Bipartisan support sees Senate pass online anti-bullying laws

The Australian government's proposed legislation to establish a children's e-safety commissioner in a bid to help combat online bullying has passed the Senate.

The Australian Senate has passed the government's Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014, which will see the establishment of a children's e-safety commissioner if it passes both houses of parliament.

The proposed legislation, which passed the Senate on Wednesday with bipartisan support, would see social media companies operating in Australia, such as Facebook and Twitter, fined up to AU$17,000 per day by the proposed e-safety commissioner if they fail to remove deemed bullying content.

The commissioner is designed to be a one-stop shop for Australian children or their guardians to lodge complaints about online bullying content, and will be empowered to investigate and seek to have the content removed if it is deemed to be bullying to a specific Australian child.

"This is a very significant milestone in the government's work to make the internet safer for Australian children," said Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher in a statement.

According to Fletcher, who introduced the legislation in December, the Bill complements other measures by the government to ensure the online safety of children, including a AU$10 million financial commitment comprising AU$7.5 million for online safety programs in schools, AU$2.4 million to establish and operate the office of the children's e-safety commissioner over four years, and AU$100,000 to support Australian-based research and information campaigns for online safety.

Fletcher expects the Bill to be agreed upon in the House of Representatives over the "coming days", passing it into law.

The government has already started detailed work for the implementation of the proposed scheme, but this will be accelerated with the Bill's passage in parliament.

The government expects to announce the appointment of the children's e-safety commissioner in the coming weeks. Following that, its first priority will be to commence the operation of the office of the commissioner, which will include significant resources transferred in from other areas of the Australian public service.

The legislation was originally proposed in the Coalition's 2013 election campaign. One component for that policy, the opt-out internet filter, was dropped, and is not included in the current Bill.