Australian Right Foregrounds Age Verification as Political Wedge Issue

Australian Right Foregrounds Age Verification as Political Wedge Issue

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s conservative Liberal Party and the country’s influential right-wing media have recently begun foregrounding age verification for viewing adult content as a political wedge issue against the Australian Labor Party government led by Prime Minister Norman Albanese.

Along with a moral panic campaign currently being waged by the Sidney Morning Herald and other right-leaning outlets, the Liberal Party opposition has introduced an Online Safety Amendment subtitled, “Protecting Australian Children from Online Harm.”

The Liberal Party and its press allies are specifically targeting Albanese’s communications minister, Michelle Rowland, for rejecting the recommendations of the country’s eSafety commissioner, the vocally anti-porn Julie Inman Grant.

In March, Inman Grant submitted her road map for imposing age verification requirements on adult sites. The road map was originally commissioned by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison before Albanese replaced him in 2022.

As XBIZ reported, Rowland made Inman Grant’s report public in August, along with a response rejecting government-enforced mandatory age verification due to privacy concerns and lingering questions about the currently available technology.

The opposition’s new Online Safety Amendment would compel Australia to follow Inman Grant’s recommendations, including the immediate launch of an experimental biometric age verification system. The bill also mandates a biannual report updating Parliament on AV enforcement.

Stoking Anti-Porn Panic

Although the AV system will also apply to gambling, alcohol sales and access to social media platforms, the Australian right has been selling the amendment almost exclusively as “saving the children from X-rated content,” the local tech press reported.

“Why on earth would the government not take action to protect kids as recommended by the eSafety Commissioner?” asked the Liberal Party’s shadow communications minister, David Coleman. “What the government said instead is, ‘Let’s leave it up to industry. Let’s leave it up to industry codes’ — literally, industry codes to which the pornography industry itself will contribute.”

The opposition also pledged to give Inman Grant’s office an extra AU$6.7 million ($4.4 million) to implement her AV plan in the event of a future Liberal government.

Inman Grant has acknowledged having conversations with U.S.-based, religiously-inspired anti-porn lobby NCOSE (formerly Morality in Media). She also appeared on an NCOSE podcast at the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation summit in July 2021.

The Sydney Morning Herald has been promoting the Liberal bill with tendentious attacks on Rowland for her privacy-driven rejection of Inman Grant’s state censorship proposals.

“Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has put her trust in the pornography industry and industry codes to shield children from harm, and hinted she would not pursue an outright ban on gambling advertising,” the Herald’s Paul Sakkal wrote earlier this month.

Sakkal took Rowland to task for writing to Inman Grant in August, “I am concerned that conducting a trial of age assurance technologies may unnecessarily distract industry from developing and delivering new and strengthened codes.”

Rowland was also criticized by the right-wing outlet for a recent speech during which she explained that “the efficacy of the systems that currently exist for age verification are immature and also carry significant risks in terms of privacy and their ability to be implemented.”

Sakkal wrote a follow-up article praising Liberal leader Peter Dutton for “promising parents their under-age children would be barred from online porn, sports betting and alcohol delivery services under an age-verification plan to guard against dangers on the web” if he were tasked to form a new government.

Dutton, the Herald enthused, is attacking Rowland for her “reluctance to immediately commit to minimum age rules.”

“There are growing concerns of how extreme, offensive and denigrating online images can normalize unacceptable behavior, particularly in relation to women and girls,” Dutton told the Herald. “Families spend an increasing amount of time online. We want to help parents protect their kids from the damaging impacts this sort of content has on our kids.”

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