School Bullying

While the Australian government has implemented a number of policies and initiatives to combat the problem of school bullying, the continuing and widespread occurrence of school bullying indicates that current frameworks remain inadequate.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) has recommended that Australia:

  • Continue and intensify its efforts to prevent and address bullying in schools;
  • Introduce and strengthen holistic educational methods for teachers and school staff to reduce bullying, with the involvement of both parents and children; and
  • Establish appropriate monitoring of school plans to investigate and address bullying incidents.
  • Article 2: Children must not be discriminated against on account of their race, colour, sex, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status
  • Article 28: Children have a right to an education and shall have equal opportunities
  • Article 29: Education should develop each child’s personality and talents to the fullest
  • Article 36: Children should be protected from any activities that harm their development
  • Article 37: No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Positive developments

NATIONAL: New website and resource centre ‘Safe Schools Hub’ launched

On the third annual National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence in March 2013, the former Minister for Education Peter Garrett MP launched the new website ‘Safe Schools Hub’, which aims to collate anti-bullying information for parents, teachers and schools. It outlines the new curriculum material on bullying, the National Safe Schools Framework, anti-bullying initiatives and resources. [1]

The website aims to work in support of the National Safe Schools Framework, offering guiding principles that help school communities develop positive and practical student safety and wellbeing policies. This is a commendable initiative, allowing teachers, staff and parents to access information on how to prevent and address bullying in their schools. This will strengthen educational initiatives, support for educators and provide guidelines for school investigations.

This national initiative clearly supports the recommendations of the CRC to strengthen existing educational methods for teachers to involve parents as well as children in anti-bullying initiatives. Furthermore, it strengthens the capacity of individuals involved to report and address incidences of bullying at their school, involving children themselves in the prevention process.

However, it is important that the effectiveness of such programs are continually assessed and amended if they are not making a difference to children’s health and safety at school. There have not yet been any studies indicating the reduction of school bullying as a result of this campaign, which should be performed by the government. Such studies should also include children’s own views; as stated by Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner,

“Ultimately, in order to shape an appropriate response to this issue, the most important perspectives will be those of the young people themselves. Involving them in the discussions about how to tackle bullying is ideal”. [2]

NATIONAL: Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Back Me Up’ Campaign

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) launched its anti-cyberbullying campaign, ‘Back Me Up’ in June 2012. The campaign focuses on promoting bystander action and prevention when another young person is the victim of bullying. In recent research the AHRC has found that where bystanders intervene in bullying situations, the bullying is likely to stop. [3]

After great success in its first year and nearly 100 short films entered into the anti-cyberbullying competition in 2012, [4] the campaign has now entered its second year. TV personality Ruby Rose joined the project as an ambassador to launch the 2013 campaign. [5]

The Back Me Up campaign seeks to educate students about the negative effects of cyberbullying as well as encouraging and empowering them to act when others are victimised. This campaign effectively engages young people to become part of the solution; an important aspect of self-empowerment and community-based prevention.

It is important that the government continue to fund such campaigns and ensure their viability through support and follow up research .

NATIONAL: Bullying targeted by Youth Grants Program

In 2013 the Youth Grants Program granted up to $70,000 for projects aimed at developing leadership skills and discouraging bullying behaviour in communities.

Former Youth Minister Kate Ellis stated that in announcing the funding, the government recognised that “school and cyber-bullying is a big issue affecting the confidence and wellbeing of young Australians across the country”, and that the funding aimed to address such concerns at a local level. [6]

VIC: Funding for new bullying initiative ‘Bully Stoppers’

In March 2013 the Victorian Minister for Education Martin Dixon announced that more than 100 public and private schools would receive funding as part of the government’s new ‘Bully Stoppers Initiative’. [7]

On 15 March 2013, the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence, over 600,000 students in participating Victorian schools signed a pledge to be a ‘Bully Stopper’ if they witness someone being bullied. The campaign, supported by ads in the media, included new resources to tackle bullying and $5000 grants for up to 200 schools to introduce their own anti-bullying initiatives. [8]

This initiative is particularly commendable due to its focus on children learning about and protecting their own and other children’s rights. Such educational programs are necessary to encourage prevention and reporting by children themselves, as well as raising awareness in the adult school community.

The government should however be encouraged to consult with children on the effectiveness of this initiative and the level to which it has prevented school bullying. As recommended by the CRC and echoed by the National Children’s Commissioner a, “community-wide, youth-led approach is needed to combat bullying- involving teachers, parents, schools and children.” [9] It is of great importance that children and young people are encouraged to contribute to the discussion on developing and consolidating strategies to prevent and address school bullying. The government should seek to implement these recommendations as soon as possible.

SA: Summary Offences (Filming Offences) Amendment Act 2012

This Act makes it a criminal offence for a person to distribute or circulate invasive images of another person where the distributor knows the person did not consent to others seeing the image. This offence covers a common form of bullying in older children, where boyfriends or girlfriends distribute personal or sometimes pornographic images of their partner to their friends without their knowledge or consent.

The State government has stated that this is a, “proactive stance against the filming and distributing of humiliating or degrading images,” which was part of its mission to combat online bullying. [10]

While this development is a positive development for anti-bullying policy, it is important that young offenders are treated with regard to their rights and that alternate dispute resolution is preferred to the criminal justice system.

Developments requiring further attention

NATIONAL: Movement toward enacting national anti-bullying legislation

Victoria is the only state to have passed specific legislation to criminalise bullying in its Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act 2011 (“Brodie’s Law”). This law applies to all forms of serious bullying in the community, including at school, at sporting clubs and on the internet. [11]

In July 2013 former chief justice of the Family Court Alastair Nicholson called for the Australian government to follow New Zealand’s example in creating an offence of cyberbullying, punishable by up to 3 months in prison for serious cases. Mr Nicholson stated that current laws are ineffective in dealing with online harassment and that the proposed offence would act as a deterrent and, “could be a very good educational tool to put people on notice that this sort of behaviour is not on.” [12] Other groups, such as activist organisation, have started a petition to the Australian government to introduce national anti-bullying laws. [13]

The Coalition of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Standing Council on Law and Justice has also considered the effectiveness of existing Commonwealth, State and Territory offences to deal with cyberbullying. The Council agreed that they provide appropriate coverage but requested that officers continue to monitor the adequacy of those laws. The Council noted that existing protocols mean that police have the power to investigate cybercrimes against the person, which would include cases of cyberbullying amounting to criminal conduct. [14] The Council also stressed the importance of cooperation with social media operators and will continue discussions between governments, law enforcement and social media. [15]

The fact that COAG continues to monitor the effectiveness of current anti-bullying laws is reassuring for the protection of children’s rights. However, this COAG meeting did not yield any new measures or reforms to intensify efforts to prevent school cyberbullying as per the CRC’s recommendations, outside the scope of criminalisation and current criminal laws. If COAG wishes to protect children’s rights effectively in Australia, it must seek to strengthen current efforts in prevention through education, monitoring and consulting with young people, rather than considering anti-bullying legislation alone.

It is important that Australian law continues to recognise the internationally accepted principle that charging children with criminal offences should only be used as a measure of last resort. [16] Indeed, it is troubling that criminal offences relating to child pornography may now have the capacity to be used against children themselves who participate in ‘sexting’ or other sexualised cyberbulling behaviour. [17] The fact sex offender registration is possible for young people involved in more than one sexting incident is also of great concern and advocates at the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre have called for amendments to the current Act to ensure no child or young person can be registered as a sex offender as a result of age-appropriate sexting. [18] As found by the recent research paper into sexting and young people by the University of New South Wales, current legal frameworks are not widely understood by young people participating in this behaviour. The paper recommended that educational tools focus on ‘harm reduction’ rather than abstinence; that young people be included on committees and policy groups to inform future frameworks; and legislative reform to clarify the application of existing laws, particularly in relation to consenting young people. [19]

Indeed, as stated by the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre’s recent combined report with Legal Aid NSW, “…where possible, cyber bullying should be resolved through less intrusive means, such as restorative justice, school discipline or police cautioning.” [20]

The National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell has stated that “[s]pecific anti-bullying legislation is not a standalone solution, and it must be said that anti-bullying legislation is a controversial and complex area. Bullying is highly difficult to define, which presents a challenge for law-makers… Our focus should be on tolerance, knowledge and empowerment rather than punitive measures.” [21] This view is reflected by the CRC’s recommendations, focusing on higher teacher, parent and child input into prevention strategies and a collaborative approach to reducing bullying rates.

The government must take steps to increase the capacity of schools and police to investigate and address instances of both online and schoolyard bullying, while also ensuring those children’s rights are protected in the process.

NATIONAL: Australia becomes a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (2001)

In March 2013 Australia formally became a member of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, which will facilitate international cooperation in the investigation of cybercrime offences. [22] While this is currently generally in the scope of international forgery, fraud, child pornography and copyright infringement, it signals the strengthening of international anti-cybercrime law and policy, including that of child pornography. [23]

The child pornography provisions contained within the Convention on Cybercrime reflect Australia’s current stance towards the issue and may affect young people who bully others through the release of personal sexual images. However, as noted above, the fact that young people may be charged under the domestic provisions for child pornography for engaging in age-appropriate sexual behaviour such as sexting is of concern.

Areas lacking progress

NATIONAL: Continued prevalence of at-school and online school bullying

Although a number of positive initiatives have commenced in relation to school bullying, both online and schoolyard bullying continues to be prevalent. In recent studies, 27% of Year 4 to Year 9 students reported experiencing bullying during the previous school term, [24] while almost three in five children aged 10-11 years had reported being picked on through some form of friendly behaviour in the previous 12 months. [25] The research also confirmed that children who experienced more peer victimisation on average also reported poorer concepts of self-worth and showed significantly higher levels of conduct problems and emotional difficulties. [26]

Although difficult to monitor, it is estimated that between 10-20% of children experience cyberbullying in a 12 month period in Australia, with 10-15% of students experiencing it more than once. [27] Online bullying in particular continues to raise new issues as technology develops and new sites with a high risk factor for bullying appear. [28]

Concerns also continue to exist over the number of youths experiencing negative health impacts as a result of continuing high rates. In April 2013 a 13 year old girl committed suicide in NSW, an act linked to her experiences as a bully victim at high school. [29]

It is important for new initiatives to be monitored for effectiveness in their aim to decrease both online and offline bullying rates and for data and statistics to continue to be regularly assessed in order to continue to combat bullying.

The government has failed to address a number of recommendations put forward by the CRC, as well as its own Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. This Joint Select Committee recommended in 2011 that a number of educative measures be implemented in an attempt to reduce bullying rates, including:

  • the development of an agreed national definition of cyberbullying; [30]
  • the introduction of national core standards for cyber-safety education in schools; [31]
  • a national online training program for teachers and students that addresses bullying and cyber-bullying; [32]
  • the incorporation of cyber-safety materials into teacher training courses; [33]
  • investigation of the information made available to parents at the point of sale of computers and mobile phones for children. [34] .

Some of the Joint Select Committee’s recommendations have been adopted and implemented by the government, such as making an cyber-safety educational campaign accessible through a central portal [35] (which has been achieved through the Safe Schools Hub to some degree). However, the government must address the fact that so many other recommendations have either been ignored or implemented only on small scale rather than national basis. As found by the Australian Human Rights Commission, “cyber-bullying can impact on a range of human rights,” including those of children. [36]

  • Educational initiatives continue to be supported and funded by the government and utilised effectively by schools, with the inclusion of teachers, staff, parents and children in the process.
  • Introduction of independent methods of monitoring school plans and their capacity to investigate and address bullying.
  • Amendment of the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000 (NSW) to provide that no person under the age of 18 is ever to be registered as a sex offender for age-appropriate sexting.
  1. Minister’s Media Centre, The Hon Peter Garrett MP, ‘National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence’ (Media Release, 15 March 2013)
  2. Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner, ‘Bullying, Young People and the Law Symposium’, speech presented to the Bullying, Young People and the Law Symposium, 18 July 2013, available online at (accessed 21 October 2013)
  3. Australian Human Rights Commission, Cyberbullying and the Bystander: Research findings and insights report (2012)
  4. Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘BackMeUp Cyberbullying Campaign Exceeds Expectations’ (Media Release, 16 August 2012) online at (accessed 30 September 2013)
  5. Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Ruby Rose joins the Commission for the BackMeUp cyberbullying project’ (Media Release, 20 August 2013) online at (accessed 30 September 2013)
  6. Kate Ellis MP, ‘Bullies on youth grant program hitlist’ (Media Release, 26 July 2013) (online) at (accessed 14 January 2014)
  7. Australian Institute for Family Studies, ‘Funding for bullying initiatives in Victoria’ 30 May 2013 (accessed 17 September 2013)
  8. Shelley Hadfield, ‘Campaign to help students take action against bullying’, Herald Sun, 15 March 2013 (accessed 17 September 2013)
  9. Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner, ‘Bullying, Young People and the Law Symposium’, speech presented to the Bullying, Young People and the Law Symposium, 18 July 2013, available online at (accessed 21 October 2013)
  10. Jennifer Rankine MP, Minister for Education and Child Development Minister for Multicultural Affairs, ‘Taking action against bullying and violence’ (Media Release, 15 March 2013) online at (accessed 8 October 2013)
  11. Victorian Government Department of Justice, ‘Bullying – Brodie’s Law’, updated 21 August 2013, (accessed 23 September2013)
  12. ABC News, ‘Cyber bullies should face jail time, former Family Court chief justice says’, 18 July 2013, (accessed 23 September 2013)
  13., ‘Australian Government: Introduce anti bullying laws in Australia’,  (accessed 23 September 2013)
  14. Coalition of Australian Governments Standing Council on Law and Justice,‘Cyberbulling and Trolling’, Communiqué, 5 October 2012, p.2
  15. Coalition of Australian Governments Standing Council on Law and Justice,‘Cyberbulling and Trolling’, Communiqué, 5 October 2012, p.2
  16. Recognised in United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS 3 (entered into force 2 September 1990), art 37(b) and enacted into domestic law under Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW) s 7(a)
  17. Legal Aid NSW and NCLYC, New Voices/New Laws: School age people in New South Wales speak out about the criminal laws that apply to their online behaviour (November 2012) online at (accessed 15 October 2013)  p. 59
  18. Legal Aid NSW and NCLYC, New Voices/New Laws: School age people in New South Wales speak out about the criminal laws that apply to their online behaviour (November 2012) online at (accessed 15 October 2013)  p. 8
  19. University of New South Wales, Young People and Sexting in Australia: Ethics, Representation and the Law (2013)
  20. Legal Aid NSW and NCLYC, New Voices/New Laws: School age people in New South Wales speak out about the criminal laws that apply to their online behaviour (November 2012) online at (accessed 15 October 2013)  p. 61
  21. Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner, ‘Bullying, Young People and the Law Symposium’, speech presented to the Bullying, Young People and the Law Symposium, 18 July 2013, available online at (accessed 21 October 2013)
  22. Attorney-General for Australia, The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, ‘Australia signs on to international cybercrime treaty’ (Media Release, 4 March 2013) (accessed 17 September 2013)
  23. Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (opened for signature 23 November 2001, entered into force 1 July 2004) art 9
  24. D Cross et al, Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS) (2009) Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, Perth, xxi
  25. Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Children’s experiences of unfriendly behaviour’ (2012) Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Annual Statistical Report p.109
  26. Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Children’s experiences of unfriendly behaviour’ (2012) Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Annual Statistical Report p.109
  27. Elly Robinson, ‘Parental involvement in preventing and responding to cyberbullying Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety’ (2013) 92 Family Matters (AIFS Journal) (online) citing Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety High-wire act: Cyber-safety and the young (2011) Interim report. Canberra: Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from <>.
  28. Such as AskFm, a website implicated in the deaths of other teenagers in the UK and the US, causing a backlash against the site: Martin Fricker, ‘Hannah Smith suicide: new safety measures “a partial victory” says bullied teenager’s dad’ The Daily Mirror, 19 August 2013, (accessed 17 September 2013)
  29. Clementine Cuneo and Bruce McDougall, ‘Madeleine Milne didn’t know how much she was loved’, The Daily Telegraph, 8 May 2013, (accessed 17 September 2013)
  30. Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, Parliament of Australia, High-Wire Act: Cyber-Safety and the Young (2011), pp 305-7, 313-324  (viewed 28 August 2013) Recommendation 2, pp xxvi and 63.
  31. Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, Parliament of Australia, High-Wire Act: Cyber-Safety and the Young (2011), pp 305-7, 313-324 at es?url=jscc/report.htm (viewed 28 August 2013) recommendation 14, pp xxviii and 263
  32. Ibid, recommendation 19, pp xxx and 274
  33. Ibid, recommendation 17, pp xxix and 269
  34. Ibid, recommendation 25, pp xxxi and 438
  35. Ibid, recommendation 29, pp xxii and 499
  36. Australian Human Rights Commission, Background Paper: Human Rights in Cyberspace (September 2013) p.13