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Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Page: 82


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (17:03): Labor welcomes the passage of the Online Safety Bill 2021 as amended. The safety of Australians is paramount, and Labor has been engaged in constructive good-faith negotiations to improve this bill. So Labor supports this bill as amended in the Senate, but we are concerned about the time it has taken to get here, as well as the lack of process on some key issues in the areas of online safety, such as addressing online hate speech that targets incitement to violence for groups as distinct from individuals.

It's coming up to three years since the October 2018 Report of the statutory review of the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 and the review of schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (online content scheme) by Lynelle Briggs AO, who recommended a new online safety act. Since then, this minister has repeatedly spruiked the hitherto non-existent online safety act in response to concerns about online harms, including online hate speech and racism in Australia following the Christchurch terrorist atrocity and graphic online content in the wake of a self-harm video circulating on social media. Labor notes that the minister was slow to release the exposure draft of legislation for consultation last year, then rushed the introduction of this bill into parliament just eight business days after consultation on the exposure draft had concluded. There were hundreds of submissions, but the reality is that the rush to introduction did undermine some stakeholder confidence in the consultation process. We have had this delay since 2018 and then a rush to introduction.

Furthermore, this bill interacts with Australia's classification laws, yet the review of Australian classification regulation is also delayed on this minister's watch and has fallen out of step with this bill. Meanwhile, the government blocks further progress by sitting on a report that, if released, could genuinely assist in bettering Australia's approach to online safety.

This House should know that this government still has not released the report of an expert working group which was convened by the eSafety Commissioner and in which industry had participated. In the report of the inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography, entitled Protecting the age of innocence, by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, Labor members requested that the government reclassify the report and make it public so the broad range of stakeholders supportive of online safety may have the benefit of that work. Online safety is an area of bipartisanship. It's a matter that goes to the safety of Australians in our modern world. So Labor is disappointed that the government continues to withhold this report, which remains cabinet in confidence, and again we encourage its release.

As I said, the safety of Australians online is of paramount importance. Labor did not oppose these bills in the House, on the basis that government amendments would be forthcoming. So we did engage in constructive good faith to understand and address the concerns we had with these bills and the concerns of industry. Overall, the engagement has been productive. The opposition appreciates the attention of the minister, the department, the commissioner and staff to Labor's questions and suggestions. Some of Labor's concerns have been addressed with proposed government amendments to the bill as well as with the supplementary EM and the further addendum to the EM. Some of Labor's amendments to the bill were supported in the Senate, and Labor thanks those members who supported them, to improve the legislation and the strength of the framework.

For three budgets in a row since 2019 I have asked the minister about what he is doing to address racist hate speech online. For three years running I have not had an answer. In 2019 he made a general reference to work on the Online Safety Act, in 2020 he simply failed to answer and in 2021 he failed to answer it again. So I ask once again: Minister: what steps have you taken, including in consultation with the Attorney-General and other relevant ministers, to address the issue of online racism in Australia?

When I first asked this question in 2019 it was in reference to the terrorist atrocity committed by an Australian citizen in Christchurch and serious warnings about the rise of right-wing extremism, online hate speech and racism in Australia. I asked the minister if he would ensure that Australians, including Australians of Muslim faith, are kept safe online by amending Australia's e-safety laws or by driving the adoption of an EU-style code of conduct for countering illegal hate speech online. In 2019 the minister responded to this question by saying: 'I make the point that we are committed to introducing a new online safety act.' As I said, in 2020 and again in 2021, the minister simply failed to answer my question.

In late 2020, the minister finally released the exposure draft of the Online Safety Bill for public consultation. (Extension of time granted) In its submission to the exposure draft, the Online Hate Prevention Institute stated:

Significant online harm also results from hate and incitement to violence that targets segments of the community, as distinct from the cyberbullying of individuals. These is a significant gap of coverage in this area. Attributes such as race, religion, mental or physical illness or disability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, intersex status and others are used to target segments of the community. In the most serious cases online hate against these groups involves incitement not only to hate, but also to violence. Preventing online harms requires action well before it reaches that point.

and that:

… a takedown power covering incitement to hate, against both individuals and groups, is urgently needed.

Minister, does the Online Safety Bill now before the parliament address racist hate speech and incitement to violence that targets groups as distinct from individuals? And, if not, why not?