SUBJECTS: Children's eSafety; religious discrimination bill.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning. Today, Labor is announcing a very important initiative in terms of children's eSafety, their online experiences, and also media literacy. Today Labor is announcing that, following on from the great work the Alannah & Madeline Foundation in developing these very important tools for young people to stay safe online, that an Albanese Labor Government will commit $6 million over three years to two very important initiatives: to have a Digital Licence+ and the eSmart Media Literacy Lab, both developed by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. These are important tools, as I said, in terms of developing young children’s competencies, also technical skills and their emotional intelligence online. We know that this has been an area of concern, in particular during the pandemic, where we have seen spikes in the number of young people who have been harassed online or had bad experiences online. Such a credible organisation as the Alannah & Madeline Foundation are well-placed to deliver this initiative. The purpose of announcing this is to ensure that every school who wants to take up these relevant eSmart tools can do so. That they have equality of opportunity to do just that. And as the parents of young children ourselves, my colleague Tim Watts and I are well aware of the very important information that children need, the very important skills that they need to develop from a younger and younger age as digital natives. So this work is one that complements very important work that's been undertaken so far. But it builds on that, in particular in the area of media literacy, an area that the ACCC itself recognised in its Digital Platforms Inquiry as one requiring further investment.  Unfortunately, one that we discovered in budget estimates, only last year, has been languishing under this Government. The time to act is now and that is why an Albanese Labor Government will commit to the delivery of these two very important programs. And I’ll ask my colleague, Tim Watts, who has been very active in this space, including in the Social Media Inquiry over the summer break, to say a few words about this before we go to Ariana Kurzeme, from the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. 

TIM WATTS, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CYBER SECURITY & COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks Michelle. Well as a dad myself, I know that during the pandemic and the lockdowns that were associated with it, more kids are using more screens more than ever. So it’s really crucial that we are giving them the skills that they need to keep themselves eSafe in this new environment. We've seen more devices being sent home from kids to families, sometimes for the first time. So the time to act really is now. During the coronavirus lockdowns, the eSafety Commissioner has found that the kinds of online harms confronting kids have really spiked. You know, we’ve seen online bullying of children up by 35% during this time. We’ve seen child sexual abuse material up by 90% during this time. So while these devices have provided a fantastic invention for our children, connecting them with their classmates, with their teachers, with their friends and families during these lockdowns, it's also exposed them to some pretty scary things. So we need to give them the tools that they need to protect themselves. Now, this should have been a priority for the Government for some time now. I've been participating in the Government's Social Media and Online Safety Inquiry over the summer. We've heard plenty of evidence, not just from families and parents, but from expert groups about the need to act in this space. And as Michelle Rowland was outlining earlier, the ACCC highlighted the need for this in its 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry report that said that the Government needed to act on digital literacy. Unfortunately, there's been a lack of coordination, a lack of prioritisation of this issue, and the Government hasn't acted yet. That's why I'm really pleased to be here with Michelle Rowland, particularly with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, who are really world-renowned experts in the kinds of interventions that we need to effectively help protect our children. So, on that note, I'm delighted to hand over to the Alannah & Madeline Foundation to talk a little bit about this very important issue.  

ARIANA KURZEME, DIRECTOR FOR POLICY & PREVENTION FOR THE ALANNAH & MADELINE FOUNDATION: Hi, I’m Ari Kurzeme, the Director for Policy & Prevention from the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. The Alannah & Madeline Foundation are thrilled by this commitment to build strong digital citizens in Australian children. We are incredibly happy that there's been commitment that backs up both the legislative reforms and the industry changes that are required. In order for us to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people, we need to build the skills and competencies within them to safely navigate the digital world. Both the Digital Licence+ and eSmart Media Literacy Lab provides kids the opportunities to build those skills and competencies that they need to both harness the opportunities the digital world provides, but also to manage the challenges that they will face. So again, we are thrilled by this announcement to build strong digital citizens and ensure that Australia's children and young people have the best chance in being active and engaged digital citizens. Thank you. 

JOURNALIST: Michelle, could I ask - experts have criticised the Government's Anti-Trolling Bill by saying that it has nothing to do with trolling and it could worsen online abuse by letting media companies off the hook and not liable for third party comments. Do you have a view on that? And how is Labor going to handle this bill? 

ROWLAND: I’ll hand over to Tim to answer that as he’s been handling that piece of legislation for Labor.

WATTS: Thank you. Yes, we did hear plenty of evidence about this so called Social Media Anti-Trolling Bill through the Online Safety and Social Media Inquiry over the summer. I think it's fair to say that the Government's own Ministers, the Attorney-General's Department, the former Communications Department and the eSafety Commissioner were all at pains to emphasise that that bill was really a bill that was about defamation only, not about online safety. Labor hasn't fully-formed a position on this bill yet. All we've seen to date has been the exposure draft released by the Government, it hasn't been introduced into the Parliament. It’s fair to say that, given some of the evidence we've seen on the bill so far, that we might expect that the Government might be considering potential amendments to that exposure draft. They were very clear that they hadn't consulted outside of Government about that exposure draft before they released it publicly. And we saw a range of issues raised throughout the Inquiry, not the least of which the fact that the Attorney General's Department itself conceded that many people found the title of that bill to be misleading. The eSafety Commissioner appeared before the Social Media Inquiry and made the point that that kind of conflation of defamation reform and online safety made her job more difficult. It confused victims of online abuse, harassment, bullying, about what their potential remedies are. And she said that it wasn't ideal when people talked about what is purely a defamation reform, in terms of online safety. So, as I say, we haven't considered the bill through our formal policy processes. We will do that when it is finally introduced into the parliament. 

JOURNALIST: And for both of you, Tim and Michelle, on the Religious Discrimination Bill, if the Government brings forward amendments to protect LGBTQ students, would you be in favour of passing that bill or are there other things that need to be fixed in it?

ROWLAND: Well, certainly that was one of the commitments that the Government itself, that Scott Morrison, had given some time ago, so I would have thought this was an area of bipartisanship on that particular amendment. The stage we are at now is that the committees have done their work in examining the legislation. We will examine this, this will go to our Caucus. I note there are only a number of sitting days left and that it is for the Government to present its amendments, and members of the Government, the Government's own party room appears deeply divided on this issue. We have long recognised in Labor the importance of ensuring that people aren't discriminated on the basis of their religion and we have made that clear in our views on this field to date, but we are not the Government bringing forward a bill or bringing forward Government amendments. So we will wait to see what they bring forward. And again, we will consider those recommendations from those committees through our normal Caucus processes.

JOURNALIST: Labor said it would be guided by the principle that it didn't want to lessen protections for other Australians though. Is a bill that allows someone to offend, insult or humiliate others on the basis of a protected attribute, if it's grounded in religion, is that acceptable as a balance?

ROWLAND: We would want to examine this very carefully. This is a complex area, and one that has been obviously deeply scrutinised by people who have particular views on this, a very wide variety of evidence presented. So, exactly as you said, we will be guided by those principles but how that manifests itself in the amendments, we will consider those through our normal Caucus processes.