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Statutory Review of the Online Safety Act 2021

The Law Council of Australia appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the Statutory Review of the Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth). Commencing on 23 January 2022, the Act created a new regulatory framework to improve and promote the safety of Australians online, including the establishment of the eSafety Commissioner.

The Law Council notes that section 239A of the Act requires an independent Review of the Act to be commenced within three years of it coming into force, and that the Australian Government has asked that the Reviewer report by 31 October 2024.

The Law Council acknowledges the significant impacts of harmful online content and unacceptable online behaviour, and recognises the importance of the Act in strengthening protections to ensure users of online platforms are safeguarded from abusive, or harmful, content. Nonetheless, when considering any potential reforms, the Australian Government must adequately balance the need to protect individuals from online harm, while limiting any potential overregulation. Amendments to the Act should be proportionate, and should not curtail individuals’ freedom of expression, nor serve as a placeholder for addressing broader societal issues, where harms are facilitated through social media or other online services.

The Law Council, therefore, is pleased that the Review is being conducted now to ensure that the Act is responsive to the evolving online environment. We welcome the Terms of Reference of the Review, considering the pace of recent technological change – including the emergence of generative artificial intelligence (AI) – and the fact that several like-minded jurisdictions overseas have recently implemented regulatory schemes to combat online harms.

The comments made in the submission are in response to the matters raised in the Issues Paper, dated April 2024, and seek, to the greatest possible extent, to present a unified view on behalf of the legal profession in Australia. However, in the time available to prepare this submission, the Law Council has not had sufficient opportunity to adopt a settled position in response to all 33 questions asked in the Issues Paper. As such, there are several matters where a range of views have been expressed and have been set out for the Reviewer’s consideration.

Read the full submission below.

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