The Committee’s inquiry considered the potential role for online age verification in protecting children and young people in Australia from exposure to online wagering and online pornography.
Evidence to the inquiry revealed widespread and genuine concern among the community about the serious impacts on the welfare of children and young people associated with exposure to certain online content, particularly pornography.
The Committee heard that young people are increasingly accessing or being exposed to pornography on the internet, and that this is associated with a range of harms to young people’s health, education, relationships, and wellbeing. Similarly, the Committee heard about the potential for exposure to online wagering at a young age to lead to problem gambling later in life.
Online age verification is not a new concept. However, the Committee heard that as governments have sought to strengthen age restrictions on online content, the technology for online age verification has become more sophisticated, and there are now a range of age-verification services available which seek to balance effectiveness and ease-of-use with privacy, safety, and security.
In considering these issues, the Committee was concerned to see that, in so much as possible, age restrictions that apply in the physical world are also applied in the online world.
The Committee recognised that age verification is not a silver bullet, and that protecting children and young people from online harms requires government, industry, and the community to work together across a range of fronts. However, the Committee also concluded that age verification can create a significant barrier to prevent young people—and particularly young children—from exposure to harmful online content.
The Committee’s recommendations therefore seek to support the implementation of online age verification in Australia.
The Committee recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency lead the development of standards for online age verification. These standards will help to ensure that online age verification is accurate and effective, and that the process for legitimate consumers is easy, safe, and secure.
The Committee also recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency develop an age-verification exchange to support a competitive ecosystem for third-party age verification in Australia.
In relation to pornography, the Committee recommended that the eSafety Commissioner lead the development of a roadmap for the implementation of a regime of mandatory age verification for online pornographic material, and that this be part of a broader, holistic approach to address the risks and harms associated with online pornography.
In relation to wagering, the Committee recommended that the Australian Government implement a regime of mandatory age verification, alongside the existing identity verification requirements. The Committee also recommended the development of educational resources for parents, and consideration of options for restricting access to loot boxes in video games, including though the use of age verification.
The Committee hopes that together these recommendations will contribute to a safer online environment for children and young people.
Lastly, the Committee acknowledges the strong public interest in the inquiry and expresses its appreciation to the individuals and organisations that shared their views with the Committee.