Monday, 19 June 2017
Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill 2017. The bill seeks to amend the title of the act and the title of the statutory office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner to reflect the broader role for online safety that the commissioner has had for some time, which goes beyond providing assistance regarding online safety for Australian children. The bill will insert a new definition of the expression 'online safety for Australians' and also make minor consequential amendments to five other acts to reflect the new title of the act and the title of the statutory office.
During Senate estimates in October last year, I asked about the name of the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner and whether it could potentially limit public perceptions about the issues the office assists with. I specifically mentioned the fact that adults at that time were not aware that they could go to the Children's eSafety Commissioner for assistance with concerns around illegal or offensive online content, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and video or for general advice about how to manage technology risks and safety online. The minister conceded this point, and he acknowledged that he has increasingly referred to the 'eSafety Commissioner' in those terms. Shortly thereafter, the minister announced the government's decision to introduce such legislation and address the concerns I had raised during Senate estimates. The Nick Xenophon Team welcomes this decision.
The internet began in 1993 with admirable ideals about the free flow of information. Back then, little was known about the technology and less about its endless benefits and possibilities: information and news at our fingertips, e-commerce, the proliferation of social media and even live updates and videos from this chamber. But the internet can also be a dark and intimidating place, where people delight in throwing stones from computerised glass houses, acting with impunity as they engage in their digital diatribes. The anonymity, invisibility and online freedom the internet provides has stripped away societal standards and ethics and given way to a cyberwar of hate.
The World Wide Web has become weaponised with words hurled by the coward and bully who rages against women, ethnic and religious minorities, vulnerable children and the LGBTIQ community. Hate has gone viral. Leonard Pozner, who lost his son in the Sandy Hook massacre in America, has been hounded by internet trolls ever since. He recently said:
History books will refer to this period as a time of mass delusion. We weren’t prepared for the internet. We thought the internet would bring all these wonderful things, such as research, medicine, science, an accelerated society of good. But all we did was hold up a mirror to society and we saw how angry, sick and hateful humans can be.
The statutory office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner has been in place since 1 July 2015 to cater for the overwhelming need to protect children in the digital space, in part due to the tireless groundwork laid by leading e-safety advocate and member of the office's online advisory group, Sonya Ryan. Sonya has pioneered education and awareness of online safety for children for over 10 years following the death of her beloved daughter, Carly, at the hands of an online predator. The Nick Xenophon Team, along with Sonya, recently achieved a momentous milestone in honouring Carly's legacy, with the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill 2017 last week. The new law will make it easier for police to prosecute online predators, filling a gap in the Criminal Code and allowing the police to intervene earlier when a predator is preparing or planning to cause harm to a child, including when lying about their age. This law will be crucial in the defence against online predators, with the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner's own data revealing that in the 12 months to June 2016 nine per cent of teens and five per cent of children were contacted by strangers. I acknowledge the work of the government in getting this important legislation over the line. It is excellent to see those from all sides of politics finally unite for such an important cause. Importantly for the Nick Xenophon Team it shows the government recognises that in many cases in the online sphere the legislation is failing to keep up with community expectations.
There is still much more that we as legislators need to do to protect children online. In the 12 months to June 2016, 19 per cent of teens and eight per cent of children were cyberbullied. The cyberbullying ranged from being socially excluded, being called names, receiving unwanted online messages, having lies spread about them, receiving threats to their safety, having their accounts accessed without their consent, having personal information posted without their consent, having inappropriate private photos posted of them without their consent and even having someone impersonate them. We owe it to Australian children to protect them and provide them with strategies and tools to stay safe online so they can experience the benefits of the internet without being at risk of the pitfalls. The safety of children in the digital space should always be the paramount focus for what is soon to be renamed the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. We must protect those who cannot protect themselves.
But prioritising children does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to other areas in desperate need of such legislative reform. More needs to be done to protect women online, particularly from the non-consensual sharing of intimate images online, commonly known as revenge porn. However, 'revenge' is inherently victim-blaming. It suggests the victim did something to warrant such treatment and which ought to be avenged. They did not. Those who publicly release intimate images and videos without consent do so with the specific intention of intimidating, controlling and humiliating the victim. A survey of more than 4,200 people by researchers from RMIT and Monash University found that image-based abuse was far more common and affected a wider range of people than was previously thought. One in five Australians have been the victim of so-called revenge porn, with Indigenous and disabled people the most common targets. These marginalised groups were found to be especially vulnerable, with one in two Indigenous Australians and one in two disabled people affected. Young people and lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians also faced a higher risk of abuse. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to legislate to protect these victims, and it is also incumbent upon social media companies and websites to take stronger action.
The Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner received more than 350 complaints since October last year about the non-consensual sharing of intimate images online. Of the 350 complaints, the images appear in mix of sources: fora, file-sharers, image hosts, search engines, social media and websites. At least seven cases were referred to police, with perpetrators mostly being men and teenage boys. Children's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has stated that:
At last count, there are over 3,000 web sites hosting so-called revenge porn around the world, 90 per cent of these images are of women. So that is why it is critical that we provide support and redress for victims.
Whilst this bill contains amendments to broaden the general functions of the eSafety Commissioner, it does not confer any additional formal powers on the commissioner, particularly to deal with image based abuse. This is an enormous missed opportunity for the government. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into the non-consensual sharing of intimate images reported on 25 February 2016, recommending a number of measures be introduced to combat the growing incidence of non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
I call on the government to legislate, to the extent of its constitutional power and in conjunction with state and territory legislators, offences recommended by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. South Australia has, since 2013, had legislation that makes it an offence to distribute invasive images of a person without their consent. Further, the Criminal Code makes it an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. But this legislation does not go far enough. There must be provisions that deal specifically with the recording, sharing of and threatening to share intimate images without consent.
Last month the government released a discussion paper calling for submissions on a proposed civil penalties regime, targeting both perpetrators and sites hosting intimate images and videos shared without consent. There will now be further consultation, and the Department of Communications and the Arts would then provide advice to the government on the outcomes of that consultation before the government will even consider any legislative changes. The cross-jurisdictional National Cybercrime Working Group, established under the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council, has produced a non-binding national statement of principles relating to the criminalisation of the non-consensual sharing of images. To emphasise: these principles are non-binding and are yet to be underpinned by a legislative framework.
The glacial pace of these changes is failing to keep up with the explosion of image based abuse. Sadly, we are now some 16 months on from the Senate committee's report and still many months away from potential legislative change on this issue. That is why I, on behalf of the Nick Xenophon Team, will be moving the second reading amendment that has been circulated in the chamber calling on the government to criminalise such activity. The government, the opposition and many of the crossbench have shown that they have an appetite for reform to make the online space safer for children. But let us not miss this opportunity to ensure that age should be no barrier when it comes to protecting victims of abuse online and showing perpetrators that online abuse will not be tolerated—not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
I move the second-reading amendment on sheet 8163:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate:
(1) notes that Australian laws have failed to keep up with the new ways that technology is being used to cause harm, particularly to women; and
(2) calls on the Government to criminalise the sharing of intimate images without consent, pursuant to the recommendations made by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee in its report on the phenomemon colloquially referred to as 'revenge porn'.