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Cybersafety issues affecting children and young people

CHAIR —Welcome. Thank you for attending. Is there anything you wish to add on the manner in which you appear?

Dr White —I am appearing on behalf of Professor Geoff Masters for the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Dr Weldon —I am also appearing on behalf of Geoff Masters for the Australian Council for Educational Research.

CHAIR —Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House and the Senate. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Would you like to make some introductory remarks or give an opening statement?

Dr White —Thank you, Senator, for inviting us to be part of the public inquiry on cybersafety. Research and many years of practice in education and the use of the internet have indicated to us that there are currently many approaches to cybersafety. Our particular focus is that the only sustained approach that we can find is a multilayered approach in schools which has responsibility for policy, teacher professional development, classroom practice and involvement with the parent community together with a focus on the user, behaviour, ethics and values at the user node of operation, not at a central node of operation. We find that that turns up in research a more sustainable and longer term benefit for cybersafety than restriction at the institutional forum or at a central location.

CHAIR —Thank you, Dr White. Dr Weldon, would you like to contribute to that?

Dr Weldon —No, thank you.

CHAIR —Dr White, could you elaborate a bit on the point you raised regarding the user node.

Dr White —The user node is the place where a child or a student accesses the internet, and these days it could quite literally be anywhere. We see that mobile devices and e-readers are becoming ubiquitous. In fact, they are more ubiquitous nowadays than the laptop, desktop or personal computer. Statistics have given us those figures for the last couple of years. We know that the iPhone, a particular brand, is very, very popular and we also know that the iPad is now selling at about the same rate as the Amazon Kindle. Those sorts of figures indicate to us the size of the market. Because students are able to access the internet from almost anywhere, it has become extremely difficult to monitor their use very carefully on all occasions.

Some years ago, pornography, predatory type behaviour and other types of behaviour on the internet were of concern to educators. Because of police actions, particularly in many Western countries, there has been a significant decrease in most of those areas, and they are locked behind firewalls, which is a good thing. For example, the very conservative National School Boards Association in Washington in the US reported a couple of years ago that they found that the significance of pornography was about 0.08 per cent, so we know that there has been some positive action there. But in those days, of course, computers were usually at fixed locations. Nowadays they are just not; they are everywhere.

In addition to that change, the second, very significant change that is about to occur is that the internet protocol is about to change. We are currently working on internet protocol version 4. The allocation tables are almost exhausted. We expect them to be exhausted in 2010. That means that we will go to version 6, which the IETF approved several years ago. A number of ISPs in Australia have gone down the path of IPv6, and IPv6 simply means that almost anything can be allocated an address on the internet. We might think the internet today is quite diverse, but it is going to be much more diverse into the future. Therefore, the view that we come from is an educational point of view that is multilayered and surrounded by schools and other education institutions, such as TAFE colleges and universities, that are involved on a regular basis in the development of values and ethics and suitable online behaviour.

CHAIR —From your point of view, what are the major issues that are confronting young people today, and how do we address those?

Dr White —The two big ones for us, that we see coming through—and Paul will elaborate on this because he has done some significant research in this area—are sexting and online bullying. They are the two big ones that keep coming through. And sexting, particularly, and online bullying are a concern because of mobile devices.

CHAIR —Do we have any research to back up that statement? We had a witness this morning who said that some 2006 research had shown that cyberbullying was not as prevalent as playground bullying, and that is not consistent with the evidence of other witnesses we have had, so we were wondering about that. You are saying that the two biggest areas of concern are sexting and online bullying. Has research been done on the issue of online bullying? That should take into consideration the fact that the committee has also been told that children and young people are less likely to report online bullying because they will have the computer removed or the phone taken away rather than being provided with a solution to the issue.

Dr Weldon —One of the problems in identifying cyberbullying is that it is difficult, when doing a survey, to ensure how children are reading your definition. The problem with some surveys is certainly that anything that might happen, such as an argument which turns nasty but really happens only the one time—bullying generally is repeated over time and there is supposed to be a power imbalance. Often that is not the case in cyberbullying and often it is not necessarily repeated although the nature of the internet means that even one item, such as a picture, for example, which has been added to but appears only once, is viewed over many weeks by different groups of people. So it is very hard to define what cyberbullying is. The research that I trust would say that the percentages are around the 10 to 15 per cent mark rather than the 20 to 30 per cent mark.

Senator PRATT —Of overall bullying?

Dr Weldon —Of what has been defined as cyberbullying by the children.

CHAIR —So 10 to 15 per cent of people using the internet or 10 to 15 per cent of—

Dr Weldon —10 to 15 per cent of the children who have been surveyed have stated that they have been bullied more than once.

CHAIR —Can you focus on age group there?

Dr Weldon —In the research I did, which was with approximately 5,000 Victorian students, I found that around the ages of 14 and 15 particularly it seemed to peak and with the older age groups, years 10, 11 and 12, not so much. I suspect that with the younger age groups coming up it is becoming more prevalent but at that time I did my research it was around years 8 and 9 and in some schools year 10.

CHAIR —With your research did you find any cause for this increase?

Dr Weldon —There has been other research outside cyberbullying specifically which often notes that year 9 particularly is a difficult year anyway and that bullying outside the cyber aspect of it often seems to be quite high, particularly among girls. The particular types of bullying that is allowed for in the cyber realm, which is often the communicative type, seems to suit the way girls tend to undermine each other. It seems to be more prevalent among girls.

CHAIR —Are you aware of research into the consequences of cyberbullying?

Dr White —Yes, there has been research in that area. We do not have it in front of us. The research tells us that there is not a really big difference between real life and cyber life, that they are very connected and are part of the whole world environment in which the student lives, interacts, learns and does other sorts of things. However what the online aspect does do is amplify it. To answer your question ‘Is there any accountable reason for the increase?’ I would say that I am not sure there is any increase. I think we are gradually getting to a stage where people are becoming more used to using the web and ethics and behaviours are beginning to creep through so there does need to be a concerted effort. However, the ease with which to do it has been increased.

CHAIR —There has been some suggestion this morning by witnesses that cyberbullying very often is perpetrated by someone who has been bullied in the playground and that they see this as a means of doing it without being able to trace who it is coming from and that they can act it out on social networking sites or whatever it may be.

Dr White —We would confirm that and say that very often it is someone who is either a friend, a neighbour or a peer of the victim.

Mr FLETCHER —Does your research offer any insights into how children and teenagers today are dealing with the onslaught of the information they are exposed to?

Dr White —There is certainly a lot of research in that area, Senator, but it is very difficult to nail down and it is a very vexed topic in the sense that the coalescence of the internet encourages a research type focus. And these are relatively new skills for school students; they have only occurred in the last 15 to 20 years. In the past, for example, a teacher was the font of knowledge or a textbook was the source, and there was a library—in fact, it was only in 1964 that we introduce libraries to schools throughout Australia. The whole advent of the internet, or the web, since it became popular in 1993 meant that there was a change in access to information, and because that change in access to information is now worldwide a lot of research is looking into how people handle that. The old notions that we had in the past just do not work.

Mr FLETCHER —I suppose what is behind my question is the experience that I had, as many politicians no doubt have had, of seeing classes of five- and six-year-olds around an electronic whiteboard, which I compare to my own experience of, say, writing a history essay when I was about 12 or 13 and having to work from, I think, three sources and finding it quite difficult to reconcile those three sources.

Dr White —Yes.

Mr FLETCHER —Now you have very young children faced with an enormous range of information if they are asked to write a half-page or one-page paper or note on a subject.

Dr White —Children today are becoming very savvy about finding information and very savvy about working out whether or not it is genuine. They are more savvy at their age than I was, certainly, and I have spent my life in education and more lately in research. I would say that I probably did not even think about the skills that they have developed till about senior secondary school and possibly even university. Going back to the question of how to handle information, there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to get to a point where information will be so vast that we will need strategies to deal with it, and of course a lot of the computing companies are looking at agents to do those sorts of things.

Mr FLETCHER —Am I correct to take away from what you said that the evidence suggests that children today, because they are exposed to so much more information, are better than the previous generation at dealing with it? I am not asking if they are perfect at it, but are they better than the previous generation was?

Dr White —That would be my take. They are more critical in their thinking than I was as a young person—much more critical. I know that my children and even my grandchildren will tell me what is a waste of time, and more quickly, and I never would have even thought of that as a young person. Paul might have some views on this as well.

Dr Weldon —I would agree with Gerry that children have become more discerning to an extent, but there has also been some research done at the university level that suggests that our assumption that children understand the internet and how to get around it is somewhat flawed. They certainly do understand it from a social perspective, but some research students at university level will often have quite a shallow understanding of how to find in-depth research.

Most people, for example, will go to Google and enter in a search and will just take the top few results. They will not necessarily know how to use Google beyond that simple search entry. Unless you have been instructed in using Boolean operators like ‘not’ or adding other information to go deeper, you would not necessarily know how to do it. In fact, it is quite a skill to be able to go onto the internet and find what you are looking for. It is relatively easy to enter a search word, in which case you will almost always, in the research area, end up being taken to Wikipedia. To actually move beyond that and find some of the other methods of getting information, I would say, is something that needs to be taught.

We should not make the assumption that children know how to access that beyond a fairly simple method. Yes, they can already access, via something as simple as Google, an awful lot more than I could have in my days at school, but I think that in today’s information-rich environment it is more complex. Perhaps not everybody needs to do that, but certainly people at university who are doing research need to know a bit more than how to access information via Wikipedia.

Mr FLETCHER —What about the skills of assessing different sources of information—Wikipedia, as you say—versus a government website or a respected research institute as compared to what might be an advocacy exercise that may or may not have a particular commitment to fairly weighing up both sides of an issue, for example?

Dr Weldon —I think a lot of children have improved simply because with the advent of the technology and so many sites around they have become more savvy. I do think that there are age issues: your year 12 student is probably going to be considerably more adept at looking for things and being cynical about what they find than perhaps your year 8 student. I do think that, in fact, schools are doing quite a good job of assisting children in that particular learning environment.

Dr White —If I might add to that, the University of Melbourne did some very good research, a next-generation report. It was based on 2006 data on first-year students. What they actually found was that there was a big separation between entertainment and productivity a la business and learning and so on. On the entertainment side, the students were very savvy at connecting with other people, having conversations and sharing material. But, on the productivity side, which includes learning and education, they still had a smorgasbord approach and did not have a depth of knowledge about how to explore it—as Paul was saying—how to use it properly in research, how to develop essays and plans and so on. There still needed to be a lot of teaching in schools and universities about how to go about those sorts of things. For example, a simple case that they quote was about access to databases and what was legitimate citation and what was not legitimate citation and the whole question of plagiarism, copyright, privacy—those sorts of issues. So we would argue that they are coming but there is a real place for schools in particular to emphasise those types of skills. As Dr Weldon was saying, this needs to happen on a regular basis in schools, as it did with print when I was at school. It is just that now access has expanded and become more complex.

CHAIR —Thank you for that. We will go to Senator Pratt.

Senator PRATT —You have mentioned a multilayered approach to this issue. Can I ask you what, in your view, is the role of government within that multilayered approach?

Dr Weldon —If I can go back a step, because I was asked before about sexting as well as cyberbullying and this is one area where I think a multilayered approach is relevant. In my research I asked a question which was basically: have you ever been asked to send a nude picture of yourself by phone? My research showed that with both males and females, and particularly as students got older, approximately 10 per cent of the 5,000 students I surveyed said that they had. That was 10 per cent across the whole year levels. As soon as you went down into the year levels it rose, from around year 9. By year 11 it was about 17 per cent. So I think there is certainly an issue there. The other interesting thing is that it was not just girls; it was girls and boys. A Pew internet survey in America has recently corroborated that, at around 10 per cent.

In WA in the newspaper a week ago, I think, there was a 14-year-old boy who had received a video of a 14-year-old girl undertaking some kind of sex act with a couple of 16-year-old boys. That 14-year-old boy received that on his phone, downloaded it onto a school computer and from that onto a stick and then onto his home computer. He was charged under our current laws for possessing child pornography. Obviously, the issue there is that those child pornography laws were designed to protect 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds from adults. I have seen this in the US and it is now happening here: those laws are being used against the very children that they were designed to protect. It is an interesting issue because there is an ethical aspect. It is quite obvious that that 14-year-old girl will have been humiliated by the passing on of that video to a 14-year-old boy or anybody else.

CHAIR —Do you have a view as to the positioning of those laws and whether changes need to be considered in light of the way the use of communication tools is changing and in light of the ages of people using them?

Dr White —I think it would be fair to say that we do not have any research on that at this stage, but it has been brought to our attention.

CHAIR —Do you have a view as to the consequences that that sort of situation would have on a 14-year-old?

Dr Weldon —In the US there have been several of these cases. If they are found guilty then some children have been put on sex offender registers.

Senator PRATT —How do you differentiate the prohibition because, clearly, you would still want a prohibition on that material being shared but you would not want criminal sanction attached to it. How does our law need to catch up?

Dr Weldon —I do not claim to be a lawyer but my understanding of what is happening in some states in the US is that they are not necessarily changing the wording of the law, they are changing the age group to which the sanctions apply and who might actually be dealing with that. One of the issues in the whole multilayered issue is that it would probably be more appropriate for things like this to be dealt with, at least initially, through a school policy.

Mr PERRETT —Excuse me, Chair, the child as a 14-year-old would not have been tried as an adult, obviously, even under the Western Australian Criminal Code. It would have been a slightly different approach to the 14- and 15-year-olds.

CHAIR —Dr Weldon did make a comment that these children could have their names added to a sex offenders list.

Dr Weldon —In America.

Mr PERRETT —Even a 14-year old or a 17-year-old could; certainly under Queensland law. I think our Criminal Codes are very similar.

Dr Weldon —The newspaper report did not provide a great deal of information and I was unable to find out any more. I do not even know whether it was under federal or state law that the child was tried. There was not enough information in the newspaper for me to find that out. In that sense these are relatively early days and we are still not sure how these kinds of—

Mr PERRETT —I know in Queensland we can try 17-year-olds as adults but I thought we were the only state in Australia that did it; maybe us and Victoria.

CHAIR —Mr Perrett, we will seek the secretariat’s assistance in researching the information specifically in regard to these issues and what the criminal or legal consequences are when a child receives that sort of material and then downloads it. We will get some clarification for our next meeting in relation to that.

Senator PRATT —Could I ask for an answer to my question about government and multilayers?

CHAIR —Yes, we will go back to Senator Pratt and then we will come back to you, Mr Perrett.

Dr White —Senator, your question is: is there a central role. Is that correct?

Senator PRATT —Yes.

Dr White —There is for education departments or even for the future or whatever in the sense that, if we are arguing for multilayered approach, which seems to be the most sustainable and most successful, the central role is to improve the confidence of teachers to use the internet, to model appropriate behaviour, to require school policies in the area of cybersafety or general safety. I would just argue safety. Cybersafety is just a very specific example. Having been a school principal, my time would indicate to me that there is not really a separation between various aspects of safety. The parents themselves need to be included in the program. The school classes need to talk about it on a regular basis when they are using the internet. There needs to be a gradual program right through schools introducing the children to the consequences of using the internet.

The simple fact is that, as we all know, anything on the internet has a record and can be there forever and day. A young person doing something silly, as we have discussed, possibly in Western Australia, is going to have that on their record, and it is going to be discoverable for a long, long time. That could certainly harm the chances of a young person. The parents need to be involved in a community program in the school. The teachers need to be involved. When I was a school principal we were required to have occupational health and safety and welfare on every staff meeting agenda. I think that is the sort of thing that needs to happen in schools with safety; it needs to be discussed regularly in classes; it needs to be discussed by the teachers with the parents; there needs to be school meetings organised for the community; and there needs to be a user access policy that both the students and the parents sign that they are aware of the policy that the school has undertaken and the consequences of breaching such behaviour on the internet. At the moment, with the singular approach around the world, the research has told us that none of these are effective. In fact very often if you block things for students on the internet they just go and ask someone else how to get around it. In many ways it is encouraging them to go and find other novel and innovative ways to get what they want. They have become very used to doing that. We think it needs to be a total approach, particularly in schools, and includes the family.

The second point that we made in our opening statement was that monitoring needs to occur at the user node. That is, the student using the mobile phone. We have an example—and I think Dr Weldon was talking about this the other day—of a school that he was aware of that, simply as a part of its policy, take a sample of X number of students every week and have a look at their access for the last week to see what they have been accessing and what they have been doing. There would be sanctions to that if they had gone deliberately to services or sites that were not acceptable under the school policy. There needs to be a clear understanding, also, in the school policy of the consequences of breaking school policy and the ethics and so on. That can only happen if the students are reminded of it, not in the same point, but there has to be a gradual program that they are constantly referring to. It has to start from the very time the child comes into the school and it has to happen right through education. My argument would be that vocational and tertiary education are no different at all.

CHAIR —We have heard from a number of witnesses regarding parents’ involvement and parents supporting their kids. What needs to be done for parents. Very often we hear that you can get to parents through schools. You will hold a forum and you will only get a certain number of parents and it is usually the ones that you know are informed anyway, very often, or you get a few who will actually learn something. How do you actually support parents? How do you engage them so that they would then understand what it is that they need to know to be able to assist their children in becoming digital citizens that understand the issues?

Dr White —That is a tricky question, Senator. I can remember one school that I had where, if we got two people rocking up to a parent meeting, we would be very happy. However, a letter home to a parent always gets a response. If the parent is interested in a particular topic they will make the time to come. The difficulty the school principal faces in engaging the school community is to talk about something of interest to the parents.

If I pulled out a mobile phone here and showed you some of the things on my mobile phone, it would not take five seconds and we would all have our mobile phones out and be talking about them. It is not hard with the technological devices to engage parents in schools. That is the first thing. The second thing is regarding Senator Pratt’s question about what the central department can do. It has very much encouraged teacher confidence in using the internet for modelling. If the parents see the teachers doing it and practising it and the kids see the teachers doing it and practising it, that will rub off as well at parent meetings. The other thing is that you have only got to talk about digital devices or things like that and parents will come in. The final thing is: if you send home a user access policy and parents have to sign it, you certainly get engagement.

CHAIR —You also mentioned footprint, and a number of witnesses have explained that very often young people today do not comprehend the full extent of the fact that what they put up today will be there in 20 years time. We had some social networking representatives at some of the roundtables that we had earlier in the year. My recollection of the statistics for the US was that when employees are short listed 70 per cent of employers will have a look and see what they can find out generally about the person they are employing from the social networking sites. That happens via things that they have put up themselves in years gone by. How do we get kids and young people to realise that? Is there anything more that we could be doing that we are not doing?

Dr White —Senator, you have pointed to a very substantial change in access to information. We did not have that with books. Anybody could share a book around. So there is not a full understanding of the indelibleness of the footprint of access to the internet through our society; I would not say it is just a difficulty with students. The second factor is that some services such as Facebook, MySpace and those sorts of things have promoted themselves so very heavily that young people have engaged with them without thinking about the consequences, because no-one has talked about the consequences. Services like Facebook and MySpace et cetera want users; they want the numbers because that is where they get their market for advertising and so on.

So the whole question of what the downsides are does not get played out in the public forum to any great extent. However, you are quite right. McKinsey did say three weeks ago that most employers will go and check out a prospective employee and—the word ‘Google’ has become a verb—they will Google them. If you want to find out anything about anybody these days, everybody knows you go to Google or Flock and you have got them in a flash, and there are a couple of other services that will actually aggregate them.

To go back to your question of how we do more about it, again I would repeat it has got to be a part of the school program. It has got to develop through the years right from reception to year 12 and beyond, because it is actually a new thing for society, not just for schools.

CHAIR —In relation to bullying, we have heard of situations where people who are bullied will become the perpetrators of bullying and so on. Very often they feel that they have the protection of anonymity, in that there is no way to track them, when in fact there are a number of ways that their footprint can be traced, but they are not aware of that. How do we make people aware of that? Is it through a public awareness campaign? Should there be a community advertising campaign to tell people about it? Would that be a deterrent?

Dr White —Outside education I think it would. I think it needs to be something we are surrounded by and young people need to be surrounded by. But it has got to be coupled with the ethics and the values; otherwise, people do find a way around it because that is what the internet has encouraged—exploratory innovation and so on.

One of the things we know is that when the internet was first started there were applications called anonymisers, so you actually could in those days. However, they are illegal. The use of an anonymiser in Australia is highly illegal, and there are certain groups within this country that would pick it up very quickly and be knocking on your front door. It used to be the case that you could avoid a footprint, but it is no longer the case. My simple answer is that it has got to be a multilayered approach in education. A public awareness campaign that is targeted at something that the community responds to a la employment would certainly have positive benefits, in my view, and there may be other things besides employment. I cannot think immediately of what they are, but there have to be trigger points that the community would respond to positively.

CHAIR —The government is committed to addressing the issue of cybersafety, and a number of things have been put in place already—obviously this committee is one of those—to get as much information as we can. What other things can the government do, and is it the government’s role? Just on the same issue, what role should internet service providers play in relation to addressing the issue of cybersafety? So, what else can the government do and what should internet service providers be doing?

Dr White —I think we will address the first question because that is obviously central compared with the second. In terms of government, it really is encouraging families to have some sort of acceptable policy. I am not going to say ‘user access policy’, but I will say: ‘what we do in this house’, ‘this is how we do it here’, ‘this is acceptable and this is not’ .We have not got used to the rights and wrongs of the internet yet, and that is something that needs to be encouraged—this is good behaviour and this is not good behaviour.

CHAIR —How does the government ensure, and is it the government’s role to ensure, that those policies are in family homes, or is that a family issue? A number of issues have already been discussed. We have got a number of inquiries specifically on internet use. Is there anything else that needs to be done? The Australian Communications and Media Authority has set up a number of sites in relation to cybersafety. We have got schools setting up policies. Can you think of anything else that should be done?

Dr White —The fact that a senior respected politician models it or says something about it at some stage does have an impact. It gets reported in all the papers and then a public awareness campaign follows through. It is the coordinated approach on these things that works, in my view, and that is what I have seen in my career in the schools and universities. The single, piecemeal approach rarely ever works. The work that the national government has done has been quiet sterling compared with many other countries.

Secondly, we have got a lot of very good services available to young people. The question is whether young people regard them as cool; that is always the question. When mum and dad back it up it makes a difference, when senior public figures back it up it makes a bigger difference and when their peer group backs it up it makes a huge difference. So it seems to me that it has to be a total part of our societal fabric. Paul, you might have some views on that one.

Dr Weldon —It has certainly been interesting to watch the development over a few years, and I suspect that, particularly providing it remains within the public consciousness and it is being talked about, that in itself will also assist. There is still a generational divide at the moment where you have got people of my age and up, who as kids obviously did not have computers at all. There are those of us who are quite comfortable in the field and there are a lot who are not, including teachers. As a result, kids have developed a paradox in their heads where on the one hand they think: ‘Wonderful! I have got an audience online. I can go on and write blogs and there are people who are there to pay attention to me.’ On the other hand, they see it as: ‘This is my space. This is private.’ What they mean by that is: ‘My parents aren’t there. The authority is not there. My parents and my teachers will not see what I write.’ That is increasingly becoming untrue, but what a lot of kids view as being the case is: ‘Yes, I’ve got this huge audience and yet it’s private.’ So we need policies at all levels that begin to break down that perception.

Gerry mentioned the school where they have an agreement which they have to sign which specifically tells them that the school will randomly pick a couple of students a week and check where they have been going on the internet. Knowing that, the school does not use any filters.

Mr FLETCHER —I just wanted to ask a couple of questions to make I understand some of the things you have said in your submission. On page 7 you talk about ways to support schools. Am I correct to understand that you are saying that when you look at the barriers to the take-up of internet in schools, issues such as lack of teacher confidence and professional development are much more significant barriers than limited bandwidth?

Dr White —Yes.

Mr FLETCHER —You also cite Ofsted in the UK talking about the majority of schools that they surveyed having a well-considered active approach. I presume there is no equivalent Australian report or you would have cited it, but from your own impressions do you think a similar thing could be said about Australian schools?

Dr White —Well and truly. I know from my time in education that where a school has a comprehensive policy, has engaged the parent community—this goes back to our multilayered approach—yes, it does work. I think this is another example where we need to use a similar approach. If we do not, what actually happens is they can be very, very savvy in the institutional environmental and, as soon as they go out of that environment, they are no longer protected. They go and explore anyway. It has to be a connection between outside of school and inside of school, because the biggest danger is not inside school; it is actually outside.

CHAIR —Finally, we have had a number of witnesses and the committee has had discussion regarding students or young people participating in and being part of this consultation. What would your view from an educational perspective be?

Dr White —Absolutely because we do not use the internet in the same way as young people do. I will give you an example. You may be aware—and I have written it in the report—of two recent phenomena: co-presence and absent presence. Co-presence is two friends are very close and they will ring one another up and say, ‘I just got out of bed.’ They will do that on Facebook as well. Absent presence is—and you will often see this on public transport; Melbourne’s trams are a good example—where two young people coming home from school are having a vibrant chat then the next instant they jump on a phone together but they are talking to someone else.

If I go out to dinner and someone at the table has a conversation on a mobile phone, I am not a very happy person. Young people just accept that as part of their normal being. Back to your question: should you talk to them? Absolutely, and there are two particular groups that I would talk to: 14-, 15- to 16-year-olds but also the young ones around eight, nine and 10 years of age because they are becoming very savvy too.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Thank you very much for your contribution today. The committee may have further questions and, if so, the secretariat will be in touch with you.

Dr White —You are most welcome.

CHAIR —Dr Weldon and Dr White, thank you. A subcommittee consisting of Senators Wortley and Pratt, Mr Fletcher and Mr Perrett will continue to conduct today’s public hearing.

[1.49 pm]