Firstly, I would like to support Senator Xenophon’s earlier speech in regard to the forum for the Sleep Health Foundation held in Parliament House this week. It was a great event, as Senator Xenophon said. I will not go over what he said, but I would encourage all members and senators to maybe have a look at that speech.
Tonight, I want to talk about bullying. It is a topic which I am concerned about, particularly through my previous work as chair of the joint and Senate select committees on cybersafety and also having worked for many years as an early childhood educator. I am aware of the importance of ensuring that children from a young age learn to interact with their peers in a positive manner.
The Bullying. No Way! program as well as the cybersmart programs delivered by the ACMA, both initiated by the former Labor government, are excellent programs to help teach children the right way to interact with their peers either online or in person. Children can and should be taught from a young age that it is fundamentally wrong to tease or act violently against their peers, that they should not treat others differently because of the colour of their skin or hair, their socioeconomic background or any other trait and that bigotry is not okay and is not acceptable or tolerated by our society. I think that children could probably teach some people in this place a lesson or two in regard to that.
Last Friday marked the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, the fourth day of action since its inception in March 2011. The Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence is timely and relevant, with one in five Australians being bullied—a statistic that is far too high. Bullying can have tragic and far-reaching consequences. It has a negative impact on everyone involved—the target, the bully and the bystanders. Students who are bullied are more likely to feel disconnected from school and not enjoy their school. They often have lower academic outcomes, including lower attendance and completion rates. They lack quality friendships at school. They display high levels of emotion that indicate vulnerability and low levels of resilience. They may be less well accepted by peers, avoid conflict and be often socially withdrawn. They may have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness and isolation. They may possibly have nightmares and feel wary or suspicious of others. Unfortunately, they may have an increased risk of depression and substance abuse and, in extreme cases, have a higher risk of suicide.
The National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence was celebrated on 21 March this year. It is an initiative of the Safe and Supportive School Communities Working Group, which is made up of all Australian education authorities. It is an opportunity for whole school communities to take a stand together against bullying and violence. In 2013 more than 1,400 schools across Australia participated by running local events, inviting guest speakers and exploring bullying and the role of bystanders in classroom lessons. In 2014 this has increased to an extraordinary one million students from over 2,100 schools across Australia. I am sure that everyone here would agree that this is a remarkable increase over last year’s participation and that everybody would welcome the growing awareness of bullying.
The National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence is supported by the Bullying. No Way! program. In my home state of Tasmania, I am proud to say almost 80 Tasmanian schools have taken part in this year’s national day of action. These schools are from all across the state, including Rose Bay High School, Warrane Primary School, St Anthony’s Catholic School in Riverside, St Cuthbert’s Catholic School in Lindisfarne, Zeehan Primary School, and Queechy High School in Launceston. That is just a few of them. It is excellent to see the anti-bullying message grow and spread throughout schools all across the region of Tasmania.
One of the other schools that participated in the day of action was Cygnet Primary School, a little school in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel that I try to visit whenever I can. Grade 6 students at the Cygnet Primary School wrote an anti-bullying rap song and taught it to their peers, teachers and parents at the school’s assembly. It has been recognised by teachers that children often learn well from their peers, so it was really great to see these grade 6 students spread the anti-bullying message to the wider school community.
Deloraine High School also marked the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence. Students held a barbecue and acoustic concert at lunchtime to raise awareness. Those participating in the barbecue received an anti-bullying wristband, which they wore as a proud acknowledgement of their opposition to bullying, and all were encouraged to speak up against bullying and violence.
At another school, Brooks High School in Launceston, students also participated in the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence activities. They spread the anti-bullying message to the wider community by handing out wristbands and support information at a local shopping centre. It is really wonderful that students from Brooks High School have recognised that bullying is a problem whose reach is wider than just our classrooms or our schoolyards. They recognise that bullying can, and unfortunately does, also occur in the wider community, in workplaces, at sporting events and in community organisations.
The former Labor government also recognised the impact of workplace bullying upon workers and on the nation’s productivity. That is why we amended the Fair Work Act to give employees the right to go to the Fair Work Commission if they were being bullied at work. We, on this side of the chamber, believe that this is the right of all Australian workers, whether permanent staff, contractors, apprentices, trainees, work experience students or volunteers. We understood the negative impacts of bullying and sought to mitigate them.
For children who are being bullied, it is sad to see that, with the increased use of technology and social media, bullying is no longer left at the school gate. As the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety heard time and time again, cyberbullying can occur anywhere and anytime via a variety of mediums: text messages, social media, email and video-sharing websites. Parents need to spend time with their children to understand what technology children are using and to ensure that children have confidence in discussing issues about using these technologies with their parents.
A little interesting aside is that research by the Bully Zero Australia Foundation shows that one of the reasons that a lot of children do not speak out about cyberbullying to their parents is that they think their parents do not understand the technology or the apps that they are using. I hate to admit that, in some cases, not understanding the apps or the technology is probably true in my own household at times.
The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Shorten, joined the Essendon Football Club on the national day of action to celebrate the partnerships between the club, Melbourne Victory and the Bully Zero Australia Foundation and to launch their Digital Detox program. Schools and businesses across the country participated in the 48-hour Digital Detox program to raise money to combat cyberbullying. As well as raising funds, it provided an opportunity for people to remember what it was like to experience life without continuous connection to social media or the internet. It is heartening to see awareness of important issues like bullying and cyberbullying are being pushed by the AFL and other sporting codes. I would like to thank the Essendon Football Club, in particular, for supporting this endeavour.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bullying. No Way! program is a wonderful resource to tackle bullying which was instigated by the former Labor government. There are resources available on the website—found at bullyingnoway.gov.au—for teachers, parents, students and young children. The information in the teachers portal includes facts about bullying, information on the National Safe Schools Framework, whole-school strategies to tackle bullying, resources for the classroom and information on supporting individual students. Resources for parents include facts about what bullying is and why it occurs, how to tell if your child is being bullied and what you can do to help, how parents can tell if their child is bullying others and what they should do, as well as what the parents need to tell the school and what they should expect from the school. These resources include links, videos and other information. Resources for children are targeted to three different age groups: older than 14, between nine and 13, and eight and under. The language used for each age group is age appropriate. The resources can be accessed either by children themselves or with the support of parents or older siblings. Once again, I would urge all parents, teachers and students to explore these resources for themselves.
In concluding, I would just like to say that bullying is unacceptable anywhere in our society, whether it is in the schoolyard, in the workplace or online. It is an issue that we all need to stand up against when we see it and we need to support the victims. I would like to leave you with a quote from the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, who put out the message of the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence very succinctly by saying:
… bullying is cowardly, bullying is cruel, bullying is wrong and bullying must stop.
These are words that we all should remember.