Interview on Channel 9 Today with Georgie Gardner
Georgie Gardner: Australia will today launch a new campaign to stamp out bullying. It comes as Hugh Jackman throws his support behind a tormented schoolgirl, and federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister, good morning to you. Complaints of cyberbullying are more frequent and more severe, so how’s the government planning to combat this particular crisis?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Georgie, any complaint is one too many although what is pleasing to see is that record numbers now of Australian students and Australians overall are using the eSafety Commissioner that the Turnbull Government established, using its powers, its world-leading powers, to be able to investigate online content that’s inappropriate and have it taken down, and that really is a good sign that people are making use and coming to understand better how to tackle cyberbullying, how to ensure those issues are addressed.
Georgie Gardner: Sorry, can I just say, is that cutting it when cyberbullying complaints are up 28 per cent on last year?
Simon Birmingham: Well, they’re up in part because we’ve established this new entity and people now know about it, and I hope that more people will make use of the eSafety Commissioner’s powers. But ultimately, we hope that there’ll be less online bullying. And so yes, you need to make sure that we change the culture at its source. Today, I’ll be talking to state and territory education ministers, having asked them to come together and share the best practice examples of what they’re doing in school systems around the country, to learn from each other. We’re already investing hundreds of millions of dollars in youth mental health initiatives. We had nearly 2 million Australian children, school children, participate in the National Day of Action against Bullying. We’re really keen to make sure that we build on this momentum to make sure that we create cultures of tolerance, kindness, respect in our schools, and stamp out bullying wherever we can.
Georgie Gardner: But Minister, it’s not happening, as you know. Cyberspace is dangerous. In Germany, online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google; they face fines of up to €50 million if they don’t remove obviously illegal hate speech within 24 hours of notification. Now, those laws had immediate effect, so much so that Facebook had to hire an additional 1200 staff to monitor its website. We all know that just days after that law came into effect, Amy Dolly Everett committed suicide here in Australia after enduring protracted cyberbullying. Why not follow Germany’s lead?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have world-leading powers in terms of people being able to make sure issues are addressed and material is taken down. I’m very happy to have a look at- and we will absolutely keep studying what’s happening around the rest of the world, have a look at what’s happening in Germany. We are very open to any steps that can be taken to ensure bullying is stamped out. Overall bullying is not just in the cyber environment. Schoolyard bullying is, of course, as old as schoolyards themselves, which is why we need to make sure we tackle it at the source, build support among parents and families, among teachers and principals, and amongst students themselves to create a culture in which bullying is unacceptable, whether it’s in the schoolyard or online.
Georgie Gardner: But why not follow Germany, don’t just take a look? Why not enforce it here?
Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s have a look indeed at exactly how the German laws apply, what the impact of them has been. As I say, we will look and keep looking around the world, but Australia has been and is a world-leader in terms of the types of powers we’ve given a very new agency, the eSafety Commissioner, to be able to [indistinct] and what we’re seeing is that tens of thousands of Australians are engaging with the eSafety Commissioner, who themselves have reached out and run awareness sessions that have managed to engage nearly 400,000 Australian students and parents.
Georgie Gardner: As you also know, children are taking their lives every week as a result of cyberbullying, so we’ll be watching the outcome of your meeting with great interest. Minister, thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Georgie.