LEICHHARDT MP Warren Entsch has spoken in Parliament in support of legislation to target insidious cyberbullying that is damaging the mental health of local young people.
The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 will establish a Children's E-Safety Commissioner, an authority to take the lead across government in implementing policies to improve the safety of children online.
“As elected officials we know what it is like to receive hate mail, threats and other verbal vitriol. It certainly hurts,” Mr Entsch explained.
“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.”
One in five Australian children are now victims of cyberbullying. The establishment of the Children’s E-Safety Commissioner, an independent statutory office within the Australian Communications and Media Authority, was a Coalition election commitment.
Mr Entsch cited comments from Cairns State High School guidance officer Anne Jillett in the Cairns Post in which she said she was “dismayed by the number of young people who present with depression and anxiety symptoms at school”, adding that “due to mobile phones and the internet, young people are at risk of no longer having a private life”.
A lengthy consultation process undertaken by the Coalition in opposition, and then continued in government, showed that the best approach to tackling cyberbullying was to establish a single point of contact for online safety issues.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Entsch outlined a number of functions of the new Commissioner, saying it will:
- Administer a complaints system for cyberbullying material targeted at any Australian child
If the Commissioner receives 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 fails 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.
- Take a national leadership role in promoting online safety for children
The Commissioner 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.
- Coordinate activities of Commonwealth departments, authorities and agents relating to online safety for children
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.
- Administer the online content scheme that was previously administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority
The Commissioner 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, however this bill is just one facet of helping our children stay safe online,” Mr Entsch said.
He commended other initiatives including the Federal Government's national cyber safety and cybersecurity education program, Cybersmart; the eSmart Digital License that has been developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation; and the outstanding efforts by Nola Marino MP, the Member for Forrest, in raising awareness around online safety for children.
“We cannot stop bullying from happening. It is unfortunately a very sad part of life,” Mr Entsch said. “But we can protect our children by creating a system that will ensure cyberbullying material is taken down from social media fast.”