Government empowering Australians through a holistic approach to online safety

The Australian Government’s response to the House of Representatives Inquiry into Social Media and Online Safety has been tabled by the Minister for Communications.

The response comprehensively outlines the Government’s holistic online safety agenda and three immediate priorities.

Effectively implementing and reviewing the Online Safety Act

The Government is working with Australia’s online safety regulator, the eSafety Commissioner, to ensure the Online Safety Act 2021 (the Act) is implemented effectively. The Act, which came into effect in January 2022, sets out Australia’s world-leading online safety framework comprising of complaints schemes to respond to harmful content, mechanisms to improve transparency, and a new set of industry codes to address illegal and seriously harmful content online.

The Government has also committed to bring forward the independent statutory review of the Act, which will be completed in this term of government. With the online environment constantly changing, an early review will ensure Australia’s legislative framework remains responsive to online harms and that the eSafety can continue to keep Australians safe from harm.

Tackling gaps in the current legislative framework

While the Online Safety Act includes some mechanisms to address more extreme forms of hate speech and material that incites violence or promotes crime or terrorism, it does not provide the eSafety Commissioner with specific powers in relation to online hate or vilification. Action to address this harm is long overdue. The Albanese Government will consider what else can be done to address group hate speech online.

The Government’s holistic response to harms in the online environment also includes:

  • Strengthening digital and media literacy by making eLearning products from the Alannah & Madeline Foundation freely available to all schools.
  • Providing the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with powers to combat dis- and misinformation and improve transparency under the voluntary industry code.
  • Committing to a new long-term, whole-of-government approach to reduce Australians’ losses to scams, including through strengthening industry codes and the establishment of a National Anti-Scams Centre.
  • Consulting with state and territory governments to introduce mandatory minimum classification ratings of M (Mature) for games with loot boxes that can be purchased and R18+ (Restricted) for games that contain simulated gambling.

This is in addition to the Government’s efforts to protect Australians using dating apps from sexual violence and abuse. Minister Rowland has issued a detailed information request to the top ten online dating services used by Australians about the extent of harms occurring on their services and what they are doing to address them. The industry’s response to the request will inform the Government’s development of further policy options, including regulation, if needed.

Supporting cross-government coordination on the regulation of online harms

The Albanese Government is committed to improving cross-government coordination of online harms to ensure they are dealt with successfully and effectively. The Government will convene a new bi-annual forum for Federal Ministers with responsibility for online harms to discuss cross-cutting issues, and complement the work of the Digital Platform Regulators Forum.

The Government response can be accessed here.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

“The safety of Australians online is a core priority for the Albanese Government. This response demonstrates our commitment to effectively implementing the Online Safety Act, addressing gaps in the legislative framework, and supporting cross-government coordination on the regulation of online harms.

“Every day, Australians are exposed to online harms. It’s important that we have the right policy settings in place to help when these harms present themselves, and to prevent them occurring in the first place. We are also committed to empowering young Australians with the skills to navigate the online world safely and protect themselves online.

“Online safety is a shared responsibility and we must be proactive in ensuring that our legislative framework remains fit-for-purpose, and continues to evolve as new harms emerge.”