Doorstop Interview, Adelaide
Topics: The National Day of Action Against Bullying; Labor’s proposed changes to imputation; SA election

Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks very much for coming today. The National Day of Action Against Bullying is an important day on which to take a stand: a stand to say that bullying is never acceptable across our community, but especially in our schools. Now, schoolyard bullying is as old as schools themselves, and we don’t pretend there’s a silver bullet to address these problems, but we do acknowledge that the challenges of bullying, particularly in the cyber era, are trickier and more challenging than ever before, which is why we’ve worked hard to make sure that, across the country, there’s maximum participation in this national day.

I’m very pleased that, following the Prime Minister’s call to arms to schools around the country, we’ve seen a record number of schools participate in this national day of action. Some two million students across around 4500 schools, who are working hard today, talking about what they will do to make sure that bullying has no place in their schools or in their lives, but where they do see it, how they will tackle it and make sure that they and their friends and those around them are kept safe. Because as a dad of two young daughters myself, some of the stories that you see and hear and the tragedies that have occurred really do terrify you, and it’s important to make sure that our kids are armed with the resilience and the tactics to be able to fight back against bullying and to make sure that they can survive and thrive into the future.

The important thing about a day like today is that schools have been given a raft of resources and materials to talk about and focus on the tactics and strategies that they can deploy. Whether that’s using different programs that exist, such as the Carly Ryan Foundation’s work or the Alannah & Madeleine Foundation’s work; whether that is, indeed in cyberspace using world-leading laws in areas such as the Cyber Safety Commissioner and the work that they can do to investigate and ultimately take down inappropriate content; or whether it’s the help services that are available, such as Headspace and the millions of dollars we deploy there. All of these are important resources that teachers and principals, working together with parents and students, need to understand. Because, ultimately, no single thing will solve bullying, but a comprehensive approach that involves the entire school community, from parents, students, through principals and teachers, is essential.

I just want to touch on one more political matter today, and that is, indeed, the revelations of further analysis about Bill Shorten’s tax grab on Australian pensioners and retirees, and what we see from revelations today is that some of the hardest-working suburbs and communities across Australia are going to be hit hardest by Mr Shorten’s new tax grab; that this slug on around 230,000 pensioners and part-pensioners across the country, taking thousands of dollars out of their pockets, is going to affect people in some of the poorest or working class areas of the country. It’s remarkable that the Labor Party would want to attack people who’ve worked hard, saved hard their entire lives, and take away thousands of dollars during their retirement years from individuals who don’t necessarily have massive savings, but indeed, are just hard-working Australians who’ve done their bit to get ahead during their lives.

Journalist: Senator, it’s one thing to talk about bullying in the schoolyard, but how do you stop it from happening at night on social media?

Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed, the advent of cyberbullying is a reason for a renewed focus around how we tackle bullying with school students, so they understand that it’s not a problem that just can end at the school gate, but indeed, tragically, can follow kids at home. That’s why a lot of the resources we deploy now are to provide knowledge about how to combat cyberbullying. Of course, we are pleased, as a government, to have introduced world-leading laws that underpin our e-Safety Commissioner, and those laws allow people to make complaints, have them investigated, have material taken down. But ultimately, it’s better to prevent that occurring in the first place, and that’s why a day like today provides a chance to focus on creating a culture where bullying is unacceptable, where people call it out and don’t tolerate it. Just as we don’t tolerate people getting behind the wheel of a car drunk, nor should we tolerate people saying or doing the wrong thing online. We should all stand as one, as a community, in speaking against it.

Journalist: And what are some of the strategies students are being taught today?

Simon Birmingham: Students importantly are being taught to speak up, to step in, to help out, there should be no secrets when it comes to bullying or harassment. Really students need to know that they should be talking to their parents, their teachers, their school counsellors, to make sure that they’re aware. Where they can, they should be talking to each other as well, to make sure that they understand the type of positive, inclusive, respectful, tolerant environment that their schools and communities should be and that they are underpinning that themselves.

Journalist: Do your colleagues in Canberra need to take a look at this? The behaviour of politicians can be terrible in Federal Parliament.

Simon Birmingham: We have robust debates in politics. My view is always to keep the robust debates to the policies and away from the personalities, and I’d certainly encourage everybody to take that approach.

Journalist: And what can parents be doing to get involved and tackle this problem?

Simon Birmingham: Parents really need to make sure that they’re aware of the support services that are available, as well as the resources they can deploy to ensure the online environment at home is as safe as possible, to encourage and ensure students, when they’re doing their work online, are doing it in an open space at home where it’s transparent for everybody. There’s no place for secrets when it comes to bullying, whether that’s in school, whether that’s online, and if it is indeed happening online, parents ought to be able to see and know about it and encourage their students- encourage their children to be open and talk about the issues that are happening in their lives.

Journalist: Just on the state election; should Steven Marshall end up in a position where he needs to negotiate to form power, would the Federal Liberals be having any influence on that process?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I fully hope and trust that South Australians will elect a majority Liberal Government tomorrow. Steven Marshall has run a great four-year campaign detailing policies to turn around South Australia’s economy, to create more jobs, to lower costs that households face, and to provide better services particularly across our hospitals. And I’m confident that South Australians are jack of 16 years of Labor, they realise this is a rotten government that has failed on a number of fronts, that it’s time to embrace a positive alternative, and I trust that they will do so with a majority Liberal Government.

Journalist: You didn’t answer the question, though. What role would the federal party play in any negotiations?

Simon Birmingham: It’s entirely for the state parliamentarians to sort out the formation of the government, but I trust that they will be sorted out with the election with a majority Liberal Government.

Journalist: Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.