By Tanya Plibersek

23 May 2024






SUBJECTS: Impact of social media and AI on gendered violence; Peter Dutton’s nuclear power fantasy.

LISA MILLAR: Well, this morning we've been speaking about teaching young people respect and consent through school programs. But what about when they step out of the classroom? Continuing our special coverage of gendered violence, let's look at the influence of social media and AI on young people. And to discuss it, we've got senior frontbencher and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek joining us from Canberra. Minister, good morning, and I so appreciate you coming on to have a yarn about this. It’s kind of outside your ministry areas of interest, but something you are personally very passionate about. And you're delivering a speech today, I understand, which is really going to touch on some of these issues.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, I've been concerned for a long time about the fact that our kids are getting sex education from violent and degrading online pornography. And the next frontier is just around the corner. AI means that you can create deep fake pornography to harass and intimidate people as well. And I think social media has kind of escaped from us. We are, as parents in particular, at a bit of a loss about how we allow our kids to be connected online without seeing the sort of isolation and mental ill health that has come with extensive social media use and how we deal with this issue that our kids are learning really bad relationship styles from seeing the violent, degrading, misogynistic content that's being pushed at them on social media.

MILLAR: They're forced by it, aren't they, to be so far advanced beyond their years and their own experiences, their own intimate experiences that they might be having at such an early age?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, kids are seeing pornography that includes choking and anal sex before they've had their first kiss. Like, is it any wonder that again today we see another report that says that teenagers are at increased risk of being sexually assaulted by another teenager, often someone they're in a relationship with or have been in a relationship with. These numbers are exploding. And if we don't get a handle on it, all of the good work of years of sexual assault and domestic violence advocates, governments, everybody who's been involved to try and reduce rates of violence against women, all of that good work is put at risk because of the algorithms controlled by social media giants overseas pushing this violent and degrading content onto our kids and affecting relationships between men and women. We actually see that this generation, Gen Z, are less likely than previous generations to believe in gender equality. We are actually going backwards. And the biggest influence here, I think, is what they're learning online.

MILLAR: And it's so easily accessible for them, it's sitting in their pocket.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It's everywhere. They've got pornography in their pocket any time they want it. And not just pornography, you know, beheadings, murders, extreme violent content. It is having an impact on their brains and on their relationships.

MILLAR: What - does it make you reflect, and this is no judgement whatsoever, Minister, but does it make you reflect on decisions you made as a parent early on?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because your kids are always telling you, if I'm the only one who's not allowed to use it, I'll be left out. Parents are so worried about their kids being isolated that I think quite often, I'm sure other people, are a bit like me, they have their worries, they have their qualms. But when their kids are saying everybody else is allowed, I'm the only one who wouldn't be doing it, I don't know. I've been more inclined to cave than I should have been at times. For sure.

MILLAR: For parents watching right now, they'd be looking at you as a parent, but also as a senior front venture of the government and saying, well, help us, Minister, what do we do here?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And the government is working really hard on this. My colleague, Michelle Rowland has quadrupled funding for the eSafety Commissioner. There's great resources that you can access online through the eSafety Commissioner. She's working right now on age verification trials. We've got a parliamentary joint committee set up to look at appropriate ages for being able to use social media. We're working on AI. My colleague Ed Husic is working on how we better make sure that the next frontier is good, that it actually is productive, that helps society, that improves it, rather than taking us further down this road of gender-based Internet violence affecting us in a way that is really bad for society.

So, across government, we are putting in the effort to do it. But I think this is beyond just government action, this is really something we need to grapple with as a society. And I think it's important that parents educate themselves about what their kids are watching online, that the algorithms are pushing violent, misogynistic content, particularly at boys. And unless we get a handle on this, we're going to see higher rates of violence, higher rates of mental ill health and worse societal outcomes in the future.

MILLAR: Yeah. And this is the tone and theme of the Joan Kirner oration that you're delivering today in Melbourne. Just on another matter, before you go, the Nine newspapers today have this story about the federal opposition getting set to announce the locations of up to seven proposed nuclear power sites. Is there anything that they could deliver that would change your mind on nuclear power and what the opposition says is the benefits of it for Australia?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, they said months ago that they were going to release the sites and the cost. And I think this is really important, it will take decades, at least a decade and a half, according to the CSIRO yesterday, to build a nuclear reactor. So, we've got power price problems right now. That's the reason our government is giving every electricity bill recipient $300 off their electricity bills. We know that people are struggling today. Nuclear reactors, somewhere, sometime a decade and a half in the future, that will be the most expensive form of energy available to us. Makes no sense if you're talking about energy bill relief.

MILLAR: We'll see how this debate rolls out. Tanya Plibersek, thank you for joining us this morning and also for being a part of the week-long conversation we've been having on News Breakfast about gender violence and what we can all do to help end it.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Thank you for having me.