South Australia and Tasmania have both introduced anti-cyberbullying Bills into Parliament, but neither state is yet to transform these Bills into law. This is despite widespread support for the Bills and firm rhetoric from politicians on the importance of addressing the potentially tragic consequences of cyberbullying. So, what do these Bills involve, and where are they now?
The Statutes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2017 (SA) was introduced to the South Australian Legislative Council on 27 September 2017. The Bill aimed to add an offence of “bullying” to the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA). Under this new law, a person who bullies another person could be jailed for up to 10 years.
The Bill defined “bullying” to include acts such as threatening to cause harm and using offensive language. It also explicitly included a reference to cyberbullying. The Bill said that a person “bullies” another person if the person “publishes or transmits offensive material by means of the internet or some other form of communication in such a way that the offensive material will be found by, or brought to the attention of, the other person.”
“Offensive material” was defined to include material that is degrading, humiliating, disgraceful or harassing.
The Bill was modelled on the Victorian anti-bullying legislation, known as “Brodie’s Law”, after 19-year-old Brodie Panlock who ended her life after enduring bullying by her co-workers. The Hon. Dennis Hood MLC referred to Brodie’s story in his second reading speech to the South Australian Parliament when he introduced the Bill. He also referred to the stories of Libby Bell and Cassidy Trevan, two teenage girls who also ended their lives after being bullied.
At the end of his speech, Mr Hood said that his plan was to call for a vote on the Bill in “November this year” and “have it in place and in law January next year”, meaning January 2018. As Mr Hood had planned, the Council did vote on the Bill in November 2017, agreed to it and sent it to the House of Assembly. The Bill was received by the House of Assembly on 16 November 2017 and lapsed. It hasn’t been discussed in the South Australian Parliament since.
Why did this happen? One likely cause was the turbulent political situation in South Australia at the time. In late 2017 an election was announced and as a result Parliament did not sit for several months. In March 2018, the Labor Party lost the election to the Liberal Party and there was a change of government. A short time later, Mr Hood, originally a member of the Australian Conservatives, left that party to join the Liberals. He remains a Member of the Legislative Council.
Where is the Bill now? More than 18 months, and several Parliamentary sittings, have come and gone since the Bill lapsed. This means that debate on the Bill can’t simply be picked up where it was left off. If it is to progress, the Bill will have to be re-introduced.
The situation in Tasmania is, so far, very different. In late 2018, the Tasmania Department of Justice released a draft version of its Criminal Code Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2019 (Tas) for public consultation. Consultation closed in February 2019 and the Bill was introduced into the House of Assembly on 21 March 2019.
The Bill aims to create a new criminal offence of “bullying” by expanding the existing offences of “stalking” under the Criminal Code Act 1924 (Tas) and Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas). The Bill, if passed, will criminalise certain behaviours that “could reasonably be expected to cause the other person physical or mental harm, including self-harm, or extreme humiliation.” According to the explanatory memorandum, the Bill “implements the Government’s commitment to amend the Criminal Code to make serious cyberbullying a criminal offence.”
Where is the Bill now? Since its introduction in to the House of Assembly in March this year, the Bill has not progressed. But three months is not a long time in lawmaking and does not necessarily indicate that the Tasmanian Bill is following the fate of its South Australian counterpart. Tasmanian schools who are interested in getting the latest updates on the Bill’s progress can find details on the Parliament of Tasmania website.
South Australians who are interested in finding out what happened to their Bill, and whether it will have a future, can find the contact details for the Members of their Legislative Council here.
Meanwhile Queensland is 20 Years Ahead
Queensland effectively criminalised cyberbullying via the stalking offence in its Criminal Code about 20 years ago. But far from resting on those laurels, in late 2018 the Queensland Government announced that it had accepted all 29 recommendations in the Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce Report “Adjust Our Settings: A community approach to address cyberbullying among children and young people in Queensland.”
Notably, the report made no recommendations about the creation or expansion of criminal offences. Instead, it focused on promoting research and awareness, and delivering evidence-based programs and policies. The report recommended that “Australian governments approach cyberbullying primarily as a social and public health issue…[and] consider how they can further improve the quality and reach of preventative and early intervention measures, including education initiatives.”