Albanese Government convenes second Online Harms Ministers Meeting

Dept of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications

The Albanese Government has convened its second Online Harms Ministers Meeting to examine the harms of the online environment and digital platforms, and better coordinate action across Government to combat them.

Yesterday’s meeting brought together Ministers with responsibility for regulating digital platforms, and those who oversee portfolios where the impact of online harms are felt – like in our schools and health systems.

The role that online platforms can play in undermining gender equality was a key topic – including driving harmful gender stereotypes through the proliferation of deepfakes, violent pornography, and algorithmic recommender systems that push content from ‘influencers’ who perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and condone violence against women.

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Ms Julie Inman Grant, presented on the implementation of powers under the Online Safety Act 2021, and the Minister for Social Services provided an update on efforts under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 to address harmful gender stereotypes promoted online.

Ministers discussed work to address hate speech proliferated on digital plaforms. The Attorney-General updated the group on the progress of reforms to strengthen protections against vilification, hate speech, privacy and doxxing. Minister Rowland highlighted the current review of the Online Safety Act, which is considering whether additional arrangements are warranted to address online hate.

The Assistant Treasurer also provided an update on the Government’s efforts to combat scams, and Ministers were briefed on the National Anti-Scam Centre’s success – in the six months since the Centre was stood up, reported losses to scams reduced by 29 per cent compared with the same period in 2022.

Ministers have tasked departments to examine the impact of algorithms and recommender systems for consideration at the next meeting, which will be held in the second half of 2024.

The Meeting was chaired by the Minister for Communications, and attended by:

  • Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Linda Burney MP;
  • Minister for Social Services, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP;
  • Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP;
  • Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, the Hon Clare O’Neil MP;
  • Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, the Hon Stephen Jones MP;
  • Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the Hon Emma McBride MP; and
  • Senior official from the Department of Education on behalf of the Minister for Education and the Minister for Youth.

The Online Harms Ministers Meeting was established by the Government in response to the Report from the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety, which called for better coordination on online harms policy.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

“The Albanese Government is committed to improving the safety of Australians online. This is a complex area, and it is critical governments take a holistic approach to addressing serious online harms.

“Harms that occur online have very real impacts being felt in our schools, putting pressure on our healthcare system, and impacting the safety of people in vulnerable situations – especially women and children.

“It’s clear that online platforms are vectors for a broad range of harms, and these companies need to step up their efforts to build in safety to prevent these harms happening in the first place.

“I thank Ministers for coming together to discuss these cross-cutting issues and the role all our portfolios play in preventing and responding to them.”

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