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Senate Inquiry says cyberbullying is a health issue

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The AMA welcomes the recommendations of the Inquiry into the Adequacy of existing offences in the Commonwealth Criminal Code and of State and Territory criminal laws to capture cyberbullying.

Many of the recommendations are consistent with AMA submissions and policy.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said the AMA was pleased to see the inquiry state, in no uncertain terms, that bullying is a public health issue.

“Framing bullying as a public health issue reiterates the need to invest in prevention and early intervention opportunities, rather than merely punishing offenders once bullying has occurred,” Dr Gannon said.

“The AMA acknowledges that increasing the penalties for cyber bullying fails to address the root of the problem, or prevent the harm done by cyber bullying.

“Initiatives which seek to educate children and young people about the real and tragic harms caused by cyber bullying provide a far more productive way forward.

“The notion of a duty of care being imposed on social media platforms is a welcome acknowledgement of the increasing amount of time that children and young people are spending in these online and virtual spaces.”

As young people spend an increasing amount of time inhabiting these virtual spaces, the providers of these platforms should be bound by the same duty of care that we have come to expect from physical service providers such as restaurants, cinemas and sporting centres, Dr Gannon said.

The AMA acknowledges the effectiveness of the eSafety Commissioner could be improved by making it easier for the Commissioner to access relevant data from local and overseas-hosted social media services.

The AMA remains broadly supportive of the role of the eSafety Commissioner in reducing the harm associated with cyber-bullying, noting the importance of continued monitoring and evaluation of this position as it evolves.

“We have previously identified the role of schools and parents in educating children and young people about the dangers of physical and cyber bullying,” Dr Gannon said.

“This should also be complemented by strategies which seek to build resilience, coping strategies and help-seeking behaviours in young people who experience bullying.

“Many young people who experience bullying are reluctant to report their experiences. Interventions which rely on self-reporting of bullying instances can only have limited success.”

It is estimated that about one in four Australian students experience bullying.

General Practitioners can provide a confidential and safe avenue for children and young people to discuss any bullying they have experienced, or for parents looking to support their children with these challenges.

“Viewing bullying as a public health issue acts as a pertinent reminder for all Australians to consider the way in which our own behaviour contributes to a culture in which children and young people learn that bullying is acceptable,” Dr Gannon said.