Speech - eSafety's Age Verification Roadmap

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important issue. I do note the contribution from the member for Mayo, which is heartfelt and sincere. We do have an obligation to do everything we can to keep our most vulnerable safe. I'm sure the member would never have expected that in her role as MP that she would be in that position.

No Australian wants children accessing pornographic material online, full stop. Governments around the world are grappling with this and the challenge is significant. However, Australia is steps ahead with the legislative framework and the powers of the eSafety Commissioner, established under the Online Safety Act. In opposition, we supported recommendations for eSafety to develop the road map for age verification, which was released in August. I thank eSafety for that very important work. The road map made a number of recommendations, including that the government invest in research, education and resources, that eSafety continue to work to implement the Online Safety Act, and that age assurance technologies be piloted in Australia before we seek to mandate them. I note the pilot remains in consideration by government, as we have stated, since August. We will seek further options on a pilot, and my department will be involved in scoping this work, given the need for cross-portfolio engagement.

This is indeed, as the member for Wentworth said, a time when we should be working together, because the road map outlined work that is already underway to implement the Online Safety Act, including the development of enforceable industry codes to deal with children's access to online pornography. These are actually the most effective tools we have right now to effect comprehensive change across the whole digital ecosystem in the near term, which is why I want to see them prioritised.

I do want to explain why the codes process, overseen by the independent regulator, eSafety, is the most effective lever available to deliver improved protections for children and why I want to see it prioritised. The new codes will apply to critical parts of the digital industry, including pornography websites and the many other locations where children find pornography—concerningly, including social media, where they inadvertently find it. This is unacceptable and cannot continue. The codes will also cover parts of the digital ecosystem that can prevent children arriving at risky sites, such as devices, search engines and app stores. I point out that this process was recently used to establish codes in relation to illegal class 1 content—that is, such as child sexual abuse material and pro-terror content on digital platforms.

In August I wrote to eSafety asking that work commence on the codes to specifically address online pornography as soon as practicable. If the codes don't provide appropriate safeguards, the commissioner can reject them and move to enforceable standards, just as she has done recently for two mandatory standards in relation to class 1 illegal content.

I want to make it clear that, contrary to what some of those opposite have said, the regulator does not allow the industry to mark its own homework when it comes to pornography. Industry will face penalties for noncompliance once the rules are in place, and any suggestion otherwise is a misreading of the act.

Some age assurance technologies are already being deployed effectively to prevent a range of harms to children, and that technology is advancing. That's why I have announced that we will strengthen the government's basic online safety expectations with a new expectation of industry to show how they support the best interests of children in the design of their products and to make it explicit that age assurance technologies are an important tool.

I end by stressing for the benefit of all in this place that the pilot remains in consideration by the government, as we've said since August. We will seek further options on a pilot, and my department will be involved in scoping this work, given the need for cross-portfolio engagement. It is important that we implement as soon as possible—which is exactly what I've asked eSafety to do—the process under law passed by those opposite, which we supported, which is already proving effective in making sure we don't have that class 1 pro-terror, child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation material out there. This is being used effectively, and I call on the parliament to work together to support eSafety in this important work.