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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7786


Senator ELLISON (11:07 PM) —Today Parliamentarians against Child Abuse and Neglect hosted an important event which showcased an initiative which I think is a standout in the protection of children. This parliamentary group is a very important one. It not only offers bipartisan support in a very important area for Australia’s children but also will provide a means for the future where we can address challenges which face the children of Australia. It is co-chaired by Senators Arbib and Kroger, and I congratulate them and members of this group on the great work they do. The initiative today concerned NAPCAN’s website called SOSO. SOSO stands for ‘Smart online is safe offline’. I was very impressed to see the great success that this has achieved in such a short space of time. It is targeted at some 2.4 million children across Australia, and it is estimated that over 80 per cent of children access the internet in Australia today. That demonstrates the need for such a website. Whilst the internet can be a great source of education, it can also pose a threat to children whereby predators can prey upon them. As Minister for Justice and Customs in the previous government I provided funding for this initiative, and I am very pleased to see that the current government have continued the support for this initiative. I congratulate the government with regard to that and urge them to continue that great support for what I think is an initiative which is going to see some very good results indeed.

The program deals directly with children and in a manner that appeals to children but also uses language which they readily understand. It has an advertisement which is being run on the Cartoon Network system, and around 1.6 million children have interacted with this advertisement. I tested my own children, my nine-year-old twins, this evening and they knew it very well. I did not even know it was there on the Cartoon Network but they knew all about it, and I think that is some testament to the cut-through of this initiative. If you do not believe that, the statistics spell it out very clearly. When you compare it to the Cybersmart site, which over a period of six months this year had just over 14,000 hits, in six weeks the SOSO site has had just over 43,000 hits. That demonstrates a great response it has had from children across Australia. Some 10 per cent of those have accessed the ‘Dob in a Creep’ part of the site, which deals with situations where children think that they know of someone who is not who they say they are and they are really up to no good. This is very encouraging. It demonstrates that the children of Australia are awake to this threat. Some of them have accessed that part of the site, if for nothing more than just to get more information.

I commend NAPCAN on the great work it is also doing with the industry in this regard. Marie Faulkner, the CEO, outlined today the partnership that has been developed between NAPCAN and the industry. I commend such providers as Telstra, Yahoo, MySpace, ninemsn, Microsoft and Ten, to name just a few. It is this partnership which will make this initiative such a success. I commend the industry for the work that they do in relation to this as well.

I will also mention the terrific work the Australian Federal Police have been doing in this area. I do not think many Australians appreciate just what a world leader the Australian Federal Police are. They have been leaders in the international fight against online child sexual exploitation, and when the virtual global task force was set up, the 24/7 taskforce dealing with paedophilia on the internet internationally, the AFP were there at the forefront. They have continued to lead in that regard. When I was in the United Kingdom in July this year, I visited the child protection agency and in particular their online child protection section, and they acknowledged the great work that the Australian Federal Police are doing in this regard. They too are partners with NAPCAN in this regard. The AFP have developed great technology in assisting in areas such as this. The Australian High Tech Crime Centre, which has now been transferred into the high-tech operations centre, is a crucial part of this, and the AFP continues to work with people such as the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the United Kingdom authorities as well.

The internet knows no geographical boundaries, and when a child in Australia accesses the internet they could be talking to anyone in any country in the world. That is why we need this international effort. What is so important with NAPCAN is that they are appealing directly to the children themselves and raising that awareness, informing them and giving them this crucial assistance they need in dealing with the internet. The industry in turn is providing chat rooms which are safe and secure and have moderators who can more or less peer over the shoulder of a child accessing that chat room. I think that is something for the future which can provide security and assurance for parents who are concerned about their children who access the internet. Certainly I am in that number. The internet is a source of great education, great benefit for Australia’s children, and it should not be cut off from them. What we have to ensure as a responsible parliament is that, with the partnership of the private sector and law enforcement, we put in place those measures which can provide safety for our children in accessing the internet.

I urge all parliamentarians to access SOSO, ‘Smart online is safe offline’. It is a great initiative, and I certainly commend the work that the recently formed Parliamentarians against Child Abuse and Neglect are doing and wish them well in the future because they have a broad challenge in front of them but perhaps one of the most important challenges in this parliament. I think it is fair to say that this is one of those truly bipartisan areas that we see in the Senate.