- Recently, the Senate made several amendments to the Online Safety Bill - a government bill focused on online safety for Australians
- The amendments made include changing the definition of “serious harm to a person’s mental health”
- To fund all of this, Communications minister Paul Fletcher said that the government had provided the commissioner’s office an additional $24.7 million in the budget for 2021.
Recently, the Senate made several amendments to the Online Safety Bill - a government bill focused on online safety for Australians - using amendments from the government and the opposition. The House of Representatives passed the amended bill late on June 23.
Communications minister Paul Fletcher applauded the changes that were made, since the eSafety commissioner will have noticeably more power. The amendments made include changing the definition of “serious harm to a person’s mental health”; outlining how the commissioner will assess whether an industry code is deficient; a measure requiring the commissioner to report on any notices they issue; introducing an internal review mechanism for decisions the commissioner makes; and formalising advisory committee arrangements.
Labor’s Louise Pratt mentions in a Senate speech that they wanted to engage in good faith, and to have constructive negotiations when addressing concerns with the Online Safety Bill. They believed that the government amendments would be made, and did not oppose the Online Safety Bill - among others - in the House. “Since then, we have engaged with the government in a constructive, good-faith way in order to gain an understanding and address concerns with these bills,” Pratt adds.
According to Pratt, the engagement with the government was productive, and Labor appreciated how the minister and his staff - as well as officials of the department and the commissioner and her staff - paid attention to their suggestions and any concerns raised.
The minister commented that, in 2015, when the office of the eSafety Commissioner was established, it was the first agency in the world that was dedicated to protecting citizens from online dangers, including image-based abuse and cyberbullying. Since then, eSafety has been crucial in fighting online child sexual abuse material, among other issues.
He added that the legislation meant that it would be clearer what eSafety can be called on to do, and that a new reporting scheme would allow for eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant to act when necessary, particularly when removing toxic cyber abuse that online platforms failed to address.
The legislation itself is wide-ranging, giving the commissioner new powers when it comes to investigating and ordering the removal of certain material from online services. It also contains provisions supporting directions to ISPs to block specific online services during crises, not to mention allowing the minister to draw up expectations for basic online safety for services. In addition, the eSafety commissioner will have the power to establish industry codes, or direct the establishment of such.
To fund all of this, Fletcher said that the government had provided the commissioner’s office an additional $24.7 million in the budget for 2021. That adds up to a total of $125 million spent on online safety, over a period of four years.