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Today Show with Georgie Gardner

E & OE

GEORGIE GARDNER:
Facebook and other social media platforms could soon be held accountable by the harm caused by cyberbullying online. 
For more, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield joins us from Canberra. Minister, good morning to you. This inquiry's been a long time coming. What are the key recommendations?

FIFIELD: 
The committee report essentially calls for a full court press against cyberbullying. Having state and federal governments, schools, not for profit organisations working together against the scourge of cyberbullying. But it's also important to recognise that Australia is leading the world when it comes to action against cyberbullying. Malcolm Turnbull, as Communications Minister established the world's first eSafety Commissioner, which is a one-stop shop for kids to go to if they're being cyberbullied. And we also gave the eSafety Commissioner very strong powers to direct social media organisations to take down cyberbullying material. And if they don't they can be hit with fines of $17,000 a day. And the commissioner also has the power to issue an end user notice or a cease and desist notice to people who are putting this material up. So we already have some strong powers.

GARDNER:
Suggesting that we're leading the world is very hard for a lot of families to hear. As you know, so many families are rocked by cyberbullying. There have been teens taking their lives as a result of cyberbullying. These social media companies share some responsibility for what's seen on their platforms. Do ou think these suggestions of penalties are harsh enough, do they go far enough?

FIFIELD: 
As far as I'm concerned, all options are on the table when it comes to doing whatever we can to stamp out cyberbullying. Regrettably, bullying has always been with us. But what technology does is it gives bullies the capacity to follow kids into their homes, into their bedrooms. And what we need to do more than anything is make kids aware that if you're being cyberbullied, let a parent know, let a teacher know, contact the eSafety Commissioner. You don't want to suffer in silence. There is help available. We can have this material taken down from these social media platforms. We've gotta make sure kids know that there is help.

GARDNER:
I guess parents want to hear, rather than there recommendations are on the table, they want to hear these recommendations are going to become law and they want that happening quickly.

FIFIELD:
Well, the good news is that a lot of what the committee spoke about already is law. We do have an eSafety Commissioner that kids can go to. We do have strong powers that the Commissioner can direct social media organisations to take this material down. We have strong powers that we can direct people who are perpetrators to cease and desist. We also have criminal provisions at the state and commonwealth levels. It is an offence to use a carriage service devices, a phone, to menace, harass or cause offence. There's up to three years in prison if you do that or fines of $34,000.

GARDNER:
But Minister, with respect, it doesn't seem to be working. We had someone on the program yesterday whose daughter at the age of 13, took her own life as a result of cyberbullying just four weeks ago.

FIFIELD:
Well there's no silver bullet when it comes to this area. We need strong criminal provisions. We need the capacity to direct social media organisations to take material down. We have these things. We need to have a strong education effort. And the eSafety Commissioner has accredited schemes, where schools can put in their own classrooms evidence to help kids to work out how to deal with this. And also the eSafety Commissioner has reached 200,000 kids through their own virtual classrooms. So there's no silver bullet. We've got to work together. But more to be done.

GARDNER:
Yeah, for want of another phrase I'm sure. Under the current laws I'm wondering how many people have been prosecuted as a result of cyberbullying and cyber-hate?

FIFIELD:
Well the good news when it comes to the Commissioner's powers to direct social media organisations to take material down is that she has had a 100 per cent success rate. So she hasn't had to resort to her formal powers. When it comes to individuals who have used carriage services or devices to offend or harass or menace, there's been over 800 prosecutions and many have been in relation to cyberbullying.

GARDNER:
We'll have to leave it there for now Minister Fifield, thank you very much.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you.

[ends]