05 June 2013

Private Members’ Business – Cybersafety

5 June 2013

I am very pleased to speak in this debate on cybersafety and I thank the member for Forrest for bringing this very important issue before the House. As a parent I am very interested in this area and I know that people other than parents of course are also very interested in this area and rightly so. This motion raises a number of very important issues about the role of regulation in our society. When we talk about emerging technologies, a debate will always happen on how best to regulate where regulation should occur. While we have that debate, I think two things should remain paramount. Firstly, the safety of children is paramount—we call it cybersafety and we need to focus on the issue of safety—and, secondly, harm minimisation generally as it applies to users of technology.

I think it is very important to have in that process, as previous speakers have said, education in schools targeted specifically at young people. But I also think a very important role is to be played by parents. I think that is one area where education could focus in particular on things such as ensuring that parents speak to children about it. Even 30 years ago, or a couple of decades ago, there were questions in Dolly magazine—I am showing my age—like, ‘Have your parents talked to you about sex education?’ Well, today we know there are so many different ways that that information can be gleaned, but I think the real question today is: how much do young people know about the dangers of getting involved in some of these practices that, unfortunately, a lot of people consider to be normal?

As previous speakers have said, and it is very true: content does not just disappear. It probably does not amaze a lot of people here, who have been engaged in this debate, but you would be amazed to know, in society, how many young people in particular think that, because they have deleted a post, text or picture from their device, that content is gone forever. But of course it is not.

The other thing to remember—and I think the member for Shortland highlighted this—is that this is a practice and a phenomenon that has no boundaries. It does not matter what you post in the digital age; anyone will be able to access it. That brings up particularly important issues for people who live in small towns. I am sure the member for Forrest will have seen it, but last week, on the 7.30 program, there was a story with a focus on sexting—in particular, on issues that are happening in Victoria and on an inquiry that has just finished in Victoria—and there was a focus on some things that were happening to some girls in a small Victorian town. I will quote from the transcript:

One in five young women have posted images of themselves nude or semi-nude online. Nearly half the girls have been asked to.

In this story there was a focus on a small Victorian country town where Facebook forums, it said:

… have trashed the reputations of local girls.

In small towns, where news spreads fast, and even faster in digital format, the lives of these young people have been, in some cases, I think, irreparably damaged, when you look at some of the evidence.

One of the people who were interviewed for this program, named Fiona Coe, talked about these girls and said:

They had the photos of them, they had their names underneath and it said, you know, phrases like “Your local slut” such and such a name with their photo or, “Look, she wants this.” … so it was quite putdown and bullying, really.

I think it is very disturbing that we have these things going on.

I note that there was, as I said, the inquiry specifically into sexting by the Victorian Law Reform Committee, which looked at the cybersafety committee’s report that was done by this parliament. But I also think it is instructive to look at a couple of other things that were mentioned, in terms of Australian statistics. The Australian Council for Educational Research cited a Victorian study on the prevalence of sexting and it said that a 2009 survey of 4,770 students in years 5 to 11, from 39 independent schools in Victoria, found that overall 7.3 per cent of girls had been asked to send a nude picture of themselves, and this increased with age. I think it is very important, as the member for Forrest rightly states, that we have education in place. We do need consistency in this area, and we do need effective education that is targeted towards these very practices that we are seeking to make sure are stamped out as much as possible.

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