James Morrow: These revelations about TikTok, they’re pretty disturbing, to say the least. Should the government intervene here and create tougher rules, regulations around this Chinese-owned social media app that seems to be on the phone of every young person in this country
Senator Henderson: James, good evening and well done on your exposé, certainly TikTok, in my view, is a very dangerous online platform because of the scope of information it is collecting, not only of course are we seeing some really inappropriate content and of course, this is marketed to children as young as 13. 2.5 million users across Australia, 30% of those users, James, are under the age of 15. So this is a huge issue for parents. But not only are they displaying very inappropriate content, the data collection practices are frightening. Tracking the location of children, the content preferences and really scary stuff like tracking the keystrokes, every single keystroke entered into a device by a user. So I believe the Albanese Government has been asleep at the wheel and urgent law reform is required.
James Morrow: And Sarah how disturbed, you’re speaking of that data collection, were you by those reports out of Forbes magazine and I think later The Financial Times that TikTok was using potentially the software to spy on journalists, government officials, all sorts of high profile people who the Chinese Communist Party might want to keep an eye on and then after denying it up hill and down dale, it turned out, oh, yeah, they’ve been actually doing it after all.
I know that the US Congress has passed some serious laws saying, you know, can’t be on government phones and things like that. Surely this is a sort of first step we should be doing, don’t you think?
Senator Henderson: Well, James, we’ve got a very significant parliamentary inquiry headed by James Patterson looking at foreign interference on social media, on platforms like TikTok. And there is no doubt that platforms like TikTok give rise to some very significant foreign interference issues, national security issues, potentially. So that really important work is underway right now and people can still make their submissions.
But I certainly think that for the sake of Australian children, every Australian parent, James, needs to know and have the confidence that their kids will be safe online and that’s why the Coalition has announced online safety roundtables that I will be convening and running around the country because frankly, we have seen virtually nothing happening in the online safety space from Michelle Rowland, Labor’s Communications Minister. Very little funding, a paltry amount for online safety in schools, no extra funding for the eSafety Commissioner, of course, an initiative of the former Coalition Government.
So under our government we did an enormous amount to protect Australians online, including passing the Online Safety Act but things are moving very quickly as some of these practices are very insidious. And unlike when the Coalition was in government, when we did move very quickly, we are seeing nothing happening from this government. So urgent reform is required, including some of the proposals that we put forward in the Online Privacy Bill, where one of the proposals was that parental consent is required if a child wants to download an app onto his or her device. That was a really important provision put forward because it was urgent and yet we’ve seen absolutely no action from the Albanese Government.
James Morrow: And I want to move on from just the issue of kids and their mobiles to mobiles everywhere, and especially in regional Australia where there’s a huge problem with mobile black spots and the lack of communication infrastructure. Now we know and anybody out there who’s watching, who lives in a regional area knows this is a huge, huge problem. David Littleproud this week announced a new policy on this and can you just talk to that a bit about what is the latest going on to address this really real issue for an awful lot of people who live in the bush, live rurally and, you know, can’t get two bars of service?
Senator Henderson: James, firstly, when the Coalition was elected back in 2013, we knew this was a huge issue because Labor had invested no money in mobile connectivity. So over a number of years we pumped many tens and tens and hundreds of millions of dollars into a range of programs, including the Mobile Black Spot Program, delivering funding for more than 1200 mobile base station upgrades. So we get it. We understand how vital mobile connectivity is in the regions and regrettably for Michelle Rowland, the Communications Minister, we saw a savage cut of $155 million for regional communications funding packages, including for a disaster resilience telco package as well. So again, we have seen a very poor performance from this government. David Littleproud has raised some very important concerns, including in relation to mandated mobile roaming.
At the moment James, an overseas visitor can come to Australia and access any telco tower and get the very best connectivity from any telco tower, but domestic users here in Australia can’t have that same access, and so David has raised concerns about that. No new policy, but certainly, I too have had some very serious concerns about some of these matters and we will be having some very important discussions on our side of politics. Let me also just very quickly say, James, that the Labor government has announced the latest round of the Mobile Black Spot Program, which is nothing more than an election slush fund. All of their pork barrelling, marginal seat commitments have been pushed into this fund. 27 projects for New South Wales, barely no projects for any other state or territory, nothing for the Northern Territory, only 4 projects in Queensland, 4 in South Australia, 3 in Victoria. It’s an absolute disgrace to see Labor pork barrelling this critically important fund.