Legislative Council


November 15th, 2017

On the 15th of November, Mark spoke to the Australian Conservatives' Private Members Bill - Statutes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2017.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise to make a brief contribution to this bill that was introduced by the Hon. Dennis Hood. The first thing I would say is that we cannot any of us be anything other than appalled and dismayed at the behaviour that the bill seeks to address. Bullying is one of those things that on a spectrum can have mild consequences, or it can have the most drastic consequences and can end in someone's death, either at their own hand or otherwise. It is a real problem in our community and I think the people of South Australia are looking to the parliament, along with other institutions, to do something about it, so I understand exactly where the Hon. Dennis Hood is coming from.

The Greens' position is that we think an issue as important as this does require a great degree of care in dealing with it, particularly when we are looking to add criminality to young people, to increase the scope for the criminal law to be the response. We know that something like bullying is a multifaceted problem and that ultimately the response lies with society and its behaviour and the way we bring up young people. The law will have a role to play but it will not necessarily be the primary role.

My indication to the Hon. Dennis Hood was that I was going to propose that the bill be referred to the Social Development Committee. I still think that is the way to go with legislation such as this but given the lateness of the hour, and the amount of business that we have before us, I think it is suffice for me to say that that is my preferred approach rather than actually move it. I understand from the Hon. Dennis Hood that he has the support of much of the chamber, so it is not something that we need to unnecessarily delay ourselves with.

I do need to very quickly put on the record a couple of bits of correspondence that we have received which are inviting us to oppose the bill. Like I say, the Greens' position was that we wanted to explore these issues further, and maybe we will get a chance in the new parliament to do that. There are two submissions. One comes from the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia. They oppose the bill. The concluding sentences of the submission from Anne Bainbridge of the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia states:

The Bill will not make children and young people safer. The best way to deal with bullying is to prevent it. Programs that centre on strengthening families at a community level coupled with robust policies, procedures, and responses within schools have a much greater chance of protecting children and young people.

The submission goes on to talk about some of the problems with using the criminal law to address behaviour.

Another submission we received was from the Commissioner for Children and Young People. Again, the commissioner, Helen Connolly, has put in a very detailed submission of about seven or eight pages. She has included some commentary that young people have written themselves—some lovely colourful handwriting when she asked young people what it is they think needs to be done to prevent problems like bullying. I do not want to read all of those out, but I am just saying the commissioner has provided them to us.

The commissioner's view is that we already have a number of policies, criminal laws and wellbeing and safety legislation to deal with severe and extensive and bullying and cyberbullying. The commissioner's view is that we should continue to use these avenues rather than enact a new law that will further criminalise children's behaviour at school.

There is a lot more I could read out, but I will not. As I said, the Hon. Dennis Hood has indicated that he has the general support of the council. That does not surprise me, because the issues that he is seeking to address are some of the most serious and disturbing behaviours that we have seen.

The Greens' position is that we are not convinced that the criminal law is the way to go. But if the will of the chamber is to proceed with this bill now, so be it. I am hoping that at some stage in the next parliament, whether it is the Social Development Committee or some other committee, we will have a good look at programs as well as laws to see whether we actually have the right solutions in place.

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