Labor pledges anti-scams centre and further social media crackdown

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The federal Opposition will launch a national anti-scams centre, introduce a new minister focused on the issue and enforce more rules for social media firms if it wins the upcoming election, as it accuses the government of being “asleep” on cybersecurity.

Shadow financial services minister Stephen Jones announced the policy package over the weekend, with the creation of a national anti-scam centre, based on the UK’s model, sitting at its centre.

Labor has also pledged to force a new code of practice onto social media companies to prevent them from profiting from scams, increase funding to the agency responsible for assisting victims of identity fraud and to consider further laws to give telecommunications firms better powers to block scammers.

Targeting scammers

“An Albanese Labor government will introduce the policies to ensure that Australians can shop online safely, can pick up their phone, can answer a text message without fear that they’re going to lose their household savings and their life’s net worth,” Mr Jones said.

“We can establish a new Anti-Scam Centre, bringing together the existing regulators and law enforcement officers, getting the banks, getting the telcos, getting the social media platforms in the building and on the job. All of this can be done. Industry wants it to happen. The obstacle is Scott Morrison.”

According to the Australian Cyber Security Centre, online fraud has cost the Australian economy $33 billion since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Anti-Scams Centre would enable real-time information sharing on scams between law enforcement, banks, telcos, regulators and tech companies. It would be based on the UK’s “Fusion Cell” group, formed by the UK government in April.

“Scott Morrison should have already set up an Anti-Scam Centre. They’ve done it in the United Kingdom. They’ve done it in Canada. In fact, successful countries around the world have put in place strategies to reduce the amount of scam material that’s coming through and to ensure that you can react in real time when scams are detected,” Mr Jones said.

“If the Brits can do it, if the Canadians can do it, how come Scott Morrison can’t? The crazy thing about this is most of it can be done within existing government resources, which is why it’s mind-blowing that the government hasn’t already acted.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also backed the new anti-scams policy package over the weekend.

“What we can do is what other governments are doing. You need strong government action. This is an epidemic. It is just terrible what is going on. And this is a practical solution based upon international best practice to basically defend people.”

The only new funding in the Labor pledge is a further $3 million over three years for IDCARE, which will assist victims of identity theft and other scams.

Labor is also promising to introduce a new code of practice for social media firms to ensure they do not profit from these scams. In line with how the federal government has dealt with the tech giants recently, this Labor policy will first involve a voluntary code before legislation would be pursued if this is unsuccessful.

“We’re going to ensure that the social media platforms are doing the right thing. They shouldn’t be profiting from advertising from illegal activity. We’re going to change the law if we need to ensure that social media platforms do the right thing, look after Australians, look after small businesses and households, to do whatever we can to crack down on this illegal scamming activity,” Mr Jones said.

Further regulatory reform will also be considered by Labor to give telco companies more powers to block scammers if the party wins next year’s federal election.

The Opposition has also promised to directly task a minister with anti-scams responsibilities, with a portfolio focusing on “championing the protection of consumers and businesses online”.

Labor will also likely focus on cybersecurity and efforts to combat ransomware during the upcoming election campaign, with a number of announcements of potential policies and criticisms of the government’s approach to the issue.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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