Thursday, 11 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the actions that the Morrison government is taking to protect Australian children from online predators? Is the minister aware of any recent trends?
I thank the honourable member for his question. This is an incredibly important topic, and he is certainly very supportive, like all members in the House, of the work the government is doing in this regard at the moment. I, like other members of the NSC and the frontbench, have had some very confronting briefings over the course of the last couple of months in relation to COVID-19 and the way in which that was predicted to impact on our nation. One of the most confronting briefings that I have had was in relation to advice from the Australian Federal Police about online forums, which have crashed, in some cases, due to the increased volume and traffic on those websites over the course of the last couple of months. That means that more Australians, more individuals, have been part of these forums which have been involved in sharing images of children, including children as young as toddlers, being sexually abused, raped. The sheer volume that we're now dealing with, given the prolific nature of the images that are available to these offenders, to share right across the world, is quite startling.
It even more confronting when the police say that both of their hands are tied behind their back, when they can't act, because the images or the messages are encrypted. Encryption is an incredibly important thing, because we need to make sure that, when we're banking or we're exchanging necessary information, perhaps of a security nature, that information can't be hacked. But the reality is that, when that technology is used by criminal syndicates, by people on the dark web and by those people who are physically abusing young children and toddlers, then we need to act, and the government is in the process of doing that.
I provided the House with an update yesterday in relation to Operation Arkstone, but I want to provide the House with a further update in relation to Operation WALWA, which has been really impressive work by the Australian Federal Police and all of our agencies within the Home Affairs portfolio as well as our state and territory counterparts. In this operation, our law enforcement agencies here worked with the United States Homeland Security investigations to charge 16 Australians with 738 child abuse offences, and, most importantly, they were involved in the rescue of four Australian children.
It is evidence of our need to keep talking about this very unsavoury topic. It's a very difficult topic, a confronting one, and it's hard for parents to comprehend, for any of us to comprehend, the sense of depravity and the level at which these individual perpetrators operate, but we need to talk about it as a nation because there is a lot more that we can do to protect our children. The government, working with the opposition and across the country, will make sure that we take every step necessary to protect Australian children.