Interview with Marius Benson ABC - Bullying in schools, Malek Fahd Islamic School, James Ashby
- Minister for School Education
- Minister for Early Childhood and Youth
MARIUS BENSON: Let's come back to local news now because the Federal Government says it wants to do more to stamp out bullying in schools. The School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, will meet teachers, students and psychologists in Canberra today to discuss that issue. He says he's considering new policies and strategies to help schools deal with bullying.
Peter Garrett joins me now. Peter Garrett, good morning.
PETER GARRETT: Morning, Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: Very old problem. Is there anything new in the way of solutions?
PETER GARRETT: Oh look, I think the thing that's really new is that we've got high levels of students, about one in five students, who experience cyber-bullying. And clearly, with these new digital technologies, with Facebook, with mobile phones, bullying can sort of extend past the period of time when kids are at school. Yes, Marius, it has always been a problem at school. Even though we've seen some slight decreases in reported incidences of physical bullying, we're seeing increases in cyber-bullying. I think it's an important issue and that's what parents tell me as well.
MARIUS BENSON: So just because of the fluke of this technology, the problem itself is getting bigger.
PETER GARRETT: Yes, I think that the fact is that kids are able to communicate both with one another very easily and quickly and they can also use those technologies as a way of harassing or bullying or teasing kids probably in ways that never happened to you or I in the school room or in the schoolyard, Marius, and certainly was beyond the thoughts of people when they started to establish the guidelines and the practices for dealing with bullying generally.
MARIUS BENSON: I was listening to a headmaster on this issue yesterday on ABC Radio. And he was saying gays are the first line of victims in this. Is that the case, that gay students are facing the biggest problem with bullying?
PETER GARRETT: Yeah, it is certainly true that quite often it's someone's sexual orientation. That's one of the first ports of call when we see these incidents of bullying. And I guess a key thing for me as a Minister is just that we do have a really good, and accepted as good by the experts’, national strategy for safe schools. I think that should be mandatory in every school in the country so that every teacher and parent and student has the confidence of knowing how to actually deal with bullying if it takes place in the school setting or the school environment.
But we need to go further than that. We need to really start to think as a nation about what strategies we need to have in place. Because we're not going to see any decrease in this cyber-bullying unless we are quite innovative, unless we work together, unless we build on the good work that I think we've already done.
MARIUS BENSON: Okay. And when you look around, bullying is not uniform across schools. It is not uniform across time. What do the patterns of bullying reveal? Why are some areas more susceptible to bullying, some schools more susceptible to bullying? Mixed schools, is it less an issue? Is there a pattern there that throws some light on it?
PETER GARRETT: Look, it's difficult to generalise about it in the way in which you're putting the question, other than to say, in my experience, some schools clearly are right on top of bullying. It happens in all schools. But it happens at different levels, you're right. But some schools are really on top of it. They've got good strategies. They've got a commitment, whole-of-school approach. They make it absolutely clear to the students that bullying is not acceptable in any way and they deal with it straightaway in an effective way when it arises. It's clear that other schools don't do that.
But I think there's a second question. That's the question of parental responsibility around knowing what kids are doing online, particularly younger kids, kids in their late primary years or early high school years. And finally it's our cultural issue. Sometimes people say, oh look, you know, a bit of bullying is not too bad for you. You know, I got bullied a bit at school and you need to develop that resilience. This is different.
We see bullying as persistent harassment by a group of students on one particular student, quite often, as we've said, because of their sexual orientation or because they look different or whatever it might be. And it can have absolutely devastating impacts on kids' psychological wellbeing. And it's something which we're seeing persist in the school environment and be exacerbated by these cyber-technologies. So we really do need to step up and look at how we can develop better strategies and work on a nation, you know, to make sure that they can actually be put into place.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I just quickly ask you about a couple of other issues? An Islamic school issue that surfaced this morning. A school in Sydney, it's been ordered to pay back $9 million in public funds. A letter was sent to you by the New South Wales State Government saying documents would be referred to the New South Wales Police and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission. Can you tell us about that?
PETER GARRETT: Well you're right. Minister Piccoli has written to me. And in fact this has been underway as an issue for some time, Marius. And I actually asked the Ministerial Council, when we last met, to give some thought to a discussion about looking at the governance of funding for independent schools generally.
In relation to this particular school, the audit report that the Commonwealth had in relation to Commonwealth funds only didn't show that the funds had been used in a way which wasn't consistent with the regulatory framework. But there are some issues around their governance that I've already identified that I think need exploring and examination. I've asked them to write to me on those matters. They have written to me. I'm now taking advice from the Department on that response. And I'll consider what they've said to me and whether we need to do something additional in terms of the way in which these schools are being run and operated.
MARIUS BENSON: And just finally, can I also ask you about the other issue, which is the major political story of today, which is James Ashby, the man who has brought sexual harassment claims against the suspended Speaker, Peter Slipper. He's now facing allegations he had sexual relationships with underage boys. Is that an issue that is a concern because of the political aspect, to all of the legal issues that are involved?
PETER GARRETT: Well, Marius, it won't surprise you or your listeners to hear me say that the last thing I'm going to be doing is commenting on this matter. Allegations have been raised. They have to be dealt with in the appropriate legal forums. And I've nothing more to say about that matter now.
MARIUS BENSON: Peter Garrett, thanks very much for speaking with ABC NewsRadio this morning.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: That's Peter Garrett, the School Education Minister, the Federal School Education Minister.