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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 75

Senator PATTERSON (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan. I know that the minister travelled around Australia last week promoting the aims of Child Protection Week. I ask the minister to provide the Senate with details of government action designed to ensure that Australian children are protected from inappropriate and offensive material online.

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Patterson for the question and for her commitment to the protection of Australian children. I do not think there can be any doubt that our children are our most precious asset, and there is no more important duty for a government than to protect children. During last week’s Child Protection Week, I travelled, as Senator Patterson said, around Australia together with Kieren Perkins, the NetAlert parent ambassador, who has taken a very great interest in this role and in promoting it to young people and parents. Together, we spent the week talking about how parents, grandparents and carers can best protect their families online. The government’s world-leading $189 million NetAlert program Protecting Australian Families Online has been developed to empower parents to manage their children’s online activities safely and in line with their own family values. Importantly, it is also about helping children to manage matters of concern, such as stranger contact and cyberbullying. We are using a comprehensive approach that combines real, practical help with the best available technology, education and tough regulation and policing to ensure that Australian families can get the best of the internet while, of course, minimising potential harm. In total, this is an audacious and comprehensive program to protect Australian families online.

Today, shortly before question time, together with Senator Johnston I announced that the government has established a consultative working group to address the potential abuse of social networking sites by paedophiles and sex offenders, who use the internet for nefarious purposes to contact and groom children. I am very pleased with the range of participants who have stepped forward to take part in the group and particularly welcome the involvement of industry, social welfare and other community representatives. The government is committed to exploring workable ways to eliminate the misuse of social networking sites by those seeking to exploit children.

I cannot overstate my commitment—or the commitment of Senator Johnston or of anyone on this side of the chamber—or the determination of the Howard government to protect our children from exposure to inappropriate content and dangerous contact online. I am in no doubt that the NetAlert program puts Australia well and truly in front, with a proactive and comprehensive response to online child protection. It is disappointing that some seek to play politics with the protection of Australian children, and, in contrast to Labor’s window-dressing on this issue, the Howard government has now a world-leading, fully funded, comprehensive internet safety program that unequivocally puts Australian families first.