Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014, Enhancing Online Safety for Children (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014; Second Reading

11:38 am

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to speak in support of the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014. This bill fulfils our government's election commitment to improve online safety for children. We all know that technological change is occurring very rapidly in our society; I have just come down from a hearing of the Senate economics committee on digital currency, where we are all learning about things like blockchains and cryptography and hashes and all these things. It is quite unbelievable how our society is changing. We had a witness there today who quite eloquently summed up that yes, while these new forms of media and new technologies can be used by criminals or by people who want to do the wrong thing, they are just a means and not the end. As he said: from his observations criminals also wear shoes, but we are unlikely to want to ban shoes just because they are used by criminals.

Likewise, digital currencies have been used by criminal and other organisations which are not necessarily the most pure in our society, but would we want to ban them all just because of that? Likewise, the internet can at times be used for activities which we would prefer not to occur in our society, but we cannot stop those things from developing. We have to, as a parliament and as a government, move with the times, so to speak, and make sure our laws and regulations are kept up-to-date with developments in technology and the use of that technology by bad people.

The internet, and social media in particular, has been a tremendous benefit to our society and our economy. We can quickly communicate with all the members of our family and with our friends now. It is a great benefit to me—I am always on the road and I would not be able to keep in touch with my family as easily as I do if we did not have this technology. I remember a while back there was actually a TV advertising campaign to encourage you to phone your mum and phone your friends and all that sort of stuff. That would seem a little bit out of place these days because you do not just do it by phone. You can use Facebook, Twitter and all these things to keep in touch with your loved ones.

But sometimes the ability to communicate so easily, and sometimes almost anonymously, can create threats as well. In those instances the internet, and social media in particular, can make bullying behaviours more dangerous to children who are particularly vulnerable to becoming the victims of it. Previous speakers have spoken about the rising problem of cyberbullying, and the data that I have seen shows that there are hundreds and thousands of children across Australia who have been subject to this bullying. In 2014, the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre concluded that the best estimate of cyberbullying over a 12-month period is 20 per cent of Australians aged eight to 17. That is one in five. I have four kids of my own, so there is a good chance that one of them will be subject to it. My eldest is just in that bracket—actually, two of them are in that bracket, aged eight and nine—so it is very concerning as a parent that that could happen.

Of course, bullying can occur at school as well; but it is just all that more available now and potentially more group-like in its attributes when it occurs online—there are a lot more people involved. Cyberbullying is most prevalent in children aged between 10 and 15, and prevalence does decrease as people get older and perhaps a bit more mature. These figures mean that the estimated number of children and young people who were victims of cyberbullying in 2013 alone was 463,000, and around 365,000 would be within that 10-to-15 age group. Social media is creating a very substantial new workload for school principals and teachers, as well as parents, and the same University of New South Wales research paper found that 80 per cent of secondary schools reported at least one instance of cyberbullying in 2013, as did just under 60 per cent of primary schools.

As I said earlier, it was not that long ago that the home was a sanctuary for children—you could come home and remove yourself. Going to a personal story, I remember in that grade 9—was it grade 9?—we had a huge fight with the grade 8 kids; I think we were the older ones—


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