House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business


6:49 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion from the member for Forrest, Nola Marino, regarding the ongoing concern about cyberbullying and cybersafety. Cyberbullying poses a particular threat to the welfare and security of young Australians. Children across Australia, no matter their age or what school they attend, continue to struggle with bullying in all its forms. We continue to hear reports in the media of students who suffer from bullying which goes unnoticed for years—or, worse, of students who feel so vulnerable after years of unrelenting harassment that they take their own lives. When we hear of such events, all parents take stock and ask themselves, 'What if that were my child and I did not even know that it was happening?' Unfortunately, today, with technology being increasingly woven into the lives of students and children, bullying occurs not only in the schoolyard; it can occur online at home in the child's bedroom—completely out of a parent's sight.

I therefore thank not just the member for Forrest but all those involved with school communities across my electorate who are trying to raise awareness and to increase education about the prevalence of cyberbullying and the serious consequences it can have. Every parent knows that severe or chronic bullying can lead to serious emotional consequences, leaving victims at greater risk of suffering from anxiety, depression and other stress related disorders. Cyberbullying can be extremely upsetting, especially as the scale and speed of the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week digital world means it can take place anywhere and at any time.

Earlier this year, researchers presented their findings on the prevalence of cyberbullying in Australia. Some 3,000 students from grades six to 12 across three Australian states completed a questionnaire and shared their thoughts about bullying and cyberbullying. The research showed that 14 per cent of students reported being victims of cyberbullying in the last year, while seven per cent of students reported experiencing both cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying. Females were more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying.

One of the most significant findings is that 83 per cent of victims knew the person who was bullying them in real life. For most victims, those who engaged in cyberbullying went to the same school, were the same gender and in fact described themselves as a friend, not an acquaintance. At the same time, 25 per cent of young people who engaged in cyberbullying targeted people they did not know. Often young people can feel that they and the information they post on the internet is anonymous, even to the point where what would otherwise be considered harassment on the playground is less evident online.

Many children and teenagers who are cyberbullied are reluctant to tell a teacher or parent, often because they feel ashamed of the social stigma or because they fear their computer privileges at home will be taken away. The issue of cybersafety also highlights the fundamental importance of education about the consequences of our online activity, particularly for privacy—as well as for other potential legal risks and liabilities.

As the member for Forrest has highlighted, some of the most significant issues relate to photo sharing, how to deal with cyberstalking, online grooming and exposure to illegal or inappropriate material, privacy, identity theft and online security. For young people who engage in sexting—the transmission of sexually explicit photos—such activity can quickly become a serious criminal matter. Other serious issues include possible defamation, privacy disclosure, confidentiality, anonymity, intellectual property rights, copyright infringement and criminal laws associated with harassment or posting offensive material. Australians are also faced with identity theft and other risks involved with posting personal identifying material, including names, addresses and birthdays.

Parents, their children and the school system are struggling to keep up. One of the primary reasons for that is that cyberbullying is an emerging and constantly evolving phenomenon—the rules are constantly changing. There are always new virtual interactions and other social media becoming available. Given that children now grow up with computers and the internet, they are much more adept at responding to these constant changes, meaning that children can often finds ways around potential barrier solutions such as parental control or monitoring software.

We do not want a situation where parents simply feel helpless to even comprehend the challenges, leading to them placing online safety in the too-hard basket. It is the difficulty of understanding what is going on or where to start that makes them feel helpless. It is easier to just take away their children's mobile phone or to ban the use of computers, even though the parents acknowledge that these are essential resources for today's children. For example, there are potential privacy dangers associated with geotagging—where a user's location is also posted online when an update is made on social media. On Facebook or Twitter, geotagging can be the default setting, meaning that the user's location is posted even without their active knowledge. If such information is posted online for anyone to see, it quickly opens up the opportunity for real-life stalking. Therefore, from a technical point of view, given the unimaginable scale of the internet, it would be impossible to devise a top-down approach that could be applicable to the varying circumstances that families encounter.

This highlights why education is the key to overcoming the risks of cyberbullying and meeting the challenges of cybersafety. Fortunately, there are resources available for parents, students and schools to devise appropriate techniques to manage cyberbullying and cybersafety. These include traditional resources such as Lifeline, which in 2013 is celebrating 50 years of providing crisis and mental health support services.

I want to highlight the work of Mr Brett Lee, an internet safety expert at INESS, Internet Education and Safety Services. Mr Lee, who worked for more than 20 years as a detective for the Queensland police in the field of child exploitation, now gives internet safety and cyberbullying presentations to schools, the community and other organisations. He continues to provide support to our families and to offer advice to church groups, schools and my electorate generally about how to develop tools for online safety. Fortunately, through the resources of organisations like INESS, parents have been helped to unravel the online world and what it means for their children, including at Fig Tree Pocket State School, Pullenvale State School, Nudgee Junior College and St Peter's Lutheran College. As an expert in the field, Mr Lee has remarked that the most important approach we can take is an individual and community based approach, and that education for parents and students is the key. It is at the home and school levels that the community can come together to devise appropriate solutions. Mr Lee encourages parents and their children to have an open dialogue about not only their interaction with other students but also what they see on the internet.

Earlier this year, staff at Holy Family School in my electorate attended a professional development day presented by Dr Michael Carr-Greg, who I know is very active in presenting such seminars in communities across Brisbane and indeed Australia. As a psychologist Dr Carr-Greg's message is that parents and teachers must be involved and take control, because students' brains are still developing and they are often impulsive and lack the good judgement required in some situations that occur online. Education can therefore lead to empowering students to take responsibility for their online activity and protect themselves. It is with this approach that the federal government and indeed the education departments in each state have an opportunity to ensure that adequate resources are provided.

To this end, I support the member for Forrest, who wants to see online safety education integrated into the curriculum of every school. The threat of cyberbullying and the threats to the cybersafety of our children will not subside; they will only become a more significant issue as we rely more and more on online technology. Appropriate education is the answer to cybersafety and managing the risks of cyberbullying, and the school classroom is the best place for us to provide that education to our children. In this regard, governments across the state and federal levels can provide assistance and a framework through which education programs can occur. However, what is required on this issue is a truly consultative approach between parents, schools, the community, the social media industry and government.

The threats to cybersafety are real and constant. Cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the classroom to the bedroom, education is absolutely vital to help our students, parents and schools navigate the digital world. I know that the member for Forrest has conducted over 100 seminars on this in her electorate, and I commend her for her ongoing campaign to highlight this evil blight on our society.


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