Senate Inquiry Gives Online Safety Act The Thumbs Up But Not Everyone’s Convinced

Senate Inquiry Gives Online Safety Act The Thumbs Up But Not Everyone’s Convinced
Labor's Sharon Claydon, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, and National's Anne Webster.

Despite hundreds of individuals raising serious concerns, the government’s proposed Online Safety Act has been given the go ahead from a Senate inquiry comprising of primarily Coalition MPs. But representatives from Labor and the Greens have both registered issues with the bill.

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

The bill — which is supposed to modernize the government’s approach to dealing with online harms by beefing up the powers of the government appointed eSafety Commissioner — has been a long time in the making.

After a lengthy drafting process led to a two month consultation for the exposure draft, the Bill was put forward with minimal changes and without publishing the 370 submissions made about the bill. It was then passed to a Senate Committee for a very quick inquiry, including a hearing that saw the eSafety Commissioner grilled by politicians.

After many groups expressed dismay about a broad law that gave the eSafety Commissioner even greater powers, the Committee put forward just two recommendations

  1. Give the eSafety Commissioner some more discretion over a deadline for companies to sort out an online safety code.
  2. Pass this law.

What did Labor and the Greens say about the Online Safety Act?

With the committee predominantly made up from Government members, the Committee’s recommendations represents the government’s views. Labor and the Greens have also made additional comments that are attached as an addendum to the report.

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

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

The Online Safety Act is up for debate in the Senate later today.