TOUGHEN UP: MP slams council bullying claims
THE latest move in the Southern Downs Regional Council's crusade against online attackers has been slammed, with one MP saying politicians should not use cyberbullying claims to escape public criticism.
Member for Southern Downs James Lister said a statewide task force to combat the effects on online bullying on young people was an inappropriate place for the council to address its issues with the online community.
The Queensland Anti-cyberbullying Taskforce is undertaking public consultation to "seek community views about how to prevent and respond to cyberbullying of people up to the age of 25.
It comes in the wake of Warwick schoolgirl Dolly Everett's tragic death, which was linked to the torment she experienced at the hands of cyberbullies.
But Mr Lister said the council had used the task force as an opportunity to vent its own problems with persistent online critics.
He said equating bullying with online criticism against politicians was "the lowest thing" a person in public office could do.
"Any attempt to stifle criticism of politicians or public administration by calling it bullying is unacceptable," Mr Lister said.
The council's recommendations to the Queensland Anti-cyberbullying Taskforce were voted in by Southern Downs councillors on Wednesday.
"A bully celebrates creating misery or conflict in the life of an individual, or in the case of an organisation seeks to highlight the failings of an organisation in all instances, usually focussing on the elected officials or senior management," the submission reads.
But Mr Lister said politicians' abilities to rise above criticism was a mark of their suitability for office.
"Politicians are not victims, and criticism, even when it is ill-informed or mischievous or unflattering, is something that politicians have to accept - no ifs and no buts," he said.
Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie said the council's submission referred to the "persistent, non-stop attacks intended to harm councillors and the council's reputation".
"Our organisation is putting in a submission just as any individual or organisation is being invited to do," Cr Dobie said.
Recommendations outlined in the council's submission include educating children and the public, identifying bullies and making managers of Facebook pages and websites liable for comments posted by online users.
The council submission also targets local media.
"Many cyberbullies have identified local newspapers as an ideal location to humiliate and bully individuals online," it reads.
The mayor said local media had a responsibility to uphold policies and procedures designed to prevent the misuse of online platforms.
But Warwick mother Jenny Topp said the council's submission seemed to miss the point of the youth-focussed taskforce.
Ms Topp had to protect her teenage daughter from vicious online attacks and hoped the taskforce would put the spotlight on parents.
"I think it's up to the parents to monitor their children more closely. It is up to us as parents to make our children aware the power is in their finger to block, delete or shut down," she said.
Ms Topp said she agreed with the council's call to identify bullies, but thought the council had diverted attention away from youth.
"It seems more like they are trying to stop people from picking on them rather than stop people from picking on young people," Ms Topp said.
She said local media and newspapers were not a common platform used by people to bully young people.
But the mayor said repeated, personal attacks designed to harm an organisation needed to stop.
"That is no different to the definition of bullying of an individual," the mayor said.
Since launching her own campaign against cyberbullying, the mayor said she had received positive feedback from the community.
"I've had mothers express their gratitude for what we as council are putting out there," Cr Dobie said.
"Since that campaign the quantity of bullying against myself has dropped quite dramatically and I am convinced that campaign has worked."
Former mayor Ron Bellingham said the controversies faced by councillors were a deterrent to people running for public office.
"That is a real shame I think," Mr Bellingham said.
"I am more concerned with the youth of the community and the country who are subjected to this indiscriminate bullying and do not have the wherewithal to be able to deal with it."
Mr Lister said politicians had to expect the criticism and get on with the job.
"I don't feel equating the plight of politicians and administrators with those of more vulnerable victims of bullying is of any assistance," he said.
"I applaud any support for tackling cyberbullying of people who are vulnerable, but that does not include politicians in my view."
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