E & OE
Good morning. The Government has three important announcements to make this morning, and it is appropriate that we do so as we acknowledge White Ribbon Day. You’ll recall that Malcolm Turnbull as the Minister for Communications honoured an election Commitment through the establishment of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner. Now, the remit of that office has grown beyond children, particularly in relation to online safety of women at risk of domestic violence.
So, in recognition of the enhanced and evolving role of the Office beyond children, we’re announcing today that the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner will be renamed the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. And this recognises it’s evolving role to better help women manage technology, and risk and abuse. And it also acknowledges that part of that is the new online reporting tool that is being developed which will allow victims to report and get help in cases of non-consensual sharing of images.
I’m also extremely delighted to announce today with Michaelia Cash the appointment of the new eSafety Commissioner: Julie Inman-Grant, who joins us this morning. She is an online expert with 25 years of experience. She was instrumental in the development of the 2015 Enhancing Online Safety for Children legislation. She also helped shape the first Online Safety Summit for Children in 1996. And she has held senior public policy and safety roles at Twitter, Microsoft and Adobe. And she has vast domestic and global experience. So we’re very excited that she will be filling this role.
I should take this opportunity to acknowledge the inaugural Commissioner: Alastair MacGibbon, who did an outstanding job in that role. And is now the Prime Minister’s Cyber Security Advisor. And also pay particular tribute to Andree Wright, who’s been serving as the Acting Commissioner and is one of the nation’s experts in this area.
The third thing that we’re announcing today is that the Federal Government will be looking at introducing a new civil penalties regime for perpetrators and sites that host intimate images or videos without consent. We’ll be commencing consultation on this. We’ll be issuing a discussion paper early next year. And I should point out that in parallel with this, we’re working through COAG to support a nationally consistent approach to criminal offences relating to the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
And, Michaelia Cash has at the forefront of the Government’s efforts to best support and better protect women. And I’ll now ask Michaelia to talk about the Government’s wider efforts in that regard. And we’ll then introduce Julie.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an absolute delight to be here today in the lead up to White Ribbon Day with Minister Fifield.
In particular in relation the announcement of Julie Inman-Grant as our new eSafety Commissioner and congratulations, Julie.
Ladies and gentleman, the Turnbull Government is committed to reducing violence against women and children. As the Prime Minister and I have often said, it’s all about disrespecting women. Not all disrespect leads to violence against women, but all violence against women ultimately begins with disrespecting them.
Our fundamental commitment as a government is to ensure that all women and children in Australia are safe at home, safe on the streets, and safe online. And that is why I’m very proud that the first cabinet decision of the Turnbull Government was the announcement of our $100m women’s safety package.
Recently, we have also provided a further $100m to support the Third Action Plan (under the National Action Plan) to reduce violence against women and their children.
In terms of technology facilitated abuse, no one deserves to be abused online. This issue obviously we have with technology though, is that we all love it. We all have it, and it can do some really fantastic things. But as we also know, technology is another weapon in the arsenal of tools that the perpetrators use to stalk their victims. And that is why the Government last year, put the issue of technology facilitated abuse on the COAG agenda. And as Minister Fifield has stated, we’re working very closely with the states and territories to ensure we have consistency across governments in relation to the criminal penalty involved.
Recently, the Prime Minister hosted the COAG summit on domestic violence. All of the states and territories were represented at this summit. We had two round tables held on technology facilitated abuse. Again, the overwhelming feedback from stakeholders who have worked for decades in this regard, is that we need an educated response to technology facilitated abuse, along with a civil penalty regime. And that is why I’m delighted by the announcements that Minister Fifield has made today that we will now be working with Julie Inman-Grant (our new eSafety Commissioner), we will be taking this out to stakeholders and working with them to ensure that we get the right processes in place and have a holistic response.
I’m also delighted with the announcement today of the renaming of what was the Children’s eSafety Commissioner (and what a very important role that was and remains), but to remove the word ‘children’ to focus more broadly on technology facilitated abuse, and in particular the impact that it does have on women in Australia.
So again, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to reducing violence against women and children, and in particular being delighted to be here with Minister Fifield to announce the appointment of Julie Inman-Grant as our new eSafety Commissioner.
Thank you very much Minister Fifield and Minister Cash for your kind words. It’s an absolute privilege, honour and a challenge to be taking on this new role. I also want to thank my predecessors Alastair MacGibbon and Acting Commissioner Andree Wright, and all of men and women at the eSafety Office for creating an incredible foundation on which to work.
At last count, there were over 3,000 websites posting so-called ‘revenge porn’ all around the world. 90% of these images are of women. That is why it’s critical that we provide support and redress for victims. Key among these efforts the rolling out of the new online safety tool for removing non-consensual porn. But also critical to these efforts are the prevention, protection and education efforts. These education efforts need to start as early as in the nursery, be reinforced in the classroom, in the lounge room, in the bedroom, and ultimately in the board room to have the kind of societal and systemic impact that we need to make.
Finally, it is very important that we have this public consultation process to take the broadest feedback from a range of Australian stakeholders on a potential civil penalties regime. It is only with these concerted efforts that we can truly make and impact and reinforce the importance of respect, and usher in a new era of online civility. Thank you very much.
Minister, could you explain how the new role will work given that so few states actually have criminal penalties against the practise of so-called ‘revenge porn’?
Sure, thank you for that. There is already a criminal penalty at the federal level and I’ll cite that to you. It’s section 474.17 of the criminal code. And it says that ‘it’s an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence’.
It’s not specific to revenge porn
It’s not specific to revenge porn but already that’s been used to make 691 charges against 397 defendants. That includes 15 months in relation to an individual who was involved in the Jedi Council matter. Also, as an example, is 7 years prison for individual who used social media to encourage teenage girls to share images of themselves, which that individual then threatened to expose to their family and friends. So we do have a common criminal provision which is there to be used by the police. We recognise, though, that criminal processes can be involved and time consuming, and some people would appreciate the option of a civil penalties regime. Which is why we’re going to be doing that, starting consultations shortly. As I mentioned already we do have the COAG process where the Commonwealth is working with states and territories to ensure a more uniformed approach to criminal matters.
Would you assume then that new commissioner’s role will be more looking at the civil penalty side of things rather than laying criminal charges or potentially taking them to state and territory authorities.
What the relationship is between the civil penalties regime and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner is something that is to be determined. So that will be the subject of consultation.
And on that point, the overwhelming feedback as we travel around Australia and you talk to people about what is the appropriate policy response it is acknowledged at a federal level, there are already in place criminal laws. Minister Fifield has taken you through that and there has been successful prosecution.
Normally these matters are taken care of at a state and territory level and that is why the COAG process to ensure consistency across our states and territories in relation to those laws is so important.
When you actually talk to people who have been subjected to it many of them say to you: “all I wanted was the image removed. I just wanted the image removed.” That is very much going to be a focus of what Julie is going to be looking at; how do we respond in the first instance to the person coming forward and saying “just get the image down?” When you then say: “what further processes could we take you through?” A lot of people don’t want to go down the criminal path – it takes a very, very long time. Obviously they have to be heavily invested in that process as someone who has been subject to the colloquial term of ‘revenge porn’ or the sharing of non-consensual images. That is something they often also don’t want to do. So, the civil penalty regime is also far more attractive in terms of getting a more prompt response for those involved.
But ultimately as Julie has also acknowledged, this is why we need a holistic process. Education is key to this, in particular for young people whose language they now speak is literally on their mobile device that is attached to them constantly. But understanding when you do share an image - it’s shared. When you take an image in an intimate relationship and you both agree that that was a great photo to take, but then the relationship breaks down, what are then the consequences of sharing that image online? So that is why it is a holistic response that is involved, but very much looking at the overwhelming feedback we have received from stakeholders in the area.
How realistic is it to expect overseas websites to take images down? I mean, they’re out of our jurisdiction aren’t they?
Well I believe this will be part of the issues we canvas through the consultation. It is a perennial challenge. There is no great Australian higher law, there is no button to push. That’s why international engagement and stakeholder management; law enforcement to law enforcement as well as in my role as regulator working with other regulators around the globe and getting to know the trust and safety people that work at these websites, these social media organisations. We need those relationships to be able to address these issues and bring them down quickly, particularly when it’s out of our jurisdiction.
But some guy running a dodgy website out of his bedroom in Eastern Europe, there’s not much hope we can do anything about this is there? We don’t even know where he is.
There certainly is the whack-a-mole phenomenon. This is what I call a ‘glocal’ issue. The internet is global but what we can do locally, the most effective tools we can enact here, we need to focus on. And we work with groups such as Interpol on the virtual global taskforce to help us with the international issues.
There’s one key component of this discussion that’s kind of missing from the debate it was brought up in the New South Wales Parliament last week, I’m expecting maybe a Senate response today, it is the issue of opt-out internet filtering. A lot of groups are still calling for the mandatory opt-out of mandatory internet filtering for adult content and have it opt-out like the UK has, is that something that the Government is considering at all?
Look that’s not something we’ve addressed. That’s a debate that’s been going on for some time. The approach that we’ve taken as a government is to initially establish the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner because there was a particular concern about young people. We’re now expanding the role of the Office to be one for the whole community. We want to do some practical things. We’ve outlined what those are. But the option you put forward isn’t something that we’re looking at.
Those state and territory consultations, when are they going ahead?
They’ve actually been ongoing in terms of the COAG process. I understand COAG is meeting in December and this will be further discussed there. But it is something that the states themselves recognise that they also do have a role here – as you know some states have implemented legislation, some are considering implementing legislation. Again though that’s why it’s so important - normally the prosecutions are undertaken by the state or territory police - so as to ensure that we do have consistency across the board.
Ministers could you take us through what the civil nature of the penalties discussed today? From a victim’s perspective, why do you think that the civil component would work and step by step from the moment where they might see an image – how would the ideal civil penalty system affect their experience?
Well, we’re not outlining today the construct of the civil penalties. What we’re announcing is that it’s our intention to put in place civil penalties. It’s important that we engage in consultation with the sector to get their views. And by the sector I mean law enforcement agencies, women’s groups, other organisations. We want civil penalties that will work. And the structure of that will be informed through those consultations. We have a discussion paper that will be issued early next year. But I think civil penalties are an important alternative to the criminal avenue. As I said before, criminal prosecutions can be time consuming. They can be distressing for individuals. Obviously that is an avenue that should open to people if they want to pursue that they should. But what we want to do is provide an alternative.
You’ve mentioned education earlier, one of the things that we see particularly in the States is sort of slut shaming where people say don’t take the photos in the first place, how realistic is it to expect education to be able to remove those particular kinds of discrimination or those particular kinds of comments from this particular environment.
I chose my comments very carefully when I was talking about supporting victims because that is what they are. They are victims. They may have engaged in consensual having their image taken. But the image has been shared without their consent and with malicious intent. So, I think of drink driving laws. Obviously there is a legal drinking age. We don’t want people to be drinking under the age of 18. But when we put out our advertising and education campaigns about drink driving, we do know that people are going to drink and drive and what the intent is to keep them safe, and keep them from getting in the car or driving.
I think that we’re going to need to look at the education around sexting and revenge porn in a similar way. Obviously the best case scenario is if these images don’t exist at all. But often these are shared with malicious and they may be images that were taken without their knowledge. They may be hacked. There are a number of reasons. We need to focus on the perpetrators in acting with malicious behaviour, not the victims who have had a very distressing, devastating experience. We need to provide them support.
Senator Fifield just on another matter, given the government’s focus is on industrial relations through the Senate have you shelved Media Reform for the year is that going to put on hold until next year?
Well we do have a fairly full legislative agenda for the remaining week and a bit of the year. Obviously the Australian Building and Construction Commission is a key objective for the remaining period of parliamentary time. But I should point out, on media reform, that the great delayer of media reform has been the Australian Labor Party. Very shortly after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, we announced that we were going to undertake media reform. Early this year legislation was introduced into the Parliament. Immediately, the Senate, with the support of the Labor Party, referred it off for inquiry to a Senate Committee. Which means that the Parliament can’t touch it while it’s before a Committee. That Committee reported two days before the election was called.
In the first week of the new parliament we reintroduced the media reform legislation “Quelle surprise” the Senate and Labor immediately referred that legislation back off to a Senate Committee, again. The same legislation which had just been inquired into a matter months before. That Committee has recently reported. The Labor Party have announced that they will not be supporting the abolition of the two out of three rule which is extremely disappointing that the alternative government can’t see their way clear to helping bring our media laws to reflect the world that we live in. We want media organisations to be able to configure themselves in a way that best supports their viability. It’s an important underpinning of diversity is to have good, strong, viable media organisations. So I’m going to be continuing to talk to the Crossbench who, as they have demonstrated recently, with the Registered Organisations Bill, amongst others, are people who want outcomes. They want to engage constructively. So, those discussions will continue and because of the limited number of sitting days left and Labor’s ongoing delay in relation to media reform legislation, it may well be, and probably will be, next year, that we can conclude that legislation.
And there would be no way you would splitthat Bill?
It’s my intention to continue to have that as a package. Putting forward both abolition of 75% audience reach and the abolition of the two out of three rule.