The government is creating an Online Safety Youth Advisory Council comprising 20 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 in an effort to engage young people in policy and decision-making about online safety.
It’s the latest part of the government’s agenda to tighten control of online spaces including through the office of the eSafety Commissioner which, earlier this year, was given expanded powers to direct social media platforms and other internet services to remove content it deems offensive or abusive.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said children growing up in the internet age have it tougher than previous generations.
“I think they're dealing with more anxieties and pressures and stresses than, frankly, we did as kids growing up,” he said.
“And it's hard for parents because we want to be able to keep our kids safe and the online world, for many of us, can be a bit of a mystery.
“We need the tools and support and the guidance to do the right thing by our kids, and as governments, we also need that, to ensure we're putting in the right laws and the right protections to keep our kids safe online.”
The Online Safety Youth Advisory Council will work in concert with the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, who thinks consultation with digital natives is invaluable when developing and enacting policies.
“One thing we’ve found when we engage young people is they think about technology in different ways,” Inman Grant told ABC News 24.
“They also want and expect different things from the technology behemoths in terms of the protections they want to see.
“So we cannot be making policy and creating resources without their authentic voices and without their engagement.”
The eSafety Commissioner will begin a selection process next year to make sure the advisory council has the kind of voices that match the government’s agenda before beginning a series of roundtable discussions.
“We obviously want a lot of diversity on the panel,” Inman Grant said. “We want people from rural and remote regions, from different socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnicities, and different genders.
“Of course we know online harms don’t manifest across populations equally so we need to hear a range of voices.”
The Opposition welcomed the government’s approach to tackling online safety but was critical of what it saw as political opportunism in Morrison’s announcement this week.
“It’s only now, on the eve of an election, that the Morrison government is finally claiming an interest in youth engagement,” Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland told Information Age in an emailed statement.
“For years we’ve been urging this government to listen to young people on the issues impacting them, and take a genuine interest in youth engagement.
“This government continually pays lip service to young people by claiming to engage with them, but no genuine action ever seems to come of it.”