Interview on Channel 9 Today with Ben Fordham
Topics: National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence; Michaelia Cash

Ben Fordham: Now, to the bullying crisis in our schools. The Prime Minister is today writing to every principal in the country demanding more action to protect our children.

We’re live now to Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you. Tell me what this letter is going to achieve.

Simon Birmingham: G’day, Ben. Well, this is encouraging every school across Australia to participate in the National Day of Action Against Bullying on Friday 16 March. And the reason to do that is to make sure that school communities, teachers, parents, and students, are all engaged in a way of talking about what the resources that are available to them, to combat and tackle bullying – both old fashioned school yard bullying as well as cyber bullying – and to make sure we do everything possible to reduce and eliminate the scourge.

Ben Fordham: It’s obviously a symbolistic kind of approach to all this. And some are saying it’s tokenistic in a way. Is there a chance here that we’re not doing enough as far as cracking down on some of those school principals, those school leaders who aren’t taking this seriously enough?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’re already doing a lot. And we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in youth mental health initiatives, and programs like headspace. And we have world-leading laws that have established an entity known as the eSafety Commissioner that has the power to receive complaints and to order take down notices when it comes to instances of cyber bullying.

The next step really is to make sure that with all of these tools and resources schools, principals, teachers, parents, understand how to apply them, the conversations to have with children to make sure they create environments of tolerance and inclusivity, to make sure that children and students understand – if there’s a problem – how they reach out, who they reach out to and the help that’s available to them.

Ben Fordham: Yeah. We don’t seem to be crashing through, do we? There’s news out of Queensland today, more and more parents pulling their kids out of school to home school them because they’re just worried about bullying going on behind the school gate.

Simon Birmingham: And as a father of two young daughters some of these stories absolutely horrify me. And I know the Prime Minister who reached out personally with Lucy, his wife, to talk to Dolly Everett’s parents after that terrible tragedy and to understand those circumstances; we want to make sure that schools are better equipped in terms of their capabilities to deal with these issues. Now, a lot of resources are there, a lot of information’s there. The National Day of Action provides a point at which to encourage people to really focus in on how they use those resources, how they use those legal powers that we’ve put in place to combat bullying, whether it’s old fashioned schoolyard bullying or, of course, the modern instances of cyber bullying.

Ben Fordham: Just quickly, speaking of bullying, is it appropriate for ministers of the Crown to be threatening to name and shame women and insinuating they’ve been having affairs with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and saying all of that stuff without a shred of evidence? We’re taking about Michaelia Cash, obviously.

Simon Birmingham: Well look, I didn’t see the remarks, but I know that Michaelia Cash withdrew those remarks yesterday …

Ben Fordham: Should she apologise for them today, Minister?

Simon Birmingham: Look, that’s up to Michaelia in the circumstances. I know that there was a pretty robust lot of questioning, and a lot of things being thrown be at her by Labor senators at the time …

Ben Fordham: Are you defending her today, are you defending her?

Simon Birmingham: She withdrew the remarks; she obviously acknowledged that they were inappropriate.

Ben Fordham: But, no apology’s required?

Simon Birmingham: Look, that’s a matter for Michaelia. As I said, she withdrew them at the time, in the hearing, acknowledging that if there was offence taken, they were withdrawn.

Ben Fordham: We appreciate your time, Simon Birmingham. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Ben