As elected officials we know what it is like to receive hate mail, threats and other verbal vitriol. It certainly hurts. It could be from people we know in the community or strangers from another part of the country. It might be sparked by something that we have said or done, but the attacks can be personal, targeting how we look, what we wear or how we talk. But we are adults and we know there are ways to deal with this and find support to get through it.
Unfortunately, our children do not have that experience and so they need our protection as parents, as politicians and as a country to protect them from bullying. It has never been a simple task, but in a world before the internet kids could escape bullying – even if it were just for a while – in the safety of their own home. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore.
Our communication has moved from writing letters by hand to asking Siri or Cortana to send a text on our behalf. We have gone from passive TV watching to actively engaging in real-time with our favourite shows, and we have gone from bullying being limited within the schoolyard to bullying continuing as long as we are within reach of the internet.
We made an election promise to the children of Australia that we would act to better protect them from cyberbullying and to make our online world safer. It is a promise that I, as the father of an eight-year-old girl, hold very highly because I will do anything possible to protect her from any form of bullying, online or in the real world. This Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 is delivering that promise to kids.
One in five Australian children are victims of cyberbullying. Cairns State High School guidance officer Anne Jillett told our local paper that she was dismayed by the number of young people who present with depression and anxiety symptoms at school. Sometimes their symptoms are so severe that they are unable to engage and learn. She said that, due to mobile phones and the internet, young people are at risk of no longer having a private life.
From my perspective as the Chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Australians, I see and hear about the extent of bullying against young LGBTI people. In fact, you may remember that early last year I outlined the findings of a new report entitled Growing up queer: issues facing young Australians who are gender variant and sexuality diverse, in which I found two-thirds of young LGBTI people reported harassment or violence across different aspects of their lives.
As a result, 16 per cent of these young people had attempted suicide and 33 per cent had harmed themselves. That survey is obviously only representative of one portion of the Australian population, but I use it to highlight that bullying is not just a term; it is a real problem affecting real people and has real, sometimes fatal consequences.
The coalition undertook an extensive public consultation process while in opposition and while in government to draft this legislation. In January last year we released a discussion paper asking for feedback on the measures we had established to enhance online safety for children. We received over 80 submissions from stakeholders, including community organisations, industry, education bodies, academics, legal representatives, government bodies and individuals. The draft of this bill was shared around 30 stakeholders and adjusted based on their feedback.
Our consultation process showed us that the best method to tackle the problem of cyberbullying was to establish a single point of contact for online safety issues – an authority to take the lead across government in implementing policies to improve the safety of children online. This is precisely why this bill establish a children's e-safety commissioner, an independent statutory office within the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Although our government does have a clear deregulation agenda, that does not mean we will not introduce new light-touch legislation if and when it is needed. In this case, because of the explosion of social media and the profound impact it is having on our children.
The commissioner will have very clear functions. Firstly, they will administer a complaints system for cyberbullying material targeted at any Australian child. If they receive a complaint of cyberbullying material targeting an Australian child, they will be able to issue notices to the social media service and the bully who has posted the material, requiring the material to be removed. If the bully or social media service fail to act on the commissioner's notice, there are several legal avenues that can be pursued, including civil penalties, enforceable undertakings, injunctions or referring the matter to the police.
The commissioner will take a national leadership role in promoting online safety for children. They will administer $7.5 million in funding for online safety programs in school and $100,000 to support Australian based research and information campaigns on online safety. The commissioner will coordinate activities of Commonwealth departments, authorities and agents relating to online safety for children. Tackling this problem will take all of us working together. The commissioner will bring together police, the internet industry, child protection organisations, and parent and teacher associations to find solutions to make our kids more aware of online dangers.
Finally, the commissioner will administer the online content scheme that was previously administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. They will have the power to issue a notice to a large social media service, requiring it to remove content that is targeted at and harmful to an Australian child. Having a commissioner in this role to protect and educate our kids is so important in this fight against cyberbullying.
This government is already looking to appoint someone into that position, because we are a government of action, of getting things done rather than constantly stalling like the previous government. This government expects to appoint the child safety e-safety commissioner during the next few months even if it is to be on an interim basis before the legislation is actually passed. I am told a search process is underway and some positive candidates have already come forward.
Obviously this bill is just one facet of helping our children stay safe online. I would also like to commend other initiatives being done, including the federal government's national cybersafety and cybersecurity education program Cybersmart. The Cybersmart program is run by the Australian Communications and Media Authority as part of a commitment to cybersafety. It has invaluable content for young children, teens and their parents to have a better understanding of cyberbullying, social networks, privacy, trolling and identity theft. It even has culturally appropriate content for our Indigenous friends and families, with 'Be Deadly online'.
As our Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications said recently: Clearly the internet and social media are a central part of the lives of children and young people, and they bring up a new set of issues. Just like road safety, and water safety, or like educating kids about drug and alcohol use and sexual behaviour, this is another set of issues that kids need to be educated about.
I would also like to add that the parliamentary secretary helped launch another initiative just a few days ago: the eSmart Digital Licence. It was developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation as an online challenge combining quizzes, videos and games to prepare Aussie children over the age of 10 to be smart, safe and responsible digital citizens.
I have absolute admiration for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for helping our children in this area. I give them extra credit for teaming up with Google, which has provided funding to make this program available to every year 6 student in Australia, from my far north-east Queensland electorate of Leichhardt to the far south-western electorate of Forrest. I encourage all teachers of grade 6 classes to go online and sign up today.
I would also like, in talking about this bill, to just recognise the outstanding effort that the member for Forrest has put into raising the issue of online bullying, or cyberbullying. It is a campaign that she has been relentless in pursuing now over a number of years. She has made herself available to travel around the country speaking to groups of schoolchildren whenever she is invited, very much assisting and supporting them in raising awareness about dealing with this challenge. I think it is something that the member for Forrest needs to be congratulated on. She had been doing it for a long time before these issues were brought into this chamber, so I say congratulations to her for her efforts, and I am sure that they have made a significant difference to young people's lives.
We then ask: why are we creating a central point, and why do we need a commissioner to receive the complaints, when Australians could go directly to the social media business, whether it be Facebook, YouTube or Twitter? I say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we are doing this because we just cannot go to these people.
We have commissioned research from the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre and found that social media and other service providers are unaccountable. They are reluctant to take down offensive material and are often slow to respond to requests, even from the police. I have had personal experiences there myself in my electorate, where there is a very offensive website called Hillbillywatch.com. Some of the material that is on it is just absolutely offensive. It is blatantly untrue, and in recent times they have even been targeting the children of some public officials there. There are all sorts of efforts trying to get Google to deal with this. The problem is that as one is shut down they tend to open another one.
There have been numerous submissions describing instances when cyberbullying material was not removed, even after being reported to the social media site. That is why I think we need to step in with legislation. Something as insidious as cyberbullying, something that is damaging to the mental health of so many of our young people, needs a central point for all Australians to go to for help. If a social media site does not act, then I believe that we must.
This bill establishes a two-tiered scheme. If a social media service has volunteered to participate in tier 1, the commissioner can issue a notice for it to remove material. It will not be legally binding, but, if the site repeatedly fails to respond, it is moved to tier 2. If a large social media service is in tier 2, it is legally required to respond to the notice. Having the two-tier system will minimise the burden on social media services that cooperate, while putting in place a strong government response to those who fail to work with us to protect our kids against online bullying.
As I said earlier, I have an eight-year-old daughter, and I know that many of the members here have children or even grandchildren. We do everything that we can to protect them from danger. The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 is our way, as a government, of sending a loud and clear message to the community. We will fight cyberbullying and do everything we can to make the internet safer for Aussie kids.
We cannot stop bullying from happening. It is unfortunately a very sad part of life. But we can protect our children by creating a system that will ensure cyberbullying material is taken down from social media fast. We cannot stop people from being horrible to others online, but we certainly can show that our government is serious about responding quickly and effectively against these online threats to our children.
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