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Press Conference - eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Alannah and Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta

E & OE

FIFIELD:
Well it's great to be here today with the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, with Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and with Lesley Podesta, who is the CEO of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

One of the highest obligations of government and of the community is to keep our kids safe. Today we're announcing some additional elements in the Government's full court press when it comes to the online safety of children.

Firstly, we're announcing a $10 million grants program for not-for-profit and community organisations. So when they have good ideas as to ways to better educate and keep our kids safe online, they can progress those.

The second thing we're announcing today is the idea of a digital license for primary school kids, a bit like the old pen license. We want to make sure that before kids get their hands on the devices in the classroom that they have the basic skills that they need and the awareness of the dangers online. This idea is one that was put to me and the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. We thought it was a great idea and we want to progress it.

There are a range of products currently available such as that of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. We want to examine those, see what's s good, what works and what's the best way to roll out a digital license.

As a government we want to do everything we can to keep our kids safe online. And these are two good and practical initiatives that we're announcing today.

I'll ask the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant to offer some comments, but I should also acknowledge that this government has laid some good foundations already when it comes to keeping kids safe online. We have the world's first eSafety Office. We have legislated the world's first kids cyber-bullying material takedown regime so that the eSafety Commissioner has the power to direct social media organisations to take down material and issue fines if they don't. The eSafety Office also has a very important education role and also is a one-stop shop for information for schools and parents and families when it comes to online safety. Julie.

JULIE INMAN GRANT:
Thank you, Mitch. We're so grateful to the Government. This is a tremendous opportunity to work with a broad range of NGOs, and Australia is truly blessed with a range of NGOs that are developing great products and programs in the online safety area.

Now, we know that online safety education is a lifelong journey. Forty-two per cent of Australian parents are providing digital devices to their children by the age of two. And we know on the other end of the spectrum that mature Australians are the least represented population online and the most likely to be scammed. So online safety education has to look at a broad range of ages as well as a broad range of needs.

We know that one in five young Australians has been cyber-bullied and more than one in four teens has been contacted by a stranger online. The threat vectors are changing every day and we know that online safety education is a lifelong journey that needs to continue. Tools like this are wonderful to have assessments for a point in time. But we also know that the conversation has to start at the beginning and continue and be reinforced throughout a child's educational journey.

This grant program gives us further opportunity to continue the great work that we're doing with the NGO community here in Australia to provide financial support for innovative education projects and to help at-risk communities. There is no one-size fits all solution so this will allow us to really help blossom the marketplace of ideas for better online safety solutions. Thank you.

FIFIELD:
Thank you Julie. Dr Michael Carr-Greg is one of the nation's renowned child psychologists. He put the idea of a digital license to myself and the Prime Minister. We liked it. He's someone who is always looking for practical ways to better support young people. Michael.

DR MICHAEL CARR-GREGG:
Thank you Minister. I would like to congratulate the Minister and the Prime Minister for this initiative. I think what has to be understood is this is a world first. It doesn't exist anywhere else. We now have a situation where potentially we could be the first country in the world where before any young person can bring any internet-connected device to school they would have to sit this license.

Its benefit is that it puts the responsibility back on the parents to educate their children. So often they are the ones that have given them the device in the first place, and perhaps we will see a little bit less outsourcing of responsibility for cyber-safety education to schools. So thank you very much.

FIFIELD:
Thank you Michael. And Lesley Podesta is the CEO of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, one of the sorts of not-for-profits that we have in mind with the establishment of the $10 million online safety grants programme. And the Alannah & Madeline Foundation is also one of the not-for-profits that has a digital license. And, as I say, we are going to be examining the best way to roll these out. Lesley.

LESLEY PODESTA:
Thanks Minister. Well, it's wonderful to be able to hear such great progress. I think everyone in Australia should be very proud of the fact that as a country we have recognised that the dangers to children are not just in the physical world but also online. Being able to explore online, to be able to learn online is a part of every child's childhood now, and it means that we as a community need to change the way we equip them to be safe and to be smart and responsible.

So we are delighted to see this further investment in childrens education and in quality resources which will ensure that they are able to benefit from their new society, a society that is different than when I was a child but which is increasingly important for all of us. So we are delighted to see this announcement today and we will be working very closely with the government, with government agencies to make sure that we deliver the best resources for our children and to scale up what has been for the digital license nearly 250,000 children already. Let's make it available to every child. Thank you.

FIFIELD:
Thank you Lesley.

JOURNALIST:
[Indistinct] can you talk a bit- through the specifics a little bit more, just what ages [indistinct] requirements will be?

FIFIELD:
Sure. Well the concept is that for students in year three, they would need to sit the digital license. That they would do that with their parents. Once they pass that they would then, like the old pen license, have the capacity to sit down and to use that device. Children are using devices earlier and earlier. We need to recognise that. There is an important role for parental responsibility when it comes to supporting and educating young people about the dangers of the online environment. But it is important that we have a formalised mechanism so that before kids can access devices in class we know that they have a basic level of literacy and understanding about the online world.

JOURNALIST:
And just in terms of the funding, is this in addition to or part of the $17 million announced last year?

FIFIELD:
In December we announced an additional $17 million to support a range of activities. An annual online safety survey. To support a new awareness campaign about some of the resources which already exist. To support additional research. To support new training for early childhood educators.

But today's announcement is an additional $10 million on top of that. And this takes the funding for online safety through the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to more than $100 million over the next four years.

So I describe this as a full court press when it comes to the online safety of our kids.

JOURNALIST:
And maybe this is one for Michael Carr-Gregg, just in regards to what is the impact of cyber-bullying on children as young as [indistinct]?

MICHAEL CARR-GREGG:
We have seen young children be profoundly affected. The short, medium and long-term impact can be depression, anxiety, really poor self-esteem, and in some cases we have actually seen self-harm and suicidal ideation. So it is a very serious issue, and it'hs really good that this is an initiative that seeks to really make a difference preventatively.

JOURNALIST:
And why do you think it will work?

MICHAEL CARR-GREGG:
I think the great thing about this is we're involving parents at a very early stage. We are giving them the responsibility to make sure that the children have the skills to use the internet in a safe, smart and responsible way.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, just on some other matters if that is okay? So the Australians of the Year, the two cave divers, now that they have joined the campaign to free Hakeem Al-Araibi, now do you think this will have much of an impact on the case?

FIFIELD:
When it comes to consular cases such as this, I always defer to the Foreign Minister because it's important that there be a consistent message from government on these matters so that we don't prejudice the circumstances of individuals who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

JOURNALIST:
Do you think Australia is to blame for his detention?

FIFIELD:
As I say, I leave these matters to the Foreign Minister.

JOURNALIST:
Okay, and just in regard to embassies [indistinct] for last October's Israel embassy announcement [indistinct]?

FIFIELD:
Look, as I say, when it comes to consular matters, and matters of embassy security, they're really best handled by the Foreign Minister.

JOURNALIST:
Okay.

FIFIELD:
Thank you.

[ends]