Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill 2017

A child’s innocence is precious. Each one of us needs to protect that innocence, both online and offline. The Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill 2017 is a very important part of this government’s efforts to help protect children online. The bill is colloquially known as ‘Carly’s law’ and stems from the tragic death of Carly Ryan, who was 15 and started chatting online with Brandon Kane, who claimed to be an 18-year-old musician from Melbourne with similar interests to her. During 18 months of online contact and phone calls, Carly fell in love with Brandon, but there was no Brandon Kane, just a 50-year-old predator and paedophile—Garry Francis Newman, who was pretending to be Brandon Kane. He eventually convinced Carly to meet him on a secluded beach at Port Elliot in South Australia. He assaulted and suffocated Carly and then threw her in the water to drown.

When detectives found Newman he was online as Brandon Kane once again, talking with a 14-year-old girl in my state of Western Australia. Newman was sentenced to life in prison. In her sentencing remarks, the judge said:

Garry Newman deserves a life behind bars for his grossly perverted plan to deceive, seduce and murder Carly … It was a terribly cruel thing you did to this beautiful, impressionable 15yr old child. I say child because that’s what she was, a child that fell in love with the idea of the handsome, musically inclined and rather exotic Brandon Kane, the real man was in fact an overweight, balding, middle aged paedophile with sex and murder on his mind.

Carly’s mother, Sonya, does not want any other child or parent to suffer as she and Carly did. She formed and incorporated the Carly Ryan Foundation to raise awareness in children, teens and young adults about the risks of various online mediums, chat rooms and social networking sites, where people like Garry Newman operate. The internet is the most fabulous tool for most of the 3.4 billion people who use it, but we need to know how to protect our children from Garry Newman and other online predators and paedophiles. I was concerned to read that there was a 47-year-old man charged with child sex offences online, involving 28 children. He was grooming them online. He was even offering children money. There were kids all over the country, including in my state of Western Australia. The AFP in that article said that online child exploitation increased by 54 per cent in the last 12 months.

The online predators are the ones who wait and watch Facebook pages and other social media sites for potential victims. They are the ones who groom and manipulate children online. They do everything they can to gain that child’s trust. They offer, as we heard, money, free iTunes cards, a free phone—one that mum and dad do not know about—and other gifts to create a sense of obligation in the child. They ask them how old they are and where they live. They make comments like, ‘You are cute,’ ‘You are sexy,’ ‘I care about you more than anyone else in your life,’ and, ‘I love your pictures.’ The offender will ask the child for more photos and may then even send them provocative or sexually graphic photos telling the child to hide them away, perhaps in a decoy app like the Secret Calculator. They ask whether the child or children can stay away from home overnight and whether they can keep a secret. At some point they will ask to meet in real life.

Like Garry Newman, they will create a fake online profile with fake photos. They will appear to have similar interests to the child. They may seek to use a fake ID to join groups like Kik Messenger. I suspect others will create fake identities to use Facebook’s Lifestage, a video-sharing social media app aimed at young people under 21. I understand that to start an account you need only your phone number, and every video children post is fully public. There are other apps like a Spotafriend using GPS locators which allow young people to connect with strangers. This is Tinder for teens—Tinder, of course, being the dating app. Yellow is another app that uses GPS locators to connect teens with strangers. It is used by more than five million teens globally—a prime hunting ground, I would think, for online paedophiles.

These continuous and rapidly evolving technologies and the anonymity that the internet provides have resulted in unprecedented opportunities for the harm and sexual exploitation of children. In 2015 the government passed the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act, creating the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, a one-stop shop for online safety, for everything from reporting serious cyberbullying—and there are resources for educators and parents as well—to the reporting of illegal content, how to protect your privacy online and how to have image based abuse removed. There are a range of resources available on the site, and I encourage every person to use these resources. In addition to this, the AFP’s ThinkUKnow program helps educate parents, teachers and kids about issues such as online grooming and cyberbullying and how to keep themselves safe when they are using the internet and how to use the AFP’s ‘report abuse’ button.

Members know that I have given hundreds of cybersafety presentations to schoolchildren, and I am no longer surprised at what the children are doing online. One of the reasons I am so supportive of this bill is that I actually know firsthand that children are going to meet people in person whom they have only previously met online. How do I know? It is because I ask them and they say so. In one class alone, seven 11-year-olds had the courage to admit to me that they are doing exactly that. My office received a phone call from a mother of an 11-year-old girl who, after listening to my presentation, went home to say, ‘I realise I am being groomed online for sex.’ That is at the age of 11. So I am deeply concerned at the sheer number of primary- and early-high-school-age young people who admit to meeting people in person whom they have previously only met online. In my most recent classes for year 8, there were six and eight in each class who had the courage to admit that.

Our kids love the internet. They love their devices. It is their world, and they are brilliant with technology. Probably that is why I am out there saying to them, ‘This is how to help keep yourself safe.’ This is their world. They love it. They are great with the technology. They need to know who to go to when they need help and when they need to know about the online risks and challenges.

With research showing that 92 per cent of teens are online daily, including 24 per cent who say they are online almost constantly—and the kids tell me that they have their devices 24/7—protection and deterrence are essential. I know why this legislation is so important. I hear directly from young people about what is going on online. This bill is the next step the government is taking to protect Australian children from those who would seek to do them harm online. It will not be the last step. This bill’s purpose is the prevention of harm and exploitation of children. It will improve the protection of children by creating a new offence that complements existing online child sex offences for preparatory conduct. This will include grooming or procuring a child for sexual activity.

The bill also extends the criminalisation of the use of the internet and social media as a forum for predators to groom or procure children to engage in sexual activity to a broader range of conduct. This offence builds on the proactive policing of online sexual offences, allowing law enforcement to take action against online predators sooner and with greater consequences. That is very good. The bill introduces a tough new offence—and I am very happy about that—that criminalises acts done using a carriage service, any of the devices, ‘to prepare or plan to cause harm, procure, or engage in sexual activity’ with a child—that is, someone under the age of 16. It will allow intervention by law enforcement agencies prior to sexual activity or other harm. People found guilty of this, and I hope those who are doing it are found guilty, may now be punished by up to 10 years imprisonment. Importantly, this will also include those who misrepresent their age, like Garry Francis Newman and all the rest out there doing this. I know from discussing this issue with local and federal police that they are particularly concerned about children’s safety online.

This year, as I said, represents the 10th anniversary of Carly’s death, and this legislation is Carly and her mother’s amazing legacy. Her mother, Sonya, has put an enormous amount of energy into the Carly Ryan Foundation, and I pay tribute to her for that. I want to mention Carly’s quilt, that we saw here in the parliament recently. I was with Minister Keenan at that launch. To see the beautiful hearts on that quilt that were made out of Carly’s clothing was profoundly moving. It showed great courage by Sonya to tell her story at that gathering.

Given the rapid changes in technology, and the way that the predators are using it, this will not be the last piece of legislation to come before this House. This is very important legislation to help with the online protection of our children. I congratulate the minister and the government for bringing this into the parliament. I want to encourage parents—I do parent presentations as well—to be involved before the first device is given to their child. I am disturbed at the age that young people have access to the internet. I met a little girl of three who was allowed to download things from the internet. The age is getting younger and younger. Legislation like this is even more important than ever given the age of these young people.

Young people often do not want to admit to what is happening online. I want to refer to the fact that frequently we found that young people often do not talk about the sexual abuse they suffer at the time it is happening. Often it is not until later in life, when a particular incident then provokes that memory, that they deal with the problem. What is worrying me, particularly in this space, is: how many of these young people who are going to meet people in person that they have only met online, are the victims of a form of sexual abuse that we do not know about because they are not talking about it? How many of them later in life will have to deal with this—it will be a problem in their mental and physical wellbeing? I see that as a latent problem out of the numbers of young people that I know are going to meet people online that they have only met first online.

When I talk to parents, one of the things I ask them is: right at this moment where are your children, what are they doing and who are they with? Most parents can answer that question as to where their children are at that moment. But I then make the comment that when they are online we need to be able to answer those three question. We are not going to be with our children all of the time, and all of the time they are online, and that is why the young people need to know how to be as safe as they possibly can be when they are online.

I want to commend, in my last moments, the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, and her team for the work they are doing to help protect our children online. I also encourage every parent and everyone in this House, if they have not had a look already, to look at the resources that are available online. The school in my electorate that got in touch with the Children’s eSafety Commissioner was able to have some very damaging content removed quite quickly. Quite often, one of the most important things for the individual to lessen the harm, the hurt and the damage is to get the content removed quickly. That is where the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner comes along. I am very proud that our government is being so proactive in this space, and I commend this bill to the House.