CRIMES AMENDMENT (BULLYING) BILL 2011- Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Posted on 17. May, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I wish to make a contribution to the debate on the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011. The introduction of this bill follows the tragic death of a young woman, 19‑year‑old Brodie Panlock. Just about every speaker before me has mentioned her tragic case. Our hearts go out to her family. Brodie worked as a waitress at Cafe Vamp. She was physically and verbally abused in horrific circumstances over an extended period of time. She was even exhorted to kill herself by taking rat poison.

Tragically Brodie did take her own life, although by another means, and this was a direct consequence of intense and sustained bullying. The four cowardly men responsible for hounding Brodie to her death, including the then owner of the restaurant, Marc Luis Da Cruz, were fined a total of $335 000. In being aware of the bullying and telling Brodie’s co‑workers to ‘take it out the back’, Mr Da Cruz clearly failed to provide a safe working environment.

The bill amends the stalking provisions in the Crimes Act 1958, and there are also consequential amendments to the Stalking Intervention Orders Act 2008 and the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010. I note the point made by the Attorney‑General in his second‑reading speech that in relation to Brodie’s bullying and death the perpetrators were prosecuted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 rather than the Crimes Act 1958 and that this bill is a response to that situation.

Bullying that literally hounds a person to their death, including by encouraging the victim to self‑harm, is horrific and repugnant and should be dealt with by specific offences under the Crimes Act 1958. Bullying can occur in settings other than workplaces, such as in social networks and online. We need to ensure that serious bullying resulting in physical or mental harm attracts the sanction of criminal law. This bill does that by amending the stalking provisions of the Crimes Act 1958, including adding self‑harm to section 21A(2)(g).

However, if circumstances similar to those of Brodie Panlock’s case were to arise again, then the provisions of both the Crimes Act 1958 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 should apply. The individual perpetrator should be dealt with under the tougher provisions of the amended Crimes Act 1958, and the employer should be dealt with under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. The entitlement of employees to a safe working environment is fundamental, and there must be no watering down of this right either legislatively or by reducing compliance and enforcement resources.

The other issue I wish to comment on concerns online bullying. It was with some disappointment that I could not find a single mention of cyberbullying in the Attorney‑General’s second‑reading speech. Cyberbullying is the bullying of the 2lst century, and like other online crimes it presents various challenges. It can be done remotely from other jurisdictions, both anonymously — at least initially — by acquaintances or persons not known to the victims as well as by those who have regular contact with them. It is easily published and republished, it can be widely disseminated, and it is difficult if not impossible to remove. As it can be remote and anonymous, it can be particularly vicious. Using smart phones and social networking sites it can be done quickly and with little regard for the impact on the victims.

There have already been cases reported both here and in the US suggesting that the suicides of some young people were due to cyberbullying. For instance the ABC reported on 23 July 2009 that a Melbourne mother had claimed that the suicide of her 14‑year‑old daughter was the result of cyberbullying. One of the most extraordinary cases occurred in the US in 2006. An article in the Australian of 27 November 2008 reported that in the US a 49‑year‑old mother had posed as a 16‑year‑old boy to hound a 13‑year‑old acquaintance of her daughter into committing suicide. The mother was found guilty of offences involving misusing computers. Were a similar case to arise in Victoria, I would want to be confident that our Crimes Act 1958 could deal with it rather than authorities having to rely on federal legislation, as is occurring in the current case of the Australian Defence Force Academy cadets’ misuse of Skype. This Parliament is saying that bullying leading to death, including by encouraging self‑harm, is a serious criminal offence, and as such it should have legislation that deals specifically with it.

I mentioned a moment ago some of the features of cyberbullying. Given some of the amazing and novel things that seem to occur online, I would want to know that the bill we have before us has the capacity to deal with such challenges, and I hope the Attorney‑General is able to give such an assurance in his summing up. I commend the bill to the house.

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