Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – 6PR – Gary Adshead

Subjects: Coalition’s backing for age verification to protect Australian children from social media


Gary Adshead: As we all know, social media, the platform particularly X, formerly known as Twitter, certainly front and centre in the headlines at the moment because of this showdown with the federal government, the eSafety Commissioner. The trigger this time has been the fact that X continue to have on its site a graphic vision of the stabbing at the Sydney church. The government and the Prime Minister particularly is leading the way by saying, in a civilised society, there is just no need to continue to have video of that on a website, that can be accessed by anybody, children included. Of course, Elon Musk is coming back with, well who are you to censor that? What is news? That’s the kind of argument that’s going to play out in the courts. Probably get more technical than that, but that’s a summation. It’s interesting because the fact that they’re back in and we’re all looking again at social media, I don’t know, to me, a lot of it’s a sewer and a cesspit. I don’t even have Facebook. I just can’t be bothered with it. I have X because of my work commitments. I here at six PR and today and channel nine, but I don’t have any other form of social media. It’s just a horrible, horrible place to be. So once again, the Coalition’s, Shadow spokesperson on Communications, David Coleman, is saying, here’s an opportunity for the Federal Government to look at trying to restrict young people from being able to access it full stop, banning children from able to go in and look at all of the whatever’s on offer there, the pornography, the violence, the you name it, that’s there. And he’s quite passionate about it. He’s saying there is there are ways to do this, and the Federal Government need to take notice. David Coleman, Shadow Communications spokesperson, joins me now. Thanks for your time, David.

David Coleman: Good morning.

Gary Adshead: All right. Obviously, there’s a lot of discussion around social media at the moment, the age verification plan that you’ve been trying to get through. Do you think this gives it new opportunity to push again?

David Coleman: Well, I hope so, because we need to get it done. The fact that kids are seeing this horrendous, violent material on social media is just completely unacceptable. We wouldn’t accept it if it was TV. We wouldn’t accept it if it was movies, we wouldn’t let ten-year-olds access this sort of material. And yet on social media, it happens every single day. And more than a year ago, the eSafety Commissioner said, let’s get on with it, let’s do a trial of this age verification technology, move forward and try to create a safer environment. Because the bottom line is, once kids are in that social media environment, it’s not good for them. There’s a lot of risk. And that’s why this age verification policy is so important.

Gary Adshead: Can you tell our listeners just how it would work? What you know?

David Coleman: Yes. So, there’s different methods. So, at the moment, Ofcom, which is the regulator in the UK, is working through the different methods. And in Australia we would do the same thing. So basically, the eSafety Commissioner would determine the different methods and it could be through things like facial age estimation. It could be through documents. There’s different methods. But this is happening all around the world. In Florida a couple of weeks ago, the legislature passed a social media age verification law that comes into force on the 1st of January. The UK passed a law last year. And this is happening. And the reason that it’s happening is because the status quo is just totally unacceptable. We still have a classification system for movies and TV shows. So, we’ve never consciously agreed that young kids should have access to this very damaging material. And yet that’s what happens. And we’ve got to change it.

Gary Adshead: So, I’m trying to envisage, a system which would work. And at the moment you have sometimes, how old are you? Are you over 18? You click on that, well that’s just nonsense. Because of course anyone could. But this is more sophisticated way of going about it, is it? This is like facial recognition or having to put in some form of identity?

David Coleman: They call it age estimation, so for instance, I’m 50 so if my age was estimated it’s going to come in at around 50 and certainly a lot older than 16. So, I’m obviously plenty old enough to access social media if I want to. And that’s the way that the UK is certainly going and that’s what was done in the trial in Europe. And as I say, US states are passing laws on this as well. The Surgeon General, who’s the top doctor in the United States has put out some really frankly scary statistics about mental health issues and kids, the impact on social media. And he is a very strong advocate for taking much stronger steps on age verification. He actually a few weeks ago, he described what’s happening today with kids and their access to social media as insanity. And he’s right. We shouldn’t accept it. And as you said, the age verification at the moment is pretty nonexistent. You just say how old you are, tick the box, and away you go. And when you think about it, what generation of children in history have been exposed to what this generation is being exposed to? On social media, a ten-year-old kid in Perth can be communicating with any random adult anywhere in the world, providing who knows what content and material. Now we can’t just say, oh well, it’s all too hard to do anything about that. We’ve got to lean forward. We’ve got to show strength on this, and we’ve got to get this trial started, because we need to protect kids from the dangers of social media.

Gary Adshead: So, at this stage, the government haven’t supported a move. But what do you do from here on in then?

David Coleman: Well, I genuinely hope they change their mind. It is a bit baffling to be honest. It’s more than a year ago that the commissioner made this recommendation, and we would just like the government to get on board with this. The trial could start tomorrow, and let’s get moving on this. We don’t need to ponder this for years and years. It’s happening in other countries around the world. And every day that we don’t do it is a day where more kids are exposed to these dangers. I think parents do everything they can, to protect their kids online and try and limit the risks. But the truth is, as a parent, once your kid is in one of those environments, you don’t know what they’re saying. You can’t completely control what’s happening. All you know is there’s a lot of risk, and it often leaves you with a pretty sick sort of feeling in your stomach. And that’s why action’s got to be taken.

Gary Adshead: So just to clarify, because obviously you’re talking about that social media environment, those platforms, but there wouldn’t be anything still to stop. A ten-year-old googling would there?

David Coleman: The trial relates specifically to pornography and will also relate to social media. So basically, you would have a system in place of pornography sites because, similar to social media we’ve seen kids accessing some horrendous material through adult websites. So those would be, in our view, the two priorities. And that’s where we should be getting moving.

Gary Adshead: All right like you said, I suppose we’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s probably long overdue. David, I appreciate it.

David Coleman: Thanks, Gary.

Gary Adshead: David Coleman, Shadow Communications spokesperson. And I genuinely do believe that. That’s my view on this, once we all saw what social media was capable of, that we should have moved a lot faster to put restrictions around it.