Youth Safety Online

27 November 2023

 I want to thank the member for Groom for bringing this motion to the chamber today and giving us the opportunity to talk about the action that the Albanese Labor government is taking to ensure that Australian children are protected online.

The Minister for Communications has instigated a review to the Online Safety Act to ensure that the act stays up to date with the rapidly changing nature of the online environment. E-safety is a government priority, with $132.1 million provided over four years. The $42.5 million in base funding will allow the eSafety Commissioner to keep pace with complaints, improve awareness in the community of their role, and fully implement industry codes and basic online safety expectations. The Albanese Labor government has been strongly in support of eSafety's role. Under the former Liberal government, eSafety's funding would have declined, falling to $10.3 million by 2027-28. Labor will instead continue to put cybersafety first and ensure eSafety is able to continue their crucial work.

Labor made an election commitment to roll out the Alannah & Madeline Foundation's eSmart Digital Licence+ and Media Literacy Lab to all Australian schools. This will allow children to develop key skills that will allow them to navigate the cyberworld throughout the rest of their lives. In 2024, the eSmart Digital Licence+ will become available in schools, to equip teachers to help children aged between 10 and 14 to develop critical cybersafety skills. This will be closely followed by the eSmart Junior Digital Licence+, which is aimed at helping students between five and nine, in the second half of the year.

Industry codes are a key way forward in addressing serious, harmful content online. The first round of industry codes specifically addresses the most harmful online content—namely, child abuse material and pro-terror content. The second round of industry codes will be for lower-risk types of harmful content, including refused classification material and online pornography. The code development process started in late 2022, and, currently, six out of eight online industry sections have registered codes. All codes will commence six months after their registration in December of this year and March next year.

In August 2022, the eSafety Commissioner issued the first ever non-periodic reporting notices requiring reports on steps being taken to tackle online sexual exploitation. Summaries of responses received were published, and the commissioner acknowledged that services are currently not doing enough to tackle online child abuse. The second round of notices required five or more social media providers to report on how they were tackling child sexual exploitation, sextortion and the use of algorithmic recommendation systems. The eSafety Commissioner has been taking stronger steps to address noncompliance, including providing a warning to Google and issuing a fine to Twitter for their failure to comply with eSafety's reporting notice. In June this year, eSafety issued a non-periodic reporting notice to Twitter requiring further information on the steps that Twitter owner, X Corp, is taking to implement and enforce its policies against online hate and abuse. The eSafety Commissioner is combatting noncompliance by international social media companies and driving change within the sector.

The Albanese government is deeply committed to funding the work of the eSafety Commissioner and ensuring that it can continue for years to come. This Labor government is committed to ensuring that Australians are safe online. In January, the Minister for Communications and Minister for Social Services convened a national round table on online dating safety. The discussion included leading voices from federal, state and territory governments; law enforcement; academia; the family, sexual and domestic violence sector; diversity and inclusion organisations; as well as senior executives of the most popular dating apps on the market. In September this year, the Minister for Communications wrote to the seven most popular online dating companies in Australia, requesting that they develop a voluntary code of conduct to keep their users safe. Three major companies—Match Group, Bumble and RSVP—have already committed to collaborate on the code. Industry has nine months to develop the code, and its effectiveness will be assessed after nine months of operation.

I think it's very clear our government takes this very seriously. Could I say, particularly as a parent with children who don't yet, but probably soon will, access the online world, that this is really important and it's really comforting to know how seriously our government takes this, in spite of scaremongering from those opposite.