The following article is by Jack Dempsey, Mayor of the Bundaberg Region in Queensland. As a mayor, former Queensland State Government minister, and a former police officer, his warning that “Nobody in authority accepts responsibility to address this” is significant. We have been saying the same for almost a decade now. Not only is government behind the times, but the model of funding to support civil society is also out of date and fails to support specialist organisations like ours that are addressing this problem. Helping civil society to tackle the issue is literally the least government could do.

We welcome Mayor Dempsey’s call for Federal and State Governments to “catch up with the modern world and make laws that keep people safe online”. We also welcome the efforts of Paul Fletcher, Federal Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, who has been reforming the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to give it an expanded remit. We have welcomed in particular the expansion of cyberbullying protections to now also include cyberbullying against adults – the original law only covered cyberbullying against children. Even under the expanded remit of eSafety, however, there are still very large gaps. As Mayor Dempsey says, government is playing catch-up. In a range of submissions to government we have listed many of the areas needing improvements.

In our view eSafety should be empowered to remove any content that breaches existing Commonwealth, State or Territory laws. Those laws are there for a reason. If what is being said or shown is already unlawful, empowering eSafety to order it removed from social media is really not asking too much. We don’t need to slowly reinvent the whole body of law as special schemes for online. Instead we to ensure consistency. Content that is prohibited in the real world should be immediately removed when it occurs in the online world. Failure to do so should trigger the notices, and if action doesn’t follow the penalties, that are already in the eSafety system.

We thank Mayor Dempsey for taking the time to address online hate and for sharing his own experiences.

Let’s keep it civil, please

By Mayor Jack Dempsey

Mayor Jack Dempsey

Last weekend I was called a “greedy creep” and a “lying dumpster” on social media. Abuse like this isn’t rare and it seems to be getting worse.

I’m a big bloke, and I’ve clashed heads with All Blacks in a scrum, so not much hurts me but I’m worried for my friends and loved ones when they read rubbish like that.

As an elected leader, I’m also concerned that trolls can orchestrate hate campaigns to damage a person’s reputation, especially with people who don’t know them.

And while I can withstand barbs and arrows, what about a young person or someone who’s lonely and emotionally vulnerable? They have almost no capacity to defend themselves or fight back.

Nobody in authority accepts responsibility to address this, shoving it in the too-hard basket. The law is 20 years behind today’s media and communications.

Federal and State Governments need to catch up with the modern world and make laws that keep people safe online.

In my view, the owner/manager of a Facebook page/group should be required to moderate and delete abusive content.

Free speech needs protecting, but defamation laws should be consistent between platforms and easier to have adjudicated.

I’m seeing a trend where people with personal political agenda are trolling for hate speech.

One of the unsuccessful 2020 election candidates has been at the forefront of attacks against me, which I find really disappointing given she was once a loyal part of the Council team she now derides, and I considered her a friend.

Let’s have a robust exchange of ideas but keep it civil please.

Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey is a former police officer and Queensland State Government Minister. He serves on the policy executive of the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and the board of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).