Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


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

10:12 am

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

How can we create an approach to youth wellbeing that builds resilience, is adolescent centred and has the potential to prevent mental illness later in life? The truth is that right now we do not know much about what is happening in the mental health space. The government is remaining tight-lipped. We do know that mental health organisations across the country are plagued by funding uncertainty, with questions about their longevity and what the future may bring. Some organisations are having trouble retaining staff, and this is particularly the case in rural areas. In some cases, much-valued and much-needed practitioners are packing up and heading back to the city because they just do not know if they will have a job in the months to come and they cannot afford to take the risk to wait to find out. It goes without saying that this uncertainty is crippling, especially in rural areas, where it is difficult enough already to attract and retain much-needed mental health professionals, but where the need is often the greatest.

As I learned during my rural mental health consultation in 2012 and 2013, young people in rural areas particularly often feel isolated and unable to seek help. It may be that their town is small and privacy is hard to come by. Stigma is felt very acutely by young people in those situations. They may lack peers of their age or they may be worried that their peers will find out about their mental ill-health and stigma will rear its ugly head again. I also heard from parents and grandparents who are desperate to get help for their kids and their grandkids in rural areas. With a dearth of drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, there are often few options for those who are battling these issues, which frequently appear as a comorbidity with mental ill health.

We know that the mental health sector is waiting with anxiety to see the report of the National Mental Health Commission's Review of Mental Health Programs and Services. We know that report was provided to this government months ago but has not been released, despite numerous orders by the Senate for it to be laid on the table. We know about the chaotic transition from Medicare Locals to Primary Health Networks that is looming halfway through this year and the confusion—even within the department—about whether and how existing mental health programs which are currently being delivered through Medicare Locals will continue. All of this is contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the mental health sector, and the young people who need help are not immune from this.

It is in the best interest of young Australians that we give the funding certainty and security to the mental health organisations which they need for support, and create policy settings which encourage young people to thrive. While cyberbullying is certainly an issue that adolescents across the country are facing in apparently increasing numbers, I believe that we need to think more broadly about wellbeing and what it means to create a society where all young people have access not only to mental health services and support as they grow up but the resources and the assistance to feel great and optimistic about who they are and what the future holds for them. That encompasses a whole range of other policy settings: policy settings about assistance with transitioning from school to work; it is about assisting young people to find work; and it is about assisting those young people who are unable to fit within the mainstream schooling system and who need additional support—the sort of assistance that organisations like Youth Connections were doing such a wonderful job in providing before their funding was cut.

I believe that we also need to consider carefully the sort of modelling that our leaders and our institutions are offering to the young people growing up today. We see increasingly 'uncivil' interactions and debates; we see these on television, in films, in this parliament and in the public arena, and—dare I say it, fresh in my mind as it is—we see the way that people comport themselves in Senate committees. Sometimes it seems that there is now 'open slather' on toxic and abusive language that is sanctioned by the very people who are then deploring the fact that there is bullying happening to our young people. We have a responsibility to model the sort of behaviour that we say is appropriate in this society. Too often, I think that the leaders and those who have power in this country—whether they are shock jocks, media commentators or politicians—actually fail in that duty. And then we have the temerity to criticise young people for modelling what they see their elders do.

I think this whole discussion and concern about cyberbullying and bullying generally in what is often an increasingly toxic debate in our society is a reason to pause to think—to think about what sort of society we want to promote. What sort of resilience and wellbeing do we want to promote among our young people? They are our future and it is so important that they feel valued—that we create a setting where young people can feel proud to be who they are in their own unique identities. It should be that they are not criticised, that they are not undermined and that they are not devalued—whatever that is: wherever they live, whatever their background and whatever their identity.

In considering this Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill, I encourage my colleagues in this Senate to consider that this is an opportunity to think more broadly about what it is that is giving rise to this cyberbullying and what it is that can help protect and promote the wellbeing of our precious resource, our young people in Australia.

10:18 am

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I get into the substance of the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 and the related bill, I think I will respond briefly to some of what Senator Wright had to say there. Firstly, I think it trivialises what is a very serious issue. Secondly, I think the sort of suggestion that was inherent in what Senator Wright was saying—that members of the Senate or others have engaged in inappropriate behaviour in committees—is interesting, given that some of Senator Wright's own colleagues, such as Senator Hanson-Young, are the ones who I would say were some of the worst offenders in haranguing witnesses and the like. The utter hypocrisy of what we heard there! But what is a little bit more offensive even than the hypocrisy is the trivialisation of what is a very, very serious issue. It does not take much to read through some of the reports of serious cyberbullying and the real emotional toll that that takes on some young people, and I think the comparison to what sometimes goes on in Senate estimates committees is trivialising what is a very important issue.

I do want to lend my support to this bill, because I think it is an important bill, and I think it is an important debate. In this age of technology and global communications, we can of course all attest to how the online space has improved our capacity to learn, to grow and to communicate with others. That is a wonderful thing—it is something to celebrate, and it has benefits for adults and for children if done well, if done in a safe environment and if we have the proper safeguards in place. But of course we all know about the dangers of this space, and I will go to some of those in a moment. There are significant dangers. We know that for vulnerable people in our community, especially children, there are dangers in this space just as there are with other human interactions, but things like social media we see are all pervasive. In some people's lives they are a constant, and so we see a different type of threat emerging for our children in this space—one that needs a different type of response.

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. Cyberbullying was most prominent in children aged between 10 and 15, with prevalence decreasing for the 16 to 17 age bracket. These figures mean that the estimated number of children and young people who have been victims of cyberbullying in 2013 is 463,000, with around 365,000 of those being in the 10 to 15 age group. Social media is creating a very substantial new workload for school principals and teachers, as well as for parents. The UNSW research found that 87 per cent of secondary schools reported at least one instance of cyberbullying in 2013, as did just under 60 per cent of primary schools. Research from the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre also concluded:

The most important barrier encountered by police and other agencies in dealing with cyberbullying is the lack of accountability of social media and other service providers, who are reluctant to take down offensive material and are often slow to respond to such requests, even from police.

We want our kids to be able to take advantage of the vast resources the internet provides, and of course our kids do. Being online has become part of the learning environment. I have five children of my own—a couple of them are in their teenage years—and as a parent I am very, very conscious of both the opportunities and the dangers in this space. That is very much what this legislation is about. It is about some balance in this space.

I talked about some of the shocking incidents of cyberbullying. I want to say a couple of things about that before I go to a couple of those particular examples. Firstly, bullying is nothing new. Before we had cyberbullying we had other types of bullying. School can be a very tough place. It was a tough place when I was at school; it is a tough place now in many circumstances. As parents we do all we can, and I know that teachers and administrators and principals do all they can, to make school as safe a place for children as possible. But bullying does go on, and sometimes it gets very serious. Sometimes we see kids self-harming in response. Sometimes, tragically, we see young people taking their own lives partially in response to that type of bullying. When we look at this issue, though, there are a couple of important points for me as a parent and for us as legislators. Of course we need to build resilience in our kids. Of course there are going to be people who are not nice to them at school or online. There are going to be people who seek to bully them. That, unfortunately, has always been a part of life. It is not an acceptable part of life—it is something we should condemn; it is something we should do all we can to protect our children from—but we do need to build resilience. But we also need to provide protection.

We need to work with parents. We need to work with communities to give them better tools and to give some safeguards. When we read about tragic cases like Chloe Ferguson—a young girl who took her own life in response to vicious bullying both online and in other ways—we cannot help but be moved and want to do something about that. We saw the case of an anonymous cyberbully who was allowed to spread demeaning and sexually explicit rumours about Adelaide teenagers for almost a week before Facebook shut the crude page, angering parents who say they feel paid powerless to protect their children. Despite receiving hundreds of complaints about the Adelaide burn book page, it took the social media site six days to close the page down after initially saying the page did not breach its community guidelines. The Adelaide burn book page was the latest in a string of burn books which feature unsolicited rumours and gossip about teenagers predominantly of a sexual nature. It does not take much to find dozens of reports of this type of activity online.

This legislation is about giving some sort of safeguards but it is not going to stamp this out. You are not going to stamp this stuff out completely any more than you can completely stamp out bullying or other inappropriate behaviour outside the online space. But this is about giving parents another resource and working with parents. The government has consulted extensively with schools, parents, social media services and children themselves to develop a response to this problem. This legislation before the Senate goes some way to addressing the safety needs of Australia's kids. It is part of the government's pre-election commitment to make kids safer online.

There are a number of elements to this bill that will enhance online safety including establishing the Office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner and setting out the commissioner's functions and powers and creating an effective complaints system for harmful cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child. The commission has two sets of powers it can use in responding to a complaint: the power to issue a notice to a large social media service requiring it to remove the material; and the power to issue a notice to the person who posted the material requiring the person to remove the material, refrain from posting material or apologise for posting the material.

The government is establishing a Children's a e-Safety Commissioner, which will be a single point of contact for online safety issues and will take the lead across government in implementing policies to improve the safety of children online. The commission will be part of the independent statutory office in the Australian Communications and Media Authority. A key function of the commissioner will be to administer a complaints system equipped to deal with materials related to bullying online. The commissioner will have two sets of powers it can use in responding to a complaint. Under a two-tiered scheme, the commissioner will have the power to issue a notice to large social media services requiring it to remove the material. If a social media service has volunteered to participate in tier 1, the notice will not be legally binding. However, a repeated failure by a large social media service to respond to such a notice exposes it to the risk of it being moved to tier 2. If a large social media service is in tier 2, it is legally required to respond to the notice. The commissioner will have the power to issue a notice to the person who posted the material requiring the person to remove the material, refrain from posting material or apologise for posting the material.

Going to the complaints system, there is a very clear process in the legislation dealing with complaints relating to online bullying materials. In the first instance, a complainant must report offending materials to the social media entity itself and follow their established complaints process. The government acknowledges that many of these social media organisations have improved their policies and procedures for dealing with complaints of this type and for removing offending material. If a site receives a complaint and deals with it quickly and effectively, the Children's e-Safety Commissioner will not need to be involved and this legislation will not have an impact. This is an important way this service will be targeted in line with the government's commitment to making regulations and legislation more effective.

The flexibility in this scheme that allows social media sites to deal with offending material quickly without government involvement is exactly the kind of regulation that works. It minimises the burden on industry, ensures there is no unnecessary regulation by utilising existing processes and still ensures there is a clear plan if these processes are insufficient or untimely. Therefore, the commissioner has the power to issue a notice to a social media service requiring it to remove offending material. The commissioner also has the power to issue a notice to the person who posted the material. This is first tier of the complaints system and it is set up to encourage social media services to be cooperative and to take the initiative when bullying and other damaging actions occur online. However, if a large social media service repeatedly fails to respond to a notice from the commissioner it can be moved to tier 2, meaning that it has a legal duty to remove cyberbullying material if it receives a notice from the commissioner, and it faces substantial fines if it does not. This means $17,000 in fines for each day that the service does not act in response to the commissioner. Other functions of the commissioner will include promoting online safety for children; coordinating relevant activities of Commonwealth departments, authorities and agencies in relation to online safety for children; and accrediting and evaluating online safety educational programs.

The relevance of accreditation is that the government is allocating $7.5 million for schools to purchase online safety programs, and this funding can be spent on any program accredited by the Children's e-Safety Commissioner. The commissioner will also take on responsibility for administering the current online content scheme under schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. However, it is important to understand that this is simply the commissioner taking responsibility for administration of this existing and longstanding scheme. The bill does not make any changes to the online content scheme. It is separate from the new complaints system established by this bill.

This legislation will state the parliament's expectation that all social media services should comply with basic online safety requirements to have: terms of use that prohibit the posting of cyber-bullying material; a complaints scheme under which end-users of the service can seek to have material that breaches the service's terms of use removed; and a contact person where the commissioner can refer complaints that users consider have not been adequately dealt with.

As part of establishing relationships with social media services accessible to Australian children, wherever they may be based around the world, the commissioner will be expected to communicate the expectations set out in the bill of the basic online safety requirements. Many of the key stakeholders have expressed support for this legislation and the work of the new Children's e-Safety Commissioner. I want to quote from a couple of those stakeholders. Matthew Keeley, Director of the National Children's and Youth Law Centre said: 'The Enhancing Online Safety For Children Bill is good law and good policy. Kids—both victims of cyberbullying and the cyberbullies themselves—will be the major beneficiaries. Parents and teachers benefit too. The cyberbullying provisions, I think, will come to be seen as a world-leading strategy. The accreditation and grants provisions will do more to ensure consistent best practice in education and preventative approaches.' Phillip Heath, the National Chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia said: 'AHISA commends the government for taking action to help ensure the cybersafety of young people; in particular, the establishment of the Office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner. The power of the commissioner to investigate and act on complaints, to send an end-user notice and to initiate litigation and the government's support for cybersafety programs will help schools communicate to young people the seriousness of inappropriate behaviours enacted through digital technologies.' Finally, Associate Professor Brian Owler, the President of the Australian Medical Association, said:

The Children’s E-Safety Commissioner will have a significant role raising awareness, and in educating children, young people, parents, and guardians about how to navigate the internet as safely as possible.

The Commissioner will also provide children and young people affected by cyber bullying a new avenue to raise concerns, and to get support in resolving online safety problems.

It is worth noting also that bullying online amongst adults is also a significant issue; however, there are existing criminal laws that apply in these cases. The government believes it is important to have a dedicated Children's e-Safety Commissioner so that there are extra protections for children who are more vulnerable in this space. This kind of extra protection for children exists in many other spheres and it is appropriate that it is also the case for online safety. The measures in this legislation are intended to work in conjunction with existing law and initiatives available to all Australians who may face online safety issues.

In conclusion, I do commend the legislation. In my opinion, it strikes a pretty good balance. It allows social media organisations to do the right thing without the government intervening. That is what we would all like to see: that hateful, aggressive and offensive material aimed at our children is taken down, without any need for government action. Of course, we know that in some cases that does not happen. We know that there is serious potential for harm to our young people as a result of this kind of online bullying.

We know that this legislation will not fix the issue. Of course it will not. We know that as parents we need to be constantly vigilant in this space and make sure that we are monitoring what our children are doing online, as best we can. Parents need assistance from time to time, and we should have government policies that make life a little bit easier for parents to protect their children. That is what this legislation does, in my opinion, and I therefore commend it to the Senate.

10:35 am

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to oppose passage of the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014. I do so because this bill, like so much of the legislation supported by the major parties in this place, mistakes the state for civil society. In this instance, the mistake is borne of a desire to 'protect the children', a cry that is too often turned into an excuse to restrict everyone's liberties. The bill implements a commitment to deal with electronic posts that bully an Australian child. It creates a new bureaucracy costing $11 million per year, introduces civil penalties of up to $17,000 for social media sites that do not promptly remove material as directed, and facilitates injunctions on bullies The injunctions will mandate a requirement to apologise.

The $11 million I mentioned will pay for the establishment of a Children's e-Safety Commissioner as an independent statutory office within the Australian Communications and Media Authority. He or she will administer a complaints system for cyberbullying material that is targeted at an Australian child. He will have the power to issue a notice to a large social media service requiring it to remove 'cyberbullying material' as defined in the bill. He has other functions too. He will promote online safety for children, have power to evaluate and accredit educational programs, make grants and advise the Minister for Communications. Very simply, the bill is unnecessary.

Under Commonwealth criminal law, penalties of up to $30,600 can already be imposed for posting menacing, harassing or offensive material on a carriage service. There have been 308 successful prosecutions under this law since 2005. Existing laws simply need to be enforced more expeditiously. The proposed antibullying law could prompt the likes of Facebook and Twitter to remove posts indiscriminately, as soon as there is a complaint, to ensure that they avoid the new penalties. That may have a serious impact on legitimate social media commentary.

The alternative involves waiting to see if the regulator gives a direction to remove the post and then removing it within 48 hours of the direction. It is worth mentioning that if a direction comes at 4 pm on a Friday, the post must be removed by 4 pm on a Sunday. How smart is that!

The bill defines bullying material as 'material sent via email, messaging, chat functions or social media that is intended to have an effect on an Australian child and that would be likely to seriously threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate the child'. This covers a private conversation between a group of friends about another child.

The bill facilitates injunctions requiring bullies to apologise to the bullied. It strikes me as reasonably obvious that the government should not force apologies. Mandated apologies are insincere. Moreover, one only has to watch the parade of public figures who, when forced by a variety of organisations, both public and private, to apologise, engage in backside-covering not 'pologies' that do nothing to assuage the victim's hurt feelings and serve only to make everyone involved look like complete twits.

The bill also authorises the regulator to divulge information to principals, teachers, parents, ministers, public servants and police. The potential for retaliatory bullying, also known as authoritarian intervention, is enormous. I am not fond of qangos and agencies. I generally support throwing the lot on a bonfire, partly because they cost the taxpayer money and partly because they are borne of a belief that we need experts to tell us how to live. However, occasionally they are worthwhile. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which helps ensure transparent government and access to freedom of information, is a worthwhile agency.

This proposed Children's e-Safety Commissioner is not. Significantly, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Children's e-Safety Commissioner cost the same amount of money. Yet the government wants to scrap the former and give us a statutory net-nanny, in some sort of perverse, irrational exchange.

First, learn to govern, and then you may earn the right to tell people how to raise their children.

10:41 am

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 principally because it is something of great concern to me as a parent and I know it will be to many other parents here. I have children who are in this age bracket who are captured by interactions on social media and privy firsthand to some of the positive and negative reactions to it. However, I also want to express my concerns about government overreaching in certain areas. I do agree with Senator Leyonhjelm that, ultimately, children need to be taught a bit of resilience and there is not always going to be someone there to pick up the hurt feelings or the pieces. That is in no way excusing bullying or intimidation, or some of the terrible things that some children have to go through.

If you want to consider the impact that it has on children, you only have to consider firsthand the impact that it has on some adults. We have seen adults, whether as a result of mental fragility or cyberbullying, take their own lives because of poor feedback or abuse on Twitter, Facebook and those sorts of things. So there is a certain amount of resilience needed and this social media intimidation and bullying can have a terrible toll on people. But I do have concerns about the message we are sending in many instances.

Having dealt with and heard many stories from parents who are concerned about how their children have been treated in certain circumstances, I can well imagine the overwhelming influx of complaints that some social media networks will have when someone's son or daughter has had their feelings hurt because they have not liked what was said. I have heard of complaints where parents have engaged with schools or with other parents because their child has simply been defriended. When you investigate why they were defriended, you find it was because the child in their own case was doing the wrong thing and the peer group said, 'We don't want that,' and they defriended them on Facebook or whatever. Apparently that amounted to some sort of bullying. I can imagine any number of permutations of what constitutes bullying, harassments, insults or things that will upset people's feelings.

I feel for some of the social media outlets actually because they are going to have to deal with this influx. I suspect that, ultimately, not all of them will be managed satisfactorily. I think that the Children's e-Safety Commissioner will be inundated with all sorts of cases in which the commissioner is going to have to adjudicate.

The commissioner is going to be given two sets of powers. The first will require large social media services to remove material from their site. I do think this is a very important step, because a number of the large social media outlets are not very good at removing truly offensive material from their sites—even material condoning violence or which is distinctly racist. There does not seem to be any sort of consistency in how they approach things. As a conservative, I look at some stuff and ask, 'Why are they allowing that when they tear down this?' There seems to be a bit of political correctness in operation with some of them. We are adults and we should be able to deal with this stuff, but I do understand that this sort of intimidation—or things that denigrate children or make them feel terribly uncomfortable—should be removed. So I think this is a positive step.

The second set of powers, and Senator Leyonhjelm touched on this, allows the commissioner to issue a notice to an individual who has posted material, requiring them to remove it— I think that is reasonable and appropriate if the social media site will not do it—and to refrain from posting it again. But I do share Senator Leyonhjelm's thoughts about the requirement for an apology. You can be required to issue an apology for posting something that is negative about someone else even though you might not have breached any law. I am with Senator Leyonhjelm in that I believe that apologies are only worthwhile if they are voluntary. It is like any sort of moral code or adherence to any faith: when you are coerced into doing it, it lacks genuineness and is worth much less than something that is truly heartfelt.

Let me go back to the first bit about when the social media services are approached by the commissioner. If they fail to respond to a notice the commissioner has put forward, the commissioner can insist that there is a legal duty to remove the material. The social media service can face significant fines if they do not then comply. I think this is quite reasonable as well and I will tell you why. In the adult world, if you are maligned by, for example, a media organisation and that media organisation allows comments to appear on their blog which further malign or defame you, or if they have a Facebook page on which people post defamatory or other comments that are inappropriate, the media organisation is legally liable for those comments. In those circumstances, there are legal avenues through which you can address any sort of calumny that you feel has been committed against you.

However, in the world of children—who are perhaps less circumspect about the materials they post online than my generation, particularly because they have grown up with the internet—those avenues of legal redress are not really available. I am not sure in any case that it is appropriate for a child to be suing another child because they have been offended. But it is important that, where things are inappropriate, a commissioner or a responsible entity can step in and say, 'Let's try and have this removed', without having to go through any convoluted legal processes. I do think that is reasonable and that it is incumbent upon some of these social media organisations—companies worth tens and tens of billions of dollars—to take some responsibility in this area. They cannot do a Pontius Pilate and wash their hands of responsibility with respect to basic decency, particularly where it affects children. The commissioner can insist the service has a legal duty to remove the material and it can impose fines where the service fails to do so. The fine would be $17,000 for each day the service does not act in response to the commission.

In addition to running the complaints system, the commissioner will also be tasked with implementing policies to improve safety for children online. The commissioner will be responsible for $7.5 million of funding for online safety programs in schools and for overseeing research and information campaigns regarding online safety. All of these things are, I am sure, very helpful initiatives. I think many schools already run online safety initiatives. In my experience, where boundaries on social media have been crossed, students are usually made aware of it by their schools. The schools certainly undertake direct engagement, because ultimately these things can impact on the health and wellbeing—particularly the mental wellbeing—of our next generation.

Cyberbullying is a growing issue. I am not sure we are ever going to be able to eradicate it. There has always been bullying, whether over the colour of your hair, how tall you are or for having too many doughnuts at lunchtime, of which I myself may have been guilty—eating the doughnuts, I should say.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

And the effects thereof!

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I picked up sport late in life. Kids are always going to home in on some issue about another kid. Friendships go in and out of favour and we all do things as children that we regret later in life. It is just part of growing up and the learning process. As I said at the start of my comments today, I think there is an element of this that teaches children resilience. Parents have to have that conversation with them. You have to say, 'Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you'—those sorts of old-fashioned values. Not everything is a cause for some sort of intervention. You just have to learn how to deal with some things.

I want to restate, however: I am not making excuses for some of the harmful practices that go on. There are terrible things that go on and kids suffer immeasurably from them. They suffer from peer group pressure and they suffer from all sorts of things that happen—and there need to be means to address that. But it is not solely the responsibility of government to step into this space. We need to ensure that government provides opportunities where redress is not normally available. I think that is appropriate. Where schools are perhaps failing, I think the education programs and those sorts of things should go on. But we cannot protect children from all harm. No matter how much we would like to, we cannot. If we seek to do that—if we stop them from climbing trees, taking risks and learning that there are bad people in society and bad things can happen to good people—we are actually building a much more fragile adult society as a result.

This is a step. It is a step in the right direction, but I just do not want to see it overreach. But I do agree with some of my colleagues who say that this is one of the most confronting things for society today. It is not often that I quote President Barack Obama, the American President. He said that one of the great challenges facing children today was going to be their contribution to social media. That will perhaps have more of an impact on their future lives than almost anything else, because what you do in the intemperance of youth is there forever online. That is one of the great challenges for the next generation, particularly when they go to get employment and they start to look around and they say, 'Should I have really done that?' I guess it is like getting a tattoo: at 18 it seems like a good idea but at 45 it does not seem quite so clever—with all apologies to those who like their tattoos.

The point is that now all of our children are vulnerable to this sort of approach. We have to ensure that there is a degree of prudence, making an allowance for their youthfulness and the indiscretions that take place along those lines. But we also need to make sure that society as a whole understands the true long-term implications of where we are at with this. I would hate to see young children or teenagers penalised in some sort of long-term sense because of mistakes they make when they are 15 or 16. We do allow all sorts of circumstances to go under the radar. If someone commits, for example, a legal offence as a juvenile, it is not necessarily carried over into their adult record. I do not think that it is. We allow certain criminal convictions to be expunged after a certain period of time—so we do believe in redemption. Unfortunately, with much of the stuff that goes online, there is no opportunity for that. So I am loath to judge the youth of today too much for the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Allowing a reasonable approach and allowing parents, schools and individuals to approach someone who is notionally independent about this to seek redress without having to resort to lengthy legal argument or anything else, is a positive step in the right direction. But I will never endorse the replacement of the responsibility—both individual responsibility and, where there is a diminished responsibility by way of youth or age, the responsibility of parents, schools and other adults who are central to the lives of a child to instruct that child, to teach them, to negotiate with them and to talk with them about some of the issues and some of the potential consequences, whether they be a recipient of this sort of bullying or whether they be the perpetrator of it. In my experience, and in talking with parents of the peer group of my own children, it is a very, very fine line. Quite often it is just the wrong choice of words or the wrong emoticon or whatever they choose to put in there that can be picked up.

I do commend the government for tackling this, and I think it is important that the government have a look at this. We are having to deal with and tackle the issues that are going to be facing our community for a long time to come. One of the most important things is that we have resilient, well-rounded and well-adjusted children who are free to pursue their lives in a healthy environment. We want to protect them from harm as much as we can—and that includes not only physical harm but also the emotional harm that can be just as devastating to their self-esteem as anything else. We know that it can be a single comment or two comments or something like that that drives people in directions that are very negative, whether it be eating disorders, self harm, hurting others or even worse pathways. That is the sort of thing that governments need to invest in.

An ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. Let us work towards that prevention, but let us work towards it collaboratively with parents, schools, counsellors—who are in many schools today—and peer groups. One of the greatest things I was taught and I have sought to teach my children—and it is still a work in progress—is to think about how you would like it if that was done to you. It makes you stop and think before you act. I think it is really sage advice for any young person. Hopefully, anyone who has a brush with this sort of process will only ever have to learn that lesson once. You would hope that if someone does the wrong thing online and goes through this process they will learn their lesson and, as a result, we will have better citizens in the future and a more considerate society that follows that golden rule, that ethic of reciprocity: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

10:58 am

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset I would like to express my support for the measures in these bills, the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 and the Enhancing Online Safety for Children (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014. Cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon but, unfortunately, the motivations behind it are not. Thankfully, we now have a better understanding of the real psychological harm bullying can cause in all its forms. It is not just part of life or a normal part of growing up. It is not! Cyberbullying is in some ways more insidious than bullying that takes place in person. For people who are subjected to this harassment, there can be little escape. Our 24-hour access to technology means that bullying does not end at the school gate. The anonymity and distance provided by technology mean that bullies often go further than they perhaps would if they were face to face with their victims. These are keyboard cowards. Perhaps saying things to a screen is easier than saying them to someone's face. Online culture also contributes. Often bullying is not just one on one but it can attract a whole group of perpetrators, sometimes people who may not even know the victim but get some warped satisfaction by joining in.

It is clear that we need a new strategy to deal with these new problems. This is something that I have long advocated, as have others, and it is a good thing that the government is acting on this. Schools often have trouble dealing with bullying that occurs out of school hours and away from school premises. Parents have difficulty dealing with it because of gaps in technological knowledge or because children often keep bullying a secret until the matter has escalated beyond control. And law enforcement officers are not always familiar with the tools at their disposal and can sometimes see pursuing children for bullying as a job for parents and schools rather than the police. But we have seen too many tragic cases of people—children and adults—who see no way out of their torment. Pursuing cyberbullies is also complicated by the tangle of jurisdictions, where providers and services are often located overseas and, as such, are hard to pursue. The measures in this bill will provide leadership and guidance at a national level in terms of cyberbullying and give Australian children and their parents an advocate when dealing with these serious issues.

I would like to briefly touch on the story of Carly Ryan, whose tragic death prompted the amendment I foreshadow I will be moving during the committee stage of this bill. At this stage, I indicate that the primary motivation for putting up this amendment is so that this is still front of mind for the Senate, indeed for the entire parliament, when it comes to issues of cybersafety. I see this amendment as a logical and necessary extension to issues of cybersafety. Having a Children's e-Safety Commissioner is of course valuable, but, if this is about keeping children safe, then this amendment is an integral part of that. Carly's story is not one of cyberbullying, but it is a heartbreaking example of how far behind we are lagging in protecting our children online. Carly was 14 years old when she started chatting online to someone she thought was a young teenage musician. But the boy she fell in love with online was actually a 47-year-old internet predator who had over 200 fake identities and was still pursuing multiple young girls all over the world. This man finally convinced Carly they should meet, on 19 February 2007, at Horseshoe Bay in South Australia. There he brutally assaulted her and left her to die.

I want to pay tribute to Sonya Ryan, Carly's mother, a former South Australian of the Year, who, along with her team at the Carly Ryan Foundation, has been a relentless, passionate, inspiring advocate for making children safe. The aim of my amendment, which has previously come before the Senate in the form of a private senator's bill, is to close a loophole in our current law and to give law enforcement an extra tool in pursuing those who seek to harm children. This amendment would make it an offence for a person over 18 to lie about their age in online communications to a person under 16 years of age for the purpose of facilitating or encouraging a physical meeting. If a 50- or 60-year-old male pretends to be a teenager and then communicates with a 13- or 14-year-old girl or boy and attempts to meet that child, then I think that should be a criminal offence. Under our current laws, you need to show a sexual purpose—that it was grooming. There are certain criteria that must be fulfilled. I think we need to have a lesser offence, but nonetheless an offence, to deal with that.

This is something that I discussed briefly on 8 February in Adelaide with Paul Fletcher, the parliamentary secretary responsible for this piece of legislation. I commend him for the hard work he has done. He comes from an eminent background in telecommunications, he knows his stuff and I think he is doing a very fine job as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications. Paul Fletcher was at the launch of the Carly Ryan Foundation's Thread app, which was supported by both state and federal governments. It is a terrific initiative. For anyone out there listening, it is an app that you can download for free. Basically what it means, for adults and particularly for children, is, if a young person is going out at night, they can have certain contacts and, if they are being harassed or threatened, all they need to do is press a button to notify their circle of friends or family. The app can also notify the police, giving a GPS location. I wonder whether, if Carly Ryan had had that app back in 2007, she would still be alive today. I believe she would be. It is a terrific initiative. Paul Fletcher spoke at that launch. This is an app that I think more and more Australians need to get and to use. There will be an Android version coming out soon, and I think we will hear more about it then, because every Australian with a smartphone will be able to access this, particularly every Australian child.

I spoke to Mr Fletcher this morning about my amendment. I made it clear that the purpose of this amendment is to raise this issue again and to flag it, because I have been disappointed with the response of both the government and the opposition in relation to this bill. But I say that without any rancour. I think that having a Children's e-Safety Commissioner provides a vehicle for the commissioner to consider that. I undertake that I will be making submissions to the new commissioner whenever that commissioner is appointed, as I expect the Carly Ryan Foundation will do as well, in order to progress this.

If we are serious about closing the loopholes in our current law, we need to ensure that an adult lying about their age, contacting a child and seeking to meet that child is the subject of sanctions by the law. Perhaps I can put this bluntly. I do not think that sort of conduct would pass the pub test. It is the sort of behaviour that ought to be subject to criminal sanction, albeit at a lesser penalty. But this amendment would mean it is unacceptable behaviour at law. To require evidence of grooming, I think, means it is too late. If the government, as it does now, has metadata powers—leaving aside the bill that will be considered—to track potential suspects in terms of child sexual abuse, then this would be an additional tool for our law enforcement agencies which I believe would be very valuable.

I am grateful for the time that I spent with Mr Fletcher this morning discussing the amendment. I think that the government will continue to look at this. Of course, it is fair to say that no commitments or undertakings were made as such, but I think the fact that Mr Fletcher has an open mind to at least continue to consider this, and that we will have a vehicle through the Children's e-Safety Commissioner to further consider this and perhaps make recommendations about the provisions contained in my amendment, is unambiguously a good thing.

With those few words, I can indicate that I will be supporting this bill. I want the provisions in this bill to be effective. It is long overdue. That is not a criticism of the government or, indeed, the opposition; this is a relatively new phenomenon. But I would urge my parliamentary colleagues that when the amendment comes up, even if they are bound not to support it, they should at least consider this and take the argument up in their party rooms, because if we are serious about cybersafety then we should be serious about those individuals—those adults—that lie about their age to children and attempt to meet them. That, to me, is completely unacceptable, and I owe it to the wonderful people at the Carly Ryan Foundation—in particular Sonya Ryan—to pursue this until we get the legislative reform that is necessary.

11:08 am

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014. As has been outlined by the senators, it is a package of measures which looks to implement one of the government's election commitments, which is to enhance online safety for children.

Before I go into some of the details of the bill, I think there are a few context-setting things that need to be said around this. As Senator Xenophon, my colleague from South Australia, has just highlighted, the issue of the interaction of young people with the internet goes well beyond just bullying, although that is the subject of this bill. It goes particularly to grooming and contacting by people who are sexual predators. It also, though, goes significantly, as we have seen in recent days, to the issue of radicalising and also luring young people to be engaged with terror activities. Just in the last month, we have seen quite a bit of media about the three young British girls—15- and 16-year-olds—who have been lured to leave their homes in England and travel via Turkey to the Middle East. The reporting from the British authorities, after consulting with young girls who have previously been lured down this path, indicates that Daesh are using social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and as recruitment channels. That has had quite a bit of media.

One thing that has not had so much media is an almost identical case of three young girls who live—or lived—in Denver in the United States and who, again through social media, have been lured. Just as Senator Xenophon highlighted in Carly's case that there was a misrepresentation about age and intent, this case in the US indicates that the information that has been put onto social media is, in their words, 'Disney-like versions of life under extremism'. It portrays a very favourable view of what life is like there and things that will be available to those people, and it has lured, in this case, three young girls—17, 15 and 16—from the US. Thankfully, in this case they were intercepted as they passed through Germany on their way to Turkey and then Syria, and they were detained there and have been sent back to America. So that has been a good outcome, but it just highlights that this whole area of interaction of young people with social media is a thing that is changing in our environment and our society and that there are new measures required to deal with that, because of the scope of the impact on their physical safety, in cases involving sexual predators, and on the safety of those who are tempted to be radicalised as well as those who are bullied.

The other contextual thing that I think is important, particularly as we come back to the piece around cyberbullying, is that the intent of this legislation is to assist parents, principals and authorities in the process of protecting young people. It is not to replace their role; I think that is a really important point to emphasise. These kinds of programs help parents and principals and schools to work with young people and give them tools to overcome the things that are influencing young people, but they do not replace the responsibility of parents, predominantly, as well as other significant figures in children's lives to help train up, develop and mentor young people to be resilient in our society, because they will have many interactions in their lives that go beyond the confines of the family home or a school environment, and we need to be imbuing our children with the wisdom and maturity to recognise threats, to recognise people who are seeking to tear them down and to have the resilience to cope with that. We should not ever get into a situation where somebody ends up being bullied and is impacted either physically, in terms of suicide, or in terms of mental health, and then people turn around and say it is the fault of the government because this program was not good enough. This program is a tool. It is an assistance. It is not to replace the prime responsibility of parents and other significant authorities in children's lives to help that child be resilient. I just think that is a really important baseline we should look at.

So what does this bill seek to do? It seeks to establish the office of a Children's e-Safety Commissioner, as well as setting out the functions and powers, and it creates an effective complaints system—that is the aim—for the harm of cyberbullying material targeted at Australian children. It gives two sets of powers. One is a set of powers to issue a notice to a large social media service requiring it to remove the material, and it also gives the commissioner the power to issue a notice to the person who has posted the material, requiring them to remove it and to refrain from posting the material or to apologise for posting the material. The measures in this bill are aimed not only to provide those powers but to give the tools to bring about a more rapid and effective address to where this kind of information is posted on the internet.

The reason why I support an intervention like this—generally I am about smaller government and fewer interventions rather than more—is the all-pervading presence of social media in young people's lives. As I have watched young people interact with their peers and with social media, one of the things that have struck me is the power of things like Facebook and the fact that no longer can you invite one friend around to your house and enjoy their company. Now people are considering: if that is posted on Facebook, what other friends will see that?

Will people feel excluded because of that? If you invite a group of people, there are acceptances up there.

I have heard young people discussing whether or not they should accept, because nobody else has accepted yet: 'If I'm the first to accept and nobody else does, am I going to be excluded from the group?' There are all kinds of dynamics that things like Facebook have brought in and that impact on young people. When I and many in this chamber were growing up, those considerations were not there. So we do need to respond in a measured way to the changed reality of the world for young people. How big is the problem in terms of cyberbullying?

The Social Policy Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, in 2014, conducted a study. It concluded that the best estimate of cyberbullying over a 12-month period is that 20 per cent of Australians aged between eight and 17 have been subjected to cyberbullying. That is a significant portion of young people in our society. The most prominent age group was 10 to 15, in terms of cyberbullying, and the estimated number of children and young people who were victims in 2013, which was the period studied, was some 463,000. That is a significant number of young people who potentially have ongoing issues around relationships, self-esteem, anxiety and depression, which can follow on from cyberbullying.

It also showed that managing the impact of social media creates a significant workload for people in children's lives, such as principals and teachers in schools. This new dynamic of communication is very real there. The research found that some 87 per cent of secondary schools reported at least one incident of cyberbullying in 2013, which is the period that was reviewed, as well as some 60 per cent of primary schools reporting an incident as bullying. So it is, clearly, an issue that is affecting a lot of young people and those who work with them in a range of environments in our community.

Where will the commissioner be based? Essentially, he will be within the Australian Communications and Media Authority or ACMA. It will be an independent statutory office established within ACMA. The commissioner will have a number of roles in providing national leadership in this space. There are many people—not-for-profit groups, foundations and government agencies, both state and federal—so this office will look at working across government in a national leadership role as well as developing and implementing policies to help protect children in this space.

One of the key areas will be to set up a complaints system. The aim of this is to be responsive and effective for people, so when harmful cyberbullying material is targeted at an Australian child there is a way to deal with it. The commissioner also is required to work closely with other agencies as well as the police, the internet industry and child-protection organisations. The budget will be around $7½ million for those safety programs in schools and there will be a budget to support Australian based research and information campaigns about online safety. It is very much a focus here, understanding the problem and creating those effective and responsive complaint mechanisms for our community.

To look at the complaints system, in particular, there are two sets of powers the commission will have. The first is to issue a notice to a large social-media service, requiring it to remove material; the second is to the person who has posted it. The measures are designed to have an engaged process. At a tier 1 level it is about encouraging social-media groups to remove it, to be alert and to put in place their own programs. If the large social-media service repeatedly fails to respond to that encouragement, it can be moved to a tier 2 program. This means the commissioner can then enforce the legal duty for that group to remove cyberbullying material, and if they do not they will face substantial fines. We are talking in the order of $17,000 for each day that the large social-media group does not respond to the commissioner. It encourages cooperation and the groups to work and own their part of the solution to this problem. If that does not work and there is not that cooperation there, this is a significant power for the commissioner.

It also means that as well as administering that $7½ million they will take on responsibility for administering the current online content scheme, under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The bill does not make any changes to that act but it does mean that this commissioner will take on responsibility for the act. There will be a number of consequential amendments that come out of this act. There are some amendments to give the commissioner information-gathering powers, similar to those currently possessed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority under part 13 of the act, some changes to reflect the transfer of administrative responsibility for that online-content scheme and some minor consequential amendments to provisions in those schedules.

This is a scheme that has been supported by stakeholders, who see the damage to our children and the need for an intervention in this space. There are a number of people here from the independent schools association, from the National Children's and Youth Law Centre and from the Australian Medical Association who deal with the consequences of this cyberbullying. They have looked at what the government is proposing and have identified that it will be good policy. They believe it will have a significant role in raising awareness and providing tools to protect young children. The stakeholder groups support it. The means are here to provide an effective and responsive system. But I come back to the fact that this is just one element in an environment that our young people are facing where society collectively, governments and internet providers need to find effective ways to help our young people to engage with social media and the internet as a positive and an enabling influence in their lives and to build the resilience in them to cope with the negative aspects—which could be cyberbullying and recognising the dangers of people like sexual predators.

An important area that we are frequently dealing with in our society at the moment is to resist the lure of the people who would seek to radicalise elements of our community to support, often in this case, Islamic extremism through Daesh in the Middle East. I repeat the point that I raised at the start of my contribution: this is a tool. It is something that is there to support parents and other authorities, but it should not be seen as a replacement for the role all of us have to work with our young people to help them to grow resilience and the ability to thrive in the society in which they live.

11:23 am

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to make some comments in relation to the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 and the related bill.

I would have to say that I concur with the majority of comments I have heard this morning in the chamber in this debate. I think it is important that we acknowledge the two committees that have looked into this issue over the last couple of years. I would particularly like to acknowledge the contribution that Senator Catryna Bilyk, of my home state of Tasmania, has made not only in relation to this issue but to issues generally relating to the welfare of children.

More and more these days people have become interconnected through social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter now mean that we are able to create an online profile for ourselves and to stay connected to virtually anybody anywhere in the world and at any time. We can share stories, photos, memories and dreams, holidays, weddings, barbecues and birthdays. It has enhanced and transformed our lives. The world as we know it will never be the same again. In my area of responsibility, aged care, I see that the internet and the advancements that we have made in technology will be another step in ensuring that people do not become isolated in their own homes.

But getting back to the presence, unfortunately, of cyberbullying: with all the benefits we talk about from the internet and having access 24/7, the dark side of social media is why this bill has been brought before us. It is a very dark side of the internet and I do not think there is anyone in this chamber or anyone who would be listening who would not know someone who actually has been bullied or who has had to deal with the consequences of online bullying. We know that bullying has been around in our society. I can remember at school, where I think a lot of us—for whatever reason—from time to time experienced bullying. I think Senator Bernardi was talking about whether you were too tall, whether it was the colour of your hair or whether, like me, you had freckles. I had the name of 'Polley' so you can imagine how often I got tormented about the name of Polley. Then, when I actually got into politics it all started all over again!

But society is changed in the sense that during our days in the school yard, when you went home you had some freedom. In those days, when I was in primary school, you had that respite because we did not even have a telephone. Therefore, children were able to go home, turn on their television, do their homework and relax, and then, hopefully, the next day when they went back those bullies had moved on to someone else. But now, unfortunately, young people are exposed to it 24 hours a day.

One of the issues that we need to consider as parents, guardians and grandparents is where children use their computers. When you have a computer that is connected to the internet, I am a great believer that it should be in a family room where parents and carers can supervise the use of the internet. It can be so easy for young people—or even for us adults—to go onto a site that is inappropriate accidentally.

In being able to be contacted 24 hours a day, with all the benefits that brings by keeping us connected around the world, even us adults have trouble at times in keeping up with the technology. Therefore, it is more difficult for parents to always know what their young people are being exposed to. Only too often, the issue around bullying does not come to light within a family until it has escalated to a level where it is obvious that there is something going on with your daughter or your son.

We need to be able to ensure that the issues around this are legislated for as much as possible. But I have to say from my time on other committees and in having dealings with the AFP and other agencies that it is not always easy for those people who have to supervise the internet; how it can be used for grooming young boys and young girls and the issues around adults forming relationships with a parent so that they can have access to their children—all these sorts of issues. Unfortunately, too much of this sort of behaviour is conducted through the internet. Not only are those children potentially the ones who are going to be hurt but their families can be destroyed. We know that there is never going to be enough money; it seems to be that whatever happens in the community, that those who are in our community and who are less desirable seem to have access to more money and more technology than the good guys in our agencies do.

The forms of bullying that children may be exposed to can relate to their appearance, but it can also be dissemination of photos which have been taken of them and which are unflattering. These can cause all sorts of negative thoughts. As we know, there are too many young people now being diagnosed with depression. We also know that young people suffer from various eating disorders, and it all comes down to the issue of the image—the self-esteem and self-confidence that young people need to have—and their resilience, to be able to ensure that they do not succumb to these bullying attacks on them.

We also know of and I think have all experienced fake Facebook pages set up in people's names. I know there are politicians who have experienced that, and obviously there are young people. We know through the debate today that there have been a lot of stories told about the personal experiences of some of our young people. But I think this is a good step. I think it is only one more step that we have to take to ensure that we have some control and that there is legislation here to protect young people from this sort of attack and the use of the internet to bully young people. We all know about self-esteem and the way young people and all of us as individuals see ourselves is greatly impacted by our peers and the social settings that you are involved in.

According to Reachout, one of Australia's main organisations that helps children that are victims of bullying, it can lead to feelings of being the one at fault. Only too often comments are made—and I am sure they are not made intentionally—like: 'Why go on social media? Why'd you visit that site?' It is not always that easy. We know this can lead to feelings of hopelessness and humiliation. It can lead to feelings of being alone and vulnerable. It can lead to feelings of depression and rejection. It can lead to feelings of being unsafe and afraid. It can also lead to stress disorders. Those are really some of the most serious aspects of bullying in general but particularly when we are talking about cyberbullying.

This can have a profound effect on the mental health of children and may lead to all sorts of problems later in life. The Australian Department of Communications commissioned the Social Policy research Centre at the University of New South Wales. According to the research, one in five Australian children between the ages of 10 and 17 have experienced some sort of cyberbullying. This amounts to approximately 463,000 victims, of whom around 365,000 are in the peak age of 10-15 years. Those of us who have had children going through that age know it can be challenging enough without having to deal with this added consequence of internet bullying. But this estimate could be much higher than that. It is very hard because not all of the instances of cyberbullying are actually brought to the attention of the authorities. So we must obviously be more careful with our children and the sort of exposure to the internet and what it does. It is about communicating with your children. If there is anything on the internet that makes them feel uncomfortable then they should be having those conversations with their parents.

In an age where children are confronted with all sorts of stereotypes, this level of public humiliation is unacceptable. This is why it is so important to tackle this problem head on and regulate the ability for others to perpetrate this brand of bullying on our children. Under the leadership of Bill Shorten, to those in the opposition this is not a political issue where there is any great divide in terms of how critically important we see this piece of legislation. As I said, there are some aspects of it that we have some concerns about, but we feel, as I am sure does everyone in this chamber, that this is another good step forward.

But we also have to consider what constitutes in any one person's mind what bullying is, because what bullying can be to one individual can be very different to another. Some people may object to the increase in the regulation of the internet and social media content based on the fact that they feel it intrudes on their liberty and freedom of expression. But rest assured that we in this chamber believe that these steps are necessary. When it comes to questioning whether it is impinging on someone's freedom of expression, I say children must always come first and the safety of our children must be foremost in our minds. But we have been listening to the concerns in the community over a long period of time. As I said, there have been two committees that have crossed over in the area of cyberbullying and the safety of children using the internet. I think this bill is a good step in making sure that we can address as much as we can at this stage some of the issues that are confronting these children.

I turn to the structure of the bill itself. It establishes a children's commissioner and sets out its functions and powers. The child or guardian can complain to the commissioner if they have been a victim of cyberbullying. The bill sets out that social media providers will have to comply with a basic set of online safety requirements. The commissioner can then investigate such complaints. This includes minimum standards in a service provider's terms and conditions of use, a complaints scheme and a dedicated contact person.

The bill creates two tiers of social media services. Tier 1 comprises social media services which have applied to the commissioner to be declared as such. Tier 2 social media service may be issued a social media service notice by the commissioner which requires the removal of such material. The commissioner also has the power to issue notices to end-users who post cyberbullying material. The notices can also include a requirement for them to remove that material. The remedy for non-compliance with such a notice is injunctive relief.

Rest assured, as I said, those of us on this side are always prepared to work with the government and the crossbench when it comes to any legislation that improves the safety of those who are using the internet, particularly when it comes to children. I also take this opportunity to once again stress the importance to parents, guardians and grandparents of ensuring that they have a conversation with their young people in relation to the dangers involved in using the internet. There are those within our community who will use the internet to groom children. You will find all sorts of warnings and assistance are available; I know the schools within our community do as much as they can to ensure that children understand the dangers. But, even with all of this, it is important that you have these conversations at home and that you talk at home about what your children are doing when they are on the internet. If they are being bullied, whether it is via the internet or at school, then those conversations need to be had because the security of our young children is first and foremost. We have to be always mindful of their self-esteem to ensure they have the resilience to deal with cyberbullying or bullying in the schoolyard. I commend the bill and I will have more to say, I am sure, during the committee stage.

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—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Glory days!

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

Glory days, Senator McKenzie. I think we were the older group. I was on the bad end of some of those blues. I do remember coming home and—

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Name names!

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

I am not going to abuse my parliamentary privilege and name people; we have all matured! You would get home and, when you were at home and with your parents, and you were not at school, it was somewhere you could take a bit of a break and a breather and a pause from that. You would be counting the hours before you would have to go back to school and you would not be looking forward to it too much, but at least it was not a 24/7 experience.

I do worry for children who grow up in this environment. It was not that long ago that I was at school, but things have changed. They cannot necessarily get away from it. A lot of kids these days in high school would have their own phones, and every time someone sends you a message or a tweet on Twitter or Wickr or any of these other platforms, you get a notification. You could potentially be reached out to at any time in your life and that is of great concern.

I think it is important to remember that it is not just the widespread and mainstream social media platforms that exist. The bane of my existence at the moment as a parent is a thing called Minecraft. For those who may not have—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They grow out of it.

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

Hopefully, Senator McKenzie, they will grow out of it. They want me to play Minecraft. I have not played it yet, so I do not really understand it; apparently, it is Lego for the internet. I am sort of okay with the platform; it is not overly violent—but it does obsess them. And it is a form of social media in a way because they can join public servers. Kids as young as five or six go onto YouTube and find out how to join these servers. They get online and they can communicate with people all around the world by playing a simple computer game. And of course you do not know who these people are that they are communicating with, and that is a bit concerning as a parent. It is hard for us as parents to keep up with all these new programs coming in that we do not use and that we do not really know too much about.

I think one of the lessons we have learnt over the years is that government regulation sometimes struggles to do a good job when these things develop and come online, but it is important that we try. This bill here today does attempt to bring our regulations up to speed. The measures in this bill will bring a better and more rapid response to these dangers. In the fast-moving world of the internet and social media, we need to be faster and more nimble in addressing this issue.

The bill will establish the Office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner and in doing so will create an effective complaints system for harmful cyberbullying. The commissioner will be given two sets of powers it can use in responding to a complaint. One of these powers will be to issue a notice to a large social media service, requiring it to remove the material. The other power will be to issue a notice to the person who posted the material, requiring the person to remove the material and to refrain from reposting the material or apologise for the posting of that material.

These are quite substantial powers that we are putting in place here. It does give this commissioner a fair amount of power to potentially regulate what people are saying and what companies are allowing people to post in an online environment. I think, however, given the particular vulnerability here of young children and people that are vulnerable in our society, that these rules should be in place. I hope that the social media services that we are targeting in this bill will be compliant and cooperative with what we are putting in place, because I think this is a law which could be implemented without a particularly large hammer, if you like, on behalf of the government. It is something that could have widespread support within the community and the corporate sector—and social media companies as well, because social media companies themselves rely very heavily on making sure that they maintain a large network of users and, therefore, maintain a large level of support within the community for their service. I think there have been examples in the past where they have cooperated and removed material which has been either damaging to particular individuals or damaging to the wider community fabric.

There are some enforcement aspects to the bill as well. We are not just relying on the good grace of these companies. With that first power regarding large social media services, the commissioner can issue a tier 1 notice to begin with. If a social media service repeatedly fails to respond to a notice from the commissioner, it can be moved to a tier 2 notice, meaning that the social media service will have a legal duty to remove cyberbullying material and face fines of up to $17,000 a day if they do not act in response to the commissioner. As I said, hopefully those powers, and particularly those penalties, will not need to be relied upon in many cases, but if we want to walk softly, it is important that we carry a big stick.

Apart from these direct powers that the commissioner has, they will have some broader functions under this bill—including: the promoting of online safety for children; coordinating relevant activities of Commonwealth departments, authorities and agencies in relation to online safety for children; and accrediting and evaluating online safety educational programs. The relevance of this accreditation is that the government is allocating $7.5 million for schools to purchase online safety programs, and this funding can be spent on any program accredited by the Children's e-Safety Commissioner. I applaud the government for making an investment of this kind, because, as I said, as a parent myself I know it can be hard to keep up with these new forms of technology—what they can do and what they can be used for. The research shows that schools similarly struggle to keep up. This new investment will help them have the tools and resources to respond appropriately to developments that are occurring right now and to developments that we cannot envisage right now, that may occur in the future.

The commissioner will also take on responsibility for administering the current online-content scheme under schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. But it is important to understand that this is simply the commissioner taking responsibility for administration of this existing and longstanding scheme. The bill actually does not make any changes to that online scheme and is separate from the complaints system that I referred to earlier.

This legislation will state the parliament's expectation that all social media service should comply with certain basic online safety requirements: that they have terms of use that prohibit the posting of cyberbullying material; that they have a complaints system in place under which end-users of the service can seek to have material that breaches the services terms of use removed; and that there is a contact person where the commissioner can refer complaints that users consider have not been adequately dealt with.

I think we would all agree that the best way for these issues to be dealt with is by the particular media service themselves rather than having to be escalated to a regulator, in this case the commissioner, for more onerous enforcement. That may not always be the case once this bill is in place. But if we can have a good self-regulation process involved, that would be a more superior outcome.

I mentioned the $17,000 penalties before. The commissioner will also have other powers available to most regulators including the ability to take enforcement undertakings from providers. In the case of either a requirement under an end-user notice or a requirement under a social media service notice, the commissioner will be able to go to court to obtain an injunction to ensure compliance with the notice. In each case, enforcement is governed by the standard provisions that are contained in the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act.

I want to finish by noting that this bill has broad support within the community as well. I started my contribution by saying that this is something the government took to the last election and is a commitment we made then. I am glad to see we are seeing it to fruition here in law. But it is also something that various people and leaders in our community have been calling for for some time including Matthew Keeley of the National Children's and Youth Law Centre. The President of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler has also been supportive of these changes as has Phillip Heath, who is the national chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools.

This will is an appropriate and proportionate change to our laws to protect the vulnerable in our society. We should always be careful where we seek to impose some form of restriction on what people post and what people say online but where it involves vulnerable people in our community, we should seek to put the appropriate protections in place to protect them. I think it is important that we do so. This bill is focused on child safety and children in our community, not with the communication that may occur between adults. If you take a look at most politicians' Facebook pages, there is probably a fair amount of quasi bullying activity that occurs there but that goes with the job. We should have thick skins to deal with that and we are adult and mature. If people want to act in an immature way, we can ignore that. But it is a bit hard for us to ask our children to do the same when they are in the formative years of their lives and where that kind of behaviour can have a long-standing and deleterious impact on their development and on the formation of a well rounded and mature personality. So I applaud the government for taking action to protect children in this instance and I am glad to have spoken in support of this bill.

11:55 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It does give me great pleasure to rise to speak today on the Enhancing Online Safety For Children Bill 2014 because I was privileged to be a part of that policy group that developed this policy response in the wake of growing concern in all of our communities right across Australia.

In opposition the coalition had an online safety working group. We travelled around Australia engaging with key stakeholders—social media magnates, telecommunications providers, schools, parents, law enforcement agencies, state governments and community leaders—to actually understand the issue. I think sometimes those of us that are not like Senator Canavan with four young children might not actually have our finger on the pulse of what is actually going on with the everyday experience of young Australians in the 21st Century in the internet age—the digital natives. I think it was very important that we actually got on the ground, into communities, into schools and talked directly to do those that are not only experiencing the problem—young people and their parents—but also those that are required within the community to actually deal with the fallout of these incidents, the law enforcement and community agencies and, most typically, schools.

I met with groups of Catholic, state and independent principals this week. They talked about the top four priorities for them going forward as they do their best strategic planning for the next six months 12 months. It was about wellbeing and it was about the huge increase within primary schools of having to focus so much human resource, curriculum resource and time and effort on dealing with exactly these kinds of issues: bullying and social practices within our communities that have gone way beyond time and space, that extend into other areas of our everyday lives and severely impact our students' wellbeing.

It is also a great example of the coalition government delivering on an election promise. I think that is always a good day. We have got lists upon lists of those election commitments being rolled out over the last 12 months but this one is particularly close to my heart, as I said, because I was part of the working group chaired by Paul Fletcher, a man with significant experience in this space. We had coalition members and senators from right across Australia and we did travel.

I want to go to cyber bullying itself. Dr Michael Carr-Greg, who is a recognised leading child and adolescent psychologist notes that cyberbullying cannot be beaten by simply logging off the computer. Students need help to learn to become more resilient and to ignore it. We need a suite of systems, strategies, arrangements, curriculum models and support spaces for young people and their families to be able to engage in so that they can learn how to interact as human beings.

For millennia we have been interacting in a physical way in present time and space. This new world, which we are slower to come to but our young people are natives of, requires very different things from your human experience. We all need to actually assist young people to be able to that. We will get to a point where will be like young people will be able to deal with online bullying like bullying face-to-face. But at the moment we are not actually at a space where we have the strategies that we need.

The research conducted by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg shows that one in 10 students are victims of cyberbullying, and he advises that it is a particular issue in years 10, 11 and 12. I have spoken in this place about this before. There is an infamous case in Bendigo in central Victoria of the 'root rater' site, on which a couple of gentlemen in the community were posting online ratings of their activities with young local girls. It was absolutely abhorrent and it was there for all the community to see, for their families to see, et cetera. Through a long process the perpetrator was eventually taken to court and convicted. But given the impact of comments and the time it took to resolve, the impact on the young girls and the community was incredibly detrimental. Despite complaints—and this is evidence we found in our consultations—those social media outlets are not quick to respond to complaints or to take down offending material that is doing very real damage to young people's lives. It is taking up to weeks for offending material to be removed. That is a lot of time to be facing a bullying and dangerous scenario.

There are significant issues not just in the cities but also out in the regions. Dr Sharman Stone, in the electorate of Murray, has been very active in this space, and another great champion in this area, Nola Marino, has conducted some public consultations to respond to a very real community need in the country Victorian town of Shepparton about bullying in the community. Residents in Albury, in the Wodonga area, conducted a march against cyberbullying in response to youth suicide issues. They got the community together to say, 'We've got to respond to this issue.' The coalition in opposition responded to the tsunami of concern among parents, schools and communities.

As we travelled around we heard a lot of things. We learned that kids in primary school knew more than we did about getting around the internet. Whilst Facebook has a rule that you have to be over a certain age to have an account, we had eight, nine and 10-year-olds in Perth tell us that they had Facebook accounts—with or without parental permission. It was all quite easy to do. You just logged on and said you were born in X year and away you went. So the rules and regulations of certain social media sites were not actually being enforced, so we developed a suite of options which are now in front of us in the form of this legislation. We do want to establish the office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner—a single point of conduct. Various states have different initiatives. Different school systems have initiatives. Communities have initiatives. But sometimes teachers and parents found it very, very hard to think about where they needed to go to get some advice and support to deal with this issue when they were faced with it. Having the Children's e-Safety Commissioner as a single point of contact within ACMA is an excellent initiative.

We needed to create an effective complaints system for harmful cyberbullying material targeted at the Australian child, so the commissioner has two sets of powers. There is the power to issue a notice to a large social media service, requiring it to remove the material. There is also the power to issue a notice to the person who posted the material, requiring the person to remove the material, refrain from posting it, and apologise for posting the material. It is very important when we look at reconciliation within any bullying process to have the bully apologise for their behaviour.

I have noticed, from observing the way young people interact online—as Senator Canavan said, often with people around the globe—that there are ways of censuring bad behaviour within those cohorts. They do self-censure and ban each other from playing various games, et cetera. We have in everyday life social practices that help us to define appropriate behaviour and we all assist each other to keep good behaviour and manners, if you like, and appropriate ways of interacting as human beings. We are all conscious of what that looks like in the physical world, and I think that is developing within the online environment, but there are those cases where we take what is occurring in the physical and put it online, and we do need to have appropriate oversight and enforcement.

The internet has been fabulous for our communities and our economic growth, and I am really excited about the potential that the online environment and the digital economy will provide, particularly to regional Australians—almost giving us the capacity to leapfrog the tyranny of distance and the impact that has had on regional economies—but it has been harmful. So we need to have in place a series of measures to assist to make the online environment as challenging and complex as the offline environment. And I think our measures do that. We know that there are serious effects on anxiety and depression, and there are numerous instances of young people being so damaged by bullying that is occurring online that they are driven to suicide. I am very glad that we are responding to that.

I want to briefly go to the consultation that was undertaken. It occurred between 22 January and 7 March. More than 80 submissions were received and, as I said, we met with industry and schools. I think the $7.5 million that we are contributing to supporting schools for online safety programs is a great initiative. We heard often of instances where teachers had to deal with parents in the parking lot over fallout around Facebook interactions of students—or incidents between parents. We even heard of fisticuffs in one area, where parents were behaving inappropriately because of online interaction.

I will not use my whole time here, but I do want to thank Paul Fletcher and the group for discussing the difficult aspects. We were challenged around the notion of regulation, because we like to deregulate over the side of the House. We like to champion freedom and liberty. We struggled when we looked at this issue. Were we trying to regulate the industry? Were we trying to regulate the internet? That was a very challenging discussion for us internally. I think the measures we have developed have struck the right balance. We accept the fact that we have a federal police force and a state police force charged with keeping communities safe and with ensuring that we all behave in an appropriate manner with each other. So, too, it is appropriate then for government to ensure that in the online environment similar oversight is available.

I would like to thank the Victorian state coalition government whose work in this area was particularly transformative, but I will leave further comment until later. I thank the government for this. I thank the government on behalf of all the young people, particularly in regional Victoria. I thank those who participated in the Bendigo forum. We took their suggestions on board. I note the particular complexities of regional communities in this regard because often those doing the cyberbullying are very much in the physical environment—aunts and cousins; the fish bowl is smaller and can spill over and have more intense consequences. Thank you to the government for developing such a great policy. I really look forward to this being quite transformative in assisting young people to overcome the impacts of cyberbullying and particularly in assisting teachers and parents with the appropriate support structures they need to assist their young people to deal with the issues. I support the bill.

12:09 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I assume there are no further colleagues who wish to contribute in the second reading debate for the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 and the Enhancing Online Safety for Children (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014. I thank all colleagues for their contributions in the debate, particularly Senator McKenzie for her ongoing work and commitment in this area. As I look at Senator McKenzie across the chamber, I am almost blinded by a reflection from something sitting behind her and I cannot quite make out what it is.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

A trophy for netball.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Congratulations to you, Senator McKenzie, and the parliamentary netball team for slaying the press gallery team.

It is a good thing that there has been broad support in the other place for these two bills and I expect that there will also be broad support in this place for the legislation. I know that we all agree that Australians, particularly Australian children, deserve the right to learn, communicate and socialise with safety and protection from bullying, regardless of the platform or the forum. As Senator McKenzie mentions, we are in a new world; there are new forms of bullying and we do need to respond accordingly. We know that historically it happens in the schoolyard, but it does now unfortunately also happen on social media sites. We should be fostering an online environment for our kids which requires the same standards of social behaviour that we expect in the off-line world.

I note that a number of my Senate colleagues referred to the work of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, including the 2011 report High-Wire Act: Cyber-Safety and the Young. The government does acknowledge the work of the committee. The previous government responded to the recommendations of this report in 2011 and did implement a number of initiatives. There is indeed a significant level of continuity with a number of these initiatives in the previous government. For example, the youth advisory group, the teachers and parents advisory council and the Online Safety Consultative Working Group are continuing initiatives. However, it has been close to four years since that report was published, so obviously that report is not the last word on these issues, particularly in such a fast-moving area.

The coalition conducted a thorough policy development process in 2012 when we were in opposition but also in 2013, when we established the coalition's online safety working group, which consulted widely on these areas. We took a detailed policy to the 2013 election. I remember watching the launch of that policy on TV. I think that Mr Fletcher was in Brighton in my home state with opposition leader Mr Abbott and they were graciously hosted by Councillor Felicity Frederico, who takes a strong interest in these matters.

This bill does give effect to our policy commitments. Once in government, the coalition did carry out further consultation, including consideration of over 80 submissions, which Senator McKenzie referred to, which were received in response to the public discussion paper released in January 2014. Research commissioned by the government led by the University of New South Wales and involving a consortium of universities was undertaken and the results of that research confirmed the messages that I think everyone in this place have been receiving from the community regarding the prevalence and impact of the cyberbullying. The coalition government voiced its election commitment to enhance the online safety for children back in 2013, and it did so knowing that the internet provides immense benefits for children and their families. Today's children, we know, are better informed, better able to express their creativity and better with technology than any previous generation. I am sure if Senator Boswell were still with us in this place, he would attest to that.

The internet is a central part of the lives of today's children and it will be a central part of their lives as adults as well. With the rapid changes in technology and accessibility to the internet across a range of platforms, the government has listened to the community and their concerns about exposure to harm online. This topic has brought out a unified voice from the community, a voice asking for the government to do more. Parents, school principals, teachers and child welfare advocates have all taken the time to provide feedback and personal stories about cyberbullying. To those people, on behalf of the government—and I am sure on behalf of all of us in this chamber—I thank you for making the time and the effort to enrich and inform the development of this legislation.

On 3 December last year, the government introduced these bills into the parliament to implement our election commitment. The government has continued to engage with key stakeholders, including members of the government's Online Safety Consultative Working Group. The members of that group, which includes industry, NGO and community representatives, deserve special thanks and acknowledgement for the contribution of their expertise towards this legislation.

The bills before the Senate were referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. There were 29 submissions received by that committee, all of which the government has considered carefully. I note that I will, in the very near future, move an amendment to clause 50 of the bill. Clause 50 sets out the eligibility criteria for the statutory role of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner. It states that a person is not eligible to be appointed as the commissioner unless the minister is satisfied that they have substantial experience or knowledge, and significant standing, in at least one of a range of fields, including the fields of the operation of social media services and of public engagement on issues related to online safety. The amendment will expand the range of fields to include experience or knowledge in child welfare or child wellbeing. This amendment responds to submissions made by a number of stakeholders to the Senate committee inquiry into the bill.

The public policy process undertaken to date demonstrates in part that the government does not believe that keeping children safe online is exclusively or even largely a job for government. There is indeed a collective responsibility to keep children safe online. When it comes to online safety for children, we are all responsible—government, parents, schools and the online industry. All must form a community that collaborates and speaks out with a consistent message, one that says an unequivocal no to cyberbullying and other harmful treatment of children online.

The government is pleased to have forged constructive and fruitful relationships with a number of key organisations in this policy process, including a number of the large social media services such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo!7. It is probably hard for people of the next generation to conceive that we—our generation, Mr Deputy President—were able to grow up without ever having known any of those now household names.

The measures in these bills implement key aspects of the government's election commitment to enhance online safety for Australian children. The legislation will establish the Children's e-Safety Commissioner as an independent statutory office within the Australian Communications and Media Authority to take a national leadership role in online safety for children. The commissioner will administer a complaints system for cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child, along with promoting online safety for children and coordinating relevant activities of Commonwealth departments, authorities and agencies in relation to online safety for children. The commissioner will also accredit and evaluate online safety educational programs, along with taking responsibility for administering the existing online content scheme.

The legislation sets out a two-tiered scheme for the rapid removal from large social media services of cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child. Social media services participating under tier 1 will do so on a cooperative basis—that is, the service will apply to participate and, on acceptance of its application, will be included as a tier 1 service. The commissioner will have the power to revoke tier 1 status, however, if the service repeatedly fails to remove cyberbullying material following requests from the commissioner over a 12-month period. A service may also be declared tier 2 at its own request. Those services which are declared to be tier 2 will be subject to legally binding notices—which noncompliance with can lead to civil penalties. The two-tiered scheme allows for a light-touch regulatory approach in circumstances where the social media service has an effective complaints scheme that is working well. But it does enable the government to require that cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child be removed in circumstances where a social media service does not have an effective and well-resourced complaints scheme.

The legislation gives the commissioner the power to issue an end-user notice to a person who posts cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child. An end-user notice may require the recipient of the notice to take all reasonable steps to remove the material, refrain from posting further material targeted at the child or apologise for posting the material. If the recipient of the notice fails to respond, the commissioner may seek an injunction or refer the matter to the police. The measures in these bills are, I believe, deserving of the support that has been received from across the chamber They will bring a better and more rapid response to bullying behaviours targeted at Australian children and in turn will help to keep Australian children safe online.

The government again thanks all parties who have contributed to the development of this legislation and looks forward to moving one step closer to encouraging a safer online environment for all Australian children. I want to acknowledge the work of Parliamentary Secretary Fletcher in the other place. Those who know Paul's professional background would probably agree that there are few people who have been better prepared, better skilled or better qualified to execute the duties of the office that he currently holds. In conclusion, I again thank colleagues for their contribution and thank all of those in the community who have made submissions and put forward propositions to seek to better achieve the objective that we all share, which is to see children, in whatever forum they operate, as safe as they possibly can be.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.