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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Page: 1785

Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldMinister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts) (09:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The internet has brought extraordinary economic, social and educational benefits, which each of us enjoy every day. However, these benefits will only be fully realised if Australians can engage confidently and safely in the online world.

In 2015 our government established the Children's eSafety Commissioner to support Australian children exposed to the risk of cyberbullying. In 2017 we expanded the commissioner's remit to include all Australians, renaming the office the eSafety Commissioner, and introduced a strong scheme to support victims of image based abuse. Over six years of operation the eSafety Commissioner has established a reputation as an effective regulator, providing swift, practical assistance to people who have been exposed to harm online.

This bill strengthens Australia's world-leading online safety framework by adopting and building on the effective elements of the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 and schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. This bill also provides new powers for the eSafety Commissioner to tackle a range of emerging online harms within a flexible and adaptive framework.

This bill will establish a world-first cyberabuse take-down scheme for Australian adults, based on the success of our cyberbullying scheme for children. This new scheme provides a pathway for those experiencing the most seriously harmful online abuse to have this material removed from the internet.

The scheme will operate on the basis of complaints made to the eSafety Commissioner, where services have failed to remove abusive content. The scheme applies to the full range of online services used by Australians. The eSafety Commissioner will have the power to issue take-down notices directly to the services, and also to end-users responsible for the abusive content.

This new scheme does not override or supplant existing criminal provisions for abuse and harassment. Victims will still be able to go to the police. The eSafety Commissioner will work closely with law enforcement and hand over any evidence for criminal prosecutions.

The bill will expand our cyberbullying scheme for children. The eSafety Commissioner will now have the power to order the removal of material from the full range of online services where children are now spending time—such as games, websites, messaging and hosting services—and not just social media platforms.

The sharing of intimate images without consent is a terrible thing to do and causes great distress to victims. The government moved quickly to deal with this behaviour through legislation in 2018. We recognise that overwhelmingly victims simply want these images removed from the internet as quickly as possible.

The bill reduces the time frame within which intimate images must be removed following a notice from the eSafety Commissioner. The commissioner will retain the ability to issue notices to social media services, relevant electronic services, designated internet services and hosting services. The commissioner will also retain the ability to issue notices to end-users—those responsible for uploading intimate images—and will have access to infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and injunctions. Civil penalties of up to $111,000 will continue to apply to individuals who post or threaten to post images, or who fail to comply with a removal notice issued by the eSafety Commissioner.

To have a safer online environment, we need to change the law. But that in itself is not enough. The digital sector must also step up. So this bill introduces a clear statement of what the Australian government—on behalf of all Australians—expects of business in the digital sector. We call this statement the 'Basic Online Safety Expectations'. They will apply to service providers, including social media services; relevant electronic services such as messaging apps and games; and designated internet services such as websites.

The bill allows the minister to determine the detail of these expectations by legislative instrument. The minister may also determine that the expectations apply to specific services. Here are some of the things we expect. We expect that service providers will take reasonable steps to ensure that Australians are able to use their services in a safe manner; we expect that services are not able to be used to bully, abuse or humiliate Australians.; and we expect that service providers will provide clear and readily identifiable mechanisms for users to report and lodge complaints about unacceptable use.

The bill provides for the eSafety Commissioner to publish statements about the performance of digital platforms in meeting the government's expectations. The intent is to drive an improvement in the online safety practices of digital platforms. Where they fall short, the statements will provide advice to the public to inform their use of these services.

The Australian government believes the digital industry must step up and do more to keep their users safe. That belief underpins the provisions of the bill. The bill will require new and updated industry codes to be developed. The bill includes examples of the matters that the government intends these new industry codes to address. These include preventing children from setting up online accounts without the consent of an adult; ensuring that customers have access to a filtered internet service should they choose to take it up; and providing information about online safety and procedures for dealing with prohibited and illegal online content. We expect that each section of the online industry will produce updated and strengthened industry codes within six months of commencement of this bill. The bill empowers the eSafety Commissioner to impose industry standards for those parts of the industry where this may be the best approach to improve online safety.

Australians continue to be concerned with the ease with which age-inappropriate or harmful content, such as pornography or violent material, can be accessed online. Online content is regulated in Australia through our Online Content Scheme. The scheme has successfully applied a complaints-based mechanism, managed by the eSafety Commissioner, with supporting industry codes to prevent prohibited online content from being hosted in Australia. The new legislation will retain all these elements. Because it is working effectively, changes to the Online Content Scheme in the new legislation are minimal.

The bill also empowers the eSafety Commissioner to act quickly in response to the 'worst of the worst' types of online content. The bill reforms the Online Content Scheme so that class 1 material, or material which is so abhorrent that it would be refused classification, will no longer need to be reviewed and classified by the Classification Board before the eSafety Commissioner can order its removal. This includes child sexual exploitation material. In addition, the bill provides the eSafety Commissioner with the power to issue take-down notices to providers of particularly egregious illegal content such as child sexual exploitation material which is hosted outside of Australia and which can be accessed by end users in Australia. The bill provides for civil penalties where services fail to remove this content within 24 hours of the receipt of such a notice.

This strengthened power for the eSafety Commissioner will complement existing international work underway through the WePROTECT Global Alliance, which is targeting and removing child sexual exploitation material no matter where it is hosted.

The bill also provides the eSafety Commissioner with the capability to prevent search engines from being the conduit to illegal online content. In the event that a search engine can be used by Australian end users to access class 1 material, the bill empowers the commissioner to issue a link deletion notice. The notice requests that the search engine cease providing a link to the material within 24 hours, and inform the eSafety Commissioner when this has occurred.

Further, the bill allows the eSafety Commissioner to issue app removal notices that will request that online app stores remove apps that facilitate the posting of class 1 material. Once again, the notices will request that app stores remove these within 24 hours, and inform the eSafety Commissioner when this has been completed.

The shocking live-streamed terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 warranted a comprehensive response from government and industry. In the days following the attacks, the Prime Minister established the Australian Taskforce to Combat Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online. This taskforce, made up of digital platforms, internet service providers and government representatives, delivered a consensus report with recommendations to deny terrorists the ability to spread their propaganda and to incite further violence and acts of hate.

This bill delivers on one of the taskforce's key recommendations. It provides the eSafety Commissioner with a rapid website-blocking power that may be used during an online crisis event. The commissioner would need to consider the nature and likely reach of the material depicting, promoting, inciting or instructing in abhorrent violent conduct, and be satisfied that it would likely cause significant harm to the Australian community and that an urgent response is required. The notice power will only be used in these specific circumstances, to limit the exposure of Australians to terrorist or abhorrent violent material.

The government anticipates that a protocol already in place between the eSafety Commissioner and internet service providers will be updated to guide a swift response from industry in response to a blocking notice issued by the eSafety Commissioner. The government appreciates the support of internet service providers in this effort.

For too long, malicious actors have used anonymous online accounts to abuse, bully or humiliate others. All too frequently, this anonymous abuse is directed at women, victims of family violence or minority groups. Anonymous accounts are also used to exchange the 'worst of the worst' images and content.

The bill clarifies and strengthens the information gathering and investigative powers of the eSafety Commissioner to unmask the identities behind these anonymous accounts. The bill allows the eSafety Commissioner to require that social media services, relevant electronic services and designated internet services provide identity and contact information about end users in relation to cyberbullying, cyberabuse, image based abuse or prohibited online content. Civil penalties will apply to services who fail to comply with a written notice from the eSafety Commissioner.

We all enjoy standards of behaviour and civility in the town square that keep us safe, and there are appropriate mechanisms and sanctions for those who break these rules. The Australian government believes that the digital town square should also be a safe place, and that there should be consequences for those who use the internet to cause others harm. This bill contains a comprehensive set of measures designed in accordance with this belief. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.