Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee; Report
While I'm not a member of the social policy committee, I have some interest in the subject of this inquiry and I'm pleased to have an opportunity to speak on it here today. I've been following for some time the work of committee members during the inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography. I take this opportunity to make a few comments on the report produced by the committee and to thank committee members for their work on this important issue.
The subject of this inquiry is indeed a serious and difficult one. It's something that I worry about as a father of young kids. What is growing up in world of ubiquitous online pornography going to do to their development as young men and women and to the way their attitudes towards the opposite sex—particularly men's attitudes towards women—evolve and to their ability to form healthy, respectful sexual relationships? It's a big worry for me, as I'm sure it is for all parents. I know that the primary responsibility for dealing with this rests with me as a parent—to have the conversations with my kids about what's out there and what they might be exposed to; about what is realistic and what is not; about what is respectful and what is not. I'm sure that all parents worry about these things and want to know that government is doing everything it can sensibly do to support them in their difficult parenting challenge.
This is a serious issue that deserves serious consideration from policymakers. Too often, when confronted with internet harms, people search for a silver bullet—a technology solution that will solve all our problems. It's rarely that simple. I'm pleased to see that this report doesn't seem to make that mistake. In this respect I note particularly paragraphs 3.146 to 3.148 of the report, which highlight the weaknesses, complexities and trade-offs inherent in technology based solutions to internet pornography and concludes by quoting the eSafety Commissioner's recommendation that an effective approach to minimising exposure to online pornography would involve 'a combination and layering of technological solutions.' The only thing that I would add to this is that these technological solutions also must be layered with social interventions, particularly active parenting and internet safety education.
I also want to support the persuasive additional comments made to the committee by Labor members. Labor members noted that in a 9 December 2019 blog, available on the website of the eSafety Commissioner, the eSafety Commissioner stated:
… eSafety has supported the implementation of age verification technology, as well as the legislative framework that would support it—subject to further research and review.
This is a theme that the eSafety Commissioner picked up in her submission to the inquiry, which noted:
Should the Australian Government wish to progress on developing and implementing age verification solutions or regulations, eSafety would advise that a review should be undertaken first …
The eSafety Commissioner has further stated:
Age verification is a nascent field, and if it is to be leveraged to protect children and young people from accessing online pornography, then we need to develop a supportive ecosystem, develop robust technical standards and requirements for this type of technology, and better understand the effectiveness and impact of age verification solutions in addressing this policy concern.
The submission stated:
As highlighted in the inquiry's terms of reference, it is also vital to identify and mitigate the risks associated with the use of age verification before it is rolled out.
This is an important point to make. As Labor members highlight in their additional comments:
… age verification requires further review, research and development in order to be implemented effectively as part of a multi-faceted and layered approach to online safety.
Labor members rightly noted the international experience and noted:
… after years of work and millions of pounds expended on its proposal to introduce age verification for online pornography, the UK Government announced that it will not be proceeding. This is a recent cautionary tale that demonstrates how complicated it is to get age verification right.
Given all this, I want to make Labor's position on this issue clear. Labor strongly supports the work to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of online pornography. We need to make sure that we are using all available measures to keep kids safe online. We also know that in other jurisdictions, like the UK, they have tried to implement age verification for online pornography but have not decided to proceed. Labor will look closely at what the eSafety Commissioner can come up with in their reviews of this issue to address this difficult but very important issue for all Australian families and parents.