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15 Nov 2017

Statutes Amendment (Bullying) Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (22:29): I rise to speak to the Statutes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2017. I indicate to the chamber that the Liberal Party will be supporting the second reading of the bill. The bill was introduced by Hon. Dennis Hood on 27 September this year. I understand that the Hon. Dennis Hood is putting it to a vote today to enable enough time for it to be debated in the other place before the end of the parliamentary session.

The catalyst for this bill was the tragic case of Libby Bell, which received widespread media attention. When introducing this bill, the Hon. Dennis Hood cited two other cases of Cassidy Trevan and Brodie Panlock. These cases also involved serious and repeated acts of bullying. It is cases such as these that have caused our community to reflect on whether our laws provide enough protection to those who are unfortunate enough to experience such sustained and unrelenting bullying.

As a community, we need to guard against such behaviour and provide protection to those who are vulnerable, especially those who should be able to experience all the joys of youth. The bill before the chamber has been loosely based on the Victorian legislation which passed in 2011, colloquially known as Brodie’s Law. The bill seeks to criminalise serious and repeated acts of bullying. Bullying can indeed take various forms, so the bill includes a number of definitions of bullying to accommodate this reality.

The acts need to be committed over a period of seven days or more. Further, for an act to constitute bullying it must be proven that the perpetrator intended to cause harm or was recklessly indifferent to causing harm. A maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment applies to cases where serious harm is caused. In any other case, the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment. These penalty provisions, however, have been drafted in a manner that retains judicial discretion. Therefore, a range of other sentencing options will be available to a court in imposing sentences, such as good behaviour bonds, community service orders or fines, depending on the circumstances of the particular case.

I note that one of the definitions of bullying includes an act of publishing or transmitting offensive material by means of the internet or some other form of electronic communication in such a way that the offensive material is found by or brought to the attention of the other person. I ask the Hon. Dennis Hood: in terms of the inclusion of this particular clause—clause 20A, subsection 2(e)—does the mover envisage that the bill will extend to situations of cyber bullying?

Sadly, it seems that cyber bullying by social media platforms is becoming increasingly more common. Therefore, the Liberal Party is supportive of measures that seek to address this contemporary problem. I am pleased to hear the Hon. Dennis Hood’s remarks, when he introduced the bill, that it is not the goal to limit freedom of speech or to create provisions whereby minor incidents constitute bullying and carry a criminal penalty. He emphasised that this is neither the purpose or the effect of this bill.

Finding the right balance between punishment, deterrence and, importantly, educating the perpetrators so that they can understand the errors of their behaviour can be a difficult task. The Liberal Party has considered the bill. It has formed the view that the balance appears to be appropriate, having regard to the provisions set out before us.

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