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Erin Molan, Sky News, 18 December 2022

Erin Molan: Shadow Communications Minister Sarah Henderson joins me now. Sarah, as you know, I was part of pushing for this online safety legislation. It’s something I care deeply about and the Coalition was really good in this space. Why does it feel like we’ve heard nothing from the current government?

Senator Henderson: Erin, good evening and yes, absolutely, you did an extraordinary job in working closely with our government to implement very strong initiatives like the Online Safety Act. And of course, we are proudly the first government in the world ever to have implemented the eSafety Commissioner, which of course, continues to do an amazing job. But I think it is fair to say that standards have really slipped since the Labor government was elected. 

We’ve seen the Labor Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, say almost nothing about online safety. There’s been a paltry commitment to online safety in schools. She didn’t match our $10 million commitment to the eSafety Commissioner for more funding for her budget to do her job. We haven’t seen any determination by the communications minister to rein in the digital platforms.  And as Peter Dutton has made clear, if the social media platforms are not reining in this abhorrent material, then the laws must be changed to force them to do so. 

Erin Molan: We’ve seen a whole spate of young people as well live streaming themselves, committing crimes as well online. Look, I get it is such a hard thing to police but like anything, if you can’t police it, you don’t deserve to have it. You don’t deserve to run a platform?

Senator Henderson: Well, that’s exactly right, Erin. In 2019, I will add that after the terrible Christchurch terrorist attack, we changed the law to prevent the uploading of violent and abhorrent material and that’s actually an amendment under our criminal code and that imposes very serious fines, including jail terms of up to three years. But it is fair to say that as our digital world moves forward at a rapid pace, as more Australians do their work online, learn online, of course, do commerce online, we have a fundamental responsibility to keep Australians safe.

As I say, we are so proud of the work that we did when we were in government, but this government is missing in action, further tough laws are required. I have been speaking recently with Google this afternoon of course. Google owns the YouTube platform where this horrific video was uploaded. Google assures me that this video was removed within hours and they have a very strong policy to combat violent and abhorrent material. But there is no excuse for any material falling through the cracks. That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to stop it getting up online in the first place.

Erin Molan: Yeah, absolutely. I want to just move on to a slightly different area, the hacks that we’ve seen occur. I went online yesterday to buy a ticket to a musical and the amount of information that I had to give this company, given it was a digital ticket so it didn’t need to be posted to me. Full address. It was unbelievable. Why are we still allowing companies to take so much of our data when clearly a lot of them can’t keep it secure?

Senator Henderson: Erin it’s a very good point. It’s one of the reasons why Julian Leeser, the Shadow Attorney-General, and myself are pushing very hard for the government to pick up the work of the Coalition in reforming the Privacy Act. Of course, we’ve seen some terrible incidents of cyber attacks in this country, including of course Optus. But we brought forward a range of measures which were considered urgent, at least we consider them urgent, under the Online Privacy Bill, including to give Australians greater rights to take down their privacy information, to protect their privacy information. Other really important measures such as to ensure that children weren’t being tracked online, that their location wasn’t being followed, that their data wasn’t being collected. And yet again, we have seen very little action from this government.

We heard that from the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, that he would complete this review by the end of the year and yet what’s happened? It’s the end of the year, Erin, and we have seen nothing insofar as what is this government going to do to protect the online safety of all Australians? And it’s really scary, the hacks and the scams that are happening online.  In fact, the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry fifth interim report made urgent recommendations to reform the law, particularly to combat scams, which of course, are costing Australians not just millions but several billion dollars. And yet amazingly we did not even see any sort of substantive response from the communications minister. It’s really concerning that on the whole the Albanese Government is missing in action on online safety, on protecting Australians online, and that needs to urgently change.

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