Standing up for Canberra

Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014

About two years ago, I went to Wanniassa School. It is a large school. It has a junior school, a primary school and a secondary school. It is in my electorate. I went there to speak to a number of young Canberrans who were taking part in a pilot program on cyberbullying. They talked me through the program, what they were doing and how it was enhancing their understanding of the risks that take place in cyberspace.

When I spoke to them, I asked: 'Have you been a victim of cyberbullying yourself? Here you are learning all about cyberbullying and what you need to do to stay safe in that environment. Have you yourself been a victim?' I was absolutely shocked to find out that in the group that I spoke to—it was about 20 or 30 students—80 per cent of those students had experienced some form of cyberbullying. So it is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to speak on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 today, to join my Labor colleagues in supporting this legislation and to join those opposite in commending this bill to the House.

Cyberbullying is an issue that is only going to become more important as Australia and the world look further to technology. Cyberbullying can be targeted towards people from all walks of life, from the young to the old. It does not discriminate. It does not discriminate in terms of your address, how much you have got in your bank balance or what your level of education is, just as it does not discriminate in terms of age. The impacts can be far-reaching and permanent. Research shows one in 10 young people has been cyberbullied—and I would say, from the experience I had at Wanniassa School, the figure in all reality is far, far greater than that. And around 25 per cent of child suicides each year are due to bullying more broadly.

Cyberbullying can involve social, psychological and sometimes even physical harm. It often causes fear, shame, guilt, withdrawal, loneliness and depression. Cyberbullying can come in the form of abusive texts and emails— and we as politicians are kind of used to that. We get lots of abusive emails, texts, tweets and Facebook posts. It can also come in the form of deliberately hurtful images or videos, offensive online chat or gossip and excluding other people online. That is really where a lot of, particularly, teenagers are experiencing this. These gangs of people are created, these online virtual groups, and people are bullied by being excluded. It is kind of insidious. We have all been through it at school. We were excluded from particular groups, from the cool kids club—

Mr Frydenberg: Speak for yourself!

Ms BRODTMANN: Not the member for Kooyong maybe, but we mere mortals. We did experience a lot. The majority of Australians experience some form of that at school—being excluded from their peers. Now it is not just happening when you are in a school environment but it is happening when you get home. So you get to your home, to that safe environment, that sanctuary, and you are still exposed to this insidious behaviour, this exclusive behaviour, this sinister behaviour.

Because cyberbullying is often done behind the screen of anonymity, it can be particularly nasty. As I mentioned, we as politicians get it all the time. That is part of our job, unfortunately. But, if you are a teenager or a young child, you have not signed up for that and you may not have the resilience, the strength of character or the maturity of character—you are only a child or a teenager—to be able to deal with that nastiness. It gets beyond nasty actually; it becomes quite poisonous.

Labor are committed to doing all we can to combat online child bullying, and that is why we support this legislation. However, I must add that this bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee for consideration, with the reporting date coming up on 3 March this year, so Labor will support this bill subject to any recommendations that may arise from that Senate committee.

What does this legislation do? This bill establishes a Children's e-Safety Commissioner and sets out its functions and powers, with an aim to banning cyberbullying material targeted at Australian children. A key function of the commissioner will be to administer a complaints system for cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child. The complaints system will include a two-tiered scheme—and the former speaker went into quite a bit of detail about that—for the rapid removal of any cyberbullying material targeted at a child. The commissioner will have the power to issue an end user notice to a person who posts cyberbullying material, requiring the removal of the material, asking them to refrain from posting the material and apologise for posting the material. The commissioner will also be responsible for promoting online safety for children, coordinating activities with government departments and administering the online content scheme that was previously administered by ACMA.

This legislation will ensure that each social media service will comply with a set of basic online safety requirements. This includes minimum standards in a service provider's terms and conditions of use, a complaints scheme and a dedicated contact person. If a social media service fails to comply with the basic online safety requirements, a request to remove subject material, or a social media service notice, then the commissioner may make a statement to that effect and publish it on its website. A social media service notice of 100 penalty units or $17,000 may arise in relation to noncompliance. Ultimately this legislation is about ensuring online safety for children so that they can use social media services and electronic services in a safe way. It aims to protect Australian kids from cyberbullying.

Labor established the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety in 2010 as part of its commitment to investigate and improve cybersafety measures. The committee released its interim report, High-wire act: cyber-safety and the young, in June 2011. It contained 32 recommendations, with the central themes being a focus on education and a multifaceted approach. The scheme I just spoke about, that pilot scheme, was part of the education process. Labor in government endorsed and responded to the recommendations of that report. We have consistently called for detailed industry and community consultation on these proposals. We have facilitated community input on the legislation by referring the bill to a Senate committee. Given this is the first piece of legislation on this specific subject matter, that is both desirable and appropriate.

The former Labor government delivered $125.8 million towards a cybersafety plan to combat online risks to children and help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material and contacts while online. Part of this plan was funding for National Cyber Security Awareness Week, which was a partnership between industry, community organisations and all levels of government. I understand that that week is still going. As part of the spirit of those initiatives that Labor introduced when we were in government, I have held a number of cybersafety forums in my electorate. They are free community forums and they are designed to engage and inform the community about how they can be smarter and safer online. I had a number of them in my first term. They were targeted at members of the community from all sorts of backgrounds but specifically parents and grandparents. As I mentioned, there were a number of schemes across a number of government agencies, both at the federal and state levels, that were targeting cyberbullying for children and for teenagers and there were a number of pilot schemes and a range of measures. In my view, there was a gap there for the parents and grandparents of young children and teenagers, particularly to raise awareness amongst them about what is actually happening, what their children could be up to and what they could be experiencing in terms of behaviours that surround that.

At the forums that I organised, the presenter was the well-known, well regarded and highly respected Alastair MacGibbon from the Centre Internet Safety, which is here at the University of Canberra. At those forums, Alastair gave some frightening statistics on the range of scams that are taking place in cyberspace. He went into quite a bit of detail about online scams, who had been hit and what people need to look out for. He also outlined to quite astonished parents and grandparents just what their children, their grandchildren and their teenagers could potentially be up to in cyberspace.

The parents and grandparents went away very grateful for their raised awareness and for having had highlighted for them the activities that their children and grandchildren were engaged in beyond the school gate, at home and quite often in the wee hours. When people think they are fast asleep and getting their sleep and rest for the next day at school, a lot of kids are still texting. He highlighted the signs that parents need me to look out for when it is interfering with a child's wellbeing, health and education. He also highlighted the signs of cyberbullying and what they need to look for in their children and their grandchildren. So they were incredibly useful forums and I am looking forward to holding a number over the next couple of years as well. They were very popular and specifically designed to raise awareness amongst parents and grandparents.

We also heard about romance scams. I recently did a piece for the local Chronicle on buyer beware, particularly with Valentine's Day coming up. Lonely hearts need to be aware that romance scams last year were the largest scam in terms of money lost, as identified by SCAMwatch and the ACCC. There are all sorts of scams out there. I know that my mother has been a victim of one. I know that a number of her friends, post 70-year-olds, have been victims. Again, I send the message to all Australians that if it is too good to be true then it probably is. This is particularly important for small businesses as well. Having had my own business, I know you are a jack of all trades and it is easy for people to think something is a good deal or something will save some time. But when you get involved in it, you see not only a substantial sum of money lost but also the integrity and security of your business lost. That is probably more important than the money because the money can be made again; the integrity, security and reputation take a long time to build.

Labor are conscious of the concerns raised by some parts of the sector that this legislation will not work. The opposition have consulted widely with industry and with a variety of interest groups and individuals on this legislation. We acknowledge some concerns around the practical implementation of some of the elements of this scheme. I would also like to acknowledge the work that many social media companies have already done to reduce cyberbullying directed at children. However, more often than not, if a site receives a complaint and acts on it promptly there will be no need for the complaint to go to the Children's e-Safety Commissioner. That means that this legislation will have little to no impact on the operations on those social media providers. Labor have also consulted with the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association Digital Policy Group, which represents Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo7. As noted by the digital policy group in its submission to the Senate committee, 'Online safety is best achieved when government, industry and the community work together.'

There is a range of activities that are also taking place in Canberra. I am running out of time, so unfortunately I cannot outline all of them. I know a number of schools in my electorate have already taken part in the Youth Advisory Group on Cybersafety. I mentioned Wanniassa School, but there is also St Mary MacKillop College, Caroline Chisholm High School and Telopea Park School. I commend these schools for taking up the challenge to beat cyberbullying and taking a multifaceted approach to that.

The internet has the capacity to transform this country. Through the internet, the vastness of our land will no longer be a barrier to education, to health, to culture or to community. However, with expanded opportunity comes expanded risk and cybersafety is an issue that we will face well into the future. Cybersecurity is a collective responsibility, shared by all who use the internet. It is government's role to ensure the right system is in place to protect those users, particularly the most vulnerable: our children. I believe this legislation enforces the government's commitment to cybersafety and the establishment of a Children's e-Safety Commissioner is particularly pleasing.

We will see what arises from the Senate committee report and whether any substantive measures might need to be taken up. At this stage, I commend this bill to the House and will it to achieve what it sets out to do which is to eliminate the scourge of cyberbullying in Australian society.

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