Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014, Enhancing Online Safety for Children (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014; Second Reading

10:41 am

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Yes, I picked up sport late in life. Kids are always going to home in on some issue about another kid. Friendships go in and out of favour and we all do things as children that we regret later in life. It is just part of growing up and the learning process. As I said at the start of my comments today, I think there is an element of this that teaches children resilience. Parents have to have that conversation with them. You have to say, 'Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you'—those sorts of old-fashioned values. Not everything is a cause for some sort of intervention. You just have to learn how to deal with some things.

I want to restate, however: I am not making excuses for some of the harmful practices that go on. There are terrible things that go on and kids suffer immeasurably from them. They suffer from peer group pressure and they suffer from all sorts of things that happen—and there need to be means to address that. But it is not solely the responsibility of government to step into this space. We need to ensure that government provides opportunities where redress is not normally available. I think that is appropriate. Where schools are perhaps failing, I think the education programs and those sorts of things should go on. But we cannot protect children from all harm. No matter how much we would like to, we cannot. If we seek to do that—if we stop them from climbing trees, taking risks and learning that there are bad people in society and bad things can happen to good people—we are actually building a much more fragile adult society as a result.

This is a step. It is a step in the right direction, but I just do not want to see it overreach. But I do agree with some of my colleagues who say that this is one of the most confronting things for society today. It is not often that I quote President Barack Obama, the American President. He said that one of the great challenges facing children today was going to be their contribution to social media. That will perhaps have more of an impact on their future lives than almost anything else, because what you do in the intemperance of youth is there forever online. That is one of the great challenges for the next generation, particularly when they go to get employment and they start to look around and they say, 'Should I have really done that?' I guess it is like getting a tattoo: at 18 it seems like a good idea but at 45 it does not seem quite so clever—with all apologies to those who like their tattoos.

The point is that now all of our children are vulnerable to this sort of approach. We have to ensure that there is a degree of prudence, making an allowance for their youthfulness and the indiscretions that take place along those lines. But we also need to make sure that society as a whole understands the true long-term implications of where we are at with this. I would hate to see young children or teenagers penalised in some sort of long-term sense because of mistakes they make when they are 15 or 16. We do allow all sorts of circumstances to go under the radar. If someone commits, for example, a legal offence as a juvenile, it is not necessarily carried over into their adult record. I do not think that it is. We allow certain criminal convictions to be expunged after a certain period of time—so we do believe in redemption. Unfortunately, with much of the stuff that goes online, there is no opportunity for that. So I am loath to judge the youth of today too much for the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Allowing a reasonable approach and allowing parents, schools and individuals to approach someone who is notionally independent about this to seek redress without having to resort to lengthy legal argument or anything else, is a positive step in the right direction. But I will never endorse the replacement of the responsibility—both individual responsibility and, where there is a diminished responsibility by way of youth or age, the responsibility of parents, schools and other adults who are central to the lives of a child to instruct that child, to teach them, to negotiate with them and to talk with them about some of the issues and some of the potential consequences, whether they be a recipient of this sort of bullying or whether they be the perpetrator of it. In my experience, and in talking with parents of the peer group of my own children, it is a very, very fine line. Quite often it is just the wrong choice of words or the wrong emoticon or whatever they choose to put in there that can be picked up.

I do commend the government for tackling this, and I think it is important that the government have a look at this. We are having to deal with and tackle the issues that are going to be facing our community for a long time to come. One of the most important things is that we have resilient, well-rounded and well-adjusted children who are free to pursue their lives in a healthy environment. We want to protect them from harm as much as we can—and that includes not only physical harm but also the emotional harm that can be just as devastating to their self-esteem as anything else. We know that it can be a single comment or two comments or something like that that drives people in directions that are very negative, whether it be eating disorders, self harm, hurting others or even worse pathways. That is the sort of thing that governments need to invest in.

An ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. Let us work towards that prevention, but let us work towards it collaboratively with parents, schools, counsellors—who are in many schools today—and peer groups. One of the greatest things I was taught and I have sought to teach my children—and it is still a work in progress—is to think about how you would like it if that was done to you. It makes you stop and think before you act. I think it is really sage advice for any young person. Hopefully, anyone who has a brush with this sort of process will only ever have to learn that lesson once. You would hope that if someone does the wrong thing online and goes through this process they will learn their lesson and, as a result, we will have better citizens in the future and a more considerate society that follows that golden rule, that ethic of reciprocity: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


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