Online safety needs permanent committee, says report

By Tom Ravlic

March 16, 2022

online safety-child-tablet
Various parliamentary committees have dealt with 11 inquiries listed in the senate committee’s report. (vinnstock/Adobe)

The Australian government should propose the creation of a permanent committee of the house of representatives to look at matters of online safety and technology when the parliament reconvenes after the federal election, according to the final report of the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety, tabled this week.

Creating a topic specific committee is one of 26 recommendations in the report that sets down a range of recommendations designed to try and make the online environment safer for users.

Various parliamentary committees have dealt with 11 inquiries listed in the senate committee’s report, but the select committee acknowledged in its report that the subject matter does not fit comfortably within the work of the committees that have examined internet-related matters.

“Matters in relation to internet security and safety are within the purview of both the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts and the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources,” the report said.

“Both Committees have conducted inquiries in relation to internet commerce and technology in the past.”

Other committees have also examined the subject area with the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement doing regular reviews, and the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, which has inquired into age verification and pornography.

“Parliamentary interest in relation to the internet industry is unlikely to wane as Australians’ lives progressively transfer online,” the report said.

“A dedicated committee could attract members with specialist knowledge or interest in relation to technological development and innovation. It would also ensure that the Parliament is informed of the latest developments, risks, and solutions relevant to the industry.”

A new committee looking at the area of online safety and internet technology already has a suggested work program mapped out in the report if it is established.

Topics for further inquiry include a follow up inquiry into this report to ask people about their views on the recommendations of this report, a review of the Online Safety Act that would involve seeking responses from the community, an inquiry on the way in which algorithms are used by online services, the role of social media in relation to democratic health, and a holistic examination of cryptocurrency.


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