Second Reading Debate – online safety for children Bill

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (16:25): I rise to speak on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014. Before I get to the detail of the bill, I would like to quote a section from my maiden speech. I quote:

Social media will be the great challenge of this generation. While it presents incredible opportunity, it is complex, far reaching and constant. It can envelop every waking minute, preventing victims of bullying and abuse from getting any respite. Social media’s greatest threat is to our children, not because of the medium itself but because you can never be sure who is on the other end. Our challenge as elected members of parliament will be to find the delicate balance between free speech, the right to information and protecting the vulnerable.

This bill is about trying to strike that balance. It is about providing opportunity for parents. As a parent of a 14-year-old young son and two young daughters, one of 12 and one of seven, I can tell you that this is an issue which is of incredible interest to me, my family and my wife. It is a challenge we deal with on an almost daily or weekly basis.

Certainly, the ability for a e-safety commissioner, which gets enacted under this bill, gives a single point of contact. As a member of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, I have had the unique opportunity, along with my colleagues of course, to be briefed by the Australian Federal Police and other services around just how difficult these things for police. The main point of contact before this bill was around was the Telecommunications Act and the use of a carriage service. It is fairly difficult to get our enforcement agents interested in victims of bullying on Facebook. They do take action and there are other opportunities but this is good step forward.

We will also provide $7½ million under the National Safe Schools Framework to allow schools to access the online safety program. This really is a big issue. As was stated by the previous member, of Australians aged between eight and 17 around 20 per cent of those people are receiving online bullying and discrimination. It is incredibly difficult to monitor. As I said before, as a parent it is something of great concern to me—great concern indeed. The bill also provides for a 2-tier rapid removal process. But as I said, the best part of this bill is there is a position for a parent to go to when they have concerns.

The debate in my house on the weekend was about passwords and access to iPads and iPhones and everything else, including iPods. My young son of 14 considered it more important that he have his privacy than mum and dad have access to his devices. I would suggest to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that was an argument which he has lost. However, it did take some considerable motivation in order for that to happen. I am sure that his sister is enjoying her new iPhone. It is a difficult thing to get across.

From a personal viewpoint, in my day—and this is certainly not something I would advocate, and it is not something I have ever done—if a young gentlemen was outside throwing rocks on the window of your daughter’s room trying to attract some attention, it was quite easy to go outside and have a discussion and a suggestion about other opportunities for them to take up elsewhere. Unfortunately, with social media that opportunity just does not exist. Certainly in terms of harassment it can be very difficult. As a young gentlemen, at school I was probably fifty-fifty—50 per cent of the time I was the protagonist and 50 per cent of the time I was the recipient. So I think it is a bit of a balance. However, you could actually get away from that. You could literally get on your pushbike and go home and do something else.

With social media there is no opportunity for escape. It is a text message, it is Facebook, it is Twitter, it is all the other activities which run constantly. I do not need to tell the other members of the House just how difficult it is to deal with those things, which we deal with regularly and constantly. If I look at some of our members right now I am sure they are on social media sending text messages and all those other things. But for a child, someone who is only young, who is susceptible, who perhaps has some difficulty making the right decisions, this is an incredibly serious issue.

I would like to speak about a young lady who I met yesterday, Britteny Hunter. Britteny is one of the winners of the Heywire competition from my hometown of Bundaberg and is very social media savvy, I must say. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Britteny. She is a graduate of Shalom Catholic College in Bundaberg. I took her on a behind the scenes tour of Parliament House. She met the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, and at the time she informed us that her flooded home was one which we gave a helping hand to during the flood. The now Prime Minister, the Minister for Agriculture and I actually lifted some pianos.

Mr PITT in continuation on 23 February, 2015 (Hinkler) (12:24): It is good to be back, and what a difference a week makes! As I was saying, I had the great good fortune of meeting the Bundaberg winner of the Heywire competition, Ms Britteny Hunter. We had actually met Britteny before: the Prime Minister, now Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce and I had helped move a piano out of Britteny’s flooded home in 2013. Whilst I do not recall everyone who was standing in the yard at that time, I certainly recall the piano, which was exceptionally large, heavy and wet! Unfortunately, we are in a similar circumstance in Queensland at the moment, but I will get back to that.

Ms Hunter’s winning entry was centred on the issues of homelessness and disadvantage. I was also interested to learn that she spent some time examining an issue of great concern to me and, of course, many other locals in the Hinkler electorate: the issue of human trafficking and exploitation. It is a problem I have been particularly vocal about with the aim of better protecting seasonal workers and farmers from unscrupulous contract labour hire firms. Knowing that we have such thoughtful young people living in our region gives me great confidence that our community’s future is in safe hands. Ms Hunter has a very bright future ahead of her. I congratulate her on winning the award and wish her every success as she starts study at the Central Queensland University. Digital media platforms and forums like Heywire are giving young people in regional communities a national voice. It is an opportunity for them to participate and to have their concerns and ideas heard, and I congratulate her once again.

Social media in the recent week in Queensland has been incredibly important. Certainly Tropical Cyclone Marcia, which crossed the coast just north of Rockhampton through Yeppoon and Rocky has caused damage in all those regions and also in Biloela, likely in Maryborough and, of course, Gympie. Social media has been the source of information for many people. However, the difficulty with social media is that that source is not always verified. I certainly recommend that the people in my electorate continue to rely on ABC regional radio and their emergency broadcast. Their information is verified and constant.

Certainly we see more of the difficulties in communications in regional Australia. From discussions with the member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd, the loss of the communications network in Biloela has made it exceptionally difficult in trying circumstances at the moment. So it is very tough to get on Facebook and get information when you have no tower, no communications, no fibre link and no power. However, you can always turn on the car radio, and once again I congratulate ABC regional radio on their emergency broadcast; they have done an exceptional job.

The loss of communications is particularly important and brought back to me memories from 2013 and the floods in Bundaberg. It looks like we will be fortunate this time around; hopefully, it will only be a minor flood through the Bundaberg region. But my heart goes out to those people who are suffering in the other areas. Certainly I recall all the other issues around flat batteries for mobile phones, the inability to communicate rapidly with emergency services and the thousands of people who have had their homes damaged—including my mother-in-law. I was on the ground in Rockhampton first thing as soon as the highway opened on Saturday because I knew what the results would be. It will be a very trying time for the people in that area simply because they have no power, and the likelihood of that being back up quickly is very low. So our thoughts are with them.

But back to the bill. This bill is all about enhancing the balance of online safety. As I said, this is an area which grows exponentially. It is a matter of great concern to me. It is a matter of great concern to many other parents in this country. I congratulate the minister no putting this together. I believe they have got the balance right. It gives parents the opportunity to go to a single point of contact rather than trying to raise these matters with our current law enforcement agencies under the Telecommunications Act. Hopefully, it will go through successfully. I am sure this bill will help to address some of the major problems that we have around social media.

Once again I thank the minister for the opportunity to speak, thank the House and of course endorse the bill.


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