Subject: Roadmap for Age Verification Report
Ray Hadley: Now an important story. We always give as much attention as we can to the eSafety Commissioner who is charged with child safety online. I got a report here from the Shadow Minister for Communications, David Coleman, where he told me the Anthony Albanese Government has announced its refusal to act on a critical recommendation aimed at protecting children from pornography and other online harm. In a major report to government, Roadmap for Age Verification, the eSafety Commissioner has recommended a pilot of age assurance technologies. On page eight of the Roadmap, the eSafety Commissioner, included in its recommendations for the Australian Government, trial a pilot before seeking to prescribe and mandate age assurance technology. Now, according to the Opposition federally, this was a significant report commissioned by the Coalition Government that considered options to protect children online. The report had been with the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, since March this year but was not released until yesterday. At the same time as releasing the report, the Minister has shut down plans for the trial recommended by the eSafety Commissioner. The Shadow Communications Minister, David Coleman says this is an extraordinary response by the Government. And the Federal Member for Banks and Shadow Minister for Communications, David Coleman, is on the line. David, good morning to you.
David Coleman: Morning, Ray.
Ray Hadley: Is it just because this was the recommendation of the former Government as opposed to the eSafety commissioner, that we’re seeing the current Government saying no to it?
David Coleman: I don’t know, is the short answer, Ray. But I can tell you it’s absolutely ridiculous that they’re not acting on this. Because everyone agrees that it is bad for kids to have access, underage access to pornographic material and a whole bunch of other material online. Everyone basically agrees on that. So sensible recommendation, trial age assurance technology which helps to identify underage kids, ensure that they don’t get access to that material, that’s obviously a good thing for the country. The eSafety Commissioner spent two years working on this. That’s what she recommended. And Michelle Rowland and the Government are saying, ‘no, we’re not going to do that’. And it’s obviously a completely wrong decision.
Ray Hadley: Well, given that the eSafety Commissioner enjoys, I mean, bipartisan support in what she attempts to do, I’m trying to rack my brain as to why and I think she’s a fairly reasonable person, the Minister. I think that Michelle Rowland acts mainly in the best interests of her constituents and also children. But I’m trying to think of a reason why they’d say no to a trial. Can you offer any explanation?
David Coleman: I can’t Ray. I mean, what the Minister has basically said is, do a whole bunch of other things that are not a trial and look at it again in literally years. Because the other codes that she’s talking about will take some years to implement. So, no I can’t. And the truth is, is that you can’t trust the tech platforms to do the right thing. History is very clear on that. You can’t trust them to do the right thing. And this is about the Government saying let’s take steps to protect kids. And why wouldn’t you do it? The US Surgeon General’s come out recently and talked about all the mental health impacts on kids accessing bad material underage. And we don’t say to pubs, ‘there’s a bunch of 12-year-olds in your pub, that’s fine’. We don’t say that. We say, ‘well hang on, you need to be 18 to be in there’. And the eSafety Commissioner is saying, well, let’s trial technology to make that happen here and the Government’s not agreeing to do that.
Ray Hadley: Just on that quote you used, the US Surgeon General, just to get out there, has stated that there is ample evidence that access to damaging material online is harming the mental health of children. This is a defining issue of our era. The Government must take strong steps to protect children. An age assurance system would require technology companies to take specific steps to identify underage users and stop children from accessing dangerous material. I mean, David, I’m sitting here thinking, why would you not, Michelle Rowland, grasp this recommendation for a trial only, that’s what we’re talking about, from the eSafety Commissioner and say, well, let’s have a crack at it and let’s see whether it does work with the cooperation of these technology companies. Let’s try it at least to see whether we can find out once and for all whether we can protect children in some way, shape or form. But the answer is no. I simply can’t understand the stupidity of it.
David Coleman: Look the only person that can really answer that is Michelle Rowland, because I’m sort of scratching my head as well. I don’t see any downside in doing this trial. It’s very sensible and this is a big deal. This is, as I said in that press release, this is a defining issue of our era. Every parent worries about this stuff. Whether it’s pornography or it’s violent material or it’s material related to self-harm. There’s a lot of bad stuff online that kids are accessing everyday that’s wrong. And we need as a country to do everything we can to stop that from happening. This is a sensible step in that direction and I have no idea why the Government’s not doing it.
Ray Hadley: Okay, well I’ll seek out the Minister, Michelle Rowland, early next week and see if she’ll have a yarn with me about it on air and come up with a reason because I can’t think of one either. I thank you for your time and bringing it to our attention.
David Coleman: Thanks, Ray.