Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP

Previous Parliamentary Secretary
to the Minister for Communications

Transcript of the Hon Paul Fletcher on Radio National about protecting children from cyber bullying

25 February 2014

Radio National, Law Report, Damien Carrick

DAMIEN CARRICK:

In January the Federal Government released a discussion paper titled Enhancing Online Safety. It canvasses a number of proposals which would tighten regulation in the online space. So how well does social media currently deal with the issue of cyber bulling in children? Here's Paul Fletcher, the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications.

PAUL FLETCHER:

The large social media sites generally do have the capacity for somebody who wants to complain about content to report that content and they generally do have terms of use. The issues though are that if you lodge a complaint, in some cases you don't even know whether it's been received or not, but more substantively it's essentially a matter for the discretion of the site as to whether the site chooses to take action and remove the material or not.

DAMIEN CARRICK:

And you think that's not good enough. I understand the Federal Government wants overhaul the way Australia deals with this issue - you want to create a Children's e-Safety Commissioner with the power to demand social media sites to rapidly remove material that is quite harmful to a child. Are you saying that we need this because the social media players are not taking material down when they should be?

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well, that's right. So we have - we took a policy to the last election to deal with online safety for children and one of the central measures in that is to establish what's called the Children's e-Safety Commissioner which will be a central point of contact and expertise in the Federal Government on the question of online safety.

So what we're proposing is that the first step would be to use the existing complaints scheme of the large social media site. But if you get no response there you would then be in a position to go to the commissioner. The commissioner would then apply a statutory test. Now the test that we've proposed as the indicator of cyber bullying is content targeted at and likely to cause harm to an Australian child.

DAMIEN CARRICK:

Now last week AIMIA, it's the Digital Industry Association [sic] together with some of the big players like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, eBay, Twitter - they put out a joint press release and they were very critical of moves towards increased regulation. Quote: The Government's proposal to legislate a one size fits all regime is counterproductive to our own work and commitment to the safety of people who use our services. Also the creation of a new statutory body and a new regulation on complaints handling seems to be at odds with the Government's stated strategy to reduce regulation and to streamline government agencies; end quote. What's your response?

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well, the first thing is that we do have a broad program in the communications portfolio and across the activities of the Abbott Government to reduce regulation and there is certainly plenty that would be happening in the communications portfolio, but at the same time that does not mean that there are no areas where there isn't a case for action to address targeted issues. We have been quite careful in limiting the reach of the measures that we are proposing here. There's been some commentary about impacts on free speech for example, but we have quite carefully limited this. First of all it applies only to communications directed at children. So it's a specific measure designed to protect children - it has no impact on speech between adults. And the second is that if limited to the defined category of cyber bullying and as I say we've proposed a particular statutory test, we're certainly open to feedback on how that should be worded. But two very careful restrictions on the extent of this matter.

DAMIEN CARRICK:

AIMIA have also raised this freedom of expression argument. Certainly this government proposal seems at odds with its aim to wind back harmful speech or difficult speech in the Racial Vilification proposal of the Racial Discrimination Act. So it would seem that the Government's doing one thing in one area and one thing in another area.

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well, again the very clear application of this measure would be to the protection of children, so it's quite specific to children, and secondly as I say it's quite carefully targeted to cyber bullying.

DAMIEN CARRICK:

Paul Fletcher, the digital industry has really thrown down the gauntlet here. Is this something that the Government is prepared to go to the wall with, I mean are they prepared to potentially alienate one of the most powerful industries in the country and one which - around which we have so many hopes and aspirations for a high-tech online future?

PAUL FLETCHER:

We have made a clear policy commitment to have measures to improve the online safety of children. What we want to do is work with the industry to minimise the impact on industry, to make sure that the mechanism that we propose interworks as efficiently as possible with the existing complaints schemes of the industry. But certainly the fundamental commitment to this measure to improve the safety of children using the internet is something that we took to the election as a policy and we intend to proceed with it.

DAMIEN CARRICK:

Paul Fletcher, the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications. AIMIA the digital industry group declined to be interviewed about their opposition to the proposal.

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