SPEECH - Launch of new partnership between UNICEF and the ARC's Centre for the Digital Child

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I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people – and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to any First Nations people joining us today.

I am so pleased to have been asked to speak today, as UNICEF and the Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child announce a new partnership.

Australians have long been early adopters of technology – and this generation is certainly no different.

Australian children are avid users of the internet and digital devices. In fact, 4 out of 5 children have at least one digital device for their own use, and an average of 3 devices.

That’s why understanding the issues associated with children’s use of the internet has never been more important.

The research undertaken by organisations like UNICEF and the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child contributes enormously to the evidence base so that we as policy makers, regulators, civil society and the online industry can make informed decisions when it comes to children. 

I certainly welcome this partnership, and look forward to continuing to engage with all of you – as industry leaders, experts and advocates, as we look to improve safety online.

If I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to speak very briefly about the Albanese Government’s efforts to improve online safety.

Australia is at the forefront of efforts to regulate the internet – we have a strong track record in online safety and a world-leading online safety regulator in the eSafety Commissioner.

Our Government was very pleased to have quadrupled ongoing base funding to the eSafety Commissioner in last year’s Federal Budget – ending funding uncertainty facing the regulator.

The Online Safety Act, which came into effect in January 2022, gives the eSafety Commissioner the power to take down harmful content, including cyberbullying of children.

It also requires industry to develop mandatory codes that address illegal and seriously harmful content, and protect children from age inappropriate material.

And eSafety can develop mandatory industry standards if the Commissioner determines the draft codes don’t provide appropriate community safeguards.

I know that eSafety values engagement with advocates and experts like yourselves – and so do I.

I do want to acknowledge the Alannah & Madeline Foundation who are here today for the work they do to upskill the next generation of digital citizens.

Our Government is providing $6 million to make AMF’s media literacy and digital skills products freely available to all Australian schools. 

I’ve been pleased to join AMF twice now to see these excellent products in action – both at Footscray High School in Melbourne, and Riverbank Public School in my own electorate – and the feedback from students has been so incredibly positive.

While our regulator and you good people truly do tremendous work, it’s critical we as Government are looking to the future and making sure our online safety laws remain strong and fit-for-purpose.

These laws cannot be set and forget. We know digital platforms are vectors for harms – and new and emerging technologies such as generative AI pose a serious challenge.

That’s why our Government has brought forward the review of the Online Safety Act – a year earlier than required under the existing legislation.

Our focus is on making the OSA can address not just today’s harms, but the challenges of the future.

The independent reviewer, Ms Delia Rickard, is an industry expert and will consider matters including the operation of the existing schemes, identify possible gaps in the framework, examine penalties for digital platforms, and consider what we can learn from recent international efforts. She will also consider whether concepts such as a duty of care, and requirements for industry to act in the best interests of the child, can or should be incorporated into our laws. 

Ms Rickard will begin public consultation soon – and I strongly encourage you all to lend your expertise to this process.

The solutions for many of these challenges no doubt are in this very room – and our Government wants your input to make sure Ms Rickard’s Review is as comprehensive and effective as possible.


In wrapping up this morning, I note that the challenges Australia faces in maximising the benefits of the online environment while making sure it is safe, especially for our children and young people, is one that many countries around the world are grappling with. 

Sometimes it can feel like we are playing catch-up with the ever-evolving harms that present themselves online, which is emphasised because of the rapid pace at which new technologies are developed and adopted.

The only way we can stay ahead of potential harms and help young people realise the numerous benefits of online spaces is by working together and drawing from the best evidence available.

We in government don’t claim to have all the answers, which is why organisations like UNICEF and QUT working together with governments is so crucial. 

By sharing advice, research and evidence we can find new solutions to a global problem.

I wish you well in your new partnership and look forward to what you can achieve.