Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2429

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (10:48): I rise to echo the comments made by my colleague Senator Kakoschke-Moore and to do my part in convincing all of you here today to support this most important bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2016.

This bill is tinged with a great deal of sadness, not only because it relates to the death of a beautiful young girl who was tragically taken from this world well before her time but also because, some nine years after Carly's death, our laws around online predators continue to fail our young. Today, more than ever before, young people are completely immersed in an online world fraught with danger. Never has it been easier for those who want to sexually exploit children to make contact with potential victims around the world, share images of their abuse and, frighteningly, encourage others to commit similar crimes. According to the United Nations there are a staggering 750,000 child sex predators online searching for prey at any one time.

Just think about that for a moment: 750,000 sex predators looking for prey since the time I rose to speak. This should frighten every one of us in this room—it frightens me—and it should drive all of us into action to stamp out these vile people. UNICEF estimates there are more than four million websites featuring minors, including many of the target children aged under two years, and more than 200 new pornographic images circulated every single day. In 2014, the Australian Federal Police reported a 54 per cent rise in reports of online child exploitation, with some 5,617 cases involving Australians. This number is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

As highlighted by my colleague Senator Kakoschke-Moore, the length of time it takes for a predator to groom a child on the internet is becoming shorter and shorter. One of the most worrying trends is the speed with which predators can groom young people online and that grooming turns into contact offending.

Carly's case is but one example. Garry Francis Newman sat behind his keyboard and set out to convince a young and impressionable 14-year-old girl that he was not in fact a 47-year-old predator but a young talented musician who had her best interest at heart. A man who was in love with her and wanted to be with her. We cannot blame Carly for believing this lie. We cannot blame Carly for falling in love. She had absolutely no way of knowing that the person she thought was 18-year-old Brandon Kane was, in fact, a harmful paedophile who set out to abuse, assault and ultimately murder her. Carly did what millions of kids around the world do for hours on end every single day, she used social media to meet new people and make new friends.

Children and teenagers are accessing the internet at increasing rates. This is both a blessing and a curse. The internet has opened the door to the world and provided young people with infinite information and opportunities to learn. It really is an exciting time to be growing up with amazing potential to create, connect and communicate. But at the same time online predators are becoming more sophisticated in the way they groom our children. More and more are prowling social media and web chat rooms to communicate with children solely for sexual purposes. With over 82 per cent of teenagers and 95 per cent of eight- to 11-year-olds going online each month, we all must do everything we can to prevent them from being exposed to keyboard predators—their and our future relies on it.

There is a lot of great work already going on in schools and at home to educate children about how to use the internet safely and identify predators, but much more is needed. We have also seen the likes of Google and Microsoft introduce new technologies to help protect our children from illicit and harmful content. As a result of these tech changes, Google has seen an eightfold reduction in people searching for material of this kind on the web. Google and Microsoft can now, through shared technologies like PhotoDNA and video hashing, find and remove more images and videos of child abuse wherever they appear on the internet. Children and their parents are also actively encouraged to flag any incident they feel puts their child at risk.

The internet has no bounds and its reach extends far beyond the Australian borders. Protecting children from online sexual predators is very much a worldwide issue and one that has been taken seriously by many countries around the globe. WebProtect is just one example of an international alliance committed to ending online child sexual exploitation. World leaders from over 70 countries have come together to establish and develop coordinated national responses to eradicate the problem. They say this is a global priority and one which must be addressed immediately if we are to protect our children from abuse. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron rightly said:

… this is another major international crime of our age … There are networks spanning the world, children abused to order.

   …   …   …

This is a global crime, so it needs global action.

The Web Protect work is vital in helping to eradicate online child abuse, but there is also a lot of work to be done on our own doorstep. That is why this legislation is so important. We have to make sure that loopholes are closed and, most importantly, our law enforcement agencies have the powers to intervene much earlier when they suspect a child is being groomed online. That is also why the work of the Carly Ryan Foundation is critical. Since Carly's death, her mother, Sonya, has campaigned tirelessly for changes to our legislation and she dedicated herself to the promotion of online safety in order to prevent the same thing that happened to her daughter from happening to other vulnerable children. In 2010 she established the Carly Ryan Foundation. The foundation aims to raise awareness, particularly amongst young people, about the dangers of online communications as well as addressing the physical, emotional, sexual and psychological impacts of online crime, and of course, fostering a positive online experience for children.

Since its inception, the foundation, which I might add is run entirely by volunteers, has visited and supported over 5,000 schools, colleges and regional areas across Australia. In addition to educating students, teachers and parents alike, the foundation has also managed to instigate investigations into real cases referred to it by parents across Australia—real cases where parents fear their child is at risk of online predators. By way of an example, just recently the foundation was contacted by the parents of a 13-year-old girl who, like Carly, thought she was engaging in online chats with a teenage boy. It appears, however, that the situation was much more sinister than this young girl could have ever imagined. With the help of Sonya and the foundation, the matter was referred to the Sexual Crimes Investigation Branch for investigation. This example demonstrates what many families are experiencing. Parents and caregivers are struggling to keep up with modern technology, social media and mobile smartphone applications. Our young have no such difficulty, and therein lies the danger. Fortunately, a key role of the foundation is to educate minors and adults alike about the dangers of seemingly innocent online applications and forums, and I assure you that there are dozens to choose from.

The online space is always inventing new and innovative ways to socialise, with a plethora of new apps and sites that also make it easier for online predators to find and groom children. You have probably never heard of many of the social apps that are available, but I will now highlight some that are commonly used by predators so you are aware of the insidious nature of the predator network. Kik Messenger is a seemingly child-friendly anonymous app that lets children text for free, allowing communication with strangers who share their Kik usernames. Because it is an app, the text will not show up on your child's phone messaging service and parents had not charged for them. Kik gives predators direct access to children. The app has recently been investigated for links to the murder of a US teenager. Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a set period of time. It allows children to communicate covertly. You do not have to have the app to receive a Burn Note. Whisper is an anonymous social confessional app that allows users to post whatever is on their minds, paired with an image. Whispers are often sexual in nature. People do not normally confess sunshine and rainbows. Yik Yak is a free social networking app that lets users post brief Twitter-like comments to the 500 geographically nearest Yik Yak users. Alarmingly, Yik Yak reveals your location every time you open the app and your GPS continues to update your location. This app has it all: cyberbullying, explicit sexual content and unintended location sharing. Omegle is a chat site that puts two strangers together in their choice of a text chat or a video chat room. Your child can get paired up with a stranger on Omegle—that is the whole premise of the app—and there is no registration required. Omegle is filled with people searching for sexual chats.

The Carly Ryan Foundation plays a crucial role in teaching mums and dads about the dangers these sorts of apps present. It has also partnered with digital engagement specialist KOJO and, with the support of the South Australian government and Google, developed Thread, a free personal safety app to help users with unsafe situations. Thread provides an immediate connection between a user's location, trusted contacts and emergency services. The app enables users to check-in their location to show that they are okay, to start discussions with trusted contacts about online or offline dangers and, in the event of an emergency, send their location while contacting triple 0.

Through the work of the foundation, Sonya has been appointed a member of the Online Safety Consultative Working Group with the Children's eSafety Commissioner, Andree Wright. The working group was established to provide advice to government on cybersafety issues, including measures aimed at protecting Australian children from cybersafety risks such as bullying, exposure to illegal content and privacy breaches. Sonya is also a member of the expert advisory committee that provides advice to the minister for education in South Australia on sexting, which is very much a rapidly growing issue for governments and law enforcement bodies alike.

It is important to place on the public record the concerted effort that Sonya and the Carly Ryan Foundation have made in combating this social evil. The fact that close to 100,000 people have signed the online petition calling on the government to implement these changes is testament to the importance of this work. Given that the foundation relies heavily on donations, I implore all in this chamber to support the foundation's good work by way of a donation. I know this would certainly go a long way towards helping Sonya continue to do what she does to keep all of our children safe.

Personally, and as a father of four—and, particularly, a father of two daughters—I cannot begin to comprehend what Sonya Ryan has had to endure. It is without question every parent's worst nightmare. I implore all of you in this place to put yourself in Sonya's shoes just for a moment. Imagine what it would be like if an online predator was contacting your child, or a child that you know. Imagine the moment when you realise that predator has managed to infiltrate your home, your living room, your child's bedroom to take away their innocence. Worse still, imagine what it would be like to receive the news that your son or daughter, or a child that you love dearly, has died at the hands of a monster like Garry Newman.

This bill is not just about honouring Carly's death; it is about ensuring that no other child suffers at the hands of a child predator the way that Carly did. Sonya Ryan has learned in the most difficult and tragic way the dangers that our children are exposed to each and every time they go online. Instead of retreating from the real world, which I am certain many of us would have done if we were put in her shoes, she has made it her life's work to ensure as far as possible that her horror story is not repeated and that children are protected from the dangers of the online world.

It is now our turn to help Sonya in her fight and to do what we can to further strengthen our laws and to deter and punish these individuals who knowingly, wilfully and deviously pursue our children. If this bill prevents even one more child from being exploited at the hands of a predator then it is well and truly worth your support. In the words of Sonya Ryan, 'I do not want Carly's legacy to be one of fear.'