‘Catch up’: Albo’s dig at Dutton

Mr Albanese said he wants to see kids spending more time outside than on their phones. Photo by: NCA Newswire/Gaye Gerard

Anthony Albanese has scoffed at Peter Dutton’s plans to crack down on teen social media use, saying the Opposition Leader was playing “catch up” as the government moves to trial its own online age verification scheme.

Mr Dutton has vowed to raise minimum age limits on social media platforms from 13 to 16 and force big tech companies to verify the age of users if he wins the next election.

His announcement came after Labor set aside $6.5m to test out age assurance technologies in May, amid growing concerns over a rise in children accessing online pornography and adult content.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Albanese said he supported raising age limits online but stressed that a trial was necessary to determine how a ban would work.

“I want to make sure that the interests of young people in particular are looked after, and that’s why we’re doing this trial to make sure that any measures can work to make sure that what always occurs is these companies will try to avoid mechanisms,” he told reporters.

“We want to make sure we get it right.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, at Flinders Uni in Adelaide, said the government was trialling age controls on social media. Picture: NewsWire / Roy VanDerVegt
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said a future coalition government would raise the minimum age for social media in Australia from 13 to 16. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ben Clark Picture: NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Mr Albanese said 16 was a “reasonable age” to own a registered media account and said age limits would be considered in the government’s planned reforms.

“It’s good that he’s (Peter Dutton) caught up. Welcome to catching up,” he added.

Peter Dutton laid out his plans earlier to ban children from social media arguing that lifting the minimum age would be a “sensible measure”.

He said the Coalition would also require social media companies to verify the age of users to ensure kids under 16 weren’t accessing the platforms.

“I just think given the exposure that we see young kids get now online, it’s a huge and confronting world out there. We see an increase in the number of self-harms, young girls who are suffering from eating disorders, image issues, etc,” Mr Dutton told Sunrise.

“A lot of that constant stream has a negative impact, and I think this is a sensible measure.

“There’s a lot of technology in place to help with the age verification that’s not going to take people’s data, etc … so I think it’s a well-balanced approach.”

Data thief’s hand shadow on computer keyboard
Australia is on the path towards introducing online age verification laws. Picture: iStock

Mr Dutton said he expected social media giants including Elon Musk’s X to comply with proposed new rules around verifying the ages of users on their platforms.

“I think we can work with the technology companies. We can work through the tax system or whatever is required to budge these companies into an outcome,” he said.

Announcing the policy on Wednesday, Mr Dutton said raising the age to 16 would give “parents more power in the equation” because there was a lot of pressure and examples of kids being isolated from their friendship groups and not being able to communicate.

“That was the case over Covid, and many of them wouldn’t have coped without the ability to share their story and their journey,” he said.

“It’s the case that we need to have just a sensible, moderate approach. Nobody’s saying ‘ban the internet’ or any of that sort of nonsense.”

Students learning computer programming
Mr Dutton said raising the minimum age for social media would give parents more power to control what their children had access to on the internet.

Mr Dutton shared his own experience, saying his children grew up with social media and that was how his family stayed connected.

But when his children were younger, the Duttons were strict about what they had access to, particularly friendship groups online.

“But it’s a tough conversation because it’s the way that kids communicate with their own friendship groups. They want privacy, but you’re just blind to any of that,” he said.

“So, there’s a very different path that some kids can take as a result of being exposed to it.”

News Corp has been running a Let Them Be Kids campaign calling for the minimum age for social media to be raised to 16.
News Corp has been running a Let Them Be Kids campaign calling for the minimum age for social media to be raised to 16.

News Corp has been running a Let Them Be Kids campaign, calling for the minimum age for social media to be raised to 16.

It follows advice from medical, mental health and child experts, with Mr Dutton saying when he worked as a police officer he was in the sex offenders’ squad pre-internet.

“It was an area where you saw people exposed to the worst element of society and how they coped with that,” he said.

“But now it’s on an industrial scale in terms of the content that young kids are subject to.

Mr Dutton said it was important we did everything possible to support young children from being exposed to the worst kinds of content online. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“We wouldn’t in the real world allow our kids to go into a park or into a shopping centre just to hang out with any adult that came by.”

Mr Dutton said it was not unreasonable to do everything possible to support young people.

“The evidence is so obvious that the self-harm and the pressure that comes on young people through sharing of images, etc, that’s the reality of their life now,” he said.