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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 6860


Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (18:59): I rise to speak on the motion moved by the member for Forrest on cybersafety and cyberbullying. All of us in the chamber are very much aware of how our lives have been impacted by an increasingly digital world. It brings so many positive opportunities to aspects of modern life, but of course it also brings concerns that we have to address—concerns that relate to the safety of children and young people online.

So much now depends on the usage of cyberspace. Everything from small business and banking to shopping and government departments can now be operated and accessed online, which are all fantastic and great advances. Already, our employment, healthcare and education depend strongly on very well functioning infrastructure and online access. Labor understand that these areas are vital to a smart and prosperous nation. That is why we are delivering the National Broadband Network. We understand that the vital interconnectivity between the nation's education, health service and economy needs a solid and reliable digital infrastructure network.

We all benefit from the expansion of the internet. We have also seen some of the downsides of this medium and the sometimes negative impact it can have on the lives of our children. Mobile phones, the internet and in particular social networking have become the new playground of the cyberbully, which is a concern. We know that cyberbullying primarily affects young people because they are in fact the biggest users of digital media. According to a government bullying and cyberbullying website:

… young people aged 14-17 have the highest rate of internet usage as at June 2010, with 91 per cent going online weekly.

Also not a surprise to anyone that is a parent, chatting to friends is the main reason 89% of 16-17 year olds use the internet.

The exploding use of online chat, social networking sites like Facebook and SMS technology for young people has really opened up a whole new avenue of concern. Of course, it is not just limited to young people, but that is what we are focusing on tonight. We need to remember too the great advances and assistance it provides to young people, but tonight we are talking about some of the concerns we need to be aware of.

The statistics on cyberbullying are most disturbing. It is believed that up to 14 per cent of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying in Australia. This shocking statistic was gained from a group of researchers who handed down the report entitled The prevalence of cyberbullying in Australia. The rate of bullying of girls is at a staggering 64 per cent, much higher than for their male counterparts.

The overwhelming use of social media and other digital technology has also added another really concerning element to bullying—that is, that it does not stop. Through social media, chat and texts a bully can have direct access to their victims 24 hours a day, which is a concern. So it is not just happening at school; it can happen at the shops, the movies and at home as well. As children become more connected to each other through digital media, their ability to bully others has also been magnified. That is what we have to be very wary of and express our concerns about.

Research has also shown that children are far more unlikely to report a case of cyberbullying than of face-to-face bullying. This new and unrelenting nature of bullying has led to many kids lives being turned into a real pain and real misery, with sometimes very devastating consequences. It is up to us as individuals, parents, communities and governments to be addressing all of these concerns and be taking action in relation to it. It is important we do it in a bipartisan way in working with industry as well.

The government has introduced a number of measures to address cyberbullying and cybersafety. In 2008 the government committed $125.8 million towards a range of cybersafety programs to inform and educate young people as part of our cybersafety plan. We continue to invest in those cybersafety activities. The cybersafety plan was developed and funded to combat online risks involved in digital media and to help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate online material. This also included expanding the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations team. As a result, 91 additional officers were assigned to the AFP. These improved measures have resulted in the prosecution of 316 offenders since mid-2009. The government also increased funding to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to manage increased activity from the AFP to ensure speedier and more efficient prosecutions as a result of these investigations.

So improving cybersafety for our kids has been a priority for this government. That is why we also developed the Stay Smart Online website and provided for the Australian Communications and Media Authority's Cybersmart program, which is a national cybersafety and cybersecurity education program. Education and awareness raising have been the cornerstones of the government's cybersafety reforms. As part of these reforms, resources were provided to families and children through the ThinkUKnow program to assist parents and children to deal with the risks posed by online predators.

Funding was also allocated to help develop and maintain online tools like the Cybersafety Help Button and the Easy Guide to Socialising Online websites. The Cybersafety Help Button helps young people have 24/7 access to cybersafety resources and advice. Through the button they can also report inappropriate behaviour directly to the AFP, which massively increases their ability to report it. The Cybersafety Help Button is free to download onto a personal computer, mobile or school network to get information where and when it is needed most.

In addition to these great programs, the government has also provided $3 million to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for a national pilot of its eSmart cybersafety initiative. Following the great success of this pilot program, eSmart has now been delivered to 1,600 schools nationally. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation are discussing similar rollouts of the eSmart program with state education departments.

When it comes to combating cyberbullying directly the government has also set up the cooperative arrangements for complaints handling on social networking sites. This is primarily referred to as 'the protocol' and demonstrates that social networking sites understand that they need to work cooperatively with government to meet the expectations of the Australian community when it comes to combating inappropriate online conduct like cyberbullying.

Primarily the protocol ensures that social networking sites have clear and easy to follow processes so that complaints are handled promptly and in accordance with their user policies. At the present time, four of the major social media platforms have signed up to the protocol. These include Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!7. I certainly commend them for signing up and working with governments and the community. I also believe that Australian people are with us on these really important forms when it comes to cybersafety. In fact, the 2010 parents survey commissioned by the government found that almost one in two Australian parents felt they were well-informed about cybersafety issues. That is really important. I know parents are always looking for as much information as they can to assist their children as they are navigating the online world.

This survey also found the majority of parents had spoken to their children about the risks of being online. I certainly know not only from being a parent but also from my time as a police officer many years ago that it is really important to be constantly informing children about the risks and the dangers they face in a variety of situations. When we are talking about the online environment, it is important to be very clear with them about some of the risks that are out there. While of course we want to be discussing the benefits and the gains that can be achieved from navigating the online world—there are so many for all of us, and particularly for our kids—it is important we keep having those discussions with children about being aware of the dangers and also the help that is available. We know that by making the kids aware of what help is available and what action they can take, that can greatly reduce the harm or the risk that they may find themselves in, or the fact that they may need help depending on whatever the situation might be.

I want to point out again that it is a Labor government that continues to build the digital infrastructure that will carry this country and its children forward in the future. We are very proud of our investment and we are very proud of rolling out the National Broadband Network. But it is also essential for the government to move with the evolving nature of digital technology, and to respond in a meaningful and purposeful way to protect as best we can children from any online bullying or predatory behaviour or online violence. I think we all share a responsibility for that as individuals, parents, communities and governments and recognise that it is important that we are taking action now and into the future as we see a great expansion of our online world. We see a greater amount of children at younger ages who are accessing online environments as well, and we have to be very much aware of that and very much aware of our actions to protect them as much as we can.

From the government's perspective, while we have been delivering on the NBN, we have at the same time continued to work on protecting our kids through that whole range of measures that I mentioned, through programs like Cybersmart, the additional resources to the Australian Federal Police in fighting predators and also the protocols to ensure that websites and social media maintain a very high standard of protection that is expected of them by the Australian community. I am sure that we will keep working with them and with the community in general in ensuring programs are updated in the future to deal with other concerns that may be raised, whether it is in relation to cybersafety or cyberbullying. I think these are grave concerns for all of us across the country, and I think we have all had instances in our electorates of speaking with parents and children about the concerns that have been raised by them and the instances they found themselves in. It is important we keep talking about that, and that we keep saying to our kids that, at the end of the day, they need to be accessing help online and talking to people if they have any concerns. It is important we keep discussing it and making sure that, in working together, we are combating any increases in instances of either bullying or ensuring we are putting as much help in place as we can to ensure the cybersafety of our kids in particular as we see this great growth in the internet throughout the country.