Skip to main content

Radio interview – ABC Melbourne Mornings

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: Introduction of legislation to ban deepfakes material, eSafety Commissioner v X Corp, regulation of social media, Gaza conflict

RAF EPSTEIN: The Federal Government is going to have significant gaol penalties for the creators and sharers of deepfake porn. Mark Dreyfus joins us. He is the Attorney-General in Anthony Albanese's Government and also the MP for Isaacs in Melbourne's south east. Good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning Raf, and good morning to your listeners.

EPSTEIN: Does this mean a 14-year-old kid could go to gaol for sharing an image?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is dealing with non-consensual sharing of sexualised, deep fake images. That's the legislation I introduced yesterday. So, it's material that's shared without consent. And we know it's a damaging and deeply distressing form of abuse. If a 14-year-old child is sharing that kind of information, potentially yes, they could be charged but they would be dealt with as children are dealt with in the criminal law.

EPSTEIN: So a kid could go to gaol...

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Children are treated differently to adults.

EPSTEIN: But a kid could go to gaol for sharing this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's most unlikely. This is targeting the people who are sharing and also those who are creating this kind of sexualised deepfake images.

EPSTEIN: And do you think it's fair if someone, a teenager potentially, faces gaol for something like this? I guess I'm asking you if you think that's appropriate.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that's going to be a matter for courts but by and large children are not gaoled in Australia. The police will obviously excise discretion in what they investigate and how they apply these newly created offences. But we've got here behaviour that affects women and girls who are the target of this kind of deeply offensive and harmful behaviour. We know that it can inflict deep and long-lasting harm on victims. The Albanese Government has no tolerance for this kind of criminal behaviour and that's why we are legislating in this clear way.

EPSTEIN: And coming at it from the other way, you can't get Facebook to reveal the identity of drug dealers at the moment, or I should say police can't force Facebook to reveal people's identities. Why are Facebook going to suddenly tell police who created an image?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've got a whole range of powers and I'm not sure that that's right what you said. We've got a range of powers, warrant-based powers, that enable the discovery of who is publishing what and when and who is operating in a digital environment.

EPSTEIN: It's very difficult to do that though, isn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not disputing that it's difficult Raf. But the fact that it's difficult to find someone shouldn't prevent us creating a criminal offence. There's a whole lot of crimes that are difficult to detect and difficult to prosecute but that does not stop us from legislating to ban those activities and doing what we can to eliminate the conduct. You have to remember that criminal law also has a function of sending a message to the community of what kind of behaviour is unacceptable.

EPSTEIN: And I think a lot of people might back you in sending that message, I just wonder if it's effective. There's no doubt there's people committing a tonne of crimes online. They are not prosecuted. They are not identified. All governments struggle to stop people getting radicalised online. Is this law actually going to be effective given how much fake video there could be out there?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I can point to the fact that we've been able to prosecute people for child sex abuse material online, we've been able to prosecute people for terrorist activities online, that there is a reach of the criminal law and our police into the digital world. I can say all that and at the same time recognise that it's difficult, Raf. So, I accept that it's difficult but it doesn't mean it's impossible. And there are examples of our police, particularly the Australian Federal Police is highly skilled in technological interventions and technological detection. We think that these offences are very much worth creating. And I am confident that the Australian Federal Police, with whom we have worked to create these offences, their input will make sure that it's going to be a workable law.

EPSTEIN: Just on how easy or difficult that is to sort of try and rein in the social media companies, I just want to replay this from the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. She was trying to take down the video of the church stabbing. She took X or Twitter to court and Elon Musk's personal interventions, according to her, lead to threats directed at her and her family. Here she is.

  • INMAN GRANT: He issued a dog whistle to 181 million users around the globe which resulted in death threats directed at me, which resulted in doxxing of my family members, including my three children. So I think with great power comes great responsibility. 

EPSTEIN: As Attorney-General, do you think she's right that Elon Musk's dog whistling led directly to threats against her?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's shocking that any Australian regulator, that the eSafety Commissioner or any other Australian public servants should be threatened, let alone that their families should be put at risk in that way. That's completely unacceptable that anyone should engage in that conduct.

EPSTEIN: But do you think she's right? That Elon Musk, whatever he said, she's saying whatever he put on his own platform directly led to the threat. Is she right?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I haven't seen what Elon Musk put on the platform. She's the eSafety regulator. She's an independent regulator and she's not directed by government. She's been doing her best to exercise the powers that are available to her under the Online Safety Act to make sure that everyone is safe online and she shouldn't be exposed to threats.

EPSTEIN: So what might come after, and again, I'm not against trying to stop things like deepfake porn, I'm just curious about where you will go next. What else is the Government interested in trying to enforce online that you haven't enforced yet?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Everyone needs to be safe online Raf. And Australian parents, in particular, are very worried about the material that's available on social media. The harms potentially being caused, particularly to children, but harms generally about the range of misinformation and disinformation, the proliferation of scams or deepfakes which we're trying to deal with, other dangerous content. Digital platforms need to do a lot more to keep their users safe. My colleague, the Minister for Communications is working on a whole range of measures I think I'd leave it up to her to deal with the particular measures that she's looking at which include a review of the Online Safety Act.

EPSTEIN: Don't you need a hell of a lot more? And again, none of the ideas are bad, but you need huge resources and tonnes of people to begin to enforce the sorts of things you're talking about, don't you?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's why we're working through this. It's clearly something, and this has been the case since the beginning of time, it's for parents to make sure that their children are as safe as possible, to try and control what their children are looking at online. I've heard you talking online about all sorts of measures that parents can take about kids looking at their devices in public areas of the home and having a real think about what age you might give one of your children a device on which they can access the Internet and all those things. There is a limit to how much government can do but equally, my colleague, the Minister for Communications and the rest of the government are looking hard at just what is available in order to regulate what has been a pretty unregulated space. And we're hearing more and more about the harm that social media can do when you've got some terrible material that's now available.

EPSTEIN: So, you've listed a large range of harms and a large range of problems, when will you have succeeded? What's the Government's KPIs? A thousand posts removed or ten people jailed? When will you be able to say you've done something significant?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a matter for the entire community to look at the way in which social media was operating. Perhaps there's no point at which you can say that you're completely successful. I would regard it as success with the measure that I introduced legislation for yesterday, that we no longer see non-consensual sharing of sexualised deepfake images because it's incredibly distressing behaviour. It overwhelmingly affects women and girls and I'd like it to stop. And I think anyone who's been touched by it would want it to stop and people who have become aware of it would want it to stop.

EPSTEIN: News Corporation, they sort of made a play on this yesterday. Michael Miller runs a lot of that operation in Australia, he was saying yesterday that the social media companies monetise misery that they monetise misery. How do you hear that coming from a company like News Corp?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There's been a lot of criticism of the way News Corp has conducted its business as well and every everyone in the media has a responsibility in what they publish. Everyone in the media has a responsibility to make sure that what they are publishing is accurate, that it doesn't needlessly stir up disharmony in the community. Everyone in the media has a responsibility to not publish misinformation and disinformation. So if Mr Miller is to be taken as offering a general commentary about the behaviour of media companies, that's a good thing. Let's hope that his own media company can keep to those standards.

EPSTEIN: And just a final question on your own internal issues. Israel and Palestine, they're pretty difficult things for any group to argue. But isn't there a bit of a double standard in the Labor Party? Josh Burns criticised the government's policy on the Middle East. He seems to be allowed to . Fatima Payman from WA criticised the government's policy and gets punished. Isn't that a double standard?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Every person in public life in Australia has got a responsibility to bring the community together. Not to divide it. I'd urge everyone participating in this debate about the shocking events that have occurred in the Middle East starting with the massacre of October the seventh, everyone commenting has got a responsibility to think about the language that they're using. Think about not directing personal attacks. Think about not raising prejudice and hatred in the community.

EPSTEIN: Are you saying that's what Fatima Payman did?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not saying that about Fatima Payman. I'm not saying that's what Fatima Payman.

EPSTEIN: That was the question.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: In no sense am I saying that about Fatima Payman or about Josh Burns. I am not commenting on anyone in particular. I'm offering you a general comment about the way in which people participating in public life need to be careful about what they say and need to be careful about not spreading disinformation and misinformation. We need to be trying to bring the community together, not to divide it and not blame members of the Australian community for events occurring on the other side of the world in a horrible conflict that many, many Australians are very concerned about. But let's not turn on each other when we are trying to debate and discuss the events in the Middle East.

EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Raf.