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Online safety roundtables to consider further urgent reforms to protect Australians online

The Opposition will hold a series of online safety roundtables to seek community feedback across the nation on further urgent online safety reforms including to combat hateful, abhorrent and unlawful content.

The roundtables, which I will convene from early 2023, will bring together a cross-section of Australians including child safety organisations, schools, and families impacted by online harm and abuse to discuss the need for tougher laws including additional mandatory obligations on the global digital platforms.

In the face of a horrific video uploaded on YouTube by two of the shooters responsible for killing two Queensland police officers and a neighbour at Wieambilla, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton demanded that tech giants must be forced to detect and shut down this online evil at all costs.  YouTube is owned by one of the world’s largest technology companies, Google.

Mr Dutton made clear that social media companies which allow such content to be posted on their platforms show a “complete abrogation of their corporate and social responsibilities.”

Building on the extensive online safety reforms of the Coalition when in government including establishing the world-first eSafety Commissioner,  implementing the Online Safety Act 2021 and legislating in 2019 to stop abhorrent violent material immediately following the Christchurch terrorist attack, the online safety roundtables will provide an important forum for local communities across the country.

Regrettably, the Albanese Government has taken virtually no action to enhance the safety of Australians online.

As revealed in the eSafety Commissioner’s report – Basic Online Safety Expectations: Summary of industry responses to the first mandatory transparency notices (BOSE Report)) – some of the world’s biggest technology companies are dramatically failing to combat the proliferation of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. 

The BOSE Report has exposed serious deficiencies including the inconsistent and inadequate use of technology to combat child abuse material and grooming, and slow response times when illegal content is detected.  As the eSafety Commissioner has highlighted, Apple and Microsoft are failing to scan for child abuse material in their iCloud and OneDrive services, despite the technology being available, and failing to use any technology to detect live-streaming of child sexual abuse in video chats on Skype, Microsoft Teams or FaceTime.

It is also deeply concerning that despite Meta banning 300,000 Whatsapp accounts each month for the sharing of child abuse material, these offenders are not being prevented from creating new accounts on Facebook and Instagram, also owned by Meta.

Building the case for further urgent law reform, the BOSE Report was made possible by the Online Safety Act which gave the eSafety Commissioner the power to compel Apple, Meta (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram) Microsoft (and Skype), Snap and Omegle to report on how they are combating child sexual abuse and exploitation. 

One of the top priorities of the Coalition is to ensure that as more Australians work, learn and conduct business online, they can do so safely.

Labor’s Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, has been missing in action on online safety, even failing to match the Coalition’s additional $10 million funding commitment to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (see Coalition’s response to Labor’s October budget).

Minister Rowland’s response to the BOSE Report which merely “acknowledges” the report is woefully inadequate and shows she has no interest in reining in the global digital platforms. She also failed to respond to the ACCC’s call for urgent action to combat scams and other online harms (see Coalition response) and could not even stand up for SBS when Meta refused to play ball under the News Media Bargaining Code (see Coalition response).

Anyone who wishes to participate in an online safety roundtable should contact my office via email at [email protected] or by telephone on 03 5221 5900.

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