Press conference - Parliament House, Canberra

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning, everyone. I'll firstly invite Dr. Gordon Reid, the Member for Robertson to give an acknowledgement to Country.

DR GORDON REID, MEMBER FOR ROBERTSON: Thank you, Minister and good morning everyone. My name is Dr. Gordon Reid. I'm the Federal Member for Robertson and I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay my respects to all elder's past, present and emerging.

And as a Wiradjuri man living on Darkinjung country and speaking on the land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri. We must always realise that the land upon which we learn, the land upon which we love, and the land upon which we live, always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Thank you.

ROWLAND: Thank you, Dr. Reid. I also acknowledge the presence of Dr. Lyndon Orman Parker, the Deputy Chair of the Albanese Governments First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group (FNDIAG), and also the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant. The Government is proud to support eSafety to conduct research and develop resources to help keep First Nations people safe online. I'd like to acknowledge all the work that has gone into developing such engaging and culturally appropriate research and resources. It's fantastic to see resources in-language being developed, underscoring the Albanese Government's support for the preservation and promotion of Indigenous languages. I also acknowledge Amy Allerton a proud Gumbaynggirr Bunfjalung and  Gamilaroi woman for her outstanding artwork on this report today.

To the actual eSafety research findings that we're releasing today. This research has some really positive findings that should be celebrated. First Nations children are more likely than the national average, to use the internet to explore the world around them, make new friends, connect with people from different backgrounds and engage with our democracy. First Nations parents and caregivers are also more active than the national average in supporting their children online and help to block harmful material and instruct their children about the importance of online safety.

However, it is concerning to see so many young First Nations people being exposed to harmful content and experiencing negative behaviours, including abuse and bullying.

Concerningly, the research report shows that First Nations youth are nearly three times more likely to report experiencing hate speech. The Albanese Government through eSafety is equipping First Nations Australians with the tools they need to better protect themselves for negative online experiences and increase their digital literacy skills. The resources that eSafety is releasing today will share information about the steps First Nations people can continue to take to stay safe online and respond to online abuse, image-based abuse, hatred and technology facilitated abuse in family violence contexts. The engaging video animations and audio released today are examples of about how eSafety is delivering on the Albanese Government's priorities to support First Nations Australians.

As I said, I recognise Dr. Lyndon Ormond Parker, the Deputy Chair of the First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group. The Albanese Government established this group to provide advice on the development of policies to support digital inclusion for First Nations peoples. Working in partnership with First Nations peoples, our goal is to deliver practical measures to help support First Nations peoples to have access to quality and reliable connectivity options, to be able to afford the services and devices that suit their need, and make sure they are fit for purpose and to build the skills they need to be safe online, and fully enjoy the economic and social benefits offered by digital technologies. These goals reflect the utmost importance the Albanese Government places on resetting our approach to First Nations policy, including through our commitment to Closing the Gap. And, of course, to the Voice. The resources released by eSafety today reaffirm our commitment and demonstrates the Albanese Government's actions to support First Nations peoples. I'll hand over now to the eSafety Commissioner to go into more detail about the findings that have been released today.

JULIE INMAN GRANT, ESAFETY COMMISSIONER: Thank you, Minister. [inaudible]. This pretty stunning research is part of the Aussie Kids Online Global Research where we have talked to 5000 Australian families - parents and children themselves. The wonderful things that we can say is that First Nations youth and teenagers embrace the internet and technology in ways much richer in terms of culture, and in terms of looking for health, emotional, or whether it's sexual or physical health information online. Indigenous youth are also more engaged in current affairs and reading news online. They're also more engaged with their parents and their elders in terms of having open conversations about what's going well, and what's going wrong online.

But as the Minister said, it's pretty shocking that Indigenous youth experience online hate and online racism at a rate three times greater than other youth across Australia. And that's even higher than adult Indigenous people experience, which is two times the national rate. Also really important to note, the real life impacts this has on Indigenous youth, who tell us through this research that it impacts their mental health, it impacts their grades and their schooling, and it impacts their reputation in the community.

So the message that I want to bring to all young people, is to make sure when you see things going wrong, whether it's you or your friends, report to the platform - that is their job. And every time they get these signals, they can get better at reporting. But also report to eSafety. We have a very potent set of powers around youth-based cyberbullying. To give people an example: a very vulnerable, trans Indigenous child that was being attacked through a fight video. We were able to work with Instagram and get that content taken down within 12 minutes. The quicker we get this content taken down, the more we can really protect children's mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. It's also worth noting that we plan to get together with Minister Rowland next week, to speak to the technology industry as a whole. We want to make sure that we're supporting and promoting Indigenous voices around the referendum. We saw very clearly with the marriage plebiscite that LGBTQI+ abuse was heightened and the prevalence was much greater. We didn't have the powers [then] that we do now under the Online Safety Act. We do have powers now around serious adult cyber abuse. And we plan to use them.

We plan to work with the referendum group and the committee around social media self defence training to make sure that they've got the skills and the tools and the strategies they need to be able to lift their voices. But we also want the companies to be on notice. We want them to think about the key words that might be used to silence voices, or the mis and disinformation that our colleagues at the ACMA are looking at. But we need to make sure that we're minimising online hate. And again, my entreaty to everyone in Australia is, when you see online hate happening, report it to the platform and report it to eSafety. We have the powers to take it down. We're working with law enforcement in across Australia. And we've had success working with Meta, TikTok and Twitter just this week in terms of taking seriously harmful content down. But this is a whole of a community approach. We need to work together to make sure that we're protecting all Australian voices. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: How concerned or focused are you on the possibility of heightened online hate up until October-December? Is that something that you're very concerned about? Or what's your thought at the moment about that?

ROWLAND: I think there are two points. We are very alive to this. But at the same time, as the eSafety Commissioner has pointed out, we have existing powers and also protocols that are undertaken. The platforms have their own terms of service. They have a voluntary code with respect to mis and disinformation. We announced earlier in the year that we will give the regulator expanded powers to cover that code. But at the same time, the eSafety Commissioner has had a long process in place around engaging with the platforms. They are all on notice that they will be monitored during this period. I should stress that there is a difference between free speech and hate speech. The Government is very mindful of that. You should remember particularly in the context of mis and disinformation, we are talking about information that is verifiably false and can cause harm. The Albanese Government's top priority is to keep Australians safe, and that includes in this context.

JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the action that the platforms have been taken and specifically the state in which they withdraw images? And also, can you give us an update on the draft industry codes [inaudible]?

INMAN GRANT: We will indeed. Thus far, we've been very satisfied with the work of Meta, TikTok and Twitter is a little bit more inconsistent due to the lack of Trust and Safety staffing, but they are receptive. I think what's really challenging in particular with some of the issues we're dealing with, with the Queensland Police, right now up in the communities, is that you often will see screenshotting of images that are very difficult for the platforms to detect at scale. So again, this is where reporting from us, reporting from the public is really, really important. They are alive to this. And we'll be talking again about keywords and key voices that we think need to be protected. In terms of the industry codes, I met with the industry yesterday to talk about some of our red line issues. The industry has come some way since they first issued the draft codes. The industry officials are taking these back to the companies and they will be delivering the final codes to me on Friday. I can't presuppose what the outcomes will be. I've made very clear what my red line issues are.

JOURNALIST: Can you outline what some of those red lines are?

INMAN GRANT: Well, there are a number of different codes. The issues are really with the DIS code and the RES code and expectations that companies will be rapidly seeking out Child Sexual Abuse material and terrorist content. And that any risk assessments they take are clear and defensible.

JOURNALIST: I'm sorry, you've just touched on that on Twitter. But I think [inaudible] in estimates it says there's now no person here in Australia, there's time differences. With this information we're seeing, especially like foreign actors trying to cause division, which will inevitably happen during this referendum. How do we stop, or essentially what can you do to stop that message being reinforced to vulnerable young people, given that these bots, these foreign actors can rapidly re put the images up? Are you able to take the actual handles down fast enough?

INMAN GRANT: Well, the issue of disinformation and misinformation is handled by the ACMA. But also, when you're talking about state-based disinformation, it’s the Department of Home Affairs. It's very, very difficult. Again, this is where we need to put the pressure on the platforms to be identifying this when mis and disinformation is being reported.

Unfortunately, some of this is much more subtle. And you think about 'death by 1000 cuts' or multiple accounts that are created in these troll factories, much more difficult to identify and be able to measure at scale than, say, a piece of online hate where we have a threshold and we can prove serious intent to harm and menacing harassing and offensive in all cases. But we often see ties between, you know, extended disinformation campaigns and the escalation to online hate.

Just following up on that question if I could. Since Senate Estimates, have you seen Twitter at all improve their Trust and Safety presence in Australia?

INMAN GRANT: I would say I met with the Asia Pacific public policy representative last week. Her team has been decimated. She's trying to cover all of Asia Pacific. We have some legal notices out to Twitter right now around child sexual abuse material, sexual extortion and their algorithms and whether they might be repelling harmful content through the changes in these algorithms. They committed to me that they are working on this and they'll get it to us in time. They have a severely diminished Trust and Safety Team. We escalate directly to headquarters when we see harm. We, as I said today, have seen some recent activity, positive activity in terms of taking down content. But I would say that it's spotty. It's less consistent than it was when they were fully staffed.

ROWLAND: Thank you. I would also add that in response to this and in consultation with my Department and eSafety, I have written some time ago to Twitter noting this fact of the decimation of the Australian staff, but also the clear expectation and requirements that they meet all requirements under Australian law. Their non-response to date has been noted. They have been put on notice that the first priority of the Albanese Government is to keep Australians safe. I'll continue to consult with the regulator, with the eSafety Commissioner, to ensure that whatever action we take is graduated and proportionate, that at all times Twitter should be - under no illusions - that this Government places the safety of Australians above all else.

JOURNALIST: The Government has set aside funds for a campaign in the Voice for the facts of the Voice. What role will factchecking play in the campaign in keeping First Nations people safe online?

ROWLAND: This will also be important in terms of the work of eSafety which the Commissioner mentioned as well. But again, this comes down to the definition of mis and disinformation. Information that is verifiably false, that is sometimes propagated by people sharing things, not understanding that they are false, but also where there is deliberate activity to propagate false information. We will continue to work with eSafety. As the Commissioner mentioned, we will be meeting with representatives on this very issue next week.

JOURNALIST: Will that be spent, though contradicting, you know, false claims like that the Voice will have an effective veto over decisions of Parliament and the executive? Like that the AEC, for example, is extremely active on social media and elections telling people were just wrong about things online. Are we going to see that sort of factchecking in the Voice campaign?

ROWLAND: I think what you've pointed out is actually two different issues. Firstly, the AEC, in conjunction with other regulators, including the ACMA, takes a very robust role in relation to contradicting falsehoods. I think we saw that in the last election, where they very rapidly ensured through a variety of means - not just speed, but also utilising satire, in some cases - to disprove material that was being put out, that was demonstrably false. But at the same time, there is, of course, as I said, a difference between free speech, hate speech, mis and disinformation, and information that harms. Part of the role of eSafety and the working group in this particular matter is to ensure that those distinctions are well understood and that the responses that we have to each of those is proportionate and effective.

JOURNALIST: You talked about promoting [inaudible] next week. What does that actually mean in practice?

INMAN GRANT: I had the pleasure of meeting with Minister Burney last night. She was really excited that we had co-designed these resources with the community. I would note that this is just an inflection point in this journey. We are putting these materials out in a number of languages. And we want to increase the number of languages. I think it's incredibly important, there will be voices that will be raised. We’re expecting that hate speech and disinformation and racism will be used to silence those voices. And what we see with women and with anyone with intersectional factors is targeted online hate and abuse is used to silence, and people do learn to self-censor. So, in anticipation of this, we want to be able to provide social media self defence training. A lot of the information in here is around how you build your psychological armour, what kind of conversation controls and tools that you can use to protect yourself, but just reinforcing some of these strategies and letting them know that they can come to us if things go wrong. We can't, you know, underestimate what an explosion of online hate this could result in if we don't try and get ahead of it and get a handle on it and help those in the community who we do expect will be raising their voices - we need to protect and promote.

JOURNALIST: Commissioner, on that, can I just ask about pathways to go from reporting abuse that could seriously harm, especially vulnerable Indigenous children, as you mentioned trans children and stuff as well, to professional platforms, Lifeline, 1800 RESPECT, all the rest of them. Are you confident that those referral pathways that they're able to get help at the very start before it festers, is adequate?

INMAN GRANT: Absolutely. What we pride ourselves on that is that eSafety is providing what I call compassionate citizen service. So when someone reports to us, we often will ask them, how do you want to communicate? Do you want to talk by phone? Do you want to chat? The first question we ask is, "what is your mental state" and we triage based on people who are in high distress. We have a contractual relationship with Kids HelpLine, we've referred about 55,000 kids who need mental health support, and can you do the same for adults, particularly with image-based abuse and adult cyber abuse. So we are not psychologists or counsellors ourselves and don't try to be but we are all trauma-informed. We're also trained in in diversity and we're training to see the signals and to strongly recommend when we believe people need mental health support or legal aid support.