Thursday, 05 March 2020

Launch of the FCM Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Washington


Thank you very much to the Attorney General for his leadership in this space and for hosting us at this very important time. I would also like to acknowledge Acting Secretary Wolf for his engagement and to all of my Five Eyes colleagues. This has been a long journey and we meet today with a very significant step having been taken.

I want to say thank you very much to all of the industry representatives whose partnership was strengthened today and to acknowledge very much the heroes that we listened to this morning; those people that represent the victims of this violent crime.

Our unflinching commitment to protecting you from ongoing and future abuse, and to preventing any child from being subjected to the profound harms you have suffered, is what brings us here today. 

I don't have to convince anyone here of the benefits of the internet – all of us use it on a regular basis – but online connectivity has enriched our lives and fueled our economies in countless ways.

When viewed through the prism of child sexual abuse, the utopian vision of an ungoverned internet has given way to a dystopian reality.     

Nothing represents the darkest corners of the internet like child sexual abuse. The lives of children, the most vulnerable members of our communities, are destroyed in the production of this material for the sexual gratification of offenders. They are further re-victimised each and every time the images and videos depicting their abuse are shared online. 

The severe and enduring harm experienced by these victims and survivors and their families and communities is almost too much for any human being to contemplate, but contemplate it we must.

The abhorrence of these crimes is compounded by their growing prevalence. In fact every five minutes a webpage shows a child being sexually abused. Australia, I'm sorry to say, contributes to the epidemic of child sexual abuse. 

In 2019, the Australian Federal Police received almost 17,000 reports of online child sexual abuse involving Australian children or child sex offenders.  Each report can represent hundreds or thousands of photos and videos.

Livestreamed child sexual abuse is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world. For as little as twenty Australian dollars, a buyer can request and even remotely direct such 'on-demand' or 'made to order' live-streams by paying and instructing others to abuse children of specific ages, at specific times, in specific ways. Australian law enforcement has found that not only is the live stream market growing, the children are getting younger and the violence is becoming more extreme. 

Publicly-accessible social media and communication platforms remain the most common methods for meeting and grooming children online.  It is unsurprising when 99 per cent of the reports made to the US National Center last year came from electronic service providers.

The rapid advancement of communication technologies and anonymising tools—like encryption—allows offenders to diversify their methods and evade law enforcement. One technique adopted by child sex offenders is to initiate innocuous conversations on these open platforms, before encouraging the children to move to other platforms that provide the offender anonymity. 

The Dark Web is a shadowy virtual underworld that takes anonymity to a whole new level, by rendering offenders unidentifiable and untraceable.  That's why, unsurprisingly, it has become a haven for criminals of all types, including those who abuse and exploit children. 

All of us as governments, as people, must continue to do more.

As just one example, our Government passed legislation that allows security and law enforcement agencies to oblige communications companies to provide technical assistance to investigators of serious criminal offences and national security threats.

One key principle that underlines all our efforts is that while governments and law enforcement can do many things to combat child abuse, we cannot do it all.  A feature of our approach has been to foster cross-sector collaboration wherever possible.  NGOs, academia, industry, and international counterparts are certainly equal partners in this fight. 

I am proud that the Australian Government has worked very closely with our Five Eyes partners, represented here today, all of our partnerships are built on many pillars and some of the pillars include the ability to keep children safe, to make sure that they can enjoy an upbringing where they can play safely in our communities, as well as online.

We want to make sure that those young lives aren't destroyed in ways that thousands (inaudible) before have. I want to make sure that we continue this work with the industry, because if we don't technology will continue to get ahead of us.

So I stand before you today to discuss the outcome of another important partnership; that between all of our Five Eyes Ministerial Governments and the digital industry sector. We should be proud of the work that we've been able to achieve today and I hope that it represents a new page in the relationship. That we can work together to defeat this scourge and we must continue to double our efforts each and every time we gather.