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Press Conference, Treasury Place, Melbourne

MITCH FIFIELD:
Well it's great to be here with Julie Inman Grant, the eSafety Commissioner. And also Olivia and Chris and their family.

The highest obligation of our community is to protect our children. And the Government has laid a good foundation for the online protection of children. We've established the world's first eSafety Commissioner. But also legislated to establish the world's first kids cyber-bullying material take down regime. But the community expects us to do more. And as a Government we expect digital platforms and tech companies to do more.

So today we're announcing a full court press when it comes to the protection of kids online. We're going to be committing an additional $17 million, which will take our commitment over the next four years to protecting kids online to $100 million. And at the centre of this will be establishing a new Online Safety Charter where the Government, on behalf of the community, will make clear to digital platforms and tech companies what our expectations are of them when it comes to keeping our kids safe online. What we expect is that behaviours which are unacceptable in the physical world should also be unacceptable in the online world.

Now, what this will mean in terms of the Charter are things such as expecting digital platforms to make better use of Artificial Intelligence to remove material, so as not to rely on users to have to bring it to their attention in the first place. And also making better use of human moderators when it comes to ensuring that this material isn't online.

Also, having greater accountability in terms of the presentation of statistics. That transparency. So we know what the level of complaints are and what action has been taken.

Also, we'll cover things like safety by design. So that safety for kids is at the heart of designing platforms and services, that it's not something that's retrofitted afterwards. And in particular, that for those platforms and services which are particularly attractive for kids, that the default setting is the most conservative.

But also, looking to individual behaviours, so that repeat offenders are banned from platforms.

We'll also be coupling this with better research including a national annual eSafety survey so that we can identify trends and better inform additional measures that we will take.

We're also going to be filling a gap when it comes to providing resources in education for early childhood educators and parents for pre-schoolers. About 81 per cent of pre-schoolers are online. We want to make sure that those who work with and support them have the resources and tools that they need.

And we're also going to have a national advertising and awareness campaign to make sure that parents are aware of the resources that are already in place.

So we have a good foundation. But we need to do more. And we are going to do more.

I'll now ask Julie Inman Grant, the eSafety Commissioner, to talk about the role of her office in relation to today's announcement. Julie.

JULIE INMAN GRANT:
Thank you, Minister, and that's absolutely right. If we're going to stay ahead of techs and teens we need to be one step ahead and we need to be proactive in terms of targeting responsibilities of the online safety platforms large and small. /p>

The eSafety Office was created in 2015 to serve as the regulator, coordinator and national leader in online child safety. Our approach is to provide a safety net to Australians by providing prevention, education and early intervention services.

To date, we've removed thousands of pieces of content, of harmful content, in the serious cyber bullying, image-based abuse, and in terms of child sexual exploitation material from harmful sites online. And we seek to empower parents, carers, teachers and others who are looking after our young people to help keep them safe.

This is a societal challenge and a parenting challenge that our parents didn't have to deal with. And so this package could not come at a better time. Research introduced to my office today, shows that 42 per cent of Australian two-year-olds have exposure to internet-enabled devices. And as the Minister said, 81 per cent of those between two and four have access to the internet.

We need to make sure that those in early childhood centres and parents themselves are armed with the right information to help have those conversations, to help direct their children and keep them safe in navigating online.

We're also so pleased the Government is taking this leadership role in the Online Safety Charter. The eSafety Office has been consulting with the major platforms – more than 30 companies – on a safety by design consultation. And again, we expect our car manufacturers to ensure that the steering works; that bicycles have breaks that work. We need to ensure that the major digital platforms, and even the gaming platforms, are incorporating safety protections into their platforms before they go to market. This burden cannot be left to the users to ensure their own safety. So again, this comes at such a great time. We want to drive more people to our resources and our reporting tools at eSafety.gov.au, and are really happy that we're promoting the work of this office – a world first.

Thank you.

MITCH FIFIELD:
Thank you, Julie, and I commend the work of Julie and her team in the office of the eSafety Commissioner. The eSafety Commission is an important source of advice and resource for parents and for schools; but they also have an important enforcement role. So, thank you Julie.

Can I also thank Olivia and Chris and their family for coming today. Olivia is a parent, but she's also a researcher in this area. And I'll ask Olivia to speak to the parents' perspective in this area.

Olivia.

OLIVIA METCALF:
Thank you. Yes so I think from the moment my children were born I was worried about their safety in every way. And I think, historically parenting, those risks were more outside of the home. That the home itself was a sanctuary. They were safe from predators or people who would do them harm or bullying or anything that kind of would accelerate their development too fast. The home was supposed to be a safe place.

And I think, although the internet is a great thing and it certainly has helped my children in terms of their education, in terms of connecting with family members who live all across Australia. It's also a tool that I think sometimes can bring harm and I am really concerned about their safety online.

And I think it's really overwhelming sometimes, as a parent, to know exactly the best way to keep them safe when it comes to technology. And so, I think that anything that can be done at another level to help support parents in terms of building that safety net to protect children is really fantastic.

MITCH FIFIELD:
Thanks Olivia. Any questions, firstly on today's announcement.

QUESTION:
What's your assessment as to how responsive the major platforms are with this sort of thing? Because anecdotally over the years, we'll hear parents saying: we've made a complaint to Facebook and nothing's happened; that type of stuff.

JULIE INMAN GRANT:

Right. Well that's precisely why we were set up as a safety net – because things do fall through the cracks. When you think about the sheer volume of abuse reports that these companies are taking on board; Facebook has 2.2 billion uses; Twitter has a billion tweets on their sites every two days; and 400 hours' worth of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute; things do fall through the cracks, and that's where we can serve as an advocate on behalf of young people and we can help bridge that inherent power imbalance that exists between the big behemoths and the vulnerable users. So, it's an important service. I just spoke to the Irish – they're building a similar digital safety commissioner to do the same thing; we're talking to the Canadians; the UK; America.

So this is world-first, and it's important because things do fall through the cracks, context is missed, and even though new technologies are being deployed – AI and machine learning – to help detect abuse, more needs to be done, and the platforms do need to step up. We've reached a tipping point here where governments around the world are saying: enough is enough. You need to make sure that your platforms are safer. It's your duty of care.

QUESTION:
We've seen through some of the stories that the media have done where they've gone undercover into places like Facebook – a kind of inherent conflict of interests has been exposed, where the moderators will admit that they want to leave graphic material on the site because it gets more hits, gets more mention. How do you deal with that sort of apparent conflict of interest?

JULIE INMAN GRANT:
Well, I mean, users vote with their feet, and if you're on a social media site that is toxic or exposes your child to inappropriate content or contact by strangers, parents aren't going to want their children using those things, so it's fundamental from a business perspective, from a trust perspective, for social media companies and gaming platforms to do better.

QUESTION:
And are parents taking too big a risk by putting their young kids on things like Instagram and Facebook?

JULIE INMAN GRANT:
Well indeed, there are benefits and there are risks, and what we're here to do is help empower parents to maximise those benefits and minimise those risks. Through the research that we've released today, we've asked parents: how do they engage with their kids online? About 60 per cent of those parents that give their children internet-enabled devices at the preschool level, you know, do stand over their shoulder and make sure they're monitoring the content; the other 40 per cent, not so much.

So again, we want to give parents the tools, and early child educators, the tools so that they're working with evidence and research and they're guiding children the right way to maximise the benefits of technology.

QUESTION:
Mitch, if I could just ask you: is this online charter going to be voluntary or will platforms have to sign up? Will they be forced to sign up?

MITCH FIFIELD:
We're entering into discussions with the digital platforms and the social media organisations and the tech companies to make clear what our expectations are of them when it comes to their responsibilities to protect children online.

So this will be a charter where there is an agreement entered into with these digital companies. But, as I've always said before, and as we've demonstrated before, if there is a necessity for legislation then that's something that we are prepared to look at. When it came to the bullying online of kids – we legislated. When it came to the non-consensual sharing of intimate images – we legislated.

Be in no doubt, the protection of kids should be core business for the digital platforms.

And we're going to make it clear that we expect this to be their core business. And what we expect is their full cooperation.

QUESTION:
And if some of them decide not to cooperate what's the next step? Will you legislate?

MITCH FIFIELD:
We expect and are looking to the full cooperation of digital platforms and tech companies.

QUESTION:
And what happens if they breach the charter? Outline what will happen in that case?

MITCH FIFIELD:
Well our objective is to change the culture and to change the behaviour of the digital platforms and the tech companies. And the Online Safety Charter is their opportunity to demonstrate that they're up to that task and that they will embrace it.

QUESTION:
And just another question on something else entirely from my colleagues in Canberra: so Labor has promised more cash for affordable homes. What's your opinion on that?

MITCH FIFIELD:
Labor are essentially re-announcing the NRAS which was a Rudd-era program that was a comprehensive failure. That didn't deliver the affordable housing that it promised. And ran massively over budget.

So we have no reason to expect that this rebirthed NRAS will deliver any better than the Rudd-era NRAS.

No more questions? Great. Thank you.

[ends]