The federal government has announced a grant program that will see a total of AU$10 million handed out to non-government organisations (NGOs) to deliver online safety education and training projects targeted at children.
A statement from Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the funding will help arm children with the capability to “stay safe” online.
“We all have a role to play to ensure our children have the tools and information they need to stay safe whenever they are online,” he said.
“We’ve seen too many tragic cases of online abuse and bullying. This new suite of measures will help keep our children stay safe online and support parents, community leaders, and teachers to do our bit.”
The new grants program will be administered by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. The office was stood up in July 2015 and works to promote online safety for all Australians, particularly children, by undertaking research, coordinating the online safety activities of Australian government entities, and acting as chair of the Government’s Online Safety Consultative Working Group.
The eSafety Commissioner, currently Julie Inman-Grant, also administers a complaints system for cyberbullying material and has the power to fine social media companies for not removing content deemed to be of a bullying, offensive, or illegal nature.
Additionally, the government has announced there will be a review of “digital licences” and other tools the prime minister has said are designed to build and test children’s online safety skills.
The review is expected to determine what will make up an “effective competency-based program for educating children about online safety”, examining also whether the current online safety training and testing tools available to minors are sufficient.
“We will look at existing tools, in particular the ‘eSmart Digital Licence’ developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation,” the prime minister added.
The federal opposition, however, wants the eSmart Digital Licence initiative implemented immediately.
Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek said that if elected, Labor would deliver a pilot and independent evaluation of the licence, for a cost of AU$2.5 million, with a full national rollout to every student commencing Year 3 in 2020.
“There is clear evidence that digital licences have a positive impact on children’s safety online,” a statement from Plibersek said. “For years our kids have been getting a pen licence as they learn to write — this is the pen licence for the digital world.”
Expanding on the eSmart Digital Licence, Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said it utilises quizzes, online activity, and role plays online to demonstrate the importance of certain behaviours to minors. Upon completion, the students receive a certificate.
The Australian government is reviewing existing online safety legislation to ensure the framework can still appropriately protect those moving through cyberspace.
The non-consensual sharing of intimate images online will now be punishable by criminal penalties of up to seven years in prison and civil penalties of up to AU$525,000 for corporations and AU$105,000 for individuals.
The eSafety Commissioner’s remit has been expanded beyond children to provide reporting and supporting mechanisms for all Australians online.
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