Keeping Australians Safe Online
In many respects, digital resources and the online world have been of great benefit to Australians. They have allowed us to find and access information more readily, conduct business remotely, stay in touch with family and friends over long distances and – as we saw during the pandemic – even enabled us to do work and schooling from home.
But the online world is not without its dangers, and in recent years we have grown more familiar with its risks and potential for harm. In many ways, the dangers of the online world can be just as significant as those in the physical world, while the ubiquity of digital technology makes them harder to guard against. This is especially true for young children, whose lives are now particularly integrated with the digital world.
As the father of three daughters, I share the concern of many parents to protect my daughters from the harm that can occur online. But these sorts of dangers can be hard for parents to see or detect, never mind to act against.
It is quite clear that in many respects our laws and our behavioural norms have failed to keep pace with our lives in this space.
We are now addressing that and taking steps to ensure that our laws keep up with advances in technology and the threats that can emerge online from harmful behaviour and toxic content.
Last year I helped pass through Parliament the Online Safety Act 2021, which has just come into effect. This Act makes online service providers like Facebook, Google, YouTube and TikTok more accountable for the online safety of the people who use their service.
The Act gives substantial new powers to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner to protect Australians across most online platforms and forums where people can experience harm or abuse.
It strengthens the cyberbullying scheme for Australian children. Under this scheme, the eSafety Commissioner can order online service providers to remove abusive and bullying content from all online services, with the online service provider having 24 hours to respond.
The Act also creates a world-first adult cyber abuse scheme, where Australians subject to serious online harm can complain if online service providers fail to remove abusive content.
The Act updates the Image-Based Abuse scheme, shortening the time online service providers have to take down intimate images, including videos, to 24 hours after a removal notice is received.
The eSafety Commissioner can now also direct internet service providers to block access to certain material that promotes or instructs or depicts abhorrent violent conduct, such as terrorism or sexual assault.
These are all important changes, but it’s only a start. I’m currently sitting on a Parliamentary committee inquiring into social media and online safety. We’ve already heard from a number of individuals who have had their lives irreparably damaged by online abuse and bullying, and we are looking at recommending steps – including the unmasking of anonymous troll accounts – to address this.
These are issues the entire world is grappling with, but I’m pleased that Australia is leading the way.
For too long the digital realm has been the wild and ungoverned west. It’s time we demand and require the same standards in this world as we have come to expect in our regular lives.