Former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s message about social media being used by the “evil one” should be directed to address the insidious issue of child-accessible pornography.
In a Christian conference, Morrison warned that social media is facilitating the spread of identity politics, saying it is being used by the “evil one” and that younger generations were at most risk of its influence.
Shorten said that Morrison’s sentiment should be channelled to address one of the biggest evils children face on the internet—easily accessible pornography.
“Children have too easy access to pornography in this country online,” Shorten told reporters at the National Press Club of Australia on Wednesday.
“If Mr Morrison wants to materialise that general reference to evil, let’s make it harder for our Aussie kids to access pornography online.”
Shorten also said that the age at which children—particularly young boys—view pornography online is frighteningly low.
“The average age that little Australian boys are exposed to porn online is 13—that’s shocking,” Shorten said.
He said, “we’ve created the iPad babysitter,” and despite parents using technology now more than ever, many parents were “oblivious” to the harmful effects it could have on their children.
A February 2020 inquiry, “Protecting the Age of Innocence” (pdf), by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs suggested that the effects of online pornography were severe enough to warrant a new system of online age verification.
“The Committee heard that young people are increasingly accessing or being exposed to pornography on the internet and that this is associated with a range of harms to young people’s health, education, relationships, and wellbeing,” the report said.
The report stated that, while age verification was not a “silver bullet,” it could create a significant barrier to prevent young people from exposure to harmful online content.
“The technology for online age verification has become more sophisticated, and there are now a range of age-verification services available which seek to balance effectiveness and ease-of-use with privacy, safety, and security,” the report said.
The committee called for the Digital Transformation Agency to lead the way in developing new standards for online age verification that were accurate and effective.
Morrison’s original message warned that unless people took actions to protect themselves, social media would cause harm to young people.
“It’s going to take our young people. It’s going to take their courage. It’s going to take their hope. It’s going to steal their hope,” he said.
“Sure, social media has its virtues and its values and enables us to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before. But those weapons can also be used by the evil one, and we need to call that out.”
Daniel Teng contributed to this report.