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Friday, 22 February 1985
Page: 98


Senator COLSTON(4.15) —Mr President, many honourable senators will be aware of my opposition to the use of corporal punishment on school children. Most of my comments on this issue are not made in this chamber, but I feel compelled to report to the Senate on a matter relating to corporal punishment. In Queensland schools, the archaic practice of beating children is still officially condoned. The Queensland Government's regulations about the use of corporal punishment read as follows, and I quote from the Queensland Education Regulations:

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

A principal or, if authorised by a principal, a deputy principal of a State school may administer corporal punishment to boys who are pupils of such school for any of the following reasons:-

(a) offences against morality;

(b) insolence;

(c) wilful and persistent disobedience; and

(d) gross misconduct at school or when travelling to and from school that is in the opinion of the principal likely to prejudice the good order and discipline of the school:

Provided that corporal punishment shall not be administered:

(i) to a pupil enrolled in Grade 1 or 2;

(ii) for trivial breaches of school discipline or for failure or inability to learn; or

(iii) in a form which is irregular, degrading, injurious and unnecessarily severe.

(2) If corporal punishment is inflicted under the provisions of sub-regulation (1) the full particulars shall be recorded at the time in the Punishment Register.

Against that background, I should like to read to the Senate a Courier-Mail article which was published on 18 February 1985. It was headed ' ''No right'' to cane without consent'. It reads as follows:

A school caning without a parent's knowledge or consent violated the parent's civil rights, Mrs Sharon Olsson said yesterday.

She said her son, 14, was caned last week, allegedly for eating a lolly in class at Cavendish Road High at Holland Park in Brisbane.

Mrs Olsson, of Morningside, said the punishment system which allowed her son, John to be caned without her consent was Dickensian and an infringement of her own and her son's civil liberties.

She had complained to the school and to the Education Department about her rights concerning corporal punishment and had been told by officials: ''You have no rights, madam''.

She also had tried to secure ''some kind of accountability'' from the school principal for two days but had been told he was unavailable.

''I wanted to know what sort of gross insubordination warranted a caning and, if John was guilty of that, why I wasn't called to talk about my son's behaviour before or after the punishment,'' Mrs Olsson said.

''The Education Department and myself seem to be at cross purposes in the socialising of my son.

''In our society, people are charged with assault for hitting another person and we don't even whip our criminals any more. I've tried to bring John up to believe that aggression is not a way of dealing with a problem.

''Hitting a child like this is a contradiction of all our other laws''.

Mrs Olsson said school officials had told her she could put her opposition to corporal punishment on paper but they were not obliged to comply with a request not to cane her child.

''You so often hear about parents being unconcerned, and using schools as babysitters, but I've been left out of any involvement in this,'' she said.

John Olsson said he was amazed at the punishment. He said he had one stroke of the cane, which left a bruise. He said he did not believe in corporal punishment.

''It isn't right and it isn't effective,'' he said. ''I told Mum I would rather have the cane than a detention. It's over quicker.''

Queensland Civil Liberties Council vice-president, Mr Terry O'Gorman, said Mrs Olsson's rights had been infringed.

'The regulations date back to the 1800s and are not realistic,' he said.

The Director of Secondary Education in Queensland, Mr Jack Guy, yesterday said a parent relinquished responsibility for a child as soon as a child walked through the school gate.

'The principal takes over and should deal with a student as he would deal with his own child,' he said.

Corporal punishment was administered only in circumstances of wilful and persistent disobedience, Mr Guy said. Its extent should be realistic and 'not sadistic'.

The school principal was not available for comment yesterday.

I should mention that I have been in touch with Mrs Olsson to make sure that neither she nor her son would be embarrassed if I raised this matter in the Senate. She said she would be pleased if I did so. I agree with comments made by Mrs Olsson. I am appalled at the comments attributed to some education officials. If the canning occurred because of the alleged offence, it was clearly not covered by the regulations which I stated earlier. I want to stress the authoritarian attitude of departmental officials. Fancy officials informing Mrs Olsson that she had no rights! Fancy the Director of Secondary Education in Queensland saying, as reported in the Courier-Mail, that a parent relinquished responsibility for a child as soon as the child walked through the school gate! That is absolutely absurd. Parents should be encouraged to be part of the education process. They should not be told that they have no rights.

I doubt that the Federal Government can give Mrs Olsson any assistance in relation to the severe infringement on her rights as a parent. However, I ask the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) to have the matter investigated to see whether any Federal statutes have been breached in this case.