Online Safety Bill gives broad new powers without due process

24th Feb 2021

Lawyers are warning that the Online Safety Bill introduced into Parliament today gives new and broad discretionary powers to the e-Safety Commissioner and the Minister without establishing appropriate processes to determine what material is in the public interest or to adequately appeal decisions.

“We are also extremely concerned that this Bill was introduced into Parliament today only ten days after the consultation period for the exposure draft closed and before any of the public submissions have even been published,” said Mr Graham Droppert SC, National President, Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA). “This seems to indicate that little regard has been given to the public consultation process.

“Careful consideration needs to be given to the suggested amendments that were made in submissions in response to the exposure draft. Quite simply, this Bill should not proceed in its current form.”

According to the ALA, the proposed scheme has significant overreaches and does not strike the appropriate balance between protection against abhorrent material and due process for determining whether content comes within that classification.

“In its current form the Bill centralises power without due process and opens up the ability for the Commissioner to remove public interest material,” said Mr Droppert SC.  “There are circumstances where violence captured and shared online can be in the public interest as it can be used to hold those in power to account and to expose otherwise hidden human rights violations. 

“The Bill relies heavily on the National Classification Code to determine which content may be issued with a removal notice. The classification system appears to be overly broad and may capture categories of content that should not be subject to such restrictive regulation.

“Many elements of the Bill address important issues in relation to online safety but it is critical that the Bill includes an effective, accessible internal review process so that people can challenge removal notices in a timely manner, without having to appeal to the AAT.

“We would also like to see the Bill include a plan for a multi-stakeholder oversight panel, including broad community representation, to review decisions made to remove and block content along with compulsory public reporting of the categories of content removed.”

Tags: online