Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – ABC Radio Melbourne- Melbourne Breakfast with Sammy J

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



Sammy J: Right now though, picking a fight with someone is always fraught with risk, particularly when the person you’re picking a fight with is a multi-billionaire who builds flamethrowers for fun. But that’s what Australia has done when it comes to Elon Musk who is not too happy about our requests for X, formerly Twitter, to remove graphic content and reckons we’re trying to police the whole world’s internet use. But here we are, the little country at the bottom of the world, still arguing our case with the eSafety Commissioner back in court today asking for an extension of the injunction that was granted, blocking that graphic footage out of Sydney. While the AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw and ASIO director general Mike Burgess, will address the Press Club today on the perils of social media. And someone who’s been talking about this for quite some time is the Shadow Federal Minister for Communications, David Coleman, who joins us now in Breakfast. David, thank you for your time.

David Coleman: Good morning Sammy.

Sammy J: How do you feel about going head-to-head with Elon Musk?

David Coleman: Happy to on this issue. Look, the issue of kids and their access to social media is a huge problem in our society. We’ve seen very concerning statistics on mental health of young people, especially girls, over the last decade. There’s no doubt in my mind that social media is playing a part in that. We’ve had the US Surgeon General, the top doctor in the United States, really raise the alarm bells on this issue, and a lot more needs to be done. And we want to back the eSafety Commissioner and get the trial started on age verification technology on social media because kids should not be seeing this stuff, to be frank Sammy. We would never have agreed consciously to the situation that we find ourselves in with young children accessing this sort of distressing material basically every day. It’s unacceptable. And that’s why we need this trial of age verification technology.

Sammy J: You’ve raised two, equally important points. One is the access that children might have to inappropriate material, and the other is general mental health concerns about children being on social media. Are you lumping them all together when it comes to the age verification, do you think that will solve or at least go some way towards addressing both issues?

David Coleman: I think they are interrelated, Sammy. I think that, think about it logically, we still have a classification system for movies and TV shows. And the reason we do that is because we understand as a society that we don’t want young children seeing disturbing material, be it horrendous, violent material which we’ve seen in the past two weeks, be it pornography or whatever, we know that we don’t want kids seeing that stuff. And yet on social media, that happens every day. So why is that okay? It’s not okay. And that’s why the eSafety Commissioner recommended a trial of age verification technology, both for pornography and could also extend to social media. And we think we have got to take really decisive action here. The status quo isn’t okay. If you look at statistics like the hospitalisation rates for self-harm of young girls – and it’s a heavy topic, Sammy – but it’s important. We’ve seen really significant increases in that over the past decade.

Sammy J: But isn’t that, sorry to interrupt, but isn’t that also, as I sort of alluded to – to do with social media bullying and stress and anxiety that comes from that, alongside that. That’s not all directly related to graphic content?

David Coleman: Sure. I don’t think it’s isolated to any one particular type of content. But again, you think about the fact that you’ve got children who are effectively exposed to interaction with pretty much anyone in the world. And what generation of children in history has had that before? And there’s obviously a lot of attendant risks involved in that. And again, it’s not something that we would consciously have said, hey, that’s a good idea, let’s do that. But that’s what’s happened. And that’s why taking action is so important.

Sammy J: I’m chatting to David Coleman, Shadow Federal Minister for Communications on the topic of age verification for children. Now David, this is close to my heart. My daughter is in grade six. We’re talking about mobile phones right now. And then we’re having to focus on that. Are you imagining though, a world where there are still safe social media apps? We know there are many alternatives that kids use to communicate socially. It is part of their world. They do have to have some level of communication, don’t they, with each other?

David Coleman: Well sure, but I don’t think it is in the interests of children to be on effectively unfiltered apps that are exposing them to all this content. And the truth is, once a child is in that environment on one of these social media apps, can a parent be confident in what that child is seeing or who they’re interacting with? The answer is no, we can’t, and we need to be honest about that. And of course, there are things you can do as a parent in terms of limiting your children’s access to social media or putting in place parental controls and so on. But if a child is in the environment, whether it’s Instagram or TikTok or X for that matter, there’s a lot of risk in that. There’s a lot of risk in that and that’s why we think it’s important that this trial gets underway.

Sammy J: So, David, do you think you are going to have support here? I mean, I know you have been talking about this for a while. Do you think in the current climate, the Federal Government is going to back you on this one? Is it going to become a bipartisan issue?

David Coleman: Look, I certainly hope so. I think it should be. We actually brought legislation to this, on this issue to Parliament last year and we weren’t able to get it through, but I would certainly hope so. Look, I think everyone has goodwill on this issue. No one wants to see the impacts that we’re seeing on kids from social media. There is complexity in the issue, but just because something is complex is not a reason not to do it. And I think it’s plain that the status quo is untenable. And so, I certainly would hope the Government gets moving on this. The Commissioner made the recommendation actually more than a year ago now. And so we really would like to see the Government get on with it.

Sammy J: Jacqui Lambie wants politicians to get off Twitter or X entirely. Are you going to do the same? What’s your social media presence like?

David Coleman: No, I won’t, and I think adults can make up their own mind about what social media apps they are happy to be on. And obviously within politics, there’s a lot of political communication on these social media apps. And I think we can all make up our own mind if we want to participate in those sorts of debates. But I think it’s a really different issue for kids. I think it’s very hard to see how it is safe or appropriate for a young child to be in those environments. And so I think it’s a really clear distinction.

Sammy J: I just had a text from Elon Musk saying, get this man off the airwaves. I don’t like what he’s saying. We’ll leave it there David Coleman. I’m sure many listeners will be furiously agreeing with the sentiments that you’re expressing. The question is how do we address these issues and it’s a massive discussion. Thank you for progressing it today.

David Coleman: Thanks Sammy.

Sammy J: David Coleman, Shadow Minister for Communications.