Senate Inquiry Approves Online Safety Act, But Not Everyone Is Convinced

Although hundreds of people have raised serious concerns, the government’s proposed online safety law was given the green light by a Senate inquiry made up mainly of coalition MPs. But Labor and Greens representatives both registered problems with the bill.

Friday afternoon, the The Standing Senate Committees on the Environment and Communications released their report on the Online Safety Bill 2021 [Provisions] and the Online Safety (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021.

The bill – which is supposed to modernize the government’s approach to dealing with online harm by strengthening the powers of the government-appointed electronic security commissioner – has been in the works for a long time.

After a lengthy drafting process that led to a two-month consultation for the exposure draft, the bill was introduced with minimal changes and without publishing the 370 submissions made on the bill. It was then forwarded to a Senate committee for a very quick investigation, including a hearing in which the e-security commissioner was grilled by politicians.

After many groups expressed dismay at a sweeping law that gave the Electronic Security Commissioner even greater powers, the committee made just two recommendations

  1. Give the e-safety commissioner a bit more discretion on a deadline for companies to write an online safety code.
  2. Pass this law.

What have Labor and Greens said about the Online Safety Act?

As the committee is made up of a majority of government members, the committee’s recommendations represent the views of the government. Labor and Greens also made additional comments which are attached as an addendum to the report.

Senators Nita Green and Catryna Bilyk said they are concerned the Online Safety Act “represents a significant increase in the Electronic Safety Commissioner’s discretion to remove material without commensurate due process requirements, appeals or transparency beyond Senate estimates, annual reports, and AAT appeals.” They recommended further amendments before passing.

Nick McKim and Sarah Hanson Young of the Australian Greens went even further. They recommended withdrawing the bill to redraft it to address concerns and introduce a bill of rights, including digital and privacy protections.

The Online Safety Act is due to be debated in the Senate later today.

Norman D. Briggs