Psychology researchers urge urgent reconsideration of new anti-bullying measures

More than 200 psychology researchers have called for the Australian Government to consider an overhaul of its new anti‑bullying laws.

Key points:Psychologists say the new laws need to be updated urgentlyPsychologists warn the new legislation has the potential to deter young people from reporting bullying and create a culture of fearIn a letter to the Department of Education and Training, the group said they believe the laws could be “a real threat to the wellbeing of students, their families and communities”.

The letter says it is “a matter of concern that these laws are being rushed through a process that is inimical to the interests of young people and to the development of the Australian economy”.

The Department of Family and Community Services said the laws “work to protect and support students from bullying and other forms of harassment”.

It said the new “safe spaces” law was designed to “provide a safe environment for all young people to be able to express themselves without fear of being bullied”.

The department said the law would be reviewed when it came into effect on August 1, 2019.

It said while the proposed new law is “designed to protect children from bullying, it will not be sufficient to prevent bullying or harassment.”

“Schools must ensure that bullying and harassment is never allowed to continue,” it said.

“It is our obligation to work together with schools to ensure that children and young people are safe and protected from bullying.”

Psychologists said the changes could also create a “culture of fear” in young people, which could lead them to “perpetuate negative behaviours”.

“We are concerned that this legislation may be perceived as a barrier to the acceptance and development of young Australians and our young people’s future,” they wrote.

“If implemented, this new law could lead to young people not reporting harassment or bullying, or for other students to report it to the authorities,” the letter said.

It added that the legislation “may also encourage people to seek out and report bullying or other forms that are potentially dangerous, harmful or unacceptable”.

“It could also encourage some young people who are not able to report bullying to continue to be vulnerable and afraid of being the next victim of bullying or to become a repeat victim,” it added.

The letter to Education Minister David Littleton and the Department for Education and Sport said the current legislation was too weak.

“We have serious concerns that this new legislation could be seen as an attempt to create a safer and more supportive environment for young people,” it wrote.

The department told News Corp it was aware of the letter and that it was reviewing the letter.

“This review is currently under way and the department is currently consulting with experts and experts in the field to help it develop a response to the concerns raised in the letter,” it told News Corporation.

The Department for Family and Child Services said there were currently no plans to introduce the new anti‐bullying law.

“There are currently no changes to the existing legislation in the current school year,” it stated in a statement.