SPEECH - CYBER SAFETY - 22 MAY 2017

Labor is committed to protecting children from exposure to inappropriate material over the internet, at home, school and at other public access points.

Labor has a strong track record when it comes to promoting online safety.

In government in 2008, Labor delivered $125.8 million towards a cybersafety plan to combat online risks to children and help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material and contacts while online.

In 2010, Labor established the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety as part of its commitment to investigate and improve cyber-safety measures, releasing a report with 32 recommendations each of which was endorsed and responded to by the Labor government. 

More recently, in the November 2016 report of the Senate Inquiry into ‘Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet’, Labor Senators contributed additional comments.

In this report, Labor acknowledged that the contemporary reach and accessibility of sexually explicit material, including pornography and sex education material via the internet, is unprecedented.

The potential harms of sexually explicit material include distress for younger children; habitual or compulsive consumption of pornography; greater engagement in risky sexual behaviour (resulting in adverse sexual and mental health outcomes); body image and self-esteem issues; a negative impact on the development of healthy and respectful relationships (including the rise of problem sexting and 'revenge porn') and sexual offending by children imitating acts they have seen online.

Of course there is a place and context for sexual education, including information for young people about gender and sexuality, and increased awareness of sexual rights and responsibilities.

It is worth noting that the term 'children' is broad and that the needs, abilities, interests and behaviours of children are related to their stage of development.

It is instructive to use more specific categorisations such as 'young children' (0–12 years of age) and adolescents/young people (13–17 years of age) and understand that age may affect whether, and the extent to which, children are vulnerable to portrayals of sex and sexual activity.

I note also that the term 'pornography' is used to refer to a vast and diverse range of content, from soft-core imagery to graphically violent material which may be Refused Classification in Australia, or images exchanged consensually over mobile phones between people in relationships, for example.

The term 'Sexually Explicit Material' (SEM) is preferred by social scientists and is more useful given that children may produce, seek out or be exposed to a broad range of sexually explicit material on the internet for a broad range of reasons, including for the purposes of sexual education.

Labor supports an evidence-based, best practice approach to policy making and regards quality research as a sound basis for effective intervention. We advocate for more sophisticated and nuanced approaches to inform progress on the important issue of the impact of sexually explicit material on children in Australia.

While further, targeted research would assist in understanding consumption, and the impact of sexually explicit material on children it is, meanwhile, incumbent upon all in the community to safeguard children.

Labor understands that we live in an era where many children have greater facility with technology than their parents and that a multi‑faceted approach to protecting children from harmful content is of ongoing necessity.

This includes measures such as adult supervision, technological access-prevention measures (including internet filtering) and education of children and adults.

In Australia, industry codes of practice require Australian Internet Service Providers to make available an accredited internet content filter (Family Friendly Filter) at or below cost price.

No control mechanism is 100 per cent fail-safe, which is why the iParent webpage, maintained by the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, outlines a range of tools that parents may use to safeguard their children online whether on a computer, tablet, smartphone or gaming console.

I look forward to meeting with the eSafety Commissioner when she visits Parliament House, next week, and to sharing information with my colleagues and constituents to assist in promoting the iParent webpage within our communities.

Labor understands the value in promoting awareness amongst Australians about the varied tools for managing internet use.

Finally, as a mother of two young girls, I acknowledge the important sentiment of this motion and the need for all of us in this place to keep the protection of children paramount in our policy deliberations on the very important topic.