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Interview with Sky News

E & OE

JAMES O'DOHERTY:
We have seen some bipartisanship on another issue today; the issue of keeping our kids safe online. Both the Government and the Opposition with fairly similar announcements to keep our kids safe and make sure they have the skills required to navigate the internet safely, a $10 million grant scheme provided by the Government and a $2.5 million pilot digital licence proposed by the Opposition. I took this up with the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield, can you tell me what will this $10 million grant provide for online safety?

FIFIELD:
We've laid a good foundation for online safety with the establishment of the world's first e-Safety Commissioner and legislating the world's first cyberbullying material takedown regime. So we've put some good things in place. But we know the community wants us to do more. Which is why we've announced today a $10 million grants program for NGOs and not for profits. So where they have good ideas as to how we can better enhance the online safety of kids, whether that be in the classroom, the community more generally, or at home, then there's the capacity to take those forward. There are a lot of good ideas in the not for profit sector. And this is an area where we want the whole community to work together to make the online environment a safer one.

O'DOHERTY:
So you'll be asking not for profits and NGOs for their ideas and offering them money through this grant program to give you those ideas and implement them, right?

FIFIELD:
That's right. There'll be $10 million in this year's budget. So the money is there. And there's some great not for profit organisations such as the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. In their case, one of the many good things that they've done is come up with a digital licence for primary school kids.

And that's something else that we've announced today, is that we're going to be looking to take forward that idea of a digital licence in the classroom. A bit like a pen licence in years gone by. We'll have children sit a test to make sure that they have the basic digital literacy and awareness skills that they need to operate safely online before they have access to devices in the classroom.

And I should acknowledge Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, who's a world renowned children's psychologist who put to me and to the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago this idea of a digital licence in the classroom. We thought it was a good idea. So we're going to be examining the best way to bring this forward.

O'DOHERTY:
The Opposition though, they're announcing a pilot program – only $2.5 million – to actually put that digital licence into practice; why aren't you doing that?

FIFIELD:
Well, look, I don't think this is an area where there's any room for partisanship when it comes to the online safety of kids. It's a good thing that the Opposition have come on board and supported what we're proposing.

We've got $10 million in grant funding for community and not for profit organisations. And we're going to be examining, urgently, the range of digital licence products that there are available to make sure that we have the right arrangement for the classroom, and that we can look at the best way to put this into practice.

O'DOHERTY:
A couple other issues of the day, Minister. We see today that the Home Affairs Department is warning of a big cost if this Kerryn Phelps so called medivac bill passes the Parliament. Will it really lead to 1,000 people in offshore processing coming to Australia within weeks?

FIFIELD:
Well, James, if we weaken our border protection arrangements, if we send a signal to the people smugglers that our resolve as a nation has weakened – which is what the Labor Party want to do – then the boats would come again. People would be at risk on the high sea. And we would see people in detention. We don't want to see people taken advantage of by people smugglers. We don't want to see them at risk. And we don't want people to be in detention.

Next week, in the Parliament, really is a test for Bill Shorten. Is he going to walk away from our strong border protection arrangements and is he going to support the independent proposition that's in the Parliament? This is entirely a test for him. And we will know by what he does, whether he and the Labor Party really do support strong borders like they say they do. I hope, for the sake of the nation, that Bill Shorten works with the Government on the very sensible proposition that the Prime Minister and the Home Affairs Minister have put forward.

O'DOHERTY:
The Government today has declassified some advice sent to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Now, obviously it's not your portfolio, but do you think or are you comfortable with the Government releasing this ministerial and departmental advice to essentially argue for political purposes?

FIFIELD:
Look, the Government always treats appropriately the advice that it receives from its agencies. But the point that we're making, as a government, is that you can't recklessly seek to dismantle our proven border protection arrangements without there being consequences. When we came into government, we had to set about rebuilding our protections and breaking the people smugglers' business model. We don't want that good work to be undone by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party.

We can't trust what they say, to be honest. Before the 2013 election – or actually before the 2007 election, I should say – Kevin Rudd said that there wasn't a cigarette papers worth of difference between ourselves and Labor when it came to border protection arrangements. But when they got into office, they set about systematically dismantling our border protection arrangements. And that's the real fear, with a Labor government, is that they will do that again.

JAMES O'DOHERTY:
Final one. Would you be happy to come back to Parliament to sit in the Senate to deal with some of these issues arising from the banking royal commission for extra sitting weeks in April?

FIFIELD:
The Parliamentary sitting schedule has been laid out at the end of last year, as is always the case. We've been very clear that we are going to progress the 76 recommendations of the banking royal commission. And we'll do that in a considered and orderly way.

O'DOHERTY:
Senator Mitch Fifield, Communications Minister. Thanks so much.

FIFIELD:
Thanks, James.

[ends]