Dear Mr Turnbull,
Thank you for your letter regarding bullying in schools.
As you are no doubt aware, despite political interference through attacks on the Safe Schools program and reneging on signed funding agreements, schools already have extensive anti-bullying programs in place and are continually refining them to educate our children about respectful relationships in today’s world.
Children learn their behaviour from others. That is why such pressure is put on our elite sports people to be role models. Their behaviour is always under public scrutiny and they pay a hefty price when they fall short of expectations.
But not so our politicians whose behaviour every day displays the worst aspects of bullying.
In 2012, anti-corruption campaigner, Tony Fitzgerald wrote:
“There are about 800 politicians in Australia’s parliaments. According to their assessments of each other, that quite small group includes role models for lying, cheating, deceiving, ‘rorting’, bullying, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, slander, ‘leaking’, ‘dog-whistling’, nepotism and corruption.”
Your own party has deliberately adopted a political strategy to “Kill Bill” with the express purpose of attacking the character of Mr Shorten. You have used innuendo and rumour to question his personal life. You have cast doubt on his integrity despite extensive investigation finding no wrongdoing.
This is not politics which should be a contest of ideas. It is unabashed character assassination, otherwise known as bullying. You continually leak stories about each other to the press in a barrage of public shaming.
In a recent report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights defenders in Australia, the UN Special Rapporteur said he was “astounded to observe frequent public vilification by senior public officials” of charities, community groups and democratic institutions who hold the Government to account “in what appears to be an attempt to discredit, intimidate and discourage them from their legitimate work.”
He was also “astonished” to observe “mounting evidence of regressive measures” being pursued by the Government.
“New laws and policies have increased secrecy provisions, particularly in the areas of immigration and national security.
The cumulative factor of secrecy laws created significant barriers to legitimate reporting on human rights abuses or to whistleblowing on misconduct in government activities. It also led to a worrying trend of pressure exerted by the Government on civil society through intimidation and persecution. The Special Rapporteur received credible reports of doctors, child protection officers and even academicians who suffered.”
We have seen the same intimidation tactics used to gag journalists who question government policy such as the NBN and the effect of company tax cuts.
In 2012, you spoke these words:
“we all hear again and again that Australians are ashamed of the parliament, that they see it as nothing more than a forum for abuse, catcalling and spin.
There are reasons for this view. Question Time, Parliament’s most visible ritual, is one. If you love your country, have an interest in politics or policy, and care deeply about our nation’s future, there is nothing more certain to arouse your fury and invite your contempt than listening to an entire House of Representatives Question Time.”
That is even more true today.
The central purpose of government in a democracy is to be the role model for, and protector of, equality and freedom and our associated human rights. Government leaders must set an ethical standard for the people to emulate.
In this regard, you are failing badly. The behaviour exhibited daily by our politicians would not be tolerated in any school, any workplace, any organisation.
If you want to help us address bullying, clean up your own act and set an example of how you would like our children to behave.