Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download PDFDownload PDF 

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Office of the eSafety Commissioner

Office of the eSafety Commissioner

CHAIR: We have the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Welcome back, Commissioner. Ms Inman Grant, I understand you're prepared to table your opening statement, but please give us a two-minute precis of that.

Ms Inman Grant : As you may know, the Online Safety Act commenced three weeks ago, on 23 January. We believe that these robust changes are helping to level the playing field by shifting the burden for online safety away from children, parents and vulnerable communities and making service providers more accountable for safety protections on their services. This includes our world-first Adult Cyber Abuse Scheme, which allows us to step in and support people who come to us because they are experiencing serious online harm. We've already handled more than 200 complaints about serious abuse, targeting Australian adults. These include complaints about explicit instructions and encouragement to commit suicide, threats of murder, and the menacing publication of personal details online or doxing. In response to these and other harmful content, we've worked with the platforms to ensure the material is quickly removed. Some posts have been taken down in less than an hour because of eSafety's interventions and specifically our investigative team. In the near term we're continuing to work with the broader online industry to implement world-leading mandatory industry codes and basic online safety expectations by mid-2022. Our prevention efforts also saw some stunning research released last week and a very successful, Safer Internet Day. We'll continue to stay focused on the future trends and challenges posed by the weaponisation of new technologies, ensuring that safety is a forethought rather than an afterthought in shaping new online paradigms like the metaverse or the decentralised web 3.0 world. Thank you and I'm happy to take questions.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I just want to refer to an article that appeared yesterday in the Australian newspaper. Senator Pratt might be interested in this as well. It reads, 'Kid crime wave from TikTok "challenge"'. Are you aware of that, Commissioner?

Ms Inman Grant : I read the same piece in the Australian yesterday.

Senator DEAN SMITH: The article says that the WA police minister, Paul Papalia, has written to the federal communications minister. Mr Papalia, it says, sent the letter shortly after a stolen vehicle occupied by 11- and 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old girl rammed a police car in the Kimberley community of Broome. It goes on to mention that these activities have been happening since September. Minister, can you confirm whether or not the minister for communications has in fact received a letter from the state minister Paul Papalia?

Senator Hume: I don't know that. I will take it on notice.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Could you perhaps inquire over the next few moments? I think it will be quite helpful. Commissioner, you read the article yourself?

Ms Inman Grant : I did.

Senator DEAN SMITH: What observations would you like to share or comments would you like to make?

Ms Inman Grant : Over the past few years we've seen a range of so-called internet challenges happening online. We've taken the opportunity in each case, starting with the Blue Whale Challenge or another, to engage with the platforms involved to see what actions they're taking to stop their virality, as well as using that as an educational opportunity. When I saw this article, I was particularly concerned. It looked like a very localised challenge and it looked like it was on the upper end of the criminal scale. So obviously it's very concerning.

Senator DEAN SMITH: In the article it says, and I'm quoting now from the police minister's letter, apparently, to the federal minister for communications—

Senator Hume: I can confirm, yes, the minister has received that letter.

Senator DEAN SMITH: And what date did he receive the letter?

Senator Hume: I'm not sure.

Sen ator DEAN SMITH: If you could please inquire, that would be great. It quotes from the WA police minister's letter. It says, 'The WA police force has been attempting to work with social media companies to have them remove inappropriate or illegal material, with only limited engagement.' You read the article, Commissioner?

Ms Inman Grant : I did.

Senator DEAN SMITH: You read that quote?

Ms Inman Grant : I did read that quote.

Senator DEAN SMITH: And what observations or information do you have to share with us?

Ms Inman Grant : My observation is that's precisely what the eSafety Commissioner was set up for us to do, and we do engage fairly frequently with the WAPOL, or the Western Australian police. I asked Mr Dagg, our lead investigator, to reach out—and I'll have him fill in the details—to both the Halls Creek police but also the centralised agencies. We also reached out directly to Snapchat and TikTok, who were named in the article, to ascertain what their understanding of the issues were and what actions they might be taking. Then we endeavoured to make sure that WA police and the platforms were connected with the right contacts.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Let's take a step back. What is the framework through which you, as the commissioner, and your agency engage with police agencies or forces like the WA Police Force?

Ms Inman Grant : We have MOUs, which I might note we will endeavour to update, with the Australian Federal Police and all state and territory police offices. But that is usually around the engagement around child sexual abuse material. With the Online Safety Act passage and the broadening of the Online Content Scheme we would have to look at and investigate the material. If that material incites or promotes violence or crime, that could also be captured.

Mr Dagg : We have frequent contact with police right across Australia, from the federal police right through to the state and territory police forces.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Did you say regular contact?

Mr Dagg : Yes, that's right. We offer our assistance to police in respect of specific removal actions. That mainly focuses on child sexual exploitation material, but the conversations that I've had with my colleagues in Western Australia police over the last 24 hours have been around offering our assistance in respect of this particular content. As the commissioner said, the Online Safety Act does provide us with removal powers in relation to class 1 content, which does include material that incites or promotes in the doing of crime or violence. I haven't seen the content, but certainly the offer to Western Australia police has been that if they wish to seek our assistance in relation to exercising our powers—

Senator DEAN SMITH: Let's be clear. Please correct me I'm wrong, I think it's fair to say, by your own evidence, you have an ongoing relationship with the police and you engage with them regularly over social media matters.

Mr Dagg : That's correct.

Senator DEAN SMITH: On this particular issue, Commissioner, in regard to crime across the Kimberley, were you aware of it—was your agency aware of it—before you read the Australian newspaper article yesterday?

Ms Inman Grant : We were not aware of this particular instance.

Senator DEAN SMITH: You have an ongoing relationship with the WAPOL, you read an article in the Australian newspaper yesterday which suggests by WA police minister that there is a poor level of engagement between social media platforms, but on this particular issue you have not had any discussions.

Ms Inman Grant : That is correct.

Senator DEAN SMITH: The journalist says it is understood that since September there've been at least 12 incidents of injuries, et cetera. So not only were you not aware of this specific matter before it being published in the Australian newspaper but you're also not aware of the use of social media in escalating lawlessness across the Kimberley since September last year?

Ms Inman Grant : Not these isolated incidents, and I think it's worth saying that, despite what some may think, we are not proactively monitoring the internet for lawlessness. We do require through our reporting schemes that it be reported to us either formally or informally through the police.

Senator DEAN SMITH: My point is quite simple: the Western Australian Police Force has a relationship with you but the first you know that there's an expectation on you to assist is when you read it in the paper.

Ms Inman Grant : That is correct.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Minister, have you any further advice about when the letter was received?

Senator Hume: Yes. The letter was written on 4 February to the minister from the WA police minister. However, it was the Australian newspaper that provided a copy of that letter to Minister Fletcher. The minister has, to date, as at 15 February, not seen the original of that letter either via email or by post.

Senator DEAN SMITH: So the WA police minister writes the letter of the 4 February talking about—I'm quoting from his letter now. He says, 'The Western Australia Police Force has been attempting to work with social media companies to have them remove inappropriate or illegal material with only limited engagement by the platform operators.' This is a letter dated 4 February to the minister for communications, which doesn't get received by the minister for communications himself until yesterday, after the story appears in the Australian newspaper. Indeed, Minister Fletcher gets the copy via the newspaper. That account of things is accurate?

Senator H ume: Yes, the minister has not seen the original letter either by post or via email. He has only seen it via somebody from the Australian newspaper.

Senator DEAN SMITH: And this is an issue that has been going on since September, according to the police minister and the journalist. Let's now turn to the specific actions of TikTok and Snapchat. What is your understanding about their level of engagement with WAPOL?

Ms Inman Grant : I'm not at liberty to speak on behalf of TikTok or Snapchat, other than to say that when we spoke to them yesterday my understanding is that TikTok had been engaged with WA police since December, I believe. When we spoke to the Snapchat representative, they had not heard from them. All I would say is that I know a lot of these companies provide training on their criminal compliance provisions to the different state and territory and federal police. Sometimes this information and training doesn't filter down to the smaller local stations. I'm not sure what happened within the communication of WAPOL, but as soon as Mr Dagg made contact with his cybercrime contact, who happens to be working on the task force, we were able to move things forward and make sure that they were in touch with the right industry representatives.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Just explain to me the task force.

Ms Inman Grant : I understand that Halls Creek will be putting up a task force around this particular incident—around these violent challenges.

Senator DEAN SMITH: It will be putting up a task force or a task force exits?

Mr Dagg : It's my understanding that there is a task force already created, which is a regional task force with personnel seconded from different areas. One of those personnel is attached to the Halls Creek police station.

Senator DEAN SMITH: On the task force, is TikTok represented and is Snapchat represented?

Mr Dagg : I think it's a law enforcement task force focused on police actions and police operations.

Senator DEAN SMITH: And what's your interface with the task force?

Mr Dagg : Only to reach out to members of the task force and offer our assistance and also put the task force into contact with Snapchat and TikTok law enforcement liaison representatives.

Senator DEAN SMITH: When did you know about the task force?

Mr Dagg : Yesterday, when I spoke with representatives from TikTok.

Senator DEAN SMITH: But the police minister says since September these social media platforms have been aiding and abetting lawlessness across the Kimberley.

Mr Dagg : The information that I had yesterday was that TikTok, as the commissioner said, has been in touch with Western Australia police since December and the task force is constituted separately. The first we learnt of the task force's existence was yesterday.

Senator DEAN SMITH: So WAPOL has been engaging with TikTok?

Mr Dagg : That's my understanding, based on information from TikTok.

Senator Hume: Senator Smith can I clarify, too, that Snapchat has advised the minister's office that the WA police has not yet contacted them—that they have in fact reached out to the WA police last Friday, and on Monday, as of yesterday, they had no response either by email or by phone.

Senator DEAN SMITH: How curious. Lawlessness across the Kimberley—and I visited the Kimberley myself in January so I'm very well aware of the state of lawlessness. In fact, I am someone who does believe that social media platforms are being used to amplify the very poor behaviour across the Kimberley. The police minister apparently writes to the federal minister for communications but gives the story to the Australian newspaper and the federal minister for communications only gets the letter after it's been published. The minister is gracious enough to respond, even though he's not actually received a copy of the letter himself—and, I might add, personally notates his letter identifying the contact details of his chief of staff so that he can assist in whatever way. We're told that the WA police have limited engagement with social media platforms. In actual fact, TikTok has been engaging with WAPOL since December and Snapchat apparently is yet to even hear from the WA Police Force. I might just leave it at that point for the moment.

Senator PRATT: I've got some follow-up questions on this. Ms Inman Grant, you were speaking of the usual protocols with the state police, which pertain largely to sex abuse material. Would the state government have been easily aware of your other powers? How do you inform them that this is an area that you can be active in?

Ms Inman Grant : Rather than sex abuse I'd say child sexual exploitation material. I would have thought so, yes, but I can't confirm. Some of these state police forces are very large—hundreds of thousands of people—so we can't really guarantee—

Senator PRATT: Well, the Kimberley is pretty isolated.

Ms Inman Grant : So are you asking if we've communicated to every state and local police station across the country?

Senator PRATT: I just want to know how it is that you make the state governments and police forces aware of your powers when there's not a standing protocol like clearly there is in child exploitation material.

Ms Inman Grant : Well, I think as you just heard from the department, there's an online safety campaign that's a national campaign. We engage with state police forces and we're on a number of task forces, including the Operation Griffin Task Force with state and federal police. We'll continue to keep educating and trying to reinforce this. We've been established as the eSafety Commissioner for seven years. I would have expected as an adjacent regulator that most law enforcement agencies would be aware of us.

Senator PRATT: What work have you done in relation to online safety that's specific to the social and community circumstances of remote Indigenous communities?

Ms Inman Grant : I think I'll turn to Ms Trotter to speak about our engagement with vulnerable communities, particularly Indigenous communities, both in the area of domestic and family violence through our grants program and also through Be Deadly Online, our program for that was co-designed in Indigenous communities—

Senator PRATT: Rather than giving me that overview, can you give me more specifically engagement in the rollout of those programs in terms of which remote communities and where around the country you've had that engagement at a very local level?

Ms Inman Grant : You would understand that over the past 2½ years we haven't been able to really travel anywhere, but we can talk about how we work through Indigenous communities to reach them.

Ms Trotter : We do offer a number of programs targeted to Indigenous communities. Our Be Deadly Online program was developed in consultation with the Yarrabah community, as well as the Geraldton communities in WA. We recently revised and relaunched that program towards the end of last year. We also offer a grants program—the Online Safety Grants Program—through which we have targeted a number of Indigenous communities. One of them is the Queensland remote Indigenous media community. They, through the grant that we offered, have developed a range of television and radio materials promoting online safety in that particular region. There are two Indigenous communities that we've funded through as the second round of our grants.

Senator PRATT: Is that program working, given this kind of activity taking place in the Kimberley with these very vulnerable young people inciting each other into criminal and dangerous acts? How is it that children with social media accounts are still being exposed to this kind of harmful material and spreading it amongst other children?

Ms Inman Grant : Well, I would say how long is a piece of string. I mean, it's not certainly related or limited to Aboriginal Indigenous communities. That's precisely why we're here—to educate, to prevent, to protect and to try and shape the world for the future. We will never pretend that we will be able to reach every single one of the 26 million Australians and that they will abide by these rules and these standards.

Senator PRATT: Can the content be taken down under the Online Safety Act and what formal powers do you, as the eSafety Commissioner, have to act on this issue?

Ms Inman Grant : Well, every piece of content that we would look at to consider whether content removal is warranted would require a regulatory investigation. Mr Dagg will walk through how that process would take under the Online Safety Act.

Mr Dagg : Thanks, Commissioner. I haven't seen the content, so I can speak in general terms about the operation of the Online Safety Act. But, if material were to be reported to us, it's provided over a social media service and that material incites or promotes in the doing of crime or violence, that material might be considered class 1 and subject to removal powers.

Senator PRATT: Okay, so that material has been debated in the local media since last December, but it hasn't come to your attention?

Mr Dagg : We have not received a complaint from WA police.

Senator PRATT: But do you need—

Senator DEAN SMITH: Wow, that's pretty significant. You might just want to take that back.

Senator PRATT: Well, they might not have known that you could accept the claim on this. Do you have an MOU in place with the WA police on matters other than child exploitation material?

Mr Dagg : The matters that are subject to the MOU concern specifically child sexual exploitation material.

Senator PRATT: That's right. So you don't have an MOU—they wouldn't automatically at a grassroots level have understood that they could refer this to you?

Mr Dagg : We don't have an MOU that covers those additional areas.

Senator PRATT: Okay. Do you have to wait for a report to take down content that incites or instructs in crime?

Mr Dagg : Our schemes are complaints-based, Senator. As the commissioner said earlier, we don't patrol the internet for harms, so we do rely on—

Senator PRA TT: The whole community was complaining. There were lots of complaints. What does that say about the accessibility or knowledge of your complaints framework if this is appearing in the media, there's lots of different issues being raised, but they didn't know that it was within your powers to take this down and that they should be complaining to you? What does that say about the accessibility of your complaints framework?

Mr Dagg : Senator, all I can say is that we didn't receive complaints about this matter.

Senator PRATT: Can the eSafety Commissioner now regard the letter from the WA police as a complaint or a report?

Mr Dagg : No.

Senator PRATT: So it has to go through the portal?

Mr Dagg : It does. We need to—

Senator PRATT: Okay, so Divina D'Anna, the local member who raised this issue with me and asked me to ask you about it—should she now instruct citizens that have concerns and local community groups to log on and make that complaint? How come they didn't know—

Ms Inman Grant : You don't have to log on—it's a public website. And, yes, this is exactly what parliament voted for. They voted for complaints-based schemes. We can't possibly—no agency in the world could possibly trawl the entire internet to detect bad content. There's just too much. We need order. We need to collect evidence and we need to be able to defend any regulatory actions we take, and we have reporting requirements that parliament set forth for us. So, yes, we do need people to report through the portal. And now that this is available—

Senator PRATT: Okay, but had you seen these local news articles in December?

Ms Inman Grant : I had not seen them, and neither has anyone on my staff. The first we probably saw was yesterday.

Senator PRATT: Australia is a very big country and I guess if it had been raised in the Sydney Morning Herald from the outset rather than a local community—

Ms Inman Grant : I read the West Australian. I haven't seen it there. We read a lot of broadsheets; anything that has to do with online safety. We may not get every community piece of reportage. We are happy to take reports on this now and do whatever we can to remove this inciteful content. But we can't promise that we will reach every single Australian or every local police force. That's just not reasonable.

Senator DEAN SMITH: This is very curious. Yesterday on radio the WA police minister said: 'Police are doing an incredible job'—and I agree—'and have been very focused on capturing these individuals and charging them once they've been caught. The sanction rate is very high. They catch all of them, they bring them to justice.' But you've just said to us that no specific complaint has been brought to your attention by the Western Australian police minister.

Senator PRATT: How would they know to if they don't have any—

Senator DEAN SMITH: How remarkable.

Ms Inman Grant : That's correct. I'd also like to add, Senator, that under section 474.17 of the Criminal Code, WA police could have taken some of this onboard in terms of menacing, harassing or offensive content. So there are criminal statutes on the books, as well as the regulatory powers that we have to take this content down.

Senator DEAN SMITH: And that is more remarkable. The report says that—

Senator PRATT: We have discussed this many times over—

Senator DEAN SMITH: it's been happening since September. In fact—

Senator PR ATT: about the difficulty of state police prosecuting—

Senator DEAN SMITH: local residents say it's been happening for 18 months.

CHAIR: Order!

Ms Inman Grant : May I just add one more thing. We did write to every member of parliament with the passage of the Online Safety Act to make it clear where they can direct members of their electorate, their constituents, to report to get help from us.

CHAIR: You did—that's right.

Ms Inman Grant : So we're doing everything we can to get information out there broadly, and we do respond when members of parliament and senators refer people to us.

Senator DEAN SMITH: My very realistic expectation would be that members of the Technology Crime Group at the Western Australian Police Force would know exactly how your regime works and how to interface it. I think that's a very reasonable expectation to have of WA police. Just finally, if I might: in the newspaper article of yesterday the communications minister says that he's told the newspaper—the Australian paper—that he expected social media companies to cooperate with the WA police—'My office has been briefed by these platforms who have confirmed they will work closely with the police on this matter to address the risk to the community.' That's also your understanding of the minister's position?

Ms Inman Grant : That is my understanding. Of course, we reached out to them separately on the operational level. We're not engaged in the political level.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thank you.

Senator PRATT: Will you now work to put an MOU in place with state police ministers and commissioners based on content that incites or instructs crime or in a broader set of powers?

Ms Inman Grant : We've actually just brought someone on to work on our law enforcement liaison so that we can work on forging a broader set of MOUs and education on this. Of course, we're three weeks in with this legislation and, yes, we commit to doing that.

Senator PRATT: Okay, so in that sense you need an MOU. You do acknowledge that an MOU in this space is required. It's not—

Ms Inman Grant : It's not required. It helps guide protocol. But, if a police agency came to us needing help with removal, we wouldn't require an MOU to do that.

Senator PRATT: Okay, and how many of the police forces around the country would know that?

Mr Dagg : Senator, we have near daily contact with police around Australia on a variety of operational issues, both through inquiries that they make directly with us and through established operational channels.

Senator PRATT: Okay. And how would a very local police force confronting a youth crime wave in a culturally different kind of environment to what regulators, et cetera, are used to dealing with know to make that connection?

Ms Inman Grant : We would expect that they would reach out through the centralised authority. So, for instance, WA will have a child sexual abuse unit. They'll have a cybercrime unit. We would expect that the local police stations would engage with those centralised functions. The idea is that should flow down.

Senator PRATT: Right, so the fact that kids are promoting this stuff on TikTok is something that your local police officer should automatically understand is cybercrime?

Ms Inman Grant : That is a matter for police.

Mr Dagg : My experience in law enforcement is that police forces do communicate generally to regional and local areas. The existence of specialist units that are centrally managed can provide specialist advice and guidance on operational matters. In this respect, to Senator Smith's question before, we have frequent dealings with the Technology Crime Group, and so that may be a resource that is available to WA police in the regions.

Senator PRATT: Okay, but the local community can now just jump onboard and put in their complaints—they don't need to wait for the Western Australian police?

Ms Inman Grant : That's correct.

Senator Hume: It sounds like that WA police minister was entirely aware that it was a cybercrime well in advance. So he could have made the complaint.

Senator PRATT: Well, I think he probably thought that he had now done that. But I understand—

Senator DEAN SMITH: He thought the politics were just impossible to resist.

Senator PRATT: Is there or is there not a formal complaint before you as commissioner now about this?

Ms Inman Grant : No, not that I'm aware of as of this morning.

Senator PRATT: I have a couple of questions on another topic, just briefly. The Online Safety Act commenced in January 2022. How has the public been made aware of that commencement—media coverage, media releases, social media or a government advertising campaign?

Ms Inman Grant : All of the above, but I would say that we started education around the Online Safety Act for the past six months. We developed detailed regulatory guidance that we've used through social, through our website, through earned media. So all of the above, and as you discussed with the department, they are running an online safety campaign that commenced a week after the Online Safety Act was implemented.

Senator PRATT: What involvement has the office had in the development of $4.4 million public awareness campaign?

Ms Inman Grant : The department has engaged all of the agencies. They've brought us along. We were putting many of the materials on our website, because that's the centralised national online safety hub for that information. This has been purely run by the department of communication, but obviously in consultation with us to make sure that we're aligned in terms of content.

Senator PR ATT: What can you tell us about your input in term and length of that commencement, the media buy plan and input into creative?

Ms Inman Grant : We had no involvement in any of those areas.

Senator PRATT: Are you able to tell us what you know about commencement, the media buy, creative and the length of the campaign?

Ms Inman Grant : I don't know anything other than the length of the campaign, which I believe is six weeks.

Senator PRATT: And when will that start?

Ms Inman Grant : I believe 30 January, a week after the legislation was implemented.

Senator PRATT: So it's started. So the material we can see on the website now—on your website or the department's?

Ms Inman Grant : Right, and we got a specific page that has the Online Safety Act information on it.

Senator PRATT: Okay. So the creative that we can see then now—and I'll go and have a look—is the creative for the whole campaign?

Ms Inman Grant : That was creative—that was developed by the creative agencies hired and guided by the department.

Senator PRATT: Okay. It started on the 30th, but I haven't yet seen anything on TV. When does the advertising peak and trough?

Ms Inman Grant : That's a question much better directed towards the department in further conversation with them. I am not across the details of the media buy or any of that.

Senator PRATT: All right. Are you expecting it to be closer to the election campaign than now or you don't know? Surely we want to get this information out now that the creative is ready as soon as we can.

Ms Inman Grant : I think our goal is to get as many Australians as possible aware of the Online Safety Act and what help and assistance we can provide them.

Senator PRATT: If the creative is ready, surely they should spend it here and now rather than saving this expenditure of that creative. Frankly, when prices escalate, because there's more competition for media buy during an election campaign, surely it would be better to spend that money before the election so that there's more bang for your buck.

Ms Inman Grant : I'm not an expert on advertising or government campaigns. That's why this is being ably handled by the department.

Senator PRATT: So you can't rule out whether there's a political motive other than promoting the Online Safety Act?

Ms Inman Grant : My motivation is getting as many Australians to know about our service as possible.

Senator PRATT: I understand your motivation, thanks, Ms Grant, which is a good one. Since the commencement of the new cyber abuse scheme, has the office received many reports of adult cyber abuse? How many and is this the usual amount for January and February?

Ms Inman Grant : Yes. As I mentioned in my opening statement, we have received 200 cases, which is quite elevated with respect to the same time last year. But I'll again turn over to Mr Dagg to give you more specifics.

Mr Dagg : That's right, Senator. We've received about 200 complaints about adult cyber abuse and compared with the same time last year, when we were taking reports informally, that constitutes about an 85 per cent increase.

Senator PRATT: What do you put that down to?

Mr Dagg : It's difficult to speculate, but I would say the relevant factors would be increased awareness of the—

Senator PRATT: And now that you've got a power—

Mr Dagg : Yes, correct.

Senator PRATT: Okay. In terms of research into online harms, one of your functions is to conduct research. What research are you focusing on? What's your research budget and how many research projects have been conducted?

Ms Inman Grant : I might note for the record that it's a submission that we made to the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety which outlines the 35 research projects we've conducted since 2016. Our research budget for this fiscal year is quite modest at $1.5 million. I think we get a lot of very useful research out—good bang for the buck, I would suggest. And so I'll provide this. Do you want to add any additional colour about—we obviously just released the Mind the Gap research, which I think brought some really interesting insights about the digital disconnect between what young people are experiencing online and what their parents think is happening and the impact. We saw that 65 per cent of young people are seeing seriously harmful content online around drug use, incitement to suicide, disordered eating and sexual violence amongst other things. There is some good news in that as well. Young people are being empowered to use technology to block, to mute and to take control of their online experiences. They are confiding more in their parents: 90 per cent of them said that they do talk to a trusted adult when something goes wrong online. But the disconnect exists when young people tell parents that they, for instance, have been cyberbullied.

Senator PRATT: I'm very interested in all of those issues, but my question was about what areas; your budget, which you've answered; and the projects and reports that have been produced and published.

Ms Inman Grant : The harms we've analysed are cyberbullying; image abuse; technology-facilitated abuse; sexting; viewing inappropriate material; hate speech; online abuse; personal information being used in the wrong way; accounts used without consent, including hacking; receiving threats of real-life harm or abuse via online means; and an individual's experience of someone pretending to be them online, so fake or imposter accounts. We also explore specific demographics and Australian populations—adults, women, Australian children and young people, older Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people who identify as LGBTIQ+, CALD communities and people with a disability.

Senator PRATT: What research gaps are there in terms of research you're planning for and harms that haven't yet been analysed? Perhaps in that context I'll put my other questions. What research is happening in relation to online hate speech, including racial and religious radicalisation and any work done with Home Affairs or security agencies; sexual assaults facilitated by social media apps; eating disorders, which I think you've covered; and suicidal ideation?

CHAIR: Are these to take on notice or—

Ms Inman Grant : We can take these on notice. I can also get a top line.

Senator PRATT: I'm happy for a top line answer.

Ms Inman Grant : We did conduct specific research around online hate speech in 2020 and found that 11 per cent of the Australian adult population has experienced some form of hate speech online. We know that those with intersectional factors—women, those from CALD communities, those who identify as LGBTQI+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds—are three times more likely to experience targeted online abuse, including image-based abuse. So for everything we look at, we, of course, use this research to develop educational materials. We try and do co-design with these communities so that we can be able to address them through our protective schemes and then through proactive change. I'd also note that we're doing some work around hate speech and vulnerable communities through our Safety by Design work in the coming months.

Senator PRATT: Thank you. In that context, you said you do co-design with affected communities, but do you also work with the department of health and the Department of Home Affairs, for example, on radicalisation?

Ms Inman Grant : Do you mean in the context of research or in the context of engaging on specific issues?

Senator PRATT: Well, expert input or research.

Ms Inman Grant : Our research is done discretely through us. Of course, we will talk to the AIC, for instance, to make sure that any research we're doing is not duplicating their research and that we're able to have the largest body of research out there possible. I can't think of anything we've done specifically with Home Affairs.

Ms Vassilidias : We're happy to collaborate with any organisation, government or non-government, on various research and we've done that in the past.

Senator PRATT: Can you take on notice how you inform yourself on the workings of algorithms and online harms and how government informs itself and the extent to which you think there's a joined-up approach to research on online safety and if not, why not.

Ms Inman Grant : Yes.

Senator Hume: Can I just clarify one of Senator Pratt's questions from a bit earlier on on the media spend, which was $4.7 million, just so you know where that money's going. There's about $700 million that's gone specifically to the online safety commissioner to deal directly with kids. The rest of the media buy started on 30 January. It was two weeks on television. We've done two weeks so far on television. There's another two weeks to go. The social media campaign will continue until 30 June. Sorry, can I just clarify again. I did say $700 million and I meant $700,000.

Senator URQUHART: I want to talk about the issue around the safety internet day research. The research that you released recently for Safer Internet Day points to low parental awareness of children's online risk, including a lack of parental awareness of topics such as drug taking, suicide, self-harm and unhealthy eating. Can you tell me what insight the research gives into the reasons for this lower awareness amongst parents?

Ms Inman Grant : I would say that what we found is a digital disconnect in terms of parents actually understanding what their children are seeing and experiencing and the impact. So, for instance, only 40 per cent were aware that 65 per cent of their children were actually seeing harmful content online. And that's largely because children do not tend to talk to their parents about destigmatising or stigmatising or, I guess, inflammatory material that could get them in trouble and lead to device denial. Where we saw that concerning disconnect was when children were confiding in the parents that they'd experienced things like cyberbullying. So 71 per cent said they did, but only 50 per cent of the parents remembered that conversation. That disconnect suggests that, of course—the internet for children is not optional today. It's become an essential utility. They don't distinguish between online and offline until things happen to them and it impacts them.

Senator URQUHART: Arising out of that research and that low awareness and those issues, what can be done to increase the awareness of those risks that young people face?

Ms Inman Grant : I think precisely through this kind of research and promotion materials. Also, we reached several thousand parents and carers through webinars—hundreds of thousands over the course of the year. I think this is like any public health campaign. Behavioural change takes a really long time. Another thing that was really fantastic to see is that we now are establishing a baseline because we do youth surveys and parent surveys every other year. We're seeing that more children are engaging in help-seeking behaviours and confiding in parents and that parents are starting to talk more to their kids about what's happening online.

Senator URQUHART: When you talk about the promotions and the materials, is that focused towards the parents or the children or both?

Ms Inman Grant : It's both. If you go onto our website, you'll see that we have audience-focused materials. We have a whole parents portal for parents.

Senator URQUHART: There's low awareness amongst parents. How do you—when you say promotion, is it only promotion through your website, because then you've got to try and encourage parents to actually go to your website? What other promotion are you talking about?

Ms Inman Grant : Earned media. Our EDMs. There are obviously a range of NGOs that try and reach parents. Parents are probably the hardest cohort to reach. To be honest, 95 per cent of parents say that online safety is a pre-eminent concern, but only 10 per cent will actually go seek it. Parents are very busy these days. We're not creeping into people's lounge rooms to tell them how to do this, obviously.

Senator URQUHART: I understand. Maybe you can take on notice a bit more detail, if you could, around how you are promoting that to parents.

Ms Inman Grant : Sure, we're happy to.

Senator URQUHART: I want to refer to a really disturbing article in the New York Times from 9 December 2021 titled 'Where the despairing log on and learn ways to die', which I think you're aware of. That refers to the work of the eSafety Commission in relation to a particular site, Marcus and Serge. So can you describe the site, what brought it to your attention in Australia and what your office has been seeking to do in relation to that site?

Ms Inman Grant : To my knowledge, we were one of the first regulatory agencies to do an investigation into that very disturbing site. It instructs on ways in which to commit suicide. We were first made aware of it by a father in WA who lost his son, who learned how to make a poison on that website and took his own life.

Senator URQUHART: So it was brought to your attention?

Ms Inman Grant : It was brought to our attention by the father and we conducted an investigation.

Senator URQUHART: What are you seeking to do in relation to that site?

Ms Inman Grant : The initial investigation took place in 2019. I can assure you that we turned over every rock. Mr Dagg will talk through the investigation.

Mr Dagg : Senator, just briefly, one of the challenges that we had at the time, of course, was that the online content scheme was constituted under the Broadcasting Services Act and didn't give us those powers that we now have available to us under the Online Safety Act. We've kept a watching brief on the site, and it's fair to say that after the attention that was brought about by the New York Times reporting, the site has effectively shuttered itself to any external analysis. So it's not even taking new registrations. It's fair to say that the concerns that we had about the easy availability of instructional material and the very graphic descriptions of how one might take one's own life are no longer the acute concern that was ours at the time.

Senator URQUHART: So I guess my question is how successful has the office been in restricting access to the site in Australia. So you've obviously managed to shut down part of it, but what about the rest of it?

Mr Dagg : The site is now, as you say, less accessible by Australians than was the case by all who visit the site than was the case prior. We worked with the Australian Federal Police as well to explore options that they may wish to implement to limit accessibility for Australians. They're not powers that we wield, of course, and so more about that would need to be sought from the Australian Federal Police.

Senator URQUHART: And how does the office monitor for these sites? That one was obviously brought to your attention under really tragic circumstances. But how do you now monitor for these sites?

Mr Dagg : We face a similar challenge with this kind of content as we do with respect to the conversation we were having with Senator Pratt earlier. We can't patrol the internet for harms and so our complaints scheme is complaint-based. But this particular site was of such concern that, indeed, when it changed its domain, we followed that domain change to keep a watching brief on the site.

Senator URQUHART: And does the new Online Safety Act enhance the powers of your office in relation to self-harm and suicide sites in any way?

Mr Dagg : Yes, it does.

Senator URQUHART: What can parents do to protect their children from these sites?

Mr Dagg : There are some fairly extensive parental tools that are widely available and, indeed, some of those are integrated into operating systems, whether they be mobile operating systems or operating systems, common laptops or desktop machines. But I think the best advice that we always provide parents is to have conversations with children that are honest and sincere and really get to the heart of what children are seeing online and build up the trust necessary to be able to ensure that disclosure happens between children and parents about what they're seeing online. This was a very disturbing and upsetting matter, and it's really brought home, I think, to all of us working in this area just how critical it is to manage exposure to those kinds of harms.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator PRATT: I just want to return briefly to the WA TikTok matter. Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that, as commissioner, you have to monitor the internet. What I want to be able to understand is whether the available mechanisms are working optimally. So, Senator Hume, are you satisfied that the e-safety MOU with the WA police is operating optimally?

Senator Hume: I think that's not for me to say. I think that's probably for the eSafety Commissioner to comment.

Ms Inman Grant : Again, I would just reiterate that we don't require an MOU to work cooperatively with police. We do it every single day. We will continue to help them. We'll continue to help communities in need. But we need somebody to complain to us and make us aware of those issues.

Senator PRATT: But surely it helps to have systems in place. You said you're doing everything you can and you don't need those systems. But is it not of concern to you that the WA police are not aware of the mechanisms to report matters of crime involving children on social media to your office? Is it the place of WA police to lodge those complaints or is it the community? Could the MOU be improved?

Ms Inman Grant : I guess I'd say we don't deal with criminal complaints. We have civil powers. We remove content. So I would expect that the police would avail themselves of the different criminal provisions that they have at their disposal. Of course, we will continue to help them using our online content scheme where we can. Whether it comes from a politician, a minister, the police or a citizen, if it is made through our complaints site, we will investigate and take what action we can.

Senator PRATT: But the WA police are interested in criminal matters. That, in their mind, is not automatically going to mean, 'Oh, we need to make a complaint to the eSafety Commissioner'. What do you think in the social media MOU could be improved?

Ms Inman Grant : I don't think the MOU would really go to any given police force to dictate how they educate their own workforce. So we will continue to deal with these centralised agencies. All I can say is we have been the e-safety regulator since 2015. Not every single citizen or organisation may be aware of us. We do whatever we can in our power to let as many people know, and we'll continue to do that. I'm not sure what more I can say.

Senator PRATT: Okay. In the context of the 2018 Briggs review, which reflected on the quality of e-safety arrangements with police—that is, the AFP and state and territory—Miss Briggs, in her report, said, 'I'm also conscious that even though there are memorandums of understanding between the eSafety Office and all relevant state and territory police services, the Department of Home Affairs submission to these reviews suggests that there is sufficient uncertainty about these arrangements'.

Ms Inman Grant : We've come a long way—

Senator PRATT: Given what's happened—well, we have come a long way—

Ms Inman Grant : in 2022 from 2018, when we were three years old.

Senator PRATT: Okay, so why has this happened, in the context that cooperative and collaborative relations need to be established between the eSafety Commission, the AFP, state and territory police and Cybercrime Online Reporting Network as soon as possible?

Ms Inman Grant : Senator, it's not our responsibility for police to know all of the options available to them. It is their responsibility. We will continue to reach out to them like we did. The person we reached out to is known to us, so we had a relationship there. The person we're dealing with now was aware of the services we provide and the outreach wasn't there. So I can't explain what that motivation was.

Senator PRATT: It doesn't add up, to my mind.

Senator URQUHART: Can I just ask what work, if any, has been done over the past four years to improve those relations and clarify those MOUs?

Ms Inman Grant : Well, for instance, we've been trying to work with the AFP for four years to update the MOU and we were successful. But MOUs are going to need to continue to evolve. We've just hired a person to be our law enforcement liaison person so that we can look at—

Senator URQUHART: Only now? This recommendation was four years ago.

Mr Dagg : I will just answer that question. Since that recommendation was made by Ms Briggs, as the commissioner said, we've very much strengthened our relationship with the Australian Federal Police. So, for example, last year, pursuant to the MOU and pursuant to new arrangements that we have in relation to our Child Safe Framework, we've notified 52 matters to the AFP concerning offenders, their methodology and specific intelligence. We've also updated the MOU with Victoria Police, and we've been in negotiations with NSW Police to determine a platform for updating that MOU as well. We're working with large police forces and our closest Commonwealth partners first. Smaller police forces, simply by order of precedence, need to come lower in the list.

Senator PRATT: So that's why you haven't updated your MOU with the WA Police. Did you initiate these reviews with Victoria and New South Wales?

Mr Dagg : We prioritised our review of MOUs based on operational necessity.

Senator PRATT: Sorry, what does that mean? Does that mean Western Australia was at the bottom of the list because they're a smaller population?

Mr Dagg : No, not at all.

Senator PRATT: What does it mean?

Mr Dagg : What it means is that the matters that we are in more frequent contact with are matters that relate to primarily our Commonwealth law enforcement partners, being the AFP. We then have frequent contact with NSW Police, Victoria Police and Queensland Police, all in respect of child sexual exploitation matters. So those police forces that we have less frequent contact with in relation to matters that don't specifically centre on that urgent operational issue, are ones which simply by necessity, through our resources and through the time made available to us, need to sit a little bit lower in the list. But, as the commissioner said, we now have a specialist position whose role will be over the next 12 months to start to refresh those MOUs with the other police services.

Senator PRATT: Can you put some of that information on notice in relation to the work that you've done with the other states and territories around that policy and the MOUs? That would be helpful.

Mr Dagg : Certainly.

Senator URQUHART: And I would like to ask: in relation to the uncertainty around these arrangements, do the changes in the MOUs with those larger states go to issues beyond child exploitation material?

Ms Inman Grant : I wouldn't describe there as being uncertainty. MOUs are a two-way street. Any police force is welcome to come to us if they'd like to see that updated. We will initiate that when we have time and resources. The same team that is dealing with surge and reports—

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, my question was about the topics in the MOU.

Ms Inman Grant : As to the topics in the MOU, it depends on the police force.

Senator URQUHART: My question was specifically—you've been updating the MOUs. Does it include those incitement type issues or is it still only centred on child exploitation material?

Mr Dagg : It's centred on child exploitation material, pro-terror content and, to the extent that we've identified a link between image-based abuse and the sexual exploitation of children, image-based abuse.

Senator URQUHART: So now that your powers have changed and you've got an officer onboard, you will proactively talk to police forces right around the country to update their MOUs?

Mr Dagg : That's right. That would be part of the plan, bearing in mind that is a considerable undertaking and it will take time.

Senator Hume: Just to clarify: an MOU is not necessarily required for WA police to pick up the phone, which they clearly did not do in this matter. Just one more thing before we break: can I also acknowledge that Ms Inman Grant has had her appointment extended, which is fantastic, for the next five years. I'd like to put on the record our congratulations.

CHAIR: We're all very much impressed by the efforts of the commission, and we congratulate you on your reappointment. I think that's a sentiment widely shared across our committee.

Ms Inman Grant : Thank you for the opportunity.

CHAIR: Thank you for your work and we wish you all the best.

Ms Inman Grant : Thank you.

CHAIR: We will go now to the department.