The Harmful Digital Communications Bill has passed its third and final reading in Parliament, with an overwhelming cross-party support.
The bill passed 116 votes to five, with ACT's David Seymour and four Green MPs the only ones to vote against it.
The Bill aims to curb cyberbullying and better support victims, introducing a range of measures to address damaging electronic communications spread through methods such as emails, texts and social media posts.
Justice Minister Amy Adams says the law changes aim to prevent and reduce the potentially devastating harm caused by cyberbullying and other modern forms of harassment and intimidation.
The Bill will:
- Establish an Approved Agency to resolve complaints in a quick and efficient way
- Give the District Court the power to issue take-down notices and impose penalties
- Provide online content hosts with an Safe Harbour process for handling complaints
- Make it an offence to send messages and post material online that deliberately cause serious emotional distress
- Create a new offence of incitement to commit suicide that applies where the person does not attempt to take their own life
- Amend existing laws to clarify that they apply to communications, regardless of whether tormentors use online or offline means, and future-proofing the laws against technological advances.
Once the Bill is enacted, the new criminal offences and the Safe Harbour provision will take effect immediately, and work will begin to select the Approved Agency.
Adams says, “This Bill tackles cyberbullying head on. Under existing laws, trying to remove abusive, intimidating and distressing material from the internet can be difficult, drawn out and costly, and there are few sanctions available to aid such efforts and to hold offenders to account. "
“In recent years, we’ve seen a number of alarming incidents that have highlighted the need for legislation to deal with perpetrators who use the internet in ways that traumatise victims.
“The measures we’re bringing in will simplify the process for getting harmful communications off the internet quickly and effectively, while still respecting free speech rights,” she says.