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Community Update re: Online Safety Bill 2021

The Online Safety Bill 2021 and Online Safety (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 passed in the Federal Parliament on the 23rd of June 2021. They are expected to take effect in late 2021.

Scarlet Alliance and our members and extended community put forth an incredible lobbying effort on the bill over the last 7 months, with a high volume of submissions, appearances at Senate Committee, and individual meetings with a number of MPs over the course of the bill’s progression. We lobbied for a number of amendments aimed at reducing the potential harm of some parts of the legislation, and increasing sex worker access to others.

We are grateful to have had such an engaged response from the sex worker community and our allies and proud of the work that went into ensuring that our issues remained on the agenda throughout the progress of the bill. We succeeded in raising them as far as they could go, and some were put onto the record in debates in both houses of Parliament. We have summarised those contributions, with a focus on the Senate debate, with this guide to the proceedings, speeches and amendments.

While many of the individual MPs we met with were supportive, the Labor party had already made a decision to back the legislation and were largely unsupportive of amendments that would limit the legislation’s potential impact on sex workers. We are grateful to have received support from a number of Greens MPs throughout the bill’s process, and several of the amendments we advocated for were put up by Senator Nick McKim of Tasmania. The Senate debate saw the tabling of our issues by several Greens senators, which are summarised in the document above. You can also view some of Senator Jordon Steele-John’s ‘sex work is work’ speech here, read our media release on the passage of the bill, and watch the entire proceedings of both House and Senate debates.

While we are grateful for the tabling of our issues by the Greens, we are disappointed with the proceedings in the Senate overall, where substantive amendments that could have protected the interests of sex workers and that could improve the oversight and accountability of the Commissioner were either voted down, or not given time for debate. Of note were were the following amendments:

  • Increased reporting requirements for the eSafety Commissioner
  • The ability of the eSafety Commissioner to establish advisory committees to assist the workings of the Commission, though these structures can be created and dismantled as she deems appropriate and she can revoke a participant’s membership at any time.
  • Clarity on the definition of ‘serious harm to a person’s mental health’
  • The ability for a person, under certain circumstances, to appeal to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to review a decision.
As part of our lobbying effort, Scarlet Alliance met with the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, and other members of her team, who have stated that they will continue this dialogue with us. We will continue to work with the Commission through whatever avenues available to inform them on the ways that sex workers use technological tools for work, emerging threats to our safety online and offline, and how to make their mechanisms more accessible to sex workers. We will work towards the Commission being equipped to equitably address sex worker reports and support our safety online.

Sex workers can continue to make use of the eSafety Commission’s reporting mechanisms, which should expand with the adoption of this legislation. This will present the Commission with use cases that could allow them to develop their understandings of sex worker issues. It is our understanding that you do not have to give your legal name to make a report. We have heard anecdotal reports of individual sex workers reporting image-based abuse in a number of contexts with success in having them removed, while others have not had success.

Scarlet Alliance will continue to monitor the accessibility of eSafety’s mechanisms to sex workers, and are interested in understanding sex workers’ experiences with the Commission. If you’d like to share an experience reporting to eSafety, or would like to request support advocating for an action from the Commission, we encourage you to reach out to us on info@scarletalliance.org.au.

We thank the sex worker community and our allies and supporters, including Digital Rights Watch and Electronic Frontiers Australia, for an incredibly strong campaign on the bill, and send our solidarity to sex workers impacted by ongoing online gentrification, deplatforming, and violations of our digital, labor and human rights.