, were the same gender and in fact described themselves as a friend, not an acquaintance. At the same time, 25 per cent of young people who engaged in cyberbullying targeted people they did not know. Often young people can feel that they and the information they post on the internet is anonymous, even to the point where what would otherwise be considered harassment on the playground is less evident online.

Many children and teenagers who are cyberbullied are reluctant to tell a teacher or parent, often because they feel ashamed of the social stigma or because they fear their computer privileges at home will be taken away. The issue of cybersafety also highlights the fundamental importance of education about the consequences of our online activity, particularly for privacy—as well as for other potential legal risks and liabilities.

As the member for Forrest has highlighted, some of the most significant issues relate to photo sharing, how to deal with cyberstalking, online grooming and exposure to illegal or inappropriate material, privacy, identity theft and online security. For young people who engage in sexting—the transmission of sexually explicit photos—such activity can quickly become a serious criminal matter. Other serious issues include possible defamation, privacy disclosure, confidentiality, anonymity, intellectual property rights, copyright infringement and criminal laws associated with harassment or posting offensive material. Australians are also faced with identity theft and other risks involved with posting personal identifying material, including names, addresses and birthdays.

Parents, their children and the school system are struggling to keep up. One of the primary reasons for that is that cyberbullying is an emerging and constantly evolving phenomenon—the rules are constantly changing. There are always new virtual interactions and other social media becoming available. Given that children now grow up with computers and the internet, they are much more adept at responding to these constant changes, meaning that children can often finds ways around potential barrier solutions such as parental control or monitoring software.

We do not want a situation where parents simply feel helpless to even comprehend the challenges, leading to them placing online safety in the too-hard basket. It is the difficulty of understanding what is going on or where to start that makes them feel helpless. It is easier to just take away their children's mobile phone or to ban the use of computers, even though the parents acknowledge that these are essential resources for today's children. For example, there are potential privacy dangers associated with geotagging—where a user's location is also posted online when an update is made on social media. On Facebook or Twitter, geotagging can be the default setting, meaning that the user's location is posted even without their active knowledge. If such information is posted online for anyone to see, it quickly opens up the opportunity for real-life stalking. Therefore, from a technical point of view, given the unimaginable scale of the internet, it would be impossible to devise a top-down approach that could be applicable to the varying circumstances that families encounter.

This highlights why education is the key to overcoming the risks of cyberbullying and meeting the challenges of cybersafety. Fortunately, there are resources available for parents, students and schools to devise appropriate techniques to manage cyberbullying and cybersafety. These include traditional resources such as Lifeline, which in 2013 is celebrating 50 years of providing crisis and mental health support services.

I want to highlight the work of Mr Brett Lee, an internet safety expert at INESS, Internet Education and Safety Services. Mr Lee, who worked for more than 20 years as a detective for the Queensland police in the field of child exploitation, now gives internet safety and cyberbullying presentations to schools, the community and other organisations. He continues to provide support to our families and to offer advice to church groups, schools and my electorate generally about how to develop tools for online safety. Fortunately, through the resources of organisations like INESS, parents have been helped to unravel the online world and what it means for their children, including at Fig Tree Pocket State School, Pullenvale State School, Nudgee Junior College and St Peter's Lutheran College. As an expert in the field, Mr Lee has remarked that the most important approach we can take is an individual and community based approach, and that education for parents and students is the key. It is at the home and school levels that the community can come together to devise appropriate solutions. Mr Lee encourages parents and their children to have an open dialogue about not only their interaction with other students but also what they see on the internet.

Earlier this year, staff at Holy Family School in my electorate attended a professional development day presented by Dr Michael Carr-Greg, who I know is very active in presenting such seminars in communities across Brisbane and indeed Australia. As a psychologist Dr Carr-Greg's message is that parents and teachers must be involved and take control, because students' brains are still developing and they are often impulsive and lack the good judgement required in some situations that occur online. Education can therefore lead to empowering students to take responsibility for their online activity and protect themselves. It is with this approach that the federal government and indeed the education departments in each state have an opportunity to ensure that adequate resources are provided.

To this end, I support the member for Forrest, who wants to see online safety education integrated into the curriculum of every school. The threat of cyberbullying and the threats to the cybersafety of our children will not subside; they will only become a more significant issue as we rely more and more on online technology. Appropriate education is the answer to cybersafety and managing the risks of cyberbullying, and the school classroom is the best place for us to provide that education to our children. In this regard, governments across the state and federal levels can provide assistance and a framework through which education programs can occur. However, what is required on this issue is a truly consultative approach between parents, schools, the community, the social media industry and government.

The threats to cybersafety are real and constant. Cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the classroom to the bedroom, education is absolutely vital to help our students, parents and schools navigate the digital world. I know that the member for Forrest has conducted over 100 seminars on this in her electorate, and I commend her for her ongoing campaign to highlight this evil blight on our society.

6:59 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion moved by the member for Forrest on cybersafety and cyberbullying. All of us in the chamber are very much aware of how our lives have been impacted by an increasingly digital world. It brings so many positive opportunities to aspects of modern life, but of course it also brings concerns that we have to address—concerns that relate to the safety of children and young people online.

So much now depends on the usage of cyberspace. Everything from small business and banking to shopping and government departments can now be operated and accessed online, which are all fantastic and great advances. Already, our employment, health care and education depend strongly on very well functioning infrastructure and online access. Labor understand that these areas are vital to a smart and prosperous nation. That is why we are delivering the National Broadband Network. We understand that the vital interconnectivity between the nation's education, health service and economy needs a solid and reliable digital infrastructure network.

We all benefit from the expansion of the internet. We have also seen some of the downsides of this medium and the sometimes negative impact it can have on the lives of our children. Mobile phones, the internet and in particular social networking have become the new playground of the cyberbully, which is a concern. We know that cyberbullying primarily affects young people because they are in fact the biggest users of digital media. According to a government bullying and cyberbullying website:

… young people aged 14-17 have the highest rate of internet usage as at June 2010, with 91 per cent going online weekly.

Also not a surprise to anyone that is a parent, chatting to friends is the main reason 89% of 16-17 year olds use the internet.

The exploding use of online chat, social networking sites like Facebook and SMS technology for young people has really opened up a whole new avenue of concern. Of course, it is not just limited to young people, but that is what we are focusing on tonight. We need to remember too the great advances and assistance it provides to young people, but tonight we are talking about some of the concerns we need to be aware of.

The statistics on cyberbullying are most disturbing. It is believed that up to 14 per cent of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying in Australia. This shocking statistic was gained from a group of researchers who handed down the report entitled The prevalence of cyberbullying in Australia. The rate of bullying of girls is at a staggering 64 per cent, much higher than for their male counterparts.

The overwhelming use of social media and other digital technology has also added another really concerning element to bullying—that is, that it does not stop. Through social media, chat and texts a bully can have direct access to their victims 24 hours a day, which is a concern. So it is not just happening at school; it can happen at the shops, the movies and at home as well. As children become more connected to each other through digital media, their ability to bully others has also been magnified. That is what we have to be very wary of and express our concerns about.

Research has also shown that children are far more unlikely to report a case of cyberbullying than of face-to-face bullying. This new and unrelenting nature of bullying has led to many kids lives being turned into a real pain and real misery, with sometimes very devastating consequences. It is up to us as individuals, parents, communities and governments to be addressing all of these concerns and be taking action in relation to it. It is important we do it in a bipartisan way in working with industry as well.

The government has introduced a number of measures to address cyberbullying and cybersafety. In 2008 the government committed $125.8 million towards a range of cybersafety programs to inform and educate young people as part of our cybersafety plan. We continue to invest in those cybersafety activities. The cybersafety plan was developed and funded to combat online risks involved in digital media and to help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate online material. This also included expanding the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations team. As a result, 91 additional officers were assigned to the AFP. These improved measures have resulted in the prosecution of 316 offenders since mid-2009. The government also increased funding to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to manage increased activity from the AFP to ensure speedier and more efficient prosecutions as a result of these investigations.

So improving cybersafety for our kids has been a priority for this government. That is why we also developed the Stay Smart Online website and provided for the Australian Communications and Media Authority's Cybersmart program, which is a national cybersafety and cybersecurity education program. Education and awareness raising have been the cornerstones of the government's cybersafety reforms. As part of these reforms, resources were provided to families and children through the ThinkUKnow program to assist parents and children to deal with the risks posed by online predators.

Funding was also allocated to help develop and maintain online tools like the Cybersafety Help Button and the Easy Guide to Socialising Online websites. The Cybersafety Help Button helps young people have 24/7 access to cybersafety resources and advice. Through the button they can also report inappropriate behaviour directly to the AFP, which massively increases their ability to report it. The Cybersafety Help Button is free to download onto a personal computer, mobile or school network to get information where and when it is needed most.

In addition to these great programs, the government has also provided $3 million to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for a national pilot of its eSmart cybersafety initiative. Following the great success of this pilot program, eSmart has now been delivered to 1,600 schools nationally. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation are discussing similar rollouts of the eSmart program with state education departments.

When it comes to combating cyberbullying directly the government has also set up the cooperative arrangements for complaints handling on social networking sites. This is primarily referred to as 'the protocol' and demonstrates that social networking sites understand that they need to work cooperatively with government to meet the expectations of the Australian community when it comes to combating inappropriate online conduct like cyberbullying.

Primarily the protocol ensures that social networking sites have clear and easy to follow processes so that complaints are handled promptly and in accordance with their user policies. At the present time, four of the major social media platforms have signed up to the protocol. These include Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!7. I certainly commend them for signing up and working with governments and the community. I also believe that Australian people are with us on these really important forms when it comes to cybersafety. In fact, the 2010 parents survey commissioned by the government found that almost one in two Australian parents felt they were well-informed about cybersafety issues. That is really important. I know parents are always looking for as much information as they can to assist their children as they are navigating the online world.

This survey also found the majority of parents had spoken to their children about the risks of being online. I certainly know not only from being a parent but also from my time as a police officer many years ago that it is really important to be constantly informing children about the risks and the dangers they face in a variety of situations. When we are talking about the online environment, it is important to be very clear with them about some of the risks that are out there. While of course we want to be discussing the benefits and the gains that can be achieved from navigating the online world—there are so many for all of us, and particularly for our kids—it is important we keep having those discussions with children about being aware of the dangers and also the help that is available. We know that by making the kids aware of what help is available and what action they can take, that can greatly reduce the harm or the risk that they may find themselves in, or the fact that they may need help depending on whatever the situation might be.

I want to point out again that it is a Labor government that continues to build the digital infrastructure that will carry this country and its children forward in the future. We are very proud of our investment and we are very proud of rolling out the National Broadband Network. But it is also essential for the government to move with the evolving nature of digital technology, and to respond in a meaningful and purposeful way to protect as best we can children from any online bullying or predatory behaviour or online violence. I think we all share a responsibility for that as individuals, parents, communities and governments and recognise that it is important that we are taking action now and into the future as we see a great expansion of our online world. We see a greater amount of children at younger ages who are accessing online environments as well, and we have to be very much aware of that and very much aware of our actions to protect them as much as we can.

From the government's perspective, while we have been delivering on the NBN, we have at the same time continued to work on protecting our kids through that whole range of measures that I mentioned, through programs like Cybersmart, the additional resources to the Australian Federal Police in fighting predators and also the protocols to ensure that websites and social media maintain a very high standard of protection that is expected of them by the Australian community. I am sure that we will keep working with them and with the community in general in ensuring programs are updated in the future to deal with other concerns that may be raised, whether it is in relation to cybersafety or cyberbullying. I think these are grave concerns for all of us across the country, and I think we have all had instances in our electorates of speaking with parents and children about the concerns that have been raised by them and the instances they found themselves in. It is important we keep talking about that, and that we keep saying to our kids that, at the end of the day, they need to be accessing help online and talking to people if they have any concerns. It is important we keep discussing it and making sure that, in working together, we are combating any increases in instances of either bullying or ensuring we are putting as much help in place as we can to ensure the cybersafety of our kids in particular as we see this great growth in the internet throughout the country.

7:08 pm

Photo of Teresa GambaroTeresa Gambaro (Brisbane, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this motion moved by my colleague, the member for Forrest, who has just arrived in this chamber. It is testament to her hard work in this area of significant concern for the safety and welfare of Australian children.

As the internet expands its reach into every facet of our everyday lives, it crashes through the traditional physical and virtual barriers that previously provided some sort of protection. And regrettably, what we have seen with the advent of the internet is a new social cost associated with blind allegiance to this new technology. And as with any form of the technology, there are dangers that invariably flow from its misuse. A lack of available education for both children and parents as to the internet's proper use has seen the instances of cyberbullying skyrocket around the country, with newspapers in my electorate in Brisbane, like so many others, all too frequently reporting on circumstances of schoolchildren being sledged, belittled, vilified, stalked and bullied in the most horrendous fashions.

As the member for Forrest has so correctly identified, education is the key to addressing this problem. Too many young people see the internet, or cyberspace, as a lawless domain where they can do anything they want and say anything they want to anyone at any time anywhere. Gone are the days when bullying was a localised problem, limited to the classroom or the schoolyard, with a limited time of exposure confined just to school hours. Now there is no reprieve—and this is one of the greatest dangers of the internet's misuse. Cyberbullying of children can be 24 hours a day, seven days a week and an activity that transcends geographical boundaries and locations. Regrettably, children in the electorate of any member of this place can be the victim of cyberbullying, which can be a global campaign with the click of a mouse. The member for Forrest was quite right when she said on 11 February in this place:

There is probably no greater threat to the safety of our citizens—especially our young people—than the misuse of this great resource. The internet can be our greatest asset but also our greatest risk factor.

That is why cybersafety is such an important issue.

Never were truer words spoken in the name of protecting our children.

That is why last year, in building on the member for Forrest's great work in this area, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, established the coalition 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. In the coalition's discussion paper, which was also released last year, we recommended some key measures which we believed could go a very long way towards addressing these issues. They include 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 through a cooperative regulatory scheme for material that has been targeted at, and is likely to cause harm to, an Australian child; assisting parents and carers to make better informed decisions about devices such as smart phones 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 coalition's discussion paper is to provide greater support for schools in their work to assist 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 the government with regard to protecting children online, it was really good to see an announcement from the current government in January this year. The coalition welcomed the fact that the announcement followed the lead the coalition had established in key areas, announcing an education module for schoolchildren and voluntary protocols involving some social media outlets. While these arrangements are welcome, it is clear that this announcement by the government does not go far enough. The coalition have made it clear that we expect major social media outlets to step up and to show a greater degree of social responsibility than they have shown to date in working with the government and regulatory agencies to address the problem of providing rapid responses to cyberbullying experienced by children.

Cyberbullying is not a problem that anyone in society can wash their hands of. Children are our most precious resources, and this should not be a subject that is derailed by mindless political parochialism. This is a subject that could well be one of the defining actions of our time, as the new technology that is the internet, and its use, changes the way we live. If there was ever a subject that every member in this House should come together and speak with one voice on, it is this. The cybersafety of our children should be non-negotiable and something for which we should all act in unison. So I know from speaking with parents, not just in my electorate in Brisbane but all around the country, that they need every bit of help to be able to tackle this problem.

I recently spoke on behalf of the shadow minister for education at an independent school forum in Brisbane, where I was very pleased to see—and I am sure the member for Forrest, sitting beside me here, would have been very pleased to see—that one of the presentations was by an expert in cyber-bullying. She gave a presentation to all the school principals who were assembled at that particular school conference. So it is great to see that there are people out there like the member for Forrest and other educators who go out to schools to help to alleviate this terrible problem.

Too many parents sometimes feel that this problem is way too complex, is beyond them and they need help. I know from my own experience. Although he is not a 'young' son anymore, I worry about my son's constant time on the internet at the age of 24. It is a very addictive medium in many ways and there needs to be balance in all of these things. We are fighting a battle here where children are digital natives—and many of them are, at best, digital nomads, who are quickly out of their depth and are unable to put in place adequate safeguards. It is very important that we protect our children from cyber-bullying.

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, those submissions 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. It is vitally important that the corporate sector comes on board here and that they do realise they have a social responsibility.

We want to see enhanced cyber-safety through providing greater support for schools through a stronger online safety component within a national safe school framework. I must admit that, when I was at that school conference recently, I could see that schools are crying out for this type of education. They do not know where to turn. They do not know how to implement such a program. And there is a great need to provide that guidance, that leadership and that direction. Many schools are in a position where they want to provide assistance and safety for their students in this new medium. We also want to see a national public education campaign to highlight online safety issues.

I wholeheartedly support this motion of my colleague, the member for Forrest. I want to pay tribute to the hard work that she has done. I know that she has transcended many electorates and spoken to many members and that she has conducted forums for many members in this House as well, and I thank her for the incredible work that she has done. But this parliament should acknowledge that cyber-bullying and inadequate cyber-safety pose a significant threat to the welfare and security of all Australians, especially young people. This threat will increase with new technology and greater connectivity, and the government should move to take decisive action to enhance cyber-safety education in all Australian schools for the benefit of all Australian students.

7:18 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Bullying has long posed a challenge for schools, parents, workplaces and, most significantly, its victims. It also poses a challenge for us legislators, and it is a challenge the Gillard government has sought to address through initiatives such as the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence, through directing more than $20 million to the Fair Work Commission to provide victims of workplace bullying with a quick and effective way to resolve bullying at work and prevent it ever happening again.

But, as online communications become increasingly prevalent in our offices, our schools and our social lives, it is clear that combating bullying needs to adjust to take this new dimension into account. It is especially important we recognise the safety and security needs of young people, who are growing up in a world with greater digital use than any previous generation. As a parent, I recognise that the use of the internet my three little boys engage in is vastly different from my own. They have never known a world without ubiquitous internet. To them, being able to touch the screen of a device is just what you do. The ease with which my four-year-old comfortably navigates the internet sometimes sends a shiver down my spine.

That is going to present my three little boys with opportunities I cannot pretend to foresee, but it will also bring new threats. Between Facebook, Vine, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat, there is a rapidly developing world of online communication. We have to embrace those technological developments while at the same time doing what we can to safeguard the security of users now and into the future.

Bullying may be an old problem, but cyberbullying is different in a number of important ways. Firstly, it provides a degree of anonymity to the perpetrators, meaning they can behave with more aggression and malice than they may dare to in person. A famous study by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin paired up young university students and just asked them to engage in conversations over email. By the end, the researchers were stunned at the extent to which these otherwise placid young university students had begun to engage in conversations that were either lewd or rude. We know that cyberbullying can occur 24/7. We also know that it is nearly impossible to escape. We know it can reach a far more public arena and that online activity can quickly be shared with a larger audience than was possible with bullying in the past.

The Labor government takes the issue of cyberbullying very seriously. In 2008, this government committed $126 million towards a range of cybersafety programs targeted at informing and educating young people as part of our broader cybersafety plan.    The government's cybersafety plan is combatting online risks to children. It is helping parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material and inappropriate contacts while online.

The funding supports measures for cybersafety support, education, awareness-raising initiatives and law enforcement, such as funding for the expansion of the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations team to detect and investigate online child sex exploitation, funding to increase the capacity of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure prosecutions are handled efficiently and funding for education and awareness-raising through the ThinkUKnow program, which aims to assist parents and children to deal with the risks posed by online predators.

I particularly acknowledge the youth advisory group, some of whom met last year with Minister Stephen Conroy and me at Amaroo School to discuss their inputs into making sure that these cybersafety advances by the government are appropriate and useful to young people. That youth advisory group helped to develop online tools, such as the Cybersafety Help Button and the Easy Guide to Socialising Online website. The government has also provided funding for the Australian Communications and Media Authority's Cybersmart program, which is a national cybersafety and cybersecurity education program.

All this investment is based on some pretty concerning research. Studies undertaken by the ACMA and partly released on 19 March 2013 have found that 14- to 15-year-olds are the most vulnerable to cyberbullying. Thankfully, they are also the most likely to stand up and speak out about it. The research indicates that more than one in five 14- to 15-year-olds have experienced cyberbullying. It shows that levels of cyberbullying among Australian children remain generally steady, despite increases in online participation. That is a good thing.

That indicates that the cybersafety messages underpinning programs such ACMA's Cybersmart program are getting through to the people they are intended to help. The ACMA's research also indicates that eight to 11-year-olds use more than two devices to access the internet.    While computers are still the main point of access, a quarter have gone online using a mobile phone and half have accessed the internet using another kind of mobile device, such as a tablet or gaming device. Thirty five per cent of eight- to 11-year-olds have their own mobile phone, rising to 94 per cent of 16- to 17-year-olds. Recent research by Pew has indicated that young Americans are essentially now plugged in for every moment that they are not sleeping or in school.

Industry and organisations are coming together to address issues of cyberbullying and cybersafety. Organisations like McAfee are engaging in research, education and awareness raising. McAfee's research which Minister Conroy launched on 21 May 2013 was released as part of the 2013 National Cybersecurity Awareness Week which was 20 to 24 May. The research tells us that education needs to start early. On average young people are using many more internet enabled devices. The McAfee research tells us that one in five tweens have chatted to a stranger online and six per cent of teens have met up with a stranger. That is a statistic that would cause great fear for many Australian parents.

Professor Donna Cross of Edith Cowan University has completed a landmark study on cyberbullying commissioned by the government. She reports that children who had been bullied are much more likely to suffer depression and anxiety. Professor Cross said:

We know that probably the most significant effects on children who've been bullied are effects in their mental health. They're much more likely to feel depressed, anxious, their self-esteem is affected. There are some students that report suicide ideation. It has very serious immediate effects and long-term effects.

Twenty thousand Australian school children were surveyed using a combination of anonymous questionnaires and interviews. According to that survey work, about 10 per cent of young people reported they were being cyberbullied. This government has done the research, we have recognised the problem, and we are acting on it. It is terrific to see the coalition now adopting similar policies in the fields of cybersafety and cyberbullying.

To quote Dr Judith Slocombe, the chief executive of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation: 'There is no difference between someone who bullies online and one who bullies face-to-face. They are just using different methods. They both can cause enormous harm.' It is important we talk about those issues because online communications are developing rapidly. Rollout of Labor's National Broadband Network—fibre to the home for 93 per cent of Australians and ubiquitous broadband for the whole population—is happening fast.

Last Friday I was in Gungahlin with Minister Conroy to see nearly 11,000 new Gungahlin homes switched on to the National Broadband Network. People in Amaroo, Ngunnawal, Palmerston and Mitchell now join the nearly 15,000 Canberrans in and around Gungahlin that are enjoying superfast broadband. By mid-2016, construction in the ACT will have commenced or be complete to 180,300 homes and businesses. Gungahlin is also leading the country with the sheer number of premises that are signing up to the National Broadband Network. In an area switched on only six months ago more than half the population has signed up for an NBN service. In another area that has only been switched on for three months take-up of the National Broadband Network is already 40 per cent. The myth that the opposition peddles that no-one wants the National Broadband Network is being disproved every single day in the ACT and all across Australia.

Australians come up to me in my mobile office, my community forums and when I am doorknocking and they never ask me, 'Why are we getting fibre to the home?' The question they ask me is, 'When do I get fibre to the home?' Australians recognise the importance of fibre to the home and we recognise the importance of a cybersafety plan to make sure Australians are safe online.

7:28 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak this evening on the important private member's motion brought by the member for Forrest relating to cybersafety. Over the past seven years we have seen the emergence of the phenomenon of social networking. It is a progression in both technology and society that our culture is still grappling with. Technology has progressed too quickly for our laws and social customs to accommodate and much social interaction that occurs via these platforms continues to evolve in conjunction with social media. This technology has provided us with fantastic opportunities, both in terms of connecting with others socially and professionally as well as providing us with information. But as with any new technology, there will always be some challenges and drawback that need to be contended with. The challenge facing us is to do with safety online, particularly the safety of young people.

Last year the coalition established the Online Safety Working Group to investigate the extent of this challenge. The group spent many months meeting with parents, young people, internet service providers, social networking sites and other stakeholders to gain an accurate understanding of what the challenges for cybersafety are and how they may be overcome. Through these meetings, the coalition identified that a staggering 90 per cent of young people are utilising social networking sites, mostly without parental supervision and without an understanding of the risks involved. It was clear that public awareness of the nature of social media itself was low and the inherent dangers of social media were not being inoculated against for the protection of young people. It also became clear from the Online Safety Working Group's work that a coordinated community response would be the key to fuelling a better public awareness of the dangers involved for young people in the online environment. Sadly, instances of 'grooming' and other dangerous behaviours by online predators are becoming more and more frequent. Despite this frequency, young people remain generally oblivious to recognising threats and reporting them to either parents and carers or to teachers.

To make this matter more serious, many parents have a hands-off approach to supervision of their children on social media, which is brought about by a lack of information. Many parents report even being unaware of how many devices their children are actually connected to social media through. These days internet access is not confined to the PC. Mobile phones, iPods, iPads and gaming devices, to name but a few, are all devices that are used to connect to the internet and engage with social media. The number of social networking sites is proliferating exponentially. It is almost impossible for parents, carers and teachers to keep up with that. But, if parents are not aware of their children's engagement, they cannot educate them and protect them from threats online. This is why late last year the coalition released a discussion paper about how we can protect our young people while they are online. The coalition recommended first that there be better coordination between all authorities, particularly with companies providing products and services to young people. Aiding in this, the coalition has also proposed that a single point of contact exist to direct inquiries and complaints to relating to online safety. This single point of contact would effectively act as a children's e-safety commissioner.

Second, the coalition has proposed that methods and arrangements be developed and administered by an independent regulatory body to enable the more rapid removal of dangerous or nefarious content on social media. While we currently operate under a co-regulated scheme that is subject to take-down notices by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, it is suggested that this process be expanded to include social networking companies. This would address problems in a very timely way, particularly to do with cyberbullying behaviour, which can be paralysing for those young people who bear the brunt of this behaviour.

Third, the coalition is proposing to create national safety standard certification for online safety materials and to make certified materials readily available to parents and carers for education and support. Similar to recognisable certifications in other industries, this certification would be a highly recognisable icon that would be provided only to materials that meet guidelines.

It is important that parliamentarians and people who establish directions to ensure the safety of young people debate these measures, look for the solutions and work in concert with parents to ensure that 'grooming' and cyberbullying in subtle and, in some instances, cowardly ways do not affect those who innocently become engaged in a social media construct which brings much enjoyment but at the same time brings inherent risks. I thank the member for Forrest for bringing this motion forward.

7:33 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

While five minutes will not allow me to do the topic justice, I will make some brief comments on this motion on the very important issue of cybersafety. It is an issue that I have some understanding of, serving on the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety and having been involved with inquiries and reports over the last three years. The beauty of the inquiries was that they enabled me and the other members of the committee to hear from a wide cross-section of the community with respect to cybersafety and the risks associated with it. As the member for Hasluck quite properly pointed out, there are many benefits relating to the use of cyber networks in today's modern age, and there is no question at all that they have changed our lives in many ways for the better.

But, having said that, there is also no question that the technology has become an aid for those who want to misuse the cybertechnology that is available to them. Over the years, and in particular in more recent years, we have seen a whole range of wrongdoers, from criminals who have now got to the point where they run sophisticated transnational operations across the world in order to carry out their criminal activities, to terrorist groups, to scammers and those who take the identity of someone, and then on to bullies and predators and the like. Bullies are an area which, if time permits, I want to come back to and talk about a little bit more in more detail.

I am aware also that there have been literally billions of dollars lost by people throughout the world, and perhaps even here in Australia, as a result of scammers and people who commit what is referred to as identity theft of people by being able to access their identity, their bank accounts and the like. In fact, from the evidence presented to the committee, it is clear that much of the money lost is never reported because those who lose the money feel too embarrassed to report it to the authorities. Not only am I aware from having spoken to and listened to experts giving evidence but also I am aware from my own personal discussions with the South Australian police department, and in particular the branch that handles the scamming that goes on, that this is indeed a serious problem which even our law enforcement agencies are grappling to come to terms with because much of it occurs from offshore, where they do not have the authority to act. Secondly, it comes from offshore from organisations which they find very, very difficult to track down in the first place.

I want to speak briefly to the issue of bullying, which I know is at the heart of this motion. Again, I have heard firsthand accounts from many, many young people not only in my own electorate but also across Australia who gave evidence to the committee in its previous inquiry which was related to the use of cybertechnology amongst young people. There is no doubt in my mind at all that it has become a major community social problem, because young people are being bullied, literally on a daily basis, through the use of the internet and those kinds of forums. Many of those young people do not ever talk about it to anybody, do not report it to their teachers or their parents and just live with it—sadly, to the point where we know of documented cases where it has driven those young people to commit suicide. That is the worst possible outcome that can occur. I might say in respect of all of this that it has also been my experience that our schools, our police departments and many other authorities are doing some very good work to try and educate people, in particular young people, into reporting any cyberbullying that takes place.

The one issue that I want to touch very briefly on is the issue of predators who use the internet not only to stalk people but also to develop potential friendships. There is the famous case in South Australia of Carly Ryan, who in 2007 was murdered. Carly's mum gave evidence to the committee, and I can well recall what she had to say about that. I congratulate Carly's mum for setting up the Carly Ryan Foundation in order to try and get the story out that there are risks associated with use of the internet. People need to take precautions. In particular, parents need to try and ensure that their kids well understand those risks so that they too do not end up being a victim of cyberbullying or crime.

7:38 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Could I just say how much I agree with the previous speaker, the member for Makin, on how serious an issue this issue is. Five minutes does not really give you enough time to address it. It is a very important debate, and I congratulate the member for Forrest for having the initiative, the energy and the get up to put this on the Notice Paper and put it before us today, because it is a very important discussion. As we have heard from previous speakers, including my good friend and colleague the member for Hasluck, it is an issue that is well worth us debating because, especially when it comes to people who use very devious means through the cyber network to groom, it is a very dangerous thing. With more and more children today spending more and more time on their computers looking at social media sites, it is important that we do what we can to ensure that our children are as safe as possible. I think that goes to the heart of what the member for Forrest is trying to do in bringing this private member's bill forward. At any stage where our children are vulnerable to people who have extremely dangerous motives we need to be doing what we can to make sure that they are protected. That is what the member for Forrest is looking to do here.

Whether we like it or not as a community social networking is here to stay. It is very much becoming part of our children's lives. One only has to look at our political life—we are seeing much more Facebook, Twitter, webpages. They are all being used to get across political messages and being used as campaigning tools. If we are doing it, then of course younger generations are going to do exactly the same thing and they are going to use these networks more and more. We have to be aware of that and we have to understand that this is new technology which presents new dangers. We are seeing instances where bullying is going on and where severe peer group pressure is being put on people, especially young children. Young students are feeling very isolated, very sensitive and are feeling they are being bullied in a similar way to the way bullying occurred in the school yard. All of us who went through school have seen bullying occur in one form or another. It is not nice; it is not pleasant. At least when it is being done physically there is the opportunity for people to see, be aware and step in and influence, whereas one of the real dangers of cyber bullying is that it can remain hidden and it is extremely difficult for people to see or understand what is going on and to be able to intervene. One of the really insidious things about cyber bullying is that it can occur over a long period of time and it is very hard to detect.

The member for Forrest has done us all a favour by putting this bill on private member's business. I commend previous speakers, including the member for Hasluck, who did such an excellent job with his five-minute speech. This is an issue that will continue to be discussed and to be dealt with in a careful way.

7:44 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Wannon for showing support for his colleague, the member for Forrest. The issues of cyber safety and cyber crime are very important issues. When we come to this issue there is a very broad range of behaviours that we are talking about online. The internet has opened up worlds that we never dreamt of. It helps business with the convenience of banking online and to do massive transactions and connect with the rest of the world. For households and for young people, as the member for Wannon illustrated, it is about keeping in touch. A lot of young people do not have the conventional mobile phone. Instead, they contact people through Twitter, Facebook and a whole lot of other apps that I am not even aware of. When it comes to households and families, there is education that is done online and there are health services that are now directly provided online. There are a whole range of important services and activities for people online. However, with this opening up of a world online, there are dangers, and those dangers are presented to businesses, families and children.

I was very pleased that in the 42nd Parliament I had the privilege to serve on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications when the committee did the 'Hackers, fraudsters and botnets' inquiry. That, for me, was a huge eye-opener in terms of some of the crime that can be conducted on the internet. I know we all laugh sometimes about the emails, usually originating from Nigeria and a range of other places, that try and convince you to donate money, saying that you have either won or inherited money. For a lot of people that are familiar with the internet, these are able to be laughed off and deleted. But these are getting more sophisticated and people are falling for them, especially people that are not familiar with the internet. I have heard numerous stories in which people have been caught out by these scams and have put over large amounts of money, so it is important that we continue to work to educate the community on these scams.

I am very pleased that information and advice through a free alert service that the government has provided can alert people, if they sign up to it through the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's SCAMwatch, to some of those scams. I want to send an important message out to people. I know people feel a bit embarrassed if they get caught in these scams, but please do report it, because this provides the Australian Federal Police with important information to detect and hunt down some of these people, which can be quite difficult.

Of course, cybersafety also affects governments and countries, and we always have to be vigilant to ensure that our country and our government are up with the latest technology from other countries around the world. That is really important and we have to take that security very seriously. We also have to take the security of our individual computers very seriously. We need to recognise that it is a collective responsibility to keep our computers and ourselves safe. It is a responsibility of everyone that uses the internet, so I would encourage families and individuals to make sure that they keep up to date with their virus protection—that is very important. I am also pleased that many of the ISPs have come on board and are working with the government and the community to identify cyberthreats and to have a look at some of these important safety issues.

That, I guess, is the more criminal aspect. There is also the other very serious aspect that affects our young people, which is cyberbullying. This is a really difficult thing, because young people who are bullied at a cyber level can never escape it. It is with you in your phone when you go to bed; it is on your computer; it is at school—you can never escape it. So cyberbullying is a really important issue. I am so glad that last month 700 schools participated in National Cyber Security Awareness Week. It is important to make sure that we are getting this into discussion. I commend this motion to the House.

7:49 pm

Photo of Alan GriffinAlan Griffin (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very important issue. The question of cybersafety and cyberbullying is something which confronts young people and older people in our society today in a way that it never has before.

I do not pretend to be particularly literate when it comes to the issue of computers or the nature of the new technologies that are being rolled out. What I can say, though, is that over the last few years this has produced for parents a whole range of issues with respect to ensuring that our children—and I have three daughters—are protected. It is a difficult issue because often you do not know what they are looking at on the internet. You can talk to them about what they should look at, and you can talk to them about how they should react and interact with their friends and others while using this technology but, frankly, you often just do not know.

I am sure that I join with other members in saying that, when we hear stories about what has happened to particularly young people who have been involved in incidents of cyberbullying, the sorts of things that they have been confronted with are often from a school point of view but, in their view, they have been exposed to all the world, and this is a particularly daunting and intimidating experience for them. This is why governments of all persuasions need to consider this issue very seriously. This is why we as a parliament need to be vigilant in ensuring that these issues are at the very forefront of how we approach legislation and regulation with respect to new technologies into the future.

I am proud to say that, in 2008, this government committed some $125.8 million towards a range of cybersafety programs to inform and educate young people as part of our Cybersafety plan and that, since then, we have continued to invest in cybersafety activities. It is something that needs to be rolled out on a continuing basis, and it is something that we need to make sure that we are aware of into the future. As the Chief Executive Officer of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Dr Judith Slocombe, has a repeatedly said:

There is no difference between someone who bullies online and one who bullies face-to-face. They are just using different methods. They both can cause enormous harm.

I would go even further and say that, when you bully someone via the internet, you ensure that the person being bullied believes that you are exposing the bullying, the intimidation, to many more people than them. In this process, for the young person who is being bullied, their fear of what they are being exposed to, or what their reputation is being exposed to, can be made all the greater.

I am also pleased that Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia's highest profile psychologists, has supported our government's initiatives to tackle cyberbullying and promote cybersafety. As I mentioned, some $125.8 million was committed through the Cybersafety plan. It is a comprehensive plan to combat online risk to children and to help parents protect children from inappropriate material and contacts while they are online. The range of measures that are part of this plan deal with the many different problems relating to online activity. They include things such as the government's Cybersafety plan and the provision of funding for the expansion of the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations team to detect and investigate online child sex exploitation, including funding for 91 additional AFP officers. This measure has resulted in a total of 316 offenders being arrested and summonsed for 840 child sex offence charges since mid-2009. Funding has been provided to increase the capacity of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that prosecutions are handled quickly. In addition, funding has also been provided for education and awareness raising resources through the ThinkUKnow program to assist parents and children in dealing with the risk posed by online predators. This, if you like, is the most serious end of what can occur in cyberspace. Obviously, it has particularly serious ramifications for the families and children involved.

The point I would make in a broader context concerns the way in which particularly children relate to each other and react to each other on the internet. This can have far-reaching implications for the individuals involved, for their family and for their friends. I would urge all who think they might react in a poor manner, in a brutal manner or in an aggressive manner on the internet to think again. The fact is that the implications for actions such as these are serious and ongoing and for families they can be terrible.

Debate adjourned.