Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – ABC Radio Sydney- Sydney Breakfast with Craig Reucassel

Subject: Coalition’s backing for age verification to protect Australian Children




Craig Reucassel: National Cabinet meeting today and one of the items on the agenda is how to prevent violent and misogynistic content, online content. Is age verification an option, or could kids just get around them? Yesterday I spoke to Communications Minister Michelle Rowland about where the technology, whether the technology exists.


David Coleman: Well, we know that this technology is being developed and, in some cases, it is actually quite advanced. I have been working closely with the eSafety Commissioner on having a pilot in place to have some sort of age assurance mechanisms, because exactly as you say, no parent wants their child being exposed to harmful content online. Digital platforms need to do more. They already have terms of service around age restrictions.


Craig Reucassel: Yes, and that was the Minister of Communications, Michelle Rowland. And David Coleman, who’s the Federal Liberal MP for Banks in South West Sydney and the Shadow Minister for Communications joins me now. Morning, David.


David Coleman: Good morning, Craig.


Craig Reucassel: So you’re also calling for age verification. How do you see this working? Do you have any insights into how it can be done.


David Coleman: Yeah well, the UK regulator Ofcom actually about five months ago published quite a detailed guidance on implementation of age assurance as required under the UK’s act. And happy to talk about that. But I think that it’s really crucial, Craig, that we also focus on the principle here, which is would we have ever agreed to a situation where children were accessing violent pornography, which we know, contributes to normalising violence against women? The answer to that question is clearly no. As a society, we would never, ever have agreed to that. So the stakes here are really high. We should act. The eSafety Commissioner recommended this 14 months ago. We attempted to legislate to do that back in November and we need to get on to it and as the Ofcom guidance demonstrates, the technology is ready to move forward on.


Craig Reucassel: So there’s the UK, they’ve got the Ofcom guidance. Has that guidance been put into place there? I mean this is, I think we all kind of agree it would be, it would be ideal to have some kind of age verification. It’s a question of whether the big organisations, the Facebooks, the YouTubes, the I guess, online porn organisations. Are they going to go along with this kind of thing, or do we need them to? Or can we actually enforce it externally?


David Coleman: Yes, absolutely. I mean, sovereignty resides with the people not the tech platforms, Craig. It’s not optional. What is required is the sovereign nation of Australia to say this is completely unacceptable and we’re going to stop it. And the way we seek to stop it is by implementing a system of age assurance. Now, if the tech platforms had been minded to act on this issue themselves, they could have, but they haven’t. And so the fact that they haven’t done so, is demonstrative of why frankly they can’t be trusted on this issue and why we need to act.


Craig Reucassel: Yeah. It’s interesting you say that we have sovereignty and we need to act here. I guess we saw Elon Musk and X pushing back against the Government when they tried to remove the Wakely stabbing videos that were going around. Do you think this, can we actually win? Do you think the Government’s being harsh enough about this and strict enough against these social media organisations?


David Coleman: Well I think on age verification, we are disappointed that the Government hasn’t acted on this. Way back in 2021, we asked the eSafety Commissioner to look into this exact issue. She spent literally two years investigating it and produced a report of several hundred pages in March 2023. And one of the key recommendations was – trial this technology before moving to mandate it, to protect kids from seeing horrendous material that none of us want them to see. And so that recommendation makes perfect sense. And so what we want is for the Government simply to act upon that recommendation as the first step. And it’s good that even Michelle Rowland is now acknowledging that the technology is certainly ready to move forward on. The Commissioner recommended it in March last year, and then in February this year, she said it’s even advanced further since, since her initial recommendation. So we need to get onto this. And the National Cabinet meeting today is a really good opportunity for Government leaders to come together and say we as a country are going to act on this. We are going to do this. We’re going to move forward. We don’t need to debate it for another 2 or 3 years. We need to get on with it.


Craig Reucassel: Yeah well let’s move past that debate. Just so I can understand how this is going to work. I’m speaking to David Coleman, the Federal Liberal MP and the Shadow Minister for Communications. On the text line, Mike says, ‘age verification needs to happen on the smartphone, the tablet and the computer operating systems. Anything less would be too patchwork and annoying for adult users.’ So I guess Mike’s suggesting it’s not about the YouTube or whatever, it’s about saying that your Apple phone or your Apple computer or your Dell computer, they have the age verification on them. Is that the approach that’s been looked at by the UK, by Ofcom.


David Coleman: So Ofcom is specific to the service provider. And the argument that it should be, particularly around the phone itself, the risk of that argument is it lets the service providers off the hook. Because if you’re a provider of pornography, or you’re a provider of social media products to children, which also carries significant risks, you should be responsible for ensuring that children or children of a certain age do not access that service. So the Ofcom guidance focuses on the providers themselves, and so does the UK Online Safety Act. And this is in the legislation in the UK. And that’s, that’s the preferable way because it ensures that no particular provider can get around that.


Craig Reucassel: It’s interesting though, because you say that, I must admit, and I didn’t think I’d be saying this in radio, but, I don’t really understand how online pornography operates. But I imagine that those organisations that are running that are often in separate countries and probably don’t really care about the Australian Government saying we’re going to prosecute you. They probably don’t even have offices in Australia. So is that approach really going to work, do you think?


David Coleman: Well, I think for many of them they are actually very large businesses, Craig, that are regulated under law. And I think to be frank, we need to get past this idea that oh, there might be some rogue actor who doesn’t seek to obey Australian law. Now, is that possible? Yes, it is. Is it a reason not to act? Absolutely not. And any company which is a legitimate enterprise, which is regulated under law, which is the vast, vast majority of entities that are providing services online- it’s not, they don’t get to choose. Obviously, they can dispute laws and they can take matters to court and so on. That’s their right. But that’s not the same thing as saying, well look, we’re above the law or the law doesn’t apply to us. That’s not how it works. And if you want to operate in Australia, there are many laws, relevant to Australia, be they tax laws or industrial relations laws or whatever. You don’t just get to say, oh sorry, we’re not following that and we shouldn’t frankly, take that into account because it’s up to us, not up to them.


Craig Reucassel: I do, I do agree. We shouldn’t be passing the law, we shouldn’t not be passing laws just because somebody may be able to get around it. But yeah, well, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in Federal Cabinet today. And thank you for speaking to us about this, David. Appreciate your views on it.


David Coleman: Thanks Craig.


Craig Reucassel: David Coleman is the Federal Liberal MP for Banks in South West Sydney and of course the Shadow Minister for Communications.