Transcript - Doorstop, Parliament House

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: What you highlight is actually the subject matter of the case that's currently before the court, so I am reluctant to go into the details of that. I will say this, Australia has a law in place the Online Safety Act, which enables our eSafety Commissioner to issue notices to take down certain content - that is content that the democratically elected Parliament of Australia has determined should not be available for viewing.

Class 1 content is the type of content that depicts actual violence, and is abhorrent – and in the case of the Western Sydney church stabbing, it actually depicts what has been now categorised as a terrorist incident. The other types of Class 1 content are child sexual abuse material, and pro-terror content. The Australian Government - duly elected - has passed a law and that law is being implemented by eSafety. The testing of that law is subject to the outcomes of the court on which I won't comment. Australia backs the eSafety Commissioner, as the independent regulator with powers under this Act to do their job.

JOURNALIST: Should the police and ASIO be given access to end to end encrypted services if they suspect terrorism?

ROWLAND: I think it's very clear that the issue of end-to-end encryption is one that's being grappled with by regulators and by Governments around the world. I was fortunate to have recently received a briefing by Commissioner Kershaw on this issue, and I'll make two points.

Firstly, it is understood that a fundamental tenant of communications is the privacy of those communications, and secondly, that should not come at a cost to law enforcement agencies doing their very important work. We have seen some of this technology being used as vectors for harm for some of this worst of the worst content – including child sexual exploitation material.

We have seen as a result of the actions that have been taken with international cooperation and by utilising tools that are available to law enforcement agencies, there has been crackdowns and busts on this kind of behaviour. Clearly, what is happening is actually working - they [security agencies] are able to do their jobs in an environment where that end to end encryption is a challenge.

We will continue to work not only with our law enforcement agencies, and it is incumbent on the technology companies to ensure that their products are safe for use. I've always said and as the Government has maintained – safety online is a collective responsibility of industry, of Government, of regulators and of civil society.

Technology companies need to do more in this area to ensure that our enforcement agencies can do the job they need to do to keep our children and our country safe. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Burgess and Commissioner Kershaw in the remarks they make today – I have no doubt that they will be insightful, and they will give Australians a good understanding of the important work they do. Australia has the best law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the world.

JOURNALIST: This Musk situation has been likened to whack-a-mole. Would a better approach for the content, like the stabbing video to be somehow declared rather than having to go URL by URL? The system isn't working is it?

ROWLAND: Well, two things there. Firstly, we are operating under the law that is in place at the moment. This is not the first time that eSafety has exercised its powers to issue notices of this nature. We back the independent regulator in exercising the powers that are available to them.

Secondly, in November last year, I announced that I would bring forward a review of the Online Safety Act, which is only been in operation for a couple of years. I brought that forward particularly in light of the new and emerging harms that are there, including the proliferation of artificial intelligence and some of the harms that are derived from that.

I think we need to step back and recognise this fundamental contextual issue. We are operating under a law that is in place right now, the counterfactual is to not do that, and the Government does not countenance the counterfactual.

JOURNALIST: Are the laws strong enough as they stand?

ROWLAND: I'm not going to come to any conclusions about that now, but I think this is clearly the case on a number of fronts that with the emergence of these new technologies, including AI, and the ability for the proliferation of scams and other harms that arise from that  Governments need to look at every method available to them to keep Australians safe.

That is why we have brought this forward - it's being done independently by Delia Rickard, who is a former Deputy of the ACCC. I look forward to her findings, but I also look forward to the participation of Australians in this very important review. In the meantime, we are operating with an Act that we have right now. eSafety is exercising its powers, the court will make a determination on the matters before it and we will see that play out.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about Senator Babet reporting this video, and telling the Government to f itself?

ROWLAND: Senator Babet can explain himself. He might also like to explain whether he considers other types of Class 1 content to be ones that are capable and also welcome to be shared - things like child sexual abuse material or pro terror content. That's a matter for Senator Babet to explain.

On the Government’s part, we back the eSafety Commissioner and we understand that this type of content is one that Australians should not have access to precisely because of its nature.
JOURNALIST: Will you boycott Twitter?

ROWLAND: Well, I think we need to be very clear - and I take note of what Premier Minns has said in this regard - this is a matter for individuals, in public office or other aspects of life to determine whether or not they choose to remain on these platforms.

The reality is the more people who want to engage in sensible debate and communication move off these platforms, then it becomes an even more concentrated space of those who don't have those sensibilities. I think it is up to individual people and individual Parliamentarians to determine that. I respect Senator Jacqui Lambie’s view on this matter - she's is a smart and considered person who has made a decision of her own accord, but people will make their own decisions in this regard.

I think this points to the power of the social media platforms. The way in which we engage now - as many organisations have attested – these are unavoidable trading partners in many aspects. How we communicate with constituents and with the wider public is one that has come to rely more and more on social media. In conclusion, I think it's up to individual standard members to make that determination.

Thank you.