This article was written in 2011 to reflect the work of the Australian Democrats at the time. We remain committed to supporting the Safe Schools framework and the efforts of educational institutions to ensure their sites are inclusive and safe for all students and their families.
The Australian Democrats are committed to ensuring fairness, equality and tolerance in our society and so the insidious rise of bullying must come under the microscope.
Former Australian Democrats Parliamentary Leader, Lyn Allison, negotiated a National Safe Schools Framework which can in part address the issue but it is an initiative which has always been underfunded and applied in schools to various degrees.
Bullying encompasses a wide range of behaviours which can greatly reduce quality-of-life, psychological and physical health, and general emotional wellbeing of sufferers, witnesses and even the bullies. It is an insidious problem and has worsened in recent times with the emergence of cyber-bullying.(1)
A chain of suicides of GLBTIQ(2) teens in the US was linked to bullying. Mainstream media have reported incidents of severe, violent and brutal bullying in Australia.
Currently, policy largely ignores the issue of bullying in schools, the community and the workplace. The policy that does exist is weak, not enforced and ineffective. This has seen all major parties fail the population of Australia, leaving our most vulnerable unprotected.
The Australian Democrats believe that bullying can be largely overcome with a concerted and well-designed policy. Anti-bullying measures should be developed by experts, and within schools should be part of a package of relationships education, sex education, democratic principles and ethics.
The motivation for bullying behaviour is complex, and the Australian Democrats believe a retributive policy focused on punishment alone does not address root causes of the problem. The Australian Democrats strongly endorse a restorative justice approach to this issue.
Policy to implement this should include:
- An increase in funding for the National Safe Schools Framework;
- Greater funding and support for school psychologists who are specifically trained in areas relevant to youth, rather than school chaplains;
- Specialised professional development for educational professionals and business managers to deal with issues associated with bullying;
- Mandating schools to adopt initiatives such as ‘safe rooms’ and peer training and support;
- Adopting a whole-of-school approach to the issue;
- Uniform legislation to define and prevent bullying, not only in workplaces but in schools;
- Addressing bullying in health curricula;
- Community education initiatives to educate and inform about the symptoms and effects of bullying, and to encourage reporting and addressing of the issue;
- Offender engagement in restorative justice processes, which should be designed to address the root causes of the bullying;
- Provision of advice regarding resilience and coping mechanisms to groups at risk, such as migrants, GLBTIQ individuals or those with disabilities;
- The implementation of public awareness campaigns about cyber-bullying;
- Government provision of programs such as CyberBully Alert which allow victims to combat and address cyber-bullying;
- Support and promotion of initiatives such as Anti-Bullying Week, International STAND UP to Bullying Day and the Tasmanian Anti-Bullying Campaign;
- Provision/subsidisation of psychological support for victims of bullying in schools, the workplace, and the community;
- The repeal of discriminatory legislation that fosters bullying, such as the Marriage Act;
- The implementation and strengthening of legal protection against bullying and discrimination for marginalised groups (GLBTIQ, the ageing, youth, indigenous, people with disabilities, migrants or otherwise marginalised groups);
- Implementation of specific protections preventing workplace bullying and harassment;
- Movement toward protection of rights and freedoms in a Human Rights Act;
- Amend and repeal government policy which infringes upon basic rights, and represents government bullying and discrimination, such as the NT Intervention;
- Implementation of legislation ratifying international and domestic non-discrimination treaties and norms;
- Work with our promised National Office for Children to ensure executive implementation of anti-bullying policy.
Such policy would be an effective framework for the Australian community to unite against the problem of bullying. This would greatly improve the quality of life and the wellbeing of sufferers, and the community generally, enshrining tolerance and increasing the quality of human relationships.