Radio National with Fran Kelly > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-August-2018

Radio National with Fran Kelly

ABC Radio

15 August 2018

8.05 am

E & OE

 

KELLY:

Well, the Federal Government will introduce new amendments today to toughen up a bill tackling so-called revenge porn; in response to what many say is a growing problem. Research has found that one in five Australians have had intimate images or videos taken or shared without their consent. The bill passed the Senate earlier this year but today it will go into the lower house with some new amendments; provisions bringing tougher penalties for individuals, social media services and websites that post intimate images without consent. Mitch Fifield is the Communications Minister. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

 

FIFIELD:

Good Morning, Fran.

 

KELLY:

Before we come to revenge porn, can I ask you first, were you in the Senate last night to hear the maiden speech of Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, in which he called for a return to the European Christian immigration system and a ban on Muslims migrating to Australia?

 

FIFIELD:

I wasn’t in the Senate chamber for Senator Anning’s first speech, Fran, but I do absolutely condemn what he said. Australia is an open, generous and warm-hearted nation. We accept people on the basis of their character. We proudly have an immigration policy that’s non-discriminatory and that’s as it should be.

 

KELLY:

He used very provocative language, including the phrase final solution – the final solution to the immigration problem, of course, is a popular vote, is what he said, which has prompted outrage across the divide. I think a lot of people are probably asking how a person who secured only 19 votes is there, with 19 votes on Election Day managed to get a seat and a platform for dangerous views in the Senate of Australia.

 

FIFIELD:

Well, each of us in the Senate is judged on our contribution. Senator Anning will be before the voters at the next election. And, as with all us, the opportunity is there for the Australian people to cast their verdict.

 

KELLY:

Well, free speech or not though, do you think it’s acceptable for a parliamentary representative to say Muslim immigration should be banned? Are these times to play around with views like this just for a headline?

 

FIFIELD:

No, I don't think those views are acceptable, Fran. I condemn them. Colleagues across the Parliament have done likewise. What we want is a nation where people come here, they sign up to our values, they contribute. We judge them on their character. On nothing else. We welcome people through our immigration program. We welcome people through our humanitarian program. And we have a proud record, a proud bipartisan record, of not discriminating against people on the basis of race or religion.

 

KELLY:

Okay, let's turn now to the amendments you're going to introduce today - beefing up penalties for so-called revenge porn. What do these amendments do?

 

FIFIELD:

At the moment we have some general criminal provisions that relate to using a carriage service to menace or harass people. And there have been people who have received jail terms of up to three years. But we don't think the penalties are tough enough for this particular category known as revenge porn, or the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. So we want to establish some new offences. Some aggravated offences. So that someone can be jailed for five years, or if they're a repeat offender they can be jailed for up to seven years. We want to send a really clear message to the creeps that do this sort of thing. That it's not acceptable. That the same set of laws and standards of behaviour that apply in the real world, in the physical world, also should apply in the online world.

 

KELLY:

So are these criminal penalties? At the moment we don't have - do we have criminal penalties in the current law?

 

FIFIELD:

There currently are Commonwealth criminal penalties in relation to using a carriage service or platforms to menace or harass. But we don't have a specific criminal provision that relates to revenge porn. We also have in this legislation some civil penalties so that you can be fined as an individual up to $105,000. But we want to have a range of measures. We want to have a range of tools that are available to punish this behaviour and to send an unequivocal message that it's not on.

 

KELLY:

Minister, am I right in saying that you didn't support criminal sanctions in the past? Have you changed your mind on this?

 

FIFIELD:

No. We do already have some criminal provisions in the law. What we put before the Parliament was a civil penalties regime because we don't have civil penalties in relation to this sort of activity at the moment.

 

KELLY:

Right.

 

FIFIELD:

There is a lower standard of proof required for civil penalties and that's a path that a lot of people have said they'd like to go down. So we said, look, let's complement what we already have in criminal law with civil penalties. But we're now taking it a step further to say let's increase the fines - sorry, let’s increase the penalties for criminal activities. Let’s introduce some aggravated offences.

 

KELLY:

What’s the dimension of the problem? Can you tell us a bit more about that? And what’s the evidence to show how penalties effect that or can have an effect on lowering that?

 

FIFIELD:

The eSafety Commissioner that we’ve established which is a world’s first undertake extensive research in this area. And their survey work finds that one in five people have been subject to this sort of activity at some stage. The eSafety Commissioner has received in excess of 200 complaints about this sort of behaviour, this sort of activity. To date, the eSafety Commissioner has been able to remove about 80 percent of this material. What we want to do is give the eSafety Commissioner more powers, more teeth, so that we can stamp on this.

 

KELLY:

And who will those powers be aimed at primarily? The perpetrators? Or I know it’s also aimed as you said social media services and websites which host these images. Are we looking at the giants? Are we looking at Facebook, Instagram, Google? Are they the ones that come to mind? Are they doing enough on their own to fix this problem?

FIFIELD:

Look they can do more. There has been good cooperation to date between those platforms and the eSafety Commissioner in taking down this material. But they can always do more. And what we want to have is a greater capacity to address these. So as well as civil penalties for individuals, as well as criminal penalties for individuals - in the civil penalties regime that’s before the Parliament we also have fines of $525,000 for social media platforms that don’t co-operate. Now we expect that they will cooperate, that we don’t need these. But it’s still good to have them on the books.

 

KELLY:

And you know it’s always pointed out this is a grey area and sometimes subjective. I mean not with everything obviously. How, who is in charge of imposing these penalties and whom makes this judgement?

 

FIFIELD:

Ultimately for civil penalties and for criminal penalties it will be the courts who determine what is the appropriate level of sanction, but also…

 

KELLY:

Will those, will those who are the victims of it have to be responsible for bringing it forward themselves? Because the statistics show that 30 percent of reported cases are victims under 18 and we know that a lot of people might be too embarrassed or too scared to come forward.

FIFIELD:

We have the eSafety Commission there as a one stop show so that the eSafety Commissioner can take actions forward. The eSafety Commissioner also has the capacity to issue infringement notices where they can be a penalty of several thousand dollars. We’ve got a graduated range of measures so the eSafety Commissioner can seek voluntary action on behalf of an individual or a social media platform. They can issue notices to individuals and platforms to cease and desist. They can issue infringement notices with fines. Or they can go further an initiate court action.

 

KELLY:

You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. The research on this shows that 79 percent of reported cases involve female victims and this is a lot of these penalties are to protect women and young women in particular from this particular kind of humiliation. On a different kind of humiliation. The Senate yesterday censured Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm over derogatory, defamatory and sexist comments regarding the Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. You and the Coalition didn’t vote for that, voted against it. Why?

 

FIFIELD:

Well some of these matters are likely to be before the courts in the near future. There have been actions…

 

KELLY:

But a Senate censure doesn’t get in the way of that does it?

 

FIFIELD:

Well there have been actions which have been initiated. Legal actions. And we’re careful to consider matters in relation to sub judice.

 

KELLY:

And can I ask you a question? I really can’t let you go without asking about the ABC. The Federal Government has launched yet another Efficiency Review of the ABC and SBS. We had the last review in 2014. Now we’ve got another one. Why is the Government trying to dictate how the public broadcasters spends their money when that’s the province of the Boards isn’t it? We are a public broadcaster not a state broadcaster.

 

FIFIELD:

Absolutely. And one of the great underpinnings of public broadcasting is the legislated independence that the ABC and SBS have. And we’re not seeking to change that. But the ABC and SBS as community taxpayer funded organisations need to make sure that they are the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars. And the Efficiency Review is aimed at supporting the ABC to make sure that it is just that.

 

KELLY:

Do you think we’re not spending money wisely at the moment?

 

FIFIELD:

All Commonwealth agencies should strive for continual improvement. The last efficiency…

 

KELLY:

Do they all have efficiency reviews though all the time?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, yes all Commonwealth agencies are subject to efficiency reviews to make sure that they’re doing their work the best that they can. The last Efficiency Review into the ABC was about three years ago. And in the fast evolving world of media that is an eternity. But Fran the good news for your listeners is that the ABC will continue to receive in excess of a billion dollars a year. And that does represent a very important underpinning of media diversity in Australia and a significant Commonwealth contribution to civic journalism.

 

KELLY:

Minister thank you very much for joining us.

 

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Fran.

[ends]


Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.