Australian Parliament passes eSafety expansion Bill

The eSafety Commissioner's remit has been expanded beyond children to provide reporting and supporting mechanisms for all Australians online.

The Australian Parliament has passed legislation to improve the reporting and supporting mechanisms of online safety issues by expanding the role of the eSafety Commissioner to be responsible for the online safety of all Australians.

The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill 2017, passed by Parliament on Tuesday, widens the remit by renaming the Children's eSafety Commissioner as the eSafety Commissioner.

Julie Inman Grant was appointed eSafety commissioner by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in November last year, with the government at the time saying the office would develop an online reporting platform in which it had invested AU$4.8 million in October.

Inman Grant is set to collaborate with Australia's states and territories to deliver consistent penalties for distributing non-consensual intimate images and videos online, colloquially known as "revenge porn".

The platform, which is slated to be launched this year, will allow cases where a photo or video of a sexual nature or one that depicts nudity has been shared or distributed without consent to be reported, as well as providing access to support.

The Department of Communications has announced that it is now also seeking feedback on whether to implement civil penalties for those who are responsible for sharing revenge porn.

Minister for Women Michaelia Cash in November said that while criminal penalties are available, the process to obtain them is difficult and time-consuming.

"The civil penalty regime is more attractive in terms of getting a more prompt response for those involved," Cash said at the time.

The South Australian government in October announced stricter punishments for those partaking in revenge porn, with laws saying anyone who sends or threatens to send "indecent" or "invasive" images of anyone under the age of 17 can face a two-year maximum jail sentence or a AU$100,000 fine, and anyone over the age of 17 a one-year jail sentence or a AU$5,000 fine.

Inman Grant at the time also said the key to combating revenge porn is both education and an online safety tool.

"These education efforts need to start as early as in the nursery and be reinforced in the classroom, lounge room, bedroom, and ultimately the boardroom to have the kind of societal and systemic impact we need to make," Inman Grant said.

The eSafety Commissioner is an independent office that sits under the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Created by the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act, the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner was launched in 2015, with the aim of removing cyberbullying content online and dealing with complaints about offensive and illegal content.

"Since its establishment by the Turnbull government in 2015, the eSafety Commissioner has resolved more than 450 serious cyberbullying complaints; conducted over 19,000 investigations into illegal or offensive online content; educated more than 217,000 people via Virtual Classrooms and face-to-face presentations," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement on Tuesday.

Fifield added that it has also launched initiatives to raise awareness about reporting cyberbullying, launched the eSafetyWomen site using AU$2.1 million in funding from the Women's Safety Package, and provided training to 2,000 professionals across the country to help women.

The eSafety commissioner has the authority to force social media companies that operate in Australia, including Twitter and Facebook, to remove content deemed to be online bullying, or face fines of AU$17,000 per day.

The office has now also been tasked with improving the digital skills of senior Australians.

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