Subjects: Age Verification Trial, Optus CEO resignation
Peter Gleeson: A really important issue that I think the Albanese Government has dropped the ball on and I’m talking about protecting our kids online. This is so important. So today, 50 advocates from women’s and children’s safety, domestic violence prevention, various notable universities have joined forces, signing a powerful letter to Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. They’re demanding a pilot program be immediately introduced to test an online age verification system so that kids can be stopped from inadvertently accessing damaging or harmful, explicit and often violent content such as porn, sexual or physical violence or exploitation material. Now, I think it’s a no brainer, and I’ve got no idea why it isn’t already a thing. But the Federal Government has resisted the push to bring it in, instead siding with industry self-regulation to keep the web clean. Now the Federal Coalition, spearheaded by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, has today thrown its support behind the calls made in this letter. So, I have invited the Shadow Minister for Communications, David Coleman, on to 4BC Drive today to share his thoughts. He’s on the line now. Mr Coleman, thanks for your time.
David Coleman: Good afternoon, Peter.
Peter Gleeson: Now, this letter is pretty powerful. It’s been signed by the likes of Grace Tame, the National Women’s Safety Alliance, Bravehearts, the Daniel Morcombe Foundation. What’s the position of the Coalition on age verification?
David Coleman: We support it, and we think it needs to be done. And we’ve committed $6.7 million to do a trial of age verification technology. That’s what Australia’s eSafety Commissioner wants, she’s recommended that to the Federal Government. She recommended it back in March. They don’t want to do it and it makes absolutely no sense. And today in Strathpine, Peter Dutton and I were joined by a number of children’s and women’s safety advocates who are backing our plan here because this is something that is a no brainer, and it just needs to happen.
Peter Gleeson: David, any idea why Michelle Rowland would back the industry self-regulation and not simply implement this system?
David Coleman: It’s completely beyond me, Peter. She’s literally saying that she wants to put her faith in the pornography industry to work this issue out rather than the eSafety Commissioner. This is an industry that cares about one thing, and that’s their profits. They don’t care about Australian kids. They don’t care that they’re publishing this damaging content, this content that is often very degrading towards women and shows abuse of women and so on. And the very frightening reality is that many Australian kids are seeing this stuff on their phones in the school playground and it’s a disgrace. And so what our plan is, is to give the eSafety Commissioner the resources and the tools she needs to run a trial of this technology and then move to implement it. Because why wouldn’t we do this? And if we know one thing for sure, it’s that the pornography industry can’t be relied upon to do this. And yet that’s what the Minister wants to do.
Peter Gleeson: So obviously, pornography websites are the big target of a system like this and so it should be. But would you like to see age verification boarding for other sorts of online content?
David Coleman: Yes, I think that age verification has several potential applications. And this trial, while it’s mainly focused on pornography, once we’ve established the success of that technology, that obviously can be used in other contexts as well. So things like gambling is one example. People use things like alcohol sales and so on. And the eSafety Commissioner has recommended that as well. She said that while the trial should be mainly focussed on pornography, that it should look at those other use-cases because once you’ve got the technology right, you can use it in a range of different situations. And it’s such an important issue because what the tech platforms will often say is, well, we have policies in place about protecting kids. But what they don’t tell you is, they don’t do a whole lot to actually identify whether people are kids in the first place. This is really the crux of the whole thing. You’ve got to establish, is that person a child? And if they’re a child, should they be seeing this content? And in the case of pornography, very clearly, the answer is no. And the technology is there, and we should use it. And interestingly, Peter, just four weeks ago, the UK has legislated to do this as well. They’ve legislated for age verification legislation, and we just think this shouldn’t be a Liberal thing or a Labor thing or really any political party thing. This is just a thing that I think pretty much every parent in Australia would support and we should get on with it and do it.
Peter Gleeson: It doesn’t make any sense at all. I just don’t get it, especially for an organisation like, or a political party like the Labor Party that’s sort of, very much about intervention in these sorts of things. What about terrorism? What about blatant violence, exploitation? Are there other issues that could be flagged in relation to content with this sort of scheme?
David Coleman: Yeah, once you’ve got an age verification system in place, you can look at applying it in a whole range of settings. And obviously, as I said, pornography is the key one but there are others as well. I think this is an area where you’ve got to think the Prime Minister isn’t across this. In a sense, Peter, you almost hope he isn’t across it.
Peter Gleeson: Yeah, exactly.
David Coleman: If the PM is across this, in any degree, you’ve got to ask what’s going on. Yeah so, Peter Dutton said today, look what the Prime Minister really needs to do here is reign in his Minister. Call her in and say what’s going on here and reverse the Government’s position. If they do that, we will be the first to support them. This shouldn’t be some big political thing. This should just be a common sense thing. We do have legislation coming to the parliament on Monday to try to make this happen and we hope everyone gets behind it. But I think the PM really needs to involve himself here and get this sorted out.
Peter Gleeson: Well, it’s an admirable aim, David, but as we know with Anthony Albanese, he often isn’t across the detail, but surely, he should be across the detail on something as important as this. Just before we go, did you support the Optus CEO’s decision earlier in the week to resign after the massive outage that affected 10 million Australians a few weeks ago?
David Coleman: Look, I think it’s a very understandable decision. Obviously, Optus has had a couple of very serious issues in the past 12 months. And look, one of the things I’m quite concerned about with the Optus outage is that even when a network goes down, the 000 system, which is regulated by government, is supposed to still work. And that didn’t actually happen here. We know there’s at least 228 people who tried to call 000 who didn’t get through, and obviously that’s often in very serious situations. So, one of the things we really need to get to the bottom of here is why didn’t the government regulation and monitoring of that system work? We need to learn the lessons of that, and we need to make sure that, should there ever be another outage, that every single 000 call gets through, because those are often life and death phone calls. And unfortunately, they didn’t work in this case.
Peter Gleeson: David Coleman, really appreciate your time on 4BC drive.
David Coleman: Thanks, Peter.