Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

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

Subject: Government supporting the Coalition’s lead on age verification, fixing Labor’s housing/ migration crisis

E&OE…

Greg Jennett: There’s been movement over the weekend by the Government leaning towards the idea of raising age limits for teenagers to access social media, and to have this more tightly controlled than it currently is. The work on examining such ideas will probably be done by a special parliamentary committee, due to kick off next week. The Coalition’s already strongly in favour of a tougher approach to the age at which teenagers can be on social media, witnessing all that can be seen there. Shadow Communications Minister, David Coleman joined us a few moments ago from Sydney. David Coleman, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. Now you’ll recall the Government a few weeks ago adopted the pilot for age verification on pornographic websites. Now, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and certainly Premier Peter Malinauskas in South Australia are sounding open to age related controls on access to social media platforms, which the Coalition has spoken about. But I think it’s fair to say we don’t have all the details yet. What, from your perspective, are you proposing?

David Coleman: Well look, I think it’s positive that we’re seeing this movement. The first thing is to do the trial, which we had in legislation in November last year, Greg. So literally in November. We went to the Parliament and we said, we need to do this trial on age verification for pornography, for social media, for some other things. The Government voted against that back in November. It is good that they have now confirmed that they are supportive of moving forward on the trial on social media. It’s very important that it includes Instagram, that it includes TikTok, and that it’s about establishing a minimum age to use a social media service. The Coalition is very supportive of moving forward on this area because social media is causing immense mental health problems for our kids, especially girls and we need to move forward on it.

Greg Jennett: I don’t think that’s in dispute at all. And we have covered it in some length on this program, the various models that might apply to 18 years and over in the online porn sphere. But it seems to me it’s quite a degree more complicated when you’re dealing with what for most platforms is an age of 13 years old. So who verifies a teenager’s age for access to all these big brand name platforms?

David Coleman: Well firstly Greg, it shouldn’t be 13 and it’s not effectively 13 now because those, those supposed age limits aren’t enforced. Clearly 13 is too young. 16 is an age that’s often mentioned as a more appropriate age. In terms of the process, there’s been a lot of movement on this overseas in recent times. To give you an example, Facebook Dating has been using age verification for what’s called video selfies in the US for two years. Ofcom in the UK, the UK regulator, named about 5 or 6 different methodologies that it would accept for the purpose of age assurance in the UK. And that’s a part of what will be worked through in the trial, but it’s certainly not the case that there isn’t technology out there. There’s a lot of technology out there. As the eSafety Commissioner has said, it just gets better and better. And the thing that this technology will help us to do is ensure that large numbers of kids see much less bad material online. That is a profoundly important thing. It’s disappointing it has taken the Government so long to get behind this but it’s good that it appears we are now seeing some movement.

Greg Jennett: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re putting your faith or your eggs in the technology basket to do this verification. Whereas someone like Peter Malinauskas has talked about a parental approval role, one which is stronger than currently, at least on paper, applies with some of these platforms. Why so? If my summary of your position is correct, why put faith in those technology filters as opposed to human intervention by parents?

David Coleman: Well it’s not necessarily an either or, Greg, because I think in different situations you could use technology, in some situations you could use parental approval. But the point is that the mechanics of this, there are numerous options to do it. It’s coming into force in Florida on the 1st of January, just 6 or 7 months away. Facebook’s been doing it for two years in the US, which they tend to not publicise but it’s a fact in their dating product. And in some ways, whilst the actual methodology is obviously important, the more fundamental thing is the strategic question of us as a society saying, we’re not going to tolerate this anymore. We are going to put in place a system that means that little kids are not just freely able to go on these social media platforms and consume all this content that we all know is bad for them, that we never would have agreed to as a society but has actually happened. And the progress on the technology front is very strong. And this is something that needs to go forward.

Greg Jennett: Now there may well be bipartisanship on this front. I think you’d be aware that as early as next week, the Parliament might take steps to set up this Joint Select Committee to examine the very proposals we’re talking about here. David, I don’t think a Shadow Minister gets to be on that, correct me if I’m wrong, but do you see that as a worthy vehicle for both parties to arrive at the same destination?

David Coleman: Look we will participate in that Committee. And Parliamentarians looking into issues is generally a good thing but what counts is action. It has been a very slow process, Minister Rowland described age verification as an “unnecessary distraction” on multiple occasions, including in a letter to the Prime Minister. She wrote to the eSafety Commissioner and said that she didn’t want to do it. Obviously, that’s been overturned recently. That’s good. The Committee is something that we’re very happy to participate in, but action is what counts. And we want to see more action.

Greg Jennett: All right quick final one on a news story of the day outside of your portfolio but I know you had Ministerial experience in a former Government on migration, David Coleman. Can you just clear up for us exactly what Peter Dutton was talking about in reducing numbers of migrants by 150,000 over four years? Is it to permanent migration numbers or to the other major net overseas migration? There seems to be a lack of clarity around that.

David Coleman: Well, Peter’s spoken to both of those issues in recent days, Greg. And I think the key point here is the Government completely lost control of the immigration numbers. In last financial year, during the financial year, the Government said there would be about 235,000 people in net overseas migration. There was actually more than half a million people. So this is a very wacky way to manage a migration program, or more to the point, not to manage it.

Greg Jennett: Some of that was one off catch up though, wasn’t it from the pandemic effectively?

David Coleman: Well Greg, I mean if you’re during the year, when the year is actually happening – you get your prediction wrong by 300,000. I mean, that says something pretty serious about your competence, and none of that is good. So what Peter is saying is, and the Coalition is saying, we need to get the numbers under control. We do have a housing crisis in Australia, and it’s just a mathematical fact. If you’re bringing in hundreds of thousands more people than we are creating new homes, that obviously places pressure on the housing market. We’d be foolish not to address that in a mature, sensible way. That’s what we’re going to do. We have a lot of experience in this area, a very strong track record in Government and the current Government’s record is utterly abysmal.

Greg Jennett: All right. We’ll follow that through as the numbers firm up in different subcategories and the like, but leave it there for today, David Coleman. Time has beaten us. I really appreciate it.

David Coleman: Thanks, Greg.