Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Matters of Public Interest


12:42 pm

Photo of Dana WortleyDana Wortley (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The internet and new and evolving technologies open up a world of exciting possibilities and benefits for the very young, right through to the senior members of our communities. The take-up of text messaging and twitter, and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, Bebo and Habbo, to name just a few, have all changed the way we communicate. As we experience these exciting developments, it is crucial that children and young people using these technologies have the necessary information and skills they need to make smart decisions online and to become good digital citizens. It is clear that understanding how to navigate the online world safely is an important element in the development of digital literacy. It is important, too, that teachers and parents are empowered to provide the right advice to their students and their children. And it is important for education departments and their schools to use the appropriate methods to address cybersafety within their communities.

One of the issues to do with cybersafety is cyberbullying. Other dangers include cybergrooming, sexual solicitation, child pornography, cyberstalking, identity theft and breaches of privacy. These are all issues that must be addressed. The tragic death of a teenager in my home state of South Australia in 2007 brings home these dangers in a heart-wrenching way. Cybersafety is a term with which we are all becoming increasingly familiar. This government is committed to addressing the issues of cybersafety.

This month, along with many other countries, we recognised the need for greater awareness with Safer Internet Day. ‘Think before you post’ was the core message of this year’s international cybersafety event, supported in Australia by the Australian Communications and Media Authority as part of its Cybersmart program. To mark Safer Internet Day, the Australian Communications and Media Authority held cybersafety educational activities in schools throughout Australia. These activities included a national Cybersmart detectives activity for more than 800 primary-school students; the release, on the Cybersmart website, of cybersafety themed videos produced by children and young people; a hot seat, new cybersafety badge and poster in protected children’s networking website SuperClubsPLUS Australia; and a mail-out of posters and other cybersafety materials to all Australian local councils and public libraries. ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman explained the Safer Internet Day theme well on the ACMA website, saying:

While many claim to know the risks of posting too much personal or inappropriate information online, they may not always translate that into safe online behaviour. Thinking about the consequences before hitting ‘post’ may help to minimise negative experiences online …

ACMA has joined forces with state and federal police, Bravehearts, MySpace, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, the Internet Industry Association, Microsoft, the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Yahoo!7, Google and Telstra, in promoting Safer Internet Day cybersafety messages. Safer Internet Day is observed in more than 50 countries and recognised right across Europe, North and South America, Asia and, of course, as I have said, Australia. Activities internationally are run by Insafe, an international network for internet safety.

The Rudd Labor government are committed to action in this area and are investing more than $125 million in a comprehensive suite of measures to address the varying challenges faced by families when they spend time online. Our plan includes law enforcement, education and information, research and international cooperation. Money allocated to cybersafety programs includes funding for 91 officers in the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations team. To provide a safer online environment for Australian internet users, particularly children, additional funding has been allocated to ACMA to continue to expand educational activities to help deal with cybersafety risks, including the risk I mentioned earlier of cyberbullying. In particular, waiting times for schools participating in the ACMA cybersafety outreach program will be reduced and the operating hours of the cybersafety online helpline will be increased to ensure its availability when children are most at risk. In developing our overall approach, the government have considered extensive industry feedback on the most appropriate ways to improve safety online.

We take cybersafety seriously. We know that there is no easy solution and there is no one solution to this issue. Cyberdangers are complex. The internet can be a minefield as well as a mine of information. Because cyberbullying and cybergrooming, sexual solicitation and cyberstalking are not carried out face-to-face, people may not know the identity of the person targeting them. Children and young people can be groomed, bullied or stalked in their own homes, in their bedrooms and personal spaces, where they should feel safe and protected. Cyberbullying, unlike pre-internet bullying in schools, does not stop at the front door when a child gets home from school; it can be with them 24/7. It does not stop at the flick of a switch or the push of a button but continues even without the victim’s presence—and this can be through mobile phones or on the internet. That is why parents are encouraged to ensure that their children’s mobile phones and computers do not live in the children’s bedrooms. There is evidence that cyberbullying, particularly among the young, is emerging as a significant risk to cybersafety for young people and that the consequences can be devastating, from acute anxiety, depression, anger and truancy to self-harm, eating disorders and, unfortunately, in extreme cases, suicide.

As I said, action is being taken to address this increasingly serious and very often underreported problem, as well as the issue of cybersafety more generally. I carried out a study tour of the UK specifically relating to this issue, and one message that came across was that the underreporting of such incidents by children was because they feared parents would take away their mobile phones or switch off their computers, thinking that it would end there, when in fact research has shown that that is not is the appropriate thing to do to assist in resolving the issue.

ACMA provides free resources for children, parents, teachers and library staff. It has a user-friendly website,, and also an online helpline for confidential counselling and advice, so parents and children can go to this website and access the information they need to deal with this issue.

In addition, as part of its cybersafety plan the Rudd government has also been getting advice from young people through its youth advisory group. Funding of $17 million over five years for a range of education, awareness and counselling services based on recommendations from the government’s 300-strong youth advisory group, and advice from its consultative working group on cybersafety are all genuine steps taken by this government to address the issue of cybersafety. Earlier this month the government announced a $3 million pilot project that was to be carried out in 164 schools across Australia. The program is to be developed and run by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation child safety charity—whose representatives I met with in Parliament House today—which is currently working with government and non-government primary and secondary schools from urban, rural and remote areas.

Participating schools are provided with online resources to help them create a tailored approach to cybersafety issues. Overall, the program aims to help schools work with parents and the community to keep children safe. Ways that they hope to achieve this include improving the curriculum and student welfare practices in this area and giving teachers the skills to confront such issues. The results will be independently assessed and considered in the federal government’s review of the National Safe Schools Framework, due to end midyear.

As further support for its work in this area the government is committed to setting up a joint parliamentary standing committee on cybersafety. Also this month the Australian Federal Police teamed up with Microsoft Australia to deliver the UK created internet safety program, ThinkUKnow Australia. It was launched by the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, last Friday and offers interactive training to parents, carers and teachers through schools using a network of accredited trainers.

As parents and community members we can contribute by being watchful and by taking time to listen to the concerns of young people and to the concerns of our children, by accessing the ACMA website and by getting the information that we need so that we can address the issues before they arise and have the information ready. We can also encourage people to speak out about their fears and experiences. Communication, understanding and support are the keys, and we can all play a part.


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