Monday, 23 February 2015

Speeches in Parliament - Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 - 23 February 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (18:20): I rise to contribute relatively briefly to this important debate. It is a debate I have listened to throughout the day and in earlier days when it began. This is an issue that all of us as members of parliament have grappled with at a constituent level. We all know the internet offers wonderful opportunities and freedom, but of course it also enables those who wish to bully to do so in a way not possible before the technology that we now have arose. In the past, of course, bullying, bad and destructive as it was, was not as all-consuming as it is in our new modern communications environment. Specifically when it comes to online bullying, the subject of the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014, it has become unrelenting for so many young Australians.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, who introduced this bill, has worked long and hard over many years to come up with this package of measures.

It is a package of measures that will make a difference, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, who joins us now as we sum up this debate, would be the first to stress this will not and cannot solve the problem but can make a difference and make a difference in a very targeted way. Before his appointment as the parliamentary secretary he spent a lot of time in the last parliament travelling the breadth and depth of the country as he developed these very initiatives. Previous speakers have gone over them in detail: the establishment of a children's e-safety commissioner, a two-tier scheme for rapid removal of cyberbullying material from large social media services and an end-user notice regime under which the commissioner will have the power to issue notices to any person who has posted cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child.

Indeed, the parliamentary secretary came to the Yarra Valley, to the electorate of Casey. He spoke at a couple of forums at secondary schools, as did the Minister for Communications around that time. He is very familiar with the horrific and harrowing stories that have affected so many families, where cyberbullying has in many cases robbed young Australians of their mental health and in the most tragic cases of all robbed families of the lives of their children. In my electorate I have heard those horrific stories from a few families—some public, others not as public. Whilst all of us would like to be able to push a button and prevent any of this ever happening again, we know these measures will make a difference. That is what they will do.

The creation of the commissioner with the powers of take-down, with the resources for materials in schools and with the power to issues notices to end users will not just make a practical difference in those cases; I believe what is at the core of this is to turn the tide culturally in something that really has been very difficult to grapple with. The parliamentary secretary has made the point repeatedly that in so many areas the growth of the internet and the advent of social media sites has run thousands of times faster than our regulatory regimes, and in some cases they are very difficult to respond to. That is certainly the case here. But I think the measures that have been put forward will make a difference. I think that, if they can have a multiplier effect and make a difference culturally and in an education sense, we will have really started a wider educative process on these important measures.

I know the parliamentary secretary himself is familiar with some of the worse stories that have occurred and he has taken a personal private interest in some of those, including one family in my electorate. Just the other week I was speaking to another family that had suffered a tragedy that involved cyberbullying that ultimately led to the suicide of their son as well. So I think this is a good step forward—the best first step forward possible—and it is the product of a lot of consultation from when the parliamentary secretary was in opposition and in government. I know it has involved consultation not just with important stakeholders such as the National Children's and Youth Law Centre, the Australian Medical Association, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and many others and also with the opposition in this parliament.

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