The federal government has quadrupled funding for the eSafety Commissioner, helping it avoid a fast-approaching “funding cliff”.
In the lead-up to last week’s federal budget, several government ministers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticised the former Coalition government for not providing ongoing funding to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
The former Coalition government’s last budget in March 2022 saw funding for the agency dropping by about 50 per cent, falling to $20.8 million in 2023-24 and $17.8 million in the following year.
In the recent federal budget, the Labor government provided a $132.1 million boost over four years to the eSafety Commissioner, quadrupling the office’s base funding from $10.3 million to $42.5 million annually.
This marks the first time the Office of the eSafety Commissioner has received a base funding increase since it was launched in 2015.
Communications minister Michelle Rowland confirmed the funding boost on Tuesday.
“The reality is that shocking decisions made by the former Liberal-National government mean that our world-leading online safety regulator was facing a funding cliff, putting its important work at risk,” Rowland said.
“Unlike the Coalition, the Albanese government is giving the eSafety Commissioner the resources and certainty they need to do their important work by quadrupling ongoing funding.
“This record funding means eSafety can keep up with the growing demands for their services and take strong action to have abusive and illegal material removed from the internet.”
Rowland said the funding would help the office to continue to respond to Australians reporting abuse online, meet the increased demand for its services, implement industry codes and the Basic Online Safety Expectations, oversee the eSafety Youth Council, work to remove child sexual exploitation material and research into online harms.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said her office is in a “period of realignment” to ensure alignment with the Minister’s Statement of Expectations.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a doubling of cyberbullying … and a doubling of child sexual exploitation and sexual extortion targeting 18 to 24 year olds,” Grant told the media on Tuesday.
“That is going to continue, and that’s obviously why we’re so grateful and so pleased that we have been fully funded, that we can plan, that we can work ahead, that we can anticipate the challenges that are ahead of us, and we can really plan to deal with these new volumes.
“We need to be on the front foot in terms of understanding what different communities are experiencing, and how it’s been experienced, and to apply our resources accordingly to help those that are the most targeted and the most disadvantaged.”
At the press conference, Rowland also confirmed that the government will soon be releasing the Age Verification Roadmap, which it received from the eSafety Commissioner in March.
“I think it’s fair to say if this was an easy task to implement, the world would be doing it by now as well, and we need to really craft this with a careful balance of, for example, another area of government work, such as the privacy regime, and the data of children,” Rowland said.
“So we will be doing this expeditiously, but we will be working through it methodically, and we have every intention of releasing this report in the near future.”
The Minister did not rule out using the government’s digital identity scheme to verify ages online, while Grant said it would not be a “blunt-force approach”, but rather a “holistic” one.