Push for cyber-bully reform gathers force

Thousands of Australians report being bullied on social media sites, yet it has taken the death of a celebrity to spark action.

A  former federal chief justice is among experts now urging the federal government to introduce national anti-bullying laws that protect all online users.

Leading legal and mental health figures spoke out following the death of TV star Charlotte Dawson, who suffered depression and had a long, public battle with Twitter tormenters.

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The 47-year-old was found dead in her Sydney home last month.

Former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson is leading a charge for national laws to tackle all forms of bullying.

The Coalition has already flagged legislative changes aimed at protecting children from abuse online.

Its mooted reforms include the creation of a children’s e-safety commissioner, new laws to get bullying material taken down quickly from large social media sites, and a new national cyber-bullying offence.

But Mr Nicholson says any new laws should protect the whole community.

‘‘I don’t think we can stop at children,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a bit of the old concept that, ‘Oh yes, we were all bullied at school and we got over it’...

‘‘This is a much more serious problem than we’ve ever accepted.’’

BeyondBlue chief Kate Carnell said the legislative response needed to also cover adults.

‘‘You want to aim at kids because they’ve probably got less resilience, less life skills to be able to manage that sort of thing, but bullying can cause significant damage at any time,’’ she said.

Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher said Dawson’s death was ‘‘tragic’’ but the government considered child victims of cyber-bullying its top priority.

The MP said there were existing criminal laws covering some bullying behaviour but it was possible harsh penalties left police reluctant to use them.

They also fail to address the hateful messages themselves.

Perth-based media lawyer Roger Blow, an expert in social media liability and online trolling, said the push for national cyber-bullying laws had been building for at least two years, but Dawson’s death had highlighted the reform process.

Public submissions to the government’s proposed laws close this month, with laws expected before Parliament by the end of the year.

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