Joint press conference - Parliament House, Canberra

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Keeping Australians safe is the top priority of the Albanese Government – this includes keeping Australians safe online. And when it comes to dating apps, we have been made aware through research by the Australian Institute of Criminology that some three in four people who use those apps who were surveyed said they experienced some form of technology-facilitated abuse. The majority of these victims are women.

The Albanese Government was determined to act on this alarming rate and we did so. Last year, we convened the first of its kind Roundtable with dating app providers, regulators, law-enforcement agencies, advocates and victim-survivor groups. From there, we discussed how these apps could be made safer for use by Australians, noting that they remain the most popular way to meet a new partner in Australia. We determined, Minister Rishworth and I, that we would request the industry to formulate a code of practice for how they would make their apps safer. We are pleased to say that the industry has been engaged with governments, with my Department and with appropriate regulatory agencies, and we have received the industry's code of practice for their dating apps.

It's important to note that this really is world-leading for many of these companies. It was the first time they had actually interacted with governments and regulators at this level. And it also did incentivise these companies, who by and large are multinationals, to actually implement additional safety features on their apps.

It's pleasing to see that incentivisation has had some impact. But we know that there's more to do. And that is why we are pleased to have received this code of practice. We are pleased that after three months of operationalisation, we will have this code in place and operating. And after nine months, the eSafety Commissioner will review the act for its efficacy and determine whether it is meeting its objectives.

Before handing over to Minister Rishworth, I will point out some of the key elements of the code. They include implementing systems to detect potential incidences of online enabled harm, companies will terminate end users who have been found to have violated their policies – including terminating accounts across all the services that are operated by that company – creating prominent, clear and transparent complaint and reporting mechanisms, publishing regular transparency reports on Australian accounts and content moderation, and importantly, improving engagement with Australian law-enforcement agencies. The industry is also going to implement a new rating system to provide consumers with information about the safety features of their apps.

The code will also be enforced by what is called a Code Compliance Committee, comprising three independent experts who will help resolve complaints, review the self-assessed compliance ratings and undertake enforcement for non-compliance.

This is an important plank in the Albanese Government's ongoing efforts to keep Australians safe. It is world leading. We are confident that this has given a very clear indication to the sector that the Government expects more, and we have delivered on our commitment as a Government to not only have this code in place. We look forward to it being operationalised, but more importantly, we look forward to it having a positive impact on the safety of Australian users.

Finally, I'd like to thank the industry for their participation in this process over many months. I'd also like to thank my Department, but also, in particular, thank the many advocates and the victim-survivors who have provided the impetus for this really important piece of regulatory reform. We have filled a space that was once left unregulated over a long period of time, and that had consequences. We look forward to this having real demonstrable beneficial outcomes for Australian consumers.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: I'd like to thank Minister Rowland for her leadership on this issue, because we know that dating apps are a very popular way for people to meet. And, certainly, we’re not wanting to discourage that.

But we also know they are a place where harm can be perpetrated, particularly gendered-based violence. And, as we've heard from the Australian Institute of Criminology, three in four people have experienced some sort of sexual violence while being on a dating app in the last five years, and that has been not only sexual harassment, but threatening and abusive language, along with being sent unsolicited sexual images. It was very clear that victim-survivors demanded change. And I am very proud that our Government has taken the steps to ensure that people are safer when they are using these dating apps.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge all those victim-survivors that have had input into this and recognise how important it is. Not only when it comes to the online safety element, but also in the wider context of our National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children. Our National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children called out particularly technology-facilitated abuse. And this code of conduct for dating apps is a concrete step to demonstrate we are addressing this element in the National Plan. In the National Plan, there's also very important domains of prevention and early intervention. And the requirements under this code for dating apps to monitor and be able to intervene, have systems that intervene, is a very important part of the prevention of our behaviour escalating.

But, of course, in our National Plan, perpetrators need to be held accountable as well. And so therefore, with the element to ban users and terminate accounts across a particular company, numerous platforms. That is critically important to demonstrate a real willingness by the companies to actually stop the escalation of this type of behaviour and violence. These are really core parts of the plan. Victim-survivors also were very clear in the Roundtables that Minister Rowland and myself held that they wanted to have transparent, clear complaints processes. And this code of conduct requires that they be prominent, that people understand how, if they are subject to this type of behaviour, that they can make these complaints. This code is well developed as Minister Rowland said, it is world leading and it's an important, concrete step that shows that we are serious about technological-facilitated abuse and addressing that within the community. I’ll hand over to questions.

JOURNALIST: I have a few. Does this code cover all of the major dating apps, or were there any that didn't sign up?

ROWLAND:  It covers around 75% of the industry. You'll be aware that some of these companies own multiple brands. The companies who have been involved in and are covered include Match Group, Bumble, Grindr and RSVP. These are some of the most well-known brands. Because it's voluntary, it means that the companies themselves have to choose whether or not they're going to be covered by the scheme. But again, we're taking a very graduated approach here. It is certainly fruitful that we have this code of practice in place now and that the majority of the industry has done this.

But I think, also, consumers will vote with their feet. It’s very clear that companies that take care of their customers are going to be rewarded by those customers as well. We know that, as I said, this is still the most popular way of meeting a new partner in Australia. So, it's important, while this is obviously a sector where consumers have choice, they will have choice of safety as well.

JOURNALIST: So just from hearing that list, it sounds like, Tinder and Hinge, perhaps, haven't signed up. They're two of the larger dating apps. What do you think it says about any companies that haven't signed up?

ROWLAND: Tinder and Hinge have signed up.

JOURNALIST: Well, in that case, then, if it only covers 75%, what do you think it says about the remaining 25% that haven't signed up?

ROWLAND: Well, some of these smaller companies – a lot of them are located overseas. But I think it says two things. Firstly, something very positive about those companies who have been engaged and consumers can make their own choices there. Secondly, the Government has made it clear that we are taking a graduated approach to regulation. This is a self-regulatory aspect. We won't hesitate if the eSafety Commissioner determines that this code is not achieving its objectives, or indeed, if eSafety says that this should cover a broader range of services and players in the field, then we'll certainly listen to that advice and take appropriate regulatory action.

RISHWORTH: I might just add to that. As Minister Rowland has regularly said these type of technological companies do rely on a social licence here in Australia. My message to those that haven't signed up is I would encourage them seriously to think about signing up to this code. I think there is a public mood here in Australia that technological companies do have safety of Australian consumers – particularly when it comes to violence against women – at the forefront of their mind. I would encourage them to sign up. They don't have to do it today, but they should look at it very seriously, because I think there is a growing mood here in Australia about asking companies, particularly those that have a social licence here in Australia, to take that social licence seriously and sign up to this voluntary code.

JOURNALIST: And just to clarify on the problematic users being banned from multiple platforms, is that only being banned from companies that own multiple platforms, or is it sort of cross companies?

ROWLAND: That's within a company.

JOURNALIST: With the interactions with law enforcement, what happens at the moment? In terms of, you know, when someone has some kind of complaint against a user on these dating apps and how is that going to change in the future?

ROWLAND: Firstly, as we heard from the Roundtable, it doesn't really have a formalised structure for complaints. That was one of the key messages that we had. In terms of the practical impact of this code, it does require an invitation to law enforcement agencies to establish an MoU. The establishment of MoUs with law enforcement is not novel. eSafety, for example, has them. I'll hand over to Minister Rishworth, but I think the important point here is that it establishes a process, and that is a real practical change. It allows industries to alert law enforcement agencies about credible reports where there's an imminent threat to someone's life or serious physical harm. Having a clearly identifiable point of contact for law enforcement and the sharing of information, insight and trends. This is a very practical process that we envisage will be established with law-enforcement agencies where there was none before.

RISHWORTH: I think there's been some confusion, both with the industries and with law enforcement about how to receive that information, how to triage that information. Signing up to this voluntary code, means that organisations sign up to an MoU that law enforcements have the opportunity to participate in, and that will govern things like how to share information. What is the process of sharing information? So, that will be really important to have a clear line of communication to law enforcement so that they understand the threat as to the dating apps. So that work will be underway.  But it formalises what I think is the connection between law enforcement and these dating apps sites to ensure that information does get shared quickly, and it does get shared in a formalised way.

JOURNALIST: And just to clarify, what kind of behaviours are we trying to prevent? Perhaps for people who aren't necessarily on dating apps, what kind of behaviours are we seeing as a result of people being on dating apps that we're trying to stop?

RISHWORTH: Well, there's quite a lot. It is, of course, a variety. It starts from sexual harassment, which is sexual violence, unwanted comments, unwanted persistent comments. A whole range of different behaviours up to life threats, threats to life because someone might not go on a date, sharing images, explicit images, that are unsolicited and unwanted. So, it is a range of behaviours online. But, of course, what we know about online-facilitated abuse is that it can turn into the offline area as well. And, so, it is a whole hierarchy of behaviours.

What's really important about this code of conduct is the requirement is not just after those behaviours escalate that companies are required to step in, they must monitor and look at intervening before. At the Roundtable, for example, there was a discussion about the role that dating apps could play in what might be considered low level sexual harassment to intervene and actually give those users some education that this is not appropriate. So, each company will work out what is best for their users. I think the behaviours go across the spectrum, but what we've got to be clear is whether it's sexual harassment, whether it's unsolicited explicit pictures, these are unacceptable behaviours. And dating apps have a responsibility to educate the community and stop it from happening.

JOURNALIST: One final question. How are you going to make consumers aware of the companies that are under the code? Is it going to be some kind of visual stamp? Are the companies themselves going to roll-out some kind of campaign?

ROWLAND: The company can have some form of effective blue tick, if you like, to say that they are code compliant. I would think again, that this is an important consumer awareness tool for people who are making a choice. I would say to Australians who are using these dating apps, that this will be operationalised in the next few months. It is pleasing to see that already we have already had some safety features improved on some of the most popular apps. But also to look out as to whether or not the app that they are using has signed up to the code and make an informed choice.