TRANSCRIPT - Remarks at launch of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - Remarks at launch of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner

Merri Creek Primary, Melbourne
With Alastair MacGibbon, Children’s eSafety Commisioner

8 October 2015
9:30am

 

E & OE

 

Subjects: Children’s eSafety Commissioner

                                                                       

FIFIELD:

Thanks very much indeed. Principal Lynn thank you for having us at your school today. I know it’s always a bit of a disruption when members of parliament come through and so thanks indeed. And to the students- thank you for giving me some of your time. It was actually pretty easy for me today. I live about 500 metres away from this school so it wasn’t too far to come, but that’s not why this school was chosen today. It was chosen because you’ve got a great reputation for what you do in information technology, so you were the perfect school for us to come to, to talk about eSafety, so thank you so much for having us here.

I should also mention Alastair MacGibbon who’s the Children’s’ eSafety Commissioner. I always feel the need to be on my very best behaviour when I’m with Commissioner MacGibbon because he’s a former senior officer in the Australian Federal Police. So I’m always on my best behaviour.

But today is exciting for me as the new Minister for Communications and the Arts. Love the portfolio, lot of really cool stuff in the communications portfolio. But what we’re doing today is officially launching the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner. Now this is an office which was established on 1 July but today marks the official launch of the office. The original idea for the commissioner was an election commitment where before the last election. The Coalition indicated that we wanted to do something practical to enhance the safety- online safety for children. So today we’re going to be providing a brief on some of the work that we’ve done.

As I say it was set up on 1 July and already we have a cyberbullying complaints scheme which is in place which has been backed up and established by legislation. And we’ve got a number of what we call social media partners who are organisations that are in the social media business who are looking at this important work. And I’m pleased to announce today- some of these names will be familiar to you-  that Ask.fm, Flickr, Twitter, Yahoo7 Answers, Yahoo7 Groups are what we call tier one participants in this scheme and Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, YouTube are participating tier two services in the scheme. So they’re technical descriptions but what it really means is that they’re cooperating with Commissioner MacGibbons’ office and cooperating to take down material from their services that is cyber bullying material, material that is giving a hard time to young people. And one of the great things is that they’re doing it on a very cooperative basis. We haven’t had to use any legislative sanctions to cause that to happen. So that’s some really good news.

It’s been a busy first quarter for the office. I think we’ve now got a bit of a video to play for you, just to give you a bit of an idea of some of the things that the office has performed.

Video presentation

FIFIELD:

So there’s some of the basic statistics about the work that the Office of the Child eSafety Commissioner has undertaken. And one of the statistics is that one in five kids in Australia in a year might be subject to cyberbullying of some sort. So it’s good that there’s a place where kids and their families can go to when there’s material on these sites that needs to be taken down.

And just to recap on some of the main stats. Over 600 children have been referred to Kids Helpline, which is a great service that provides counselling for kids who might be finding some difficulty. There have been over 40 complaints about serious cyber-bullying that Commissioner MacGibbon’s office has resolved successfully. There’s been about 2000 investigations into illegal online content, and the Office of the Commissioner has also connected with about 5000 kids to provide advice on online safety issues. So, some good work happening, and if you ever, ever have issues with cyber-bullying or anything of that nature, there is a place that you and your parents can go for assistance.

Thanks very much.

[Applause]

JOURNALIST:

Where did this policy originate?

FIFIELD:       

We took a policy to the last election to enhance online safety. Paul Fletcher, former Parlaimentary Secretary for Communications was instrumental in the development of that policy and the subsequent legislating of it through the Parliament. So the office was established on 1 July, and we’re really today reporting on the first quarter’s work of the office.

JOURNALIST:

And what has made you push this issue so seriously?

FIFIELD:


Well I guess it’s been the concern of the parents. As technology has developed sadly, the internet bringing new avenues for people who want to cause distress to other people. As technology evolves, governments need to adapt and need to put in place new mechanisms that can help support parents and help support kids. So we all obviously believe in freedom, and freedom on the internet. But there are always limits to that freedom, and particularly in relation to children and their well-being.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any sort of help that you are giving for parents?



FIFIELD:
 

There are a range of programs that are there for parents and to help schools. So there’s some resources that the Government is making available to assist schools to accredit, if you like, those people, those organisations who will help provide advice on content safety, but I would ask Commissioner MacGibbon to expand.

MACGIBBON:         

Yeah. I might add that we have actually dramatically increased the amount of information we have on our website for resources for parents. One of the observations I’d make, and I’ve been in this space for a long time, is that parents often don’t feel empowered, they don’t feel like they know enough about the technology that kids are using to have the conversation they know they should be having, that they have in the offline world. So what we’re trying to do is give as much information as we can about the apps that kids are using, the way they’re using those apps, encouraging families to use them themselves so that we may encourage those conversations. If parents know what their kids are doing online and if kids know they can talk about what they’re doing online then it dramatically reduces the problems that they have.

JOURNALIST:

Facebook is overwhelmingly the most popular social network. That’s a Tier 2 provider, which means we can impose civil penalties on it. What size of penalties are you looking at for very serious failure to comply with the legislation?

FIFIELD:

Well, I think the important point to emphasise here is that the experience with the social media partners, be they Tier 1 or Tier 2, has been overwhelmingly positive and cooperative, and there has not been the need for any legislative sanctions to be imposed by the Commissioner. So there’s been incredible goodwill, and we hope that continues. But the Commissioner might take you through what are the potential sanctions.

MACGIBBON:         

So just to pick up on what the Minister’s just said, I use the phrase that while this is a regime that’s underpinned by legislation it’s actually fuelled by cooperation. And the cooperation we’ve had in the last three months has been really refreshing. The engagement we have with every one of the social media services that the Minister mentioned is positive. They’re on speed dial from our office, we’re on their speed dial. We have strong conversations about the material that we see, and to date on average in less than 12 hours we’ve been having material taken down. I think the public has been often conditioned into thinking that this stuff must stay up there, there’s nowhere for me to go. Today we’re saying that we’re open for business, the public should know that if they’ve gone to a social media service to have material taken down and they believe that it’s harmful to their child then we can help if that action hasn’t been taken. I don’t see us necessarily going down the path of having to bring fines against the large social media services. We can of course under the Act to the Tier 2 companies. But this is about cooperation, and I can’t emphasise enough that those social media services have been coming to us as we have been going to them, and there has been nothing but very positive engagement to date.

JOURNALIST:

What are the numbers like so far of complaints you’ve been receiving through your site?

MACGIBBON:         

Well, we’ve had 40 serious complaints that we’ve handled to date. Now that number to me must grow. If you look at the statistics on the video, and as the Minister mentioned, surveys and estimates would say about one in five Australian kids are cyber-bullied each year. Now we know a dollop of that will be serious cyber-bullying, and we’re only set up to deal with serious matters. But again I think the public has been conditioned into thinking there’s nowhere to go. Today we’re hoping to say as we’re open for business that we’re here to help. Go to the social media services first to make a complaint, they’re best first port of call. If that fails, come to us as well.

JOURNALIST:

And how will you measure the success of this whole initiative? Obviously the numbers are tricky because the more numbers you’re getting, you can’t just say there’s more bullying going on or social media services aren’t complying. It could be, as you say, more people are aware and are taking advantage of what’s there. So how do you plan to measure how well this is all going?

FIFIELD:

Well look, I think there are a few ways. And you’re right, you make the point that this is a new office so therefore the numbers of the cases handled by the office will grow over time as people become aware of the office and the support that it can lend. We’ll receive feedback from parents and families as to what their experiences are. But the most important point is there is now somewhere that people can go. There is now somewhere that parents can go who have concerns. But I think the really important measure will be one that the Commissioner has already spoken of, and that is social media partner organisations who are bringing down material within a period of 12 hours. So there’s I guess the absolute numbers of people who might seek to use the service, but the important measure is how quickly those people who come to the office have their issues resolved.

MACGIBBON:

And ultimately, of course, that Australian kids can use the internet for positive things, and that we help reduce the likelihood hard to measure, and that’s a really long-term goal, but that’s what we need to aim for really. Realising the benefits of technology NBN, and other such things, and reducing the inhibitions to the use of those technologies.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, great news today that a lot of social media organisations are on board supporting what is a very good thing.


FIFIELD:

It’s terrific to mark the launch of the e-safety commissioner although the office has been open for 3 months, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the great work that they’ve done in their first quarter, that there has been something in the order of 600 kids who’ve had the opportunity to be referred to kids helpline to get counselling and support, there have been over 40 serious incidents of cyber bullying have been successfully resolved.  It’s good news for parents and its good news for children.

                                                                                               

JOURNALIST:

They’re good numbers but do you think that it’s work that will never be completed given that social media and the digital age is upon us forever more?

 

FIFIELD:

Well as technology develops, sadly it mean that there are new opportunities for those who want to cause grief to others through bullying so we now have the dangerous introduction of cyber bullying. So it’s important that government puts place in a range or arrangements that reflect technological changes so that we can provide good support to kids and families.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Things change, don’t they, over time? I’ve just noticed, with the backdrop, sticks and stones may break my bones. But 20, 30 years ago, we were told the opposite that they make break your bones.

 

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well we know that yes, there is physical abuse, but verbal abuse or written abuse, through an online medium can also damage and hurt people very significantly. We don’t want to see incidents of children who are self-harming because of what they’re experiencing through bullying. So there’s now somewhere where parents can go, schools can go and children can go to get help. So that cyber bullying material can now be taken down.

 

STUDENT:

 

Why do you think it’s become such an issue in modern day society?

 

FIFIELD:

 

There’s always been an issue of bullying as long as people have interacted with each other, there’s bullying. What technological does, along with providing opportunities for people to interact with each other in positive ways, it also provides a platform through which people can seek to bully each other. There’ll always be different ways that people seek to bully. So it’s important that we stay up to date with technology as a government, and give the parents and families the resources that they need, but also provide somewhere that they can go to take action.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

If it works for cyber bullying, could you apply it to other things such as radicalism?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well certainly, there’s more that could be done. The government has made available $100m to help the issue of domestic violence and we’re working on ways in which the children’s e-safety commissioner can support that work, and there will be some money going to support that particular effort. In terms of radicalisation, we have got to keep an open mind as to the avenues that we can pursue to find the people who may be tempted to radicalise. Thank you.

                     

Media contact:

Luisa Anderson | 0417 309 812 | Luisa.anderson@communications.gov.au