Australian government introduces online safety law for groups at risk

The Australian government has announced new legislation to protect vulnerable groups from on-line bullying and offensive content, while broadening the reach beyond children at risk.

The Turnbull Government has introduced new legislation that strengthens online safety for Australians that remain vulnerable to online bullying, or the sharing of offensive content. This law extends the powers of the e-safety commissioner to investigate complaints, apart from those impacting children at risk.

Under the reforms, the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Bill will rename the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Expanded powers enable the commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, to tackle online safety involving vulnerable groups, apart from children. These include women at risk of domestic violence, the victims of non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and older Australians.

The latest reform was unveiled by the minister for communications, Mitch Fifield. This addresses feedback that adult Australians may not be aware they can contact the commissioner for advice and help regarding illegal or offensive online content. This includes online safety advice for women, or general information about managing technology risks and online safety.

Minister Fifield said that changing the name of the office will make it easier for Australians to seek help and advice involving online safety issues, irrespective of age.

Earlier, the administration had established a complaints scheme to remove harmful cyber-bullying material on social media services. This was targeted at, and remained harmful to children.

Among the funding, up to $50 million was assigned to improve digital literacy for older Australians. This included a digital portal to provide a one-stop-shop for information, tools and training materials. Other allocations included $2.1 million to develop a resource package for people, especially women and children that were at high risk of domestic violence. Another $4.8 million was earmarked to develop a national online reporting tool for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

Since its establishment, the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner had finalised more than 320 complaints about serious cyber-bullying that targeted Australian children. The office also worked with 11 major social media service providers to counter cyber-bullying. It certified 23 online safety program providers, with more than 115 presenters delivering programs in Australian schools. More than 15,000 investigations were finalised. These examined online content, and included over 9,000 investigations into online child sexual abuse content.

An “iParent” portal was available for parents, offering advice on a range of online safety and digital content issues. Additionally, an eSafetyWomen site offered resources and advice for women. This channel provided training for more than 1,200 frontline professionals across states and territories to help women experiencing technology-facilitated abuse.

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