Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – ABC News Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

Subjects: Mike Pezzullo, Age Verification Trial, Prominence Legislation




Greg Jennett: Now the Coalition’s cupboard of firm election commitments isn’t exactly bulging full at the moment, but as we move towards 2024, there are indications a few more policies might be added. One has been, with a pledge to make age verification compulsory before accessing online porn. Shadow Communications Minister, David Coleman is behind it. We talked to him about that and a few other topics too, soon after Question Time. David Coleman, welcome back. I promise we will get to your portfolio area of Communications in just a moment. But I should ask, as a former Immigration Minister, you worked with Mike Pezzullo. We’ve now had a very serious finding indeed, about his breach of the public service code, including that he sought to gain a benefit or advantage for himself. Does this sound to you like something that would or should warrant further investigation?

David Coleman: Well look, I haven’t seen the report and obviously the Prime Minister said it’s going to be kept confidential. I don’t know what submissions were made to the report and so on. So, I think questions about that are really for the Prime Minister. As I said, I did work with Mr. Pezzullo and I always found him to be very professional, very hard working, someone who served both Labor and Liberal governments over the years. And as I said, I found him always to be very diligent. But in terms of these specific issues, I think you’d have to address that to the PM.

Greg Jennett: And we might. Always have difficulty connecting the media reporting of what he was said to have done with, you know, the findings of this Public Service Commission investigation, because as you say, we’ll never get the latter. But did it surprise you that he would, as a senior public servant, engage in these, what seemed to be quite frank, text message exchanges with Scott Briggs?

David Coleman: Well, as I said, Greg, I think in terms of that whole matter, I’m not aware of all of the context. I’m not aware of the report. I’m not aware of what the various arguments that have been made are. Obviously, the Government’s across all of that and they’ve made that decision. I can only speak for my dealings with Mr. Pezzullo, which, as I said, were always very professional.

Greg Jennett: All right, let’s not labour the point. I do want to move on to areas that you are directly involved with. You have a Private Member’s Bill. You put it into the Parliament today reflecting the intent of an actual Coalition policy. Age verification for people to access online porn, including, I think in its policy form, a commitment of $7 million. How will that work?

David Coleman: So, the eSafety Commissioner wants to do this, recommended this to the Government. The Government said no. Government said no, eSafety commissioner we’re not going to do what you want. We are going to literally side with the pornography industry. So, the Eros Foundation welcomed the Government’s decision. But just about every child safety expert who has spoken on it, has condemned it. So how this would work is, the eSafety Commissioner would run a trial of age verification technology where trusted software companies that are expert in age verification would verify that an individual was over the age of 18. And then that would then enable that individual to access 18 plus content.

Greg Jennett: What would that look like for the user clicking or on their keyboard? What are they entering?

David Coleman: Yeah. So, it might be ID, it might be a facial recognition software, but the important point is that the actual 18 plus sites themselves don’t see any of that information. All they see is that, yes, this person is over 18. And we’re pursuing a trial because that’s what the eSafety Commissioner has recommended. In the UK they just legislated this four weeks ago. So this is the law of the United Kingdom. But Michelle Rowland and this is a really extraordinary point Greg, doesn’t want to do it, has been condemned by the National Children’s Commissioner by 49 experts who have signed a letter strongly criticising the Government and basically wants to let the industry write the rules. And that is absolutely wrong. We’ve allocated $7 million to make this happen, and I hope the Government embraces our Bill and if they do, we will fully support them.

Greg Jennett: Now, obviously you’re going to face extreme difficulty actually legislating a Private Member’s Bill, but let’s imagine you had the capacity to do this in Government. Would it cover sites and operators that are both onshore and off?

David Coleman: Yes, and we have a lot of powers under the telecommunications power under the Constitution, Greg. And there are obviously complexities in issues relating to technology. But the answer to complexities is not to say it’s all too hard, let’s leave it up to the industry. This issue of child safety online is one of the defining issues of our generation, and we have to lean forward. We know the last people we should be trusting on this issue are the pornography industry. They couldn’t care less about Australian kids and the technology is there. The UK has legislated to do this, and we absolutely should be moving forward on this.

Greg Jennett: Laws would have to be effective though in a technological sense. So how would they work against someone who was using a VPN?

David Coleman: Well a lot of the providers, of course, Greg, are very substantial companies in themselves who have to comply with law because they’re actually legal operations. So the law would apply to them. And if they did not validate that the person was in fact 18, they would be in breach of the law. But what this trial is about, this is an important point, is working through the technical issues. We’ve allocated $7 million to do that. And we would envisage once the trial has completed, to mandate legislation, which is what the eSafety commissioner has recommended. But we’re going with a trial first, as recommended by the eSafety Commissioner, but we’re not going to be put off by any sort of red herrings that are thrown out there because this is a really important issue.

Greg Jennett: All right. So the cost implications if it moved beyond a trial, are they exponentially higher than $7 million? What would a Government be paying for under a full blown national scheme?

David Coleman: Well, what it’s about is effectively validating that the person is over the age of 18, and that’s simply through going to one of these accredited websites. So the cost of doing that at scale would not be that expensive because the actual cost per person is very, very low. And again, the UK has just legislated this. But this is a trial. We want to run through the trial. We’re not going to side with the pornography industry. We’re going to side with Australian kids. We are going to side with the eSafety Commissioner, we want to get this done. And why on earth Anthony Albanese is supporting Michelle Rowland on this, Greg, I think it’s a fascinating question and that’s the Government’s position.

Greg Jennett: I think they had their own explanations, and we’ll get those from them if we get the opportunity. David Coleman, also we are expecting what they’re calling prominence laws to do with the placement of apps on our televisions to be introduced into the parliament, possibly as early as this week. As I understand it, you’re opposed to this, but what exactly are you opposed to? Because we don’t actually know what the Government’s proposing here or whether you can customise it yourself after you remove the TV from its original settings.

David Coleman: Well we’re waiting, Greg. We haven’t put forward a position on this because we don’t actually have any legislation. So the Government said that they were going to do this 18 months ago. We’re still waiting and once we have the legislation, which the Minister says is soon, we’ll go through it very carefully, like we do with everything.

Greg Jennett: So, you are not necessarily opposed?

David Coleman: We want to see the legislation. We’ll go through it. I mean, the problem is though, that with this Minister, when she releases legislation, it’s often very, very poorly constructed, as we saw, say, with the Misinformation Bill. Now, in being a diligent Opposition, we need to read the legislation, go through it in our usual process. That’s what we’ll do and will then provide our review.

Greg Jennett: All right, that’s reasonable. We don’t want to put you into a corner and say you are opposed until such time as you are or aren’t. David Coleman, we’ll keep an eye on that. Thanks again for joining us.

David Coleman: Thanks, Greg.