Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News First Edition
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: The Federal Government will hold an Online Safety Roundtable this morning aimed at addressing rising sexual violence rates. Joining us live, the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Minister, thanks for your time. What do you hope will come out – or what do you expect will come out of the roundtable today?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: This is a very important first step in holding the dating apps to account. And what we want to see come out of today is a better understanding of what those apps are doing, not only in terms of protecting Australians, but also in terms of how data is being utilised and what mechanisms are available at a regulatory and law enforcement level – at a Commonwealth and a State level – to keep Australians safe.
The key issue here is to understand the problems, to understand the scope and what victim-survivor groups, for example, see as the scale and the extent of the problem. That’s a really important first step. I think coming out of this above all else is that the key priority of government is to keep Australians safe. And we are very pleased that the industry is going to be joining us today, because it is incumbent on them to do everything they can as part of that task.
STEFANOVIC: Some solutions have been – or potential solutions – have been raised on our program this morning, Minister, one being identity checks, another being background checks. On merit, do you support them?
ROWLAND: It’s important not to pre-empt the Roundtable. There are some positive signs that we’ve seen already in the industry responding, and I welcome all the suggestions that have been provided. I think it’s also important to test those and to understand how they would work in implementation. But any step forward is a good thing. Ultimately, however, again I would stress that this is the responsibility of the app providers themselves, and we will be holding them to account at this roundtable, but also in future.
STEFANOVIC: On the topic of background checks, would it be a concern of yours that those background checks could potentially be abused?
ROWLAND: That would always be a concern if they were misused. I think that that’s a balancing opportunity here at this roundtable today to understand the pros and cons of some of those solutions. We want to understand what’s worked in the past, including what has potentially worked overseas and how that can be scaled up in Australia.
Ultimately this is about implementing real solutions. And it will be, as I said, incumbent on the dating app providers to demonstrate what they are doing because Australians have always been early adopters of new technology. Ten years ago, it would have been novel to be using a dating service; today online dating apps are the most prevalent way to meet a new partner. We’ve got over 3 million Australians utilising them. But when we have some three in four respondents saying that in connection with their use of a dating app they are experiencing sexual violence, then Governments need to step in to understand the problem and to take appropriate steps.
STEFANOVIC: Sure. Tech companies famously resist change. How confident are you that they will play ball, and what will you do if they don’t?
ROWLAND: Well, firstly, I think it’s encouraging to see that they’ve already been incentivised to make an announcement in recent days even since this forum has been announced. I expect that when the industry comes together today, they’ll be very eager to demonstrate what they are doing. But also Governments at a State and Territory level have regulatory and legislative opportunities available to them. Even within my own portfolio, I have the Communications Regulator, but also the eSafety Commissioner, who are performing very important work in this area. It is always open to Governments to intervene where there is a gap in the regulation and where Australians are being let down. The dating apps should be on notice that Governments at a State and Federal level intend to do everything we can to keep Australians safe.
STEFANOVIC: Just a final one outside your portfolio here, Minister, just looking at the events of Alice Springs, but more broadly, how concerned are you that they may overshadow the Voice?
ROWLAND: I think it’s important to note that these are two different things. Certainly what we have been seeing in Alice Springs is not a new problem, unfortunately; it is very wide-ranging. I think it’s very important to listen to the communities on the ground if we are going to have solutions here.
The Voice is about recognising First Nations in our Constitution. That I think is a fundamental point that is often being missed in this. We know that unfortunately for too long so much of what various governments have proposed in the past hasn't worked the way they thought they were going to. I think it’s high time that we recognised First Nations peoples in our Constitution, and that that will itself bring about impetus for change, impetus for understanding and consultation and really responding at a level that will make a difference in their lives.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time. Thank you. We’ll talk to you again soon.