Radio Interview – ABC Sydney Breakfast

Subjects: Introduction of legislation to ban deepfakes material; Social media age verification trials; Religious discrimination legislation.

CRAIG REUCASSEL: As parents we do everything we can to protect our kids from the harsh realities of social media. The story from Bacchus Marsh College in Victoria scared many of us – 50 female high school students whose photos were manipulated with artificial intelligence to make realistic deepfake porn earlier this week. So what’s stopping from making this happen in New South Wales and what can we do to protect our kids from this? Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has recently introduced legislation to address this issue and he joins me now. Morning Attorney-General.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning, Craig, good to be with you.

REUCASSEL: So, you want to bring in a serious criminal penalties for people that share deep fake porn. Talk us through how this would have impacted in this case?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, just to start with, digitally created and altered sexually explicit material that is shared without consent is a damaging and deeply distressing form of abuse. Overwhelmingly, it’s women and girls who are the target of this offensive and degrading behaviour. I’ve introduced legislation last week to make it absolutely clear that those who share digitally created sexually explicit material without consent will be subject to serious criminal penalties of up to seven years in jail.

REUCASSEL: Now, the legislation itself is just about those that share deep fake porn. Is this also legislation against those who create it, or is that something not in your jurisdiction?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Within the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction we’ve also created an aggravated offence so that those who share deepfake material without consent, who are also the creators of it are committing an aggravated offence which will carry a higher penalty. So, what we can’t do is just legislate against the creation of this material. That’s got to be state governments that act and sometimes you get these things in the Federation, where some areas are for the state to deal with. We’re legislating within the limits of our jurisdiction, which is to deal with technological transmission, that’s to deal with people who share online.

REUCASSEL: Yes, and we will hopefully see if those laws will be brought in in New South Wales. I mean, the irony of this is Victoria is actually the only state in Australia where sharing deepfake pornography is already a criminal offence, so this is already a criminal offence in Victoria what’s happened here at Bacchus Marsh?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, and of course, we could all understand how distressing those events are at Bacchus Marsh. It’s been investigated by the Victoria Police and particularly for me, as Commonwealth Attorney-General. It’s probably not appropriate for me to comment further on that.

REUCASSEL: I understand. I’m talking to the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. What’s your message to parents who are listening right now, wondering whether kids, their kids, will be the target of this kind of AI manipulation? Passing these laws is one part of it, is there any other control that the Government has to prevent this happening?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Any parent, every parent, is rightly concerned about the harm that can occur online, including on social media. We have a world leading eSafety regulator who’s got a wealth of resources available to support parents to keep kids safe online and I’d suggest parents and guardians visit And of course, any criminal activity can be reported to the Australian Federal Police or to the New South Wales Police.

REUCASSEL: Now, yesterday Peter Dutton announced a new Coalition policy that, if elected, he would set a minimum age of 16 within 100 days of winning government. I know there’s some technical issues with that. What is the policy of the Labor Government on this? I know that you’ve currently doing experimentation with techniques to actually test people’s age and do age verification. Are you seeking to ban pornography and that kind of stuff going to people underage? Or are you looking at this overall? No social media after the age of 16?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve got a trial which is in the Budget. We’ve funded a trial, at $6.5 million, of age assurance technologies so as to make sure that if we are able to legislate it’s going to be effective legislation. There’s no point legislating until you know it’s going to work. The trial is going to examine children’s access to online pornography. There are already meant to be age restricted services on social media. And we’ve also quadrupled the funding for the eSafety Commissioner. It’s something that we have to proceed carefully. We need to make sure what we do works. We’re going to consult with development experts, researchers and parents on the question of what is the right age, and there’s a Joint Select Committee of Parliament that’s going to be examining this issue as well.

REUCASSEL: Yeah, it’s a big issue. I mean, obviously, the technical issue is a big one. Jane has asked the question on the text line. “Hi Mark. Does age verification mean that everyone from 11 to 111 would have to have their age verified? Are we giving our driver’s licenses to multinational companies to get on their apps? This would be like signing to a registered club but on steroids.”

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The reason we’re having a trial is that there’s a whole range of ways in which you can do age assurance. Jane has mentioned one example – provide your driver’s license or provide your passport. But there’s other ways, some of the platforms are already exploring those other ways, using face analysis, for example, but there’s other age assurance techniques that involve asking questions and other ways of doing this. That’s why we’re having a trial. We want to bring in something that works. We need the cooperation of the social media platforms, the eSafety Commissioner working with them as well, because obviously they should be doing the right thing as well. We need to have social media platforms in Australia that are upholding Australian standards.

REUCASSEL: Absolutely. I’m talking to the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Just quickly on one other issue, there’s a story in the papers today about a teacher being sacked from a Sydney Christian private school for being gay. There’s this talk about changing the laws so this couldn’t happen what stage are we at with this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve sought, Craig, an enduring solution in this area that strengthens protections for all Australians, including students and teachers and people of faith. And that’s why we need support for this across the Parliament. We’re seeking a lasting solution. We’ve said consistently that bipartisan support is essential. And where it’s at is that the Opposition still hasn’t told the Government what the Opposition’s position is on the proposed religious discrimination bills and we gave them the bills in March.

REUCASSEL: But there’s so many bills that you will pass without support of the Opposition. Do you think is kind of kicking the can down the road or trying to blame somebody else for this? You’re not putting a policy forward and just saying, ‘Well, that’s because the Opposition won’t say yes.’

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve been at this Craig for seven or eight years. We’ve had multiple inquiries. The former government actually did bring legislation to the Parliament, which you might recall was the only late night sitting, the all night sitting almost, of the House of Representatives that we’ve had in the last decade. We move an amendment during that debate, the all night debate and five Liberals crossed the floor to agree with the Labor Party’s amendment to that Morrison Government bill. And regrettably, the bill then as amended, Mr Morrison wasn’t prepared to bring forward even though we voted for that bill in the House of Representatives. Now, we’ve been consistent on this. We want there to be an agreement across the Parliament because we want anything that’s legislated to last beyond any change of government. We want legislation in this very thorny area, to be accepted right across the Parliament and accepted across the community. We see this as an opportunity to build community unity.

REUCASSEL: But if you’re not going to get the support of the Coalition do you not just look to the crossbenchers and maybe to people crossing the floor like they did last time?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’re seeking cooperation. We’re still waiting to hear from Peter Dutton, what his party’s response is to the draft bills that I gave to the Opposition in March of this year.

REUCASSEL: Thank you so much for talking to us.

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