Govt recommits to controversial anti-trolling bill

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recommitted the Coalition to its controversial anti-trolling bill and unveiled further funding for the eSafety Commissioner as part of an online safety election pitch.

Mr Morrison unveiled his “plan to keep Australian families safe online”, including some new funding for online safety initiatives and other policies the Coalition has previously announced but failed to pass through the Parliament.

These include the controversial anti-trolling bill, stronger parental controls for smartphones, and extra funding for the eSafety Commissioner.

“The online world cannot be a cowards’ cavern where the rules of the real world do not exist,” Mr Morrison said on Sunday.

“Big Tech and social media giants must be held to account. Our plan will force them to do more – they cannot create it, and wash their hands of all consequences of it. We have achieved so much in the online world, but there is much more to be done, and only a Coalition government will stand up to Big Tech and social media giants.”

Scott Morrison at the National Press Club

The Prime Minister said the Coalition would legislate the anti-trolling bill if it wins the upcoming election. The bill was announced late last year and provides a “new novel framework to allow Australians to respond to defamatory content posted on social media”.

The bill was not brought forward for debate by the government until after the upper house had risen for the last time before the election, meaning it has now lapsed and will have to be reintroduced.

The reforms would enable those who believe they have been defamed online to apply to identify the posters of this content, and to make moderators of social media pages not liable for content posted on them by others.

The bill has attracted widespread criticism, including over its title. Despite Mr Morrison again talking about the initiative in terms of online safety, department officials have confirmed that it only relates to defamation.

Other legal experts have also said that the reforms may also make it harder for victims of online abuse to receive recourse.

The Coalition’s package also includes $23 million for an eSafety Schools program, which will serve to raise awareness of the eSafety Commissioner’s role across Australian schools, and provide training programs for teachers.

The eSafety Commissioner’s office itself will receive a $10 million boost to further expand its coordination with other regulatory and law enforcement agencies.

The government will also regulate within 12 months that smartphones and tablets must have strong parental controls installed that are easier to find and activate and harder to bypass, unless the tech giants can act before that.

A further $2 million will be invested to support the online safety of women and girls from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Along with the anti-trolling bill, the government also failed to introduce promised reforms to increase the penalties for social media companies for data breaches, despite announcing this more than three years ago.

This legislation would have also given the privacy watchdog increased powers and introduced a binding Online Privacy Code for tech companies.

The code would have included a requirement for a wide range of tech firms to verify the age of users and obtain parental consent for users aged under 16 years old.

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