Page 724 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 8 March 2005

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Parents are unhappy about outcomes; about the department’s response and about the treatment their children receive. To deny those parents an answer or to say that the problem is only minor misses the point. The point is that we are seeing more and more reports of bullying. That is acknowledged by teachers, by parents and by other sectors. But the government’s response is that they have signed a national framework on a bullying policy—as though a signature is enough to resolve the issue.

Another point to make in relation to bullying is that it is often accepted in other categories of abuse, in other statistics, that for every case reported there are a significant number of cases unreported. That is what we are told. If we accept that, it should also hold that there would be a significant number of bullying cases that go unreported. A minister who contends that there is no problem about bullying in the educational system is literally in denial. This erodes both institutional support and teachers’ and parents’ confidence in government. Ultimately, the losers are the children that we—by commission, but more often omission—are all badly letting down.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (4.06): I thank the Assembly for the opportunity to address this issue. I think the evidence is there and that everybody in this place is concerned about bullying. I do not think we could say that either of the large parties has ownership of the concern about this issue. Perhaps what we are doing today is presenting a dilemma that comes up again and again—not just in discussions about schools, but also in discussions about workplaces and families or wherever groups of people get together. The fact that what we call bullying is so normalised, does not make it any better. However, we should realise that, in some groups of people, it is a normalised way of behaviour.

I also think we would be better approaching this issue if we left this chamber and went off to the classrooms to assist the many teachers who are struggling right now. Don’t worry; I have been one of them and I know what it is like, with the multitudes of behaviour types that manifest themselves. However, we are here and we will have to wait for our non-sitting days to go into the classrooms.

The other day I borrowed a film, which some of you might remember, called The Getting of Wisdom, adapted from a book written at the turn of the last century by Henry Handel Richardson. It describes her experiences at what was, and still is, a prestigious private school for girls in Victoria. In that film we saw the kinds of bullying that often goes on in these kinds of places.

Recently, I was a teacher in our own equivalent of that school, and I was very interested to watch the behaviour of the students, and to hear the counsellor advising all of us teachers to read a book called Queen Bees & Wannabes. The kinds of bullying that went on amongst those groups was not something that their parents, perhaps, would see as a problem, and yet that counsellor was dealing with children who were in tears because of various kinds of ostracisms that are played out in groups.

That is not a reflection on that school, because what we are talking about here is what is seen as pretty normal behaviour amongst seventh grade girls. I also want to point out that the way bullying occurs is shaped by culture, class, gender and, of course, age. Some of these kinds of behaviour are rites of passage in our culture and time. That does not make

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