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Federal Government Pledges New Online Safety Act

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Australia’s Coalition government has expressed its determination to address online safety and introduce an Online Safety Act in the event of re-election. However, many have questioned the current proposal’s lack of details on policy and implementation.

Background to Development

On May 18, Australia’s 2019 federal election will take place.

The current 45th Parliament met from August 2016 to April 2019, as designated by the 2016 general election. The Coalition of the Liberal and National Parties controlled the House as a result, and Malcolm Turnbull served as the Prime Minister. That was until Scott Morrison replaced him in 2018 with his Coalition government.

The upcoming election will offer all 151 seats of the House and 40 seats (of 76 total) in the Senate to members elected by the people.

Morrison and the Coalition government will be up against the Labor party with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at the fore.

Should the Coalition win reelection, it has announced its intention to introduce the Online Safety Act. The piece of legislation could subsequently impact the video gaming world as well as other forms of online gaming and betting.

To Troll the Trolls

Trolling is a problem online, whether on various forms of social media or in the video game world. Any online forum is going to have a problem with trolls, which are people who verbally abuse or harass others. And there has been a concerted effort on the part of everyone to find ways to rid spaces of those trolls. The aim is to create a friendlier environment for those spending a lot of time online.

Particularly affected has been the gaming world. Especially by trolls targeting women and young people. And it has become so toxic that the government has stepped in to try to regulate those spaces.

Enhancing Online Safety Act of 2015

The Australian government set up the Office of eSafety in 2015, complete with a commissioner who is assisted by the staff of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The commissioner coordinates and leads online safety efforts in government, industry, and the nonprofit community. The initial goal was to focus on internet safety for children. But in 2017, the passage of the Enhancing Online Safety Act extended its powers. It took the realm of responsibility beyond children’s areas into protecting online spaces for all Australians.

The commissioner’s office investigations complaints from people who experience cyberbullying. It can then remove any material deemed as offensive or contributing to that bullying from social media.

In addition, there is an image-based abuse portal available for reporting of cyberbullying and online abuse. There are also resources to educate everyone about online safety and the options available to them to address those problems.

Calling for More Safety

In February, former public servant Lynelle Briggs made a public call for an overhaul of the system in coordination with social media providers and online gaming operators.

Briggs’ online safety review shows ways the current system to be ineffective, and details the need for a more proactive code. Her  Online Safety Act proposal goes far beyond minimum standards of addressing cyberbullying.

Briggs’ suggestions addressed Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, as needing to take stronger actions against online trolls. The commissioner had been encouraging resolutions within schools and families. Many citizens would like to see law enforcement involvement, though. Especially concerning incidents involving threatening or violent behaviour. Or where such patterns of behaviour are detected.

In addition, with specific regard to video games and online gaming, the new law would require companies to offer intensely restrictive privacy settings for players. This is something that is required to be the default option when new players sign up for an account.

Briggs suggested that a new Online Safety Act consolidate all people working for internet safety into one body with one set of laws.

Federal Government on Board

The current government has announced plans to introduce and push for the new Online Safety Act…if they win the election.

However, the ongoing problems with trolls and online abuse may warrant any government in place after the upcoming election to implement stricter guidelines.

Any new regulations will mostly apply to online video gaming, as offshore internet casinos are not licensed within Australia. However, over the past several years, online casino operators have taken extra steps to police their own chat boxes and forums to ensure the safety of their players. They do this in order to prevent bullying and keep their customer base happy.