House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Questions without Notice

Child Abuse: Cybersafety

2:35 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs. Will the minister update the House on—

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Can the member stop for a second. Can those members interjecting cease interjecting. He's trying to ask a question. If you want to have a loud conversation, go and do it outside the chamber. Can the member for Cowper start his question again.

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs. Will the minister update the House on how the Morrison-McCormack government's leadership on protecting children from online threats includes working with international agencies to prevent abuse and prosecute perpetrators.

2:36 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for his question. I recognise his service with the New South Wales Police Force and his work as a detective on many crime types, including child protection. He went on to become a police prosecutor, and after his policing career he went on to become a lawyer, so he went off the rails at that point! Nonetheless, a very distinguished career before he came into this place.

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Mensa—he didn't get that. That wasn't for him.

The fact is that we have, as I have mentioned in this place on a number of occasions, made a priority for this government to protect children. We have worked with our international partners to make sure that we can protect children, in particular, online. I want to praise the work of the Australian Federal Police in Operation Arkstone that many Australians would have read about in the papers over the course of the last couple of days. Fourteen men have been arrested on 828 charges of child exploitation. The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation based in Brisbane, the Australian Federal Police in New South Wales, the Queensland Police Service and the WA Police Force worked with US Homeland Security to identify these vile individuals and to stop them from causing further harm. The operation has now identified 46 Australian victims of child sexual abuse, including 16 from a childcare centre. Homeland Security partnered with the Australian Federal Police during search warrant activity, and that intelligence has led to the outcomes that we've seen.

I want to thank very much the United States government and the United Kingdom government as well for the work they've done with us on making this area of investigation an area of priority for us. It is the reality that our children are being targeted not just by offenders who would be Australian based but offenders offshore and, similarly, Australian based men seeking to target children in other parts of the world, including South-East Asia. Our work will continue with the Biden administration because it is such an important area of mutual assistance that we provide to each other. The work that Homeland Security does with my Department of Home Affairs really is world leading. The centre in Brisbane has given us international credibility to work with partners in our own region and to work with partners across Europe. We have many people who are located in the Brisbane office who are working with NGOs, including people, for example, like Bruce and Denise Morcombe, so that we can leverage off those relationships to protect more children. We know that there's been a massive spike during COVID of online activity in the targeting and grooming of those children, and the fact that we've been able to save these children from further violation is something of which our country should be very proud.

2:39 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence—Labor joins with the government in thanking our authorities, as well as the authorities in the United Kingdom and the United States, for this absolutely critical work to keep children safe. This abhorrent practice—it's hard to understand why it exists—exists far too much, and the fact that there has been a rise during COVID, as the minister has said, has had devastating effects. I think this would be a really tough area to work in, and we need to look after our people in those authorities who undertake that work, because of mental health issues and other issues that would occur. I can't imagine working in that area. I thank the minister for his answer.