The expansion of the commissioner's general functions, as proposed by the bill, will allow the commissioner to take on a broader online safety role and carry out important work on the government's election commitments relating to women's safety and to online safety for older Australians.
The bill amendments address feedback received by the government that adult members of the public are not aware that they can go to the Children's eSafety Commissioner for assistance with concerns around illegal or offensive online content, the sharing of intimate images without consent—commonly referred to as 'revenge porn'—or for general advice about how to manage technology risks and online safety.
There are already a broad range of existing functions performed by the commissioner that go beyond online safety for children. The commissioner has a wealth of expertise in technology use and in developing educational, promotional and community awareness programs on online safety for children for a wide range of audiences. Expanding the commissioner's role and changing the name of the Children's eSafety Commissioner to the eSafety Commissioner will make it easier for the public to identify where they can seek assistance and advice in relation to a range of online safety issues, irrespective of age.
The bill will make minor consequential amendments to five other acts to reflect the change to the act's short title and the change in name of the statutory office of the commissioner.
These acts are: the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005; the Telecommunications Act 1997; the Broadcasting Services Act 1992; the Criminal Code Act 1995; and the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The commissioner's responsibilities for administering the online content scheme under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 remain unchanged by the bill. The statutory scheme for complaints about cyberbullying material on social media services will also remain unchanged and will continue to only relate to material that is targeted at, and harmful to, an Australian child.
The statutory office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner has been in place since 1 July 2015. The office was created by the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015.
The Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner has been a considerable success by any measure and the government is looking to build upon this success and help to improve the online experiences of all Australians.
Achievements of the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner
Since its establishment, the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner has:finalised over 320 complaints about serious cyberbullying that targeted Australian children; worked with 11 major social media service providers to counter cyberbullying;certified 23 online safety program providers with more than 115 presenters delivering programs into Australian schools; finalised over 15,000 investigations into online content including over 9,000 investigations into online child sexual abuse content; reached over 92,000 students and teachers through its virtual classroom program; had over 3.3 million website page views; made the iParent portal available to parents, providing advice on a range of online safety and digital content issues; and launched the eSafetyWomen site with resources and advice for women, and provided training for more than 1,200 frontline professionals across every state and territory to help women experiencing technology facilitated abuse.
The office's role has already expanded since its establishment, recognising that staff have a wealth of expertise in all areas of online safety which should be put to good use. For example, in December 2015 the functions of the commissioner were expanded to include online safety for women at risk of domestic violence.
The commissioner also manages the existing eSafetyWomen website, established with a $2.1 million funding commitment from the government's Women's Safety Package announced in September 2015. eSafetyWomen offers a range of resources to help women manage technology risks and abuse by giving them the tools and information they need to encourage confidence and safety online.
The government recognises that there are other groups within the community that can benefit from the expertise of the commissioner's office.
Prior to the 2016 federal election, the government committed to provide additional support for victims of nonconsensual sharing of intimate images—commonly referred to as 'revenge porn'—and to improve the digital confidence and online safety of older Australians.
Improving the digital confidence and skills of older Australians
The government is committed to ensuring older Australians have the digital skills and knowledge to take advantage of new technology and stay connected with loved ones online.
Around 80 per cent of Australians own a smartphone and thousands more own a tablet and other smart devices. Despite this strong take-up, only around 20 per cent of older Australians own a smartphone. Older Australians often cite a lack of confidence and knowledge as one of the key reasons for not participating online. The Turnbull government is committed to bridging this digital divide. The government is investing $50 million to improve the digital literacy of older Australians and improve their safety online.
The Children's eSafety Commissioner is working with the Department of Social Services to develop a digital inclusion and online safety strategy for older Australians.
Like many Australians, face-to-face contact remains an important form of engagement for older Australians. But the convenience of technology provides an additional avenue to keep older Australians connected, especially to family and friends.
The government is ensuring that older Australians who have access to existing devices will be supported to learn how to take full advantage to keep in touch and stay connected.
Smart devices provide unparalleled opportunities for older Australians to continue to participate fully in our society. They provide opportunities for grandparents to stay connected to their families and grandchildren, and for older Australians to retain their independence.
The government will leverage existing community infrastructure such as libraries, retirement villages, community centres, and aged-care facilities to support older Australians to develop the confidence and skills they need to stay connected.
This government's measures will include: The development of an overarching digital literacy and online safety strategy for older Australians; Delivering free or low-cost, one-on-one, face-to-face digital training and support to older Australians, including a helpline; One-off small grant funding to assist community organisations with the delivery of coaching or training and support to older Australians; A communications and marketing campaign to raise awareness among older Australians and their families of the benefits of connecting online and how to access support; A national digital portal to provide a one-stop shop for information, tools and training materials; National digital and smart device training materials and tools, including online safety and outreach train-thetrainer programs, for use by families, friends, peers and community organisations; and A seniors and schools intergenerational mentor program to bring school students and seniors (in aged-care facilities) together to promote relevance and usefulness of technology.
The Turnbull government is committed to supporting older Australians and ensuring they have the skills to participate in our modern digital economy.
Additional support for victims of non-consensual sharing of intimate images
The coalition's commitment to keeping women and children safe from domestic and family violence is comprehensive, multifaceted and unwavering.
The government recognises that the sharing of intimate images without consent, commonly referred to as 'revenge porn', is emerging as an issue of great concern in the community.
That is why this government has put the issue on the Council of Australian Governments' agenda to ensure that the Commonwealth and states and territories are working together to ensure there is a coordinated approach. The government will also conduct a public consultation process on a proposed civil penalties regime targeted at both perpetrators and sites which host intimate images and videos shared without consent.
A discussion paper will be released in the near future and feedback will be sought from the eSafety Commissioner, federal and state police, women's safety organisations, mental health experts, schools and education departments, the Online Safety Consultative Working Group and others.
Impacts on individual's rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and privacy It is important to note that these amendments to change the commissioner's statutory functions only relate to the general, or 'soft', functions of the commissioner and do not relate to the statutory scheme for complaints about cyberbullying material, which will continue to only relate to material that is targeted at, and harmful to, an Australian child.
The amendments do not create any new offences or civil penalties, provide any new regulatory powers, impose any taxes, or set any amounts to be appropriated from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The Children's eSafety Commissioner has been a huge success in enhancing online safety for children. The amendments proposed will assist the good work of the commissioner to continue to have a positive impact on a broader range of vulnerable Australians, including older Australians, victims of domestic and family violence, and for people who have had intimate images shared without their consent.
I commend this bill to the House and look forward to implementing the next stages of the government's agenda to promote the online safety of all Australians, and to work across government, the private sector and in the community to allow all Australians to enjoy safe and positive experiences online.