Senate debates

Thursday, 23 August 2018


Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2018; Consideration of House of Representatives Message

1:19 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the committee agrees to the amendment made by the House of Representatives.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor supports this bill as amended in the House. It is essential that the parliament sends a very clear and specific message to the community that the sharing of intimate images without consent is just not acceptable. Three years after Labor introduced a private member's bill to criminalise image based abuse, the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2018 is now finally set to pass and introduce both the civil and the criminal offences that are necessary for image based abuse. Labor welcomes the government coming to the party on the need for a specific criminal offence that sends a strong and clear message to the community that the non-consensual sharing of private sexual material is not acceptable. Labor's commitment to tackling this pernicious form of abuse has been unwavering. We are pleased the government has finally accepted the evidence and followed Labor's lead on this issue.

For years, Labor and community stakeholders have called for a specific criminal offence, and yet, until now, the Turnbull government has maintained that existing criminal law is enough. All this time the government, including the Minister for Communications, has justified the failure to introduce a specific Commonwealth offence for image based abuse on the basis that there's an existing offence under section 474.17 of the Criminal Code for the misuse of telecommunications services to menace, harass or cause offence. The minister and I had a lengthy back and forth on this very question the last time this bill was before the Senate. The Turnbull government has wasted a great deal of time, insisting that Australia doesn't need a specific criminal offence for image based abuse. We're pleased they have finally accepted the evidence, changed their tune and followed Labor's lead on this issue.

Labor will support the bill, as amended in the House, to introduce criminal penalties, given the amendments adopt Labor's clear and longstanding position on this issue. In October 2015, Labor first introduced a private member's bill into the parliament to criminalise the sharing of private sexual material without consent. Labor took a policy to criminalise image based abuse to the 2016 federal election, undertaking to do so within the first 100 days of being elected. In October 2016, Labor reintroduced its private member's bill into the current parliament, but the bill lapsed in 2017 because the government refused to call it on for debate. In June 2017, Labor moved a second reading amendment calling on the Turnbull government to criminalise the sharing of intimate images without consent.

RMIT research indicates that four in five Australians agree that it should be a crime to share sexual or nude images without permission and that there is broad agreement within the Australian community as to the seriousness of the issue regardless of whether someone has experienced it personally. The experts agree that the sharing of intimate images without consent is a serious form of abuse that can cause significant and ongoing harm. A number of Labor MPs have prosecuted this issue over the years, in particular Terri Butler MP, Tim Watts MP, Clare O'Neil MP and Mark Dreyfus QC, MP.

Labor pays tribute to the efforts of a range of stakeholders in the community. With the passage of the bill through parliament, it brings the victims of image based abuse some comfort as they see the results of their advocacy. We trust this bill will help protect Australians from this serious form of abuse.

1:24 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I commend this very important piece of legislation to the Senate, I will put on the record a couple of things that have been said by those opposite, particularly in relation to the delay on the passage of civil penalties. There have been some rather misleading comments. It has erroneously been asserted that the government has backflipped in relation to bringing forward additional criminal penalties. It makes laughable a claim that Labor had provided leadership by promising to legislate criminal penalties within 100 days of being elected. The government stood ready to legislate a civil penalty scheme in February this year, and we said, at the same time, that we wanted to separately examine the introduction of criminal penalties. In our view, it would have been better, in the interests of victims of the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, to legislate the civil penalty provisions. Had that happened, they would have been in force now for several months, and they would have been delivering active, practical protection to victims of this conduct for several months. The political grandstanding that we've seen has been a matter of some regret, and I'm sorry that we are here today when we could have been here some time ago. That said, I thank those opposite for their support of this bill. We can now move forward with these very important pieces of legislation with the support of the opposition. I commend the bill to the Senate.

1:26 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak on the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2018 today with a certain amount of happiness in my heart, which is a rare thing in these particular times. On a day when this place is descending into chaos and when the Australian people would rightly look at us in disgust, this is an example of what the legislature should be spending time on—what we can and must do to safeguard the people we serve and to ensure that the rights of community members are protected. I am thrilled to see this bill back before us. It has taken too long not just for this bill to go through the relevant processes but for this government to answer the call of all those who, for so many years, demanded that the parliament must turn its mind to this reform.

This afternoon, I would like to pay tribute to Noelle Martin and to all those activists, all those incredible human beings, who took moments of extraordinary suffering when they were subjected to the type of abuse which no human being should have to endure and found strength and courage and demanded that this place act. They demanded a comprehensive reform in this space. I am very glad to see that the legislation before us builds on some of the best work in this area, particularly work done by the ACT Greens last year in putting forward a bill with a broad definition of consent within it, which took into consideration, and expanded to include, issues of cultural context. I am also thrilled that this legislation is supportive and contains within it a definition of consent as something which must be expressed, voluntary and informed. The people of Australia deserve these kinds of achievements from the legislature. They need and demand that we come together and do those things which are necessary to build a better future for them, to better safeguard their rights and promote their aspirations.

As we come to the end of our sitting period, and perhaps the end of this government, I would ask those watching, particularly those in the gallery this afternoon, to look upon this moment and action and see that which your governments should be providing to you. If you are filled this afternoon with confusion, maybe frustration, then you are right to feel those things. But in these moments there is also hope. Thank you to all those who worked so hard to bring this moment to fruition. I am sorry that it took so long. I am sorry that you had to experience what you did before we acted. I support this motion in the fervent hope that it will go some way to ensuring that such experiences are not endured in the future.

Question agreed to.

Resolution reported; report adopted.