Standing up for Canberra


As the shadow assistant minister for cyber security and defence, I welcome the opportunity to speak on cybersafety and cyberbullying. I thank the member for Forrest for raising this important topic through this motion. As we know, the member for Forrest has been a staunch advocate of the ThinkUKnow program for quite some time and a major proponent in raising awareness about cyberbullying and cybersafety and the impacts it has particularly on young Australians.

As more and more of our daily interactions move online, people are looking for assurance that those interactions are safe. ThinkUKnow is one strategy deployed by the police forces in each state and territory to teach young people, parents and carers how to engage safely when they're online. It is vitally important that it's not just the young people who are targeted here but also the parents, grandparents and carers. I can't tell you how many U3A classes I go to where grandparents are really keen to hear about cybersecurity, cybersafety and the strategies to help their grandchildren and their children stay safe online.

Last year we passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Act 2017, but there is another battleground we need to turn our policy minds towards—that is, the scourges of cyberbullying and cyberhate. Just months ago, over the Christmas break, tragically, 14-year-old Amy 'Dolly' Everett took her own life after becoming the victim of relentless online bullying. We all bore witness to the pain and suffering caused to Dolly's friends and family as the backdrop to our Christmas holidays. We all felt the same anger that she was put in a position where taking her own life seemed the only option. We all felt the same guilt, believing that the death of a 14-year-old child to be preventable.

I've heard of a similar case, tragically, here in my own community in Canberra of a young person taking their own life as a means of escaping cyberbullying—I heard this news just last week, and it's heartbreaking. Here we have these beautiful young Australians with so much potential, taking their own lives as a result of the scourge that is cyberbullying and cyberhate. How did we let it get this far? Just how prevalent is it? According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner's 2016 research, of the 2,278 children who took part in the survey, who were aged between eight and 17, eight per cent of those children and 19 per cent of the teens had been cyberbullied. This is in contrast to five per cent of children and nine per cent of teens who were contacted by strangers while online, another insidious scourge. The impact of cyberbullying is significant: 42 per cent of children and teens were adversely affected after experiencing a negative incident online. Sadly, less than half of these children and teens took action after experiencing a cyberbullying incident online. Of the actions that they did take, most told their parents or their friends and less than a quarter blocked the person bullying them.

Journalist Ginger Gorman—a friend of mine, who used to be the producer for my husband when he was on local radio here—is fast becoming an expert on cyberhate. There are real questions about what can be done about the nastiness and the bile that is cyberhate. In one of her articles, Ginger asks whether victims of cyberhate and trolls should mute, block or resort to 'digilantism'. Clementine Ford is one of Australia's high-profile women on social media and makes a point of naming and shaming her trolls. She said:

"There's no way to 'fight back' that is considered acceptable by everyone. The reason I name and shame is to show men what other men do and also to show women they don't need to quietly tolerate it. It has so far proved an effective means of fighting back."

Tracey Spicer's view is different, however. She said:

"I never troll back, as I don't believe in lowering myself to their level. If I'm feeling confident, I use humour. It's the most marvellous device to disarm someone. If it's obviously a serial misogynist, I ignore, mute or block."

Awareness is a great start, as we are seeing with ThinkUKnow, but we need to be ever vigilant on this issue. As legislators, we need to be thinking about options to address cyberhate and cyberbullying.