Interview with Natalie Barr, Sunrise

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Well, experts, Government Ministers, police and dating company executives are meeting today to address major safety issues with online dating. There are growing concerns around sexual assault, harassment and also stalking, with three in four users saying they have been subject to sexual violence from someone on a dating app. Around 3.2 million Aussies date online and most of them are age between 25 and 34. For more, I'm joined by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, who is behind the summit. Good morning to you. These figures are staggering and worrying, that's obviously why you're holding the summit. What do you hope to get out of it?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I think it's important, firstly, to understand that this is a first step. We know, exactly as you describe, the scale of the problem that we have, but also the fact that ten years ago it was novel to meet a partner online. Today, it's in fact the most common way to meet a partner. Australians have always been enthusiastic to take up of different forms of technology. But our primary concern, of course, is to always keep Australians safe. So, by bringing these groups together, the Federal and State Governments, police experts, victim-survivor groups and the industry, we will map a way forward, look at the gaps that we've got, and what we can do collectively to keep Australians safe.

BARR: So, the fact that most people who date online are likely to have experienced sexual violence is horrendous. Does that reflect most people who are dating not online - is that a normal figure out there or is online a real worry?

ROWLAND: This is exactly what we hope to find out today as well. We have experts in this area who have performed extensive studies, and that figure that you quote – three in four respondents having some sort of engagement online that has either been unpleasant or a sexual problem – is really alarming. What we are looking today is to look at how we have these gaps, what the dating apps are doing, and what sort of intervention might be necessary. I think it's also important to note that some of these biggest dating app companies are coming, like Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr. We want to understand what they're doing, and I note that they have been incentivised even since the announcement of this roundtable to start taking new measures. We want to know, will that be enough? Because people are using them more than ever before. It's not going to go away, but we need to make sure they're used in a safe way.

BARR: Yeah, and you're right, and it's great that you've got them all to the table, because you need everyone, don't you? But as the Federal Minister, when you're looking at those figures and how alarming they are, are you in a position that you can warn people not to date online?

ROWLAND: I think education is an important first step, but also, we need to know what mechanisms these apps have in place to keep people safe. A really important part of that too, is determining what data is being kept, because that data element, as I'm sure many of you will be aware, is pretty fundamental. That’s why we are bringing together the experts who have gathered this information, the victims and survivors to actually understand the scope of the problem, different agencies like the eSafety Commissioner within my portfolio, to understand what they are doing and how we can better coordinate our efforts to get the best results for Australians.

Let's be clear also, you talk about a broader context. We have the National Plan to eliminate violence against women. This is an important component of that. I think Australians will be looking to us in this first step to come up with solutions that can be effectively implemented and that actually make people's lives better and keep them safer.

BARR: Yeah, well, as you say, it's good, but it's a first step. So, we will keep in touch cause we really need to know what comes out of it. Thank you very much, Minister, for your time.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.