Remarks at the Safer Internet Day Event

06 Feb 2018
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister
Education and Childcare


Well thank you very much Julie and it’s wonderful to be here with so many of my parliamentary colleagues. The Minister for Communications, Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Sport and so many other colleagues from both sides of the House are committed to a safer internet.

We have all been deeply troubled by the coarsening of discourse on the internet and in particular the impact it has on our children.

Now when we came into government in 2013 we established the Children’s eSafety Commissioner and Julie was established. I was the Communications Minister at the time and the establishment of it was supervised by my Assistant Minister Paul Fletcher, who of course is a lifetime communications industry executive himself.

Alistair MacGibbon was the first Children’s eSafety Commissioner and set it up. Of course he’s gone on to become the cyber security adviser to the government – he’s been succeeded by Julie.

As Mitch will describe later, we really have world’s first legislation and practices in respect of keeping the internet safe for our children. I want to thank Julie for the work you’re doing. You did fantastic work before, keeping the internet safe, doing everything you could on the industry side and now you’re looking after everybody – not just children of course in terms of eSafety but that of course is where our great priority is.

I want to also acknowledge Jono Nicholas the Chief Executive of ReachOut - thank you Jono for you and your organisation’s ongoing efforts to educate Australian kids about online safety. I’m proud that the government supports the important work of your organisation and there are so many others like it - Beyond Blue, Alannah and Madeline, the Kids Helpline, and many others, each providing important and critical services.

Now Safer Internet Day is really part of a broader movement to educate everyone, especially our kids and their parents - our kids being the most vulnerable internet users - about safe online practices and about using the Internet safely.

The internet is, in my view the most transformative, most remarkable piece of infrastructure ever created. Its reach - the pace at which it’s been adopted is utterly without precedent.

It is worth reflecting on the fact, that the internet was only just breaking out of academia into a more commercial environment in the mid-90’s, not very long ago. You know, you look at the iPhone’s we have and our smart phones, many of the iPhones we have in our pockets - the first iPhone was 2007. Facebook, with two billion accounts started in 2005.

So this has all happened very, very quickly on any view. As you’ve probably heard me say before – if you look at some of our great internet companies, giants – if they were human beings, they would still be at school and many of them still in primary school. Now at the turn of the century, well under, less than half a billion people - less than 500 million people used the internet. Today that figure is around 3.5 billion and soon a majority of people all around the world will be connected and of course it is almost completely ubiquitous in a developed country like Australia.

The combination of near universal connectivity and of course the smartphone, has been remarkable and has offered up enormous opportunities. But what it has done, is that it has given the opportunity for bullying to be amplified. What I would call ‘bad old fashioned bullying’ which people of my generation and many of yours grew up with – that then gets amplified onto online platforms and potentially to thousands, if not more people.  The effects can be devastating.

I want to say too, that I share this concern with the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May – that the coarser and more abusive discourse that you far too often see online is also reaching back into traditional forms of communication and discourse, whether it is in the playground or in politics or in a newspaper and coarsening that as well.

And the key to this has to be as Julie said, respect.

That is what all of us as parents, and as grandparents – that is what we must all do – ensure that our children and grandchildren show respect to each other, show respect in particular when you are talking about sons and grandsons, ensure that they show respect to the women in their lives – their sisters, their mothers, their aunties, their grandmothers and so forth.

This is a point that Lucy makes all the time and it bares constant repeating. We can make these changes, think about that great respect campaign tackling the scourge of domestic violence, that Michaelia Cash instigated a little while back – how effective that was, because it rang true – people said yes, I recognise that, we can change this.

So initiatives like this are so important. It’s why we established the children’s eSafety Commissioner as I’ve described and we’ve expanded the role of the office to go beyond children, so it deals with adults as well.

We are working closely with the big social media platforms – Facebook, with Instagram and with Twitter to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place and to remove malicious content quickly.

But our goal must be to stop these images from being loaded in the first place and to stop bullying behaviour online and offline and that starts with education, especially the role of parents.

Don’t be misled into thinking that cyber bullying is something solely the result of the internet or of smart phones. What we are talking about here is what I call bad old fashioned bullying. This is people being disrespectful to each other, being abusive to each other and all too often feeling that if they’re online they can amplify and often amplify anonymously. It’s vital that parents are aware, that teachers are aware – educate themselves about the risks, discuss these openly with their children.

Be aware of what you’re children are doing online, make sure that you understand what they are doing – don’t say ‘oh I don’t understand all that stuff, I’ve got to get my kids to explain it to me’ – as a parent, as a grandparent, you have to be really alert and of course that applies to the classroom as well. The teachers, parents, we must have zero tolerance for bullying.

Now I want to echo the remarks of Simon Birmingham, our Education Minister, who posed a very good question – what role do smartphones have in a child’s hand in a classroom? The answer is – children in the classroom should be focussing on their lesson, focussing on what the teacher is teaching them.

So the Internet is a remarkable, the most transformational piece of infrastructure mankind has ever devised. But it does have consequences, with such rapid change, it does have some darker sides to it.

This issue of cyber bullying and abusive and disrespectful conduct online is a very real one but we must be alert to it – we must be aware of it – which is why this day is so important all of us have to resolve. And Julie congratulations on the pledge you are asking people to make. We must resolve to be respectful online as we expect others to be to us.

We must remember in this most remarkable nation of ours, the most successful multicultural society in the world. In a world characterised all too often by intolerance and division here the glue that holds us together, the key foundation of our success is mutual respect.

That’s the Australian way and we need to do more of it. And make sure our children and grandchildren are alert to it and that parents and teachers are too.

So thank you very much and I look forward to this being a very effective game-changer in making the internet safer for everyone, including especially our kids.

Thank you.