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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1078

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (21:34): I rise tonight to inform the House about concerns I have for seniors, regarding their safety and privacy in an increasingly online world. Obviously, the internet has become a major part of our modern lives. Most Australians rely on it for keeping in touch with friends, for paying bills and for doing business, both nationally and internationally. The NBN will help let Australian skills and know-how compete all around the world.

We must ensure that no Australians are left behind as we experience the technological revolution. That is why the Gillard government has invested in the NBN, and $15 million to set up 2,000 internet kiosks for seniors. I have a flyer, with me opening the Broadband for Seniors at the office in Griffith with the APSL president, Frances Nord, and the APSL state secretary, Ian Gordon.

The Broadband for Seniors program has helped thousands more seniors experience the benefits and convenience of the internet. It helps them to gain confidence using computer technology and builds community participation and social inclusion among older Australians. Today, senior Australians are the fastest growing demographic of online users, so you can teach an old dog new tricks—especially if it is an Australian dog.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that more than 60 per cent of Australians aged 55 to 64 use the internet, with more than 30 per cent of those over 65 spending time online. The 2010 Online risk and safety in the digital economy report published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that older Australians are more likely to use the internet for e-commerce, for research and health information, while younger age groups are more likely to look for music, use social networking sites and seek entertainment through video games.

Mr Ciobo: What do you use them for?

Mr PERRETT: I am not sure about the member for Moncrieff, but I am starting to put one foot in both of those camps in the things that I use the internet for.

The ACMA report also found that internet users over the age of 55 are actually very intensive users. As older Australians get online they are increasingly exposed to online risks such as dating and mass marketing scams—some that particularly target older people.

I have been contacted by seniors in my electorate who have been scammed by these internet pests. These heartless pests prey on the vulnerable, the lonely and those just wanting to do the right thing by their fellow man or woman. I have heard from constituents who are even tricked into sending money overseas through dating schemes, or who responded to phishing emails asking for bank, credit card or other personal details. It has been hard for each of these people to report what has happened to them. Understandably, people who have been scammed often feel embarrassed or ashamed. I can report—in the hope that my wife is not listening—that even she, who has four degrees and who works with computers all the time, said when I came home one day, 'You've got to phone Microsoft. We've got a problem with the computer.' I then had a nice conversation with an Indian gentleman who tried to convince me of where he lived in Sydney. But it turned out that he did not; he was actually trying to get a couple of hundred dollars out of us. It can happen to anybody.

There should be no shame here for my wife or for any senior Australians. For many it is a whole new world of information to understand and they are easily able to be tricked. Unfortunately, it is costing Australians millions of dollars every year. In the report on scam activity in 2010, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reported that Australians lost more than $63 million from cybercrime, and this was based on losses actually reported to the ACCC. Reported online scams rose from 14,101 in 2009 to 19,074 in 2010, rising exponentially as the NBN is rolled out and more people take up computers, tablets, iPhones and the like.

These figures included online auction and shopping scams, false billing, banking and online account scams, job and employment scams, dating and romance scams and computer prediction software scams. Twenty-three per cent of those who reported scams to the ACCC were 55 years or older, and as the population ages and technology is rolled out that percentage will increase. So this demographic has the highest uptake of computer and internet use and the highest increase in vulnerability to scam activity. Unfortunately, some older Australians have been frightened off the internet because of the stories they hear about the risks online.

That is why the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, of which I am a member, is investigating cybersafety for senior Australians. It is an important and timely inquiry for the parliament to pursue, and one that I hope will bring forward practical recommendations that help protect the safety and security of senior Australians as they go online. The cybersafety committee involves members from both sides—from the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is chaired by the Labor Senator Catryna Bilyk, and the member for Mitchell is the deputy chair.

Mr Ciobo: A good man.

Mr PERRETT: Yes, he is making a great contribution. This inquiry will investigate the best means to reduce the risks, enhance consumer protection and build online confidence for older internet users. Specifically, the committee is researching the nature, prevalence and level of cybersafety risks and threats experienced by older Australians; how these risks might affect technologies used by senior Australians; the adequacy of current government response and education initiatives aimed specifically at senior Australians; and how we can change laws and policy to improve cybersafety for seniors. The cybersafety committee wants to hear from older Australians, industry experts and other stakeholders to find out what more government can do to build user confidence and to protect Australian consumers. People have until the end of this week to lodge a submission with the inquiry. The fax number is (02)62772219, or they can email

I want to recognise that corporate Australia is taking many steps to help protect seniors online. Telstra, for example, publishes a tip sheet to advise people on how to be cybersafe. It advises us all to change passwords regularly. Do not just put 'moncrieff2013' and change it every three years or something; you have to be a little bit more inventive. Install security software and think before you click on links. For example, one of my followers on Twitter that I saw today says she is—I quote, but not totally—a 'dirty posh girl that loves the thought of people watching her'.

Mr Ciobo: You clicked, didn't you?

Mr PERRETT: No, I did not click, Member for Moncrieff. I am guessing that this follower is not necessarily a reporter at the Fin Review, or even a reader of the Fin Review. So you do need to be careful. Concerning personal information, Telstra also advise:

Be careful about what information you disclose about yourself and others online

I would give that advice to nearly everyone under 25 years old on Facebook.

Don’t respond to offers, deals or requests for your details—independently check the offer

Never send money, credit card, account or other personal details to unsolicited offers

Use a screen name (fake name) in chat rooms

Be wary about face-to-face meeting people you have met online

This is important advice, but I suggest that more needs to be done to ensure that these messages are getting through to Australian seniors. For example, internet providers should send a clear and simple fact sheet to all internet users to ensure they understand the risks and are streetwise enough to avoid them. Obviously prevention is the best cure for this spreading disease.

Cybersafety for seniors is a significant issue in my community, and it will only get worse as scammers and internet pests get more sophisticated in their use of technological rorts. It is my hope that through the committee we can make some recommendations to improve education and protection for seniors online, and I will certainly be going around Moreton to my seniors groups to educate them about the risks that they face.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192B.

Main Committee adjourned at 21:4 4