Senate debates

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bills

Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

1:43 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I thank all of my colleagues who have contributed to the debate on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill 2017. I must say that I am very pleased to see that this bill has received support from around the chamber.

The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill does contain important amendments to implement the government's 23 November 2016 announcement to broaden the Children's eSafety Commissioner's general functions to cover online safety for all Australians, not just Australian children. Importantly, the bill will change the name of the Children's eSafety Commissioner, reflecting the expanded general functions of the Children's eSafety Commissioner, to eSafety Commissioner, which will make it easier for the public to identify where they can seek assistance and advice in relation to a range of online safety issues irrespective of age. It should be noted that the statutory scheme for complaints about cyberbullying material on social media sites will continue to relate only to material that is harmful to an Australian child, and the commissioner's responsibilities for administering the online content scheme under the Broadcasting Services Act will remain unchanged by the bill.

The amendments do not create any offences or civil penalties, provide any new regulatory powers, impose any new taxes or set any amounts to be appropriated from the consolidated revenue fund, because appropriate arrangements for these matters are already in place or, in the case of civil penalties for the sharing of intimate images without consent, will be sought under future legislation.

Funding of $4.8 million for work on the online complaints portal for reporting non-consensual sharing of intimate images and $16.9 million to improve online safety for older Australians were announced through the MYEFO in 2016-17.

The costs relating to the change of name, including signage and other matters, will be minimal and can be accommodated through the existing budget. While the government recognises that online dangers such as cyberbullying apply to both adults and children, there are existing avenues, including criminal laws, which apply to using the internet to menace or harass people of all ages. The government does not consider that there is a need to create any new powers to investigate cyberbullying complaints between adults at this time.

I should mention that there has been some confusion from some colleagues about the function of the bill's amendments. They have in part contended that all the bill does is change the title of the office. This is not the case. At present, the title of the commissioner provides a legal barrier in terms of the work it does. By changing the title, the commissioner is able to better carry out the work of protecting online safety for all Australians.

The role of the commissioner has been expanding, particularly in relation to work supporting women and also issues of domestic violence. I should make brief reference to Senator Kakoschke-Moore's second reading amendment. I should note that already there is section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which makes it an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. This has been used successfully on a number of occasions.

I should also note that, while there are at federal level appropriate criminal laws in place, notwithstanding these existing criminal provisions at Commonwealth level, in most cases victims go to state-based police for help. That is why in parallel the government has worked with the states and territories through COAG to develop a national statement of principles for the criminalisation of non-consensual sharing of intimate images. On 19 May this year, the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council agreed a national statement of principles relating to the criminalisation of non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

So there is important work to be done and more to do. I commend the bill to my colleagues.

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