Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Parliamentary thugs give free lessons to child bullies

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Sir Ranulph Fiennes needn't get even with those old Etonians who bullied him 50 years ago. I know it's a cliche, but cliches are often true - the best revenge is success.

Although Fiennes this week confessed that as an effeminate 13-year-old he cried himself to sleep, contemplating suicide and planning his last letters, he is undoubtedly the world's greatest living explorer. His life story is extraordinary, including his two marriages; his writings are terrific - and he counted Sir Ed Hillary as one of his heroes.

Out of bad comes the good, and the world benefits from the exploits of a decent man. This has been a week when I've been asked, over and over, aren't I glad I'm not still in Parliament? Always my answer has been in the affirmative.

Parliament is full of bullies, and Hone Harawira has demonstrated repeatedly he is the maestro when it comes to bullying. When he first entered Parliament, I thought he might be a force for good, but now I doubt it. He's trapped in his past, and the monstrous chip he carries on both shoulders will drag his constituents down.

Here are a couple more cliches which apply to Harawira - leopards never change their spots, and bullies are cowards.

With examples like Harawira, how will we ever stop bullying?

The Ombudsman's Office launched an investigation this year into school bullying and violence, following a complaint from parents of Hutt Valley High School pupils.

In 2007 their children were dragged to the ground and violated by classmates.

Little was done until police became involved and the victims are still traumatised.

In January this year, an international survey of 5000 Year Five pupils in 40 countries showed New Zealand kids have the second highest reported incidence of bullying. This is not good. No wonder the Ombudsman is concerned.

But should we lump bullying in with criminal violence? What occurred at Hutt High should have involved police immediately. As should other incidences where kids have deliberately been driven to suicide - shocking examples of cruel and sadistic behaviour.

But bullying can be stopped without drastic measures involving the courts: ban cellphones in schools, involve chaplains and kaumatua with cops, nurses and counsellors on campus. Sometimes kids have said they'd been bullied when really they've been in a normal playground dust-up.

Parents need to be careful not to over-react.

I don't underestimate the effects of bullying, but success is indeed revenge. At Central Hawke's Bay College, where I spent my last year after a girls' boarding school - and believe me, the bullying in a co-ed was far worse than a single-sex - I was alienated by the middle-class Pakeha girls because I spoke "with a plum in my mouth".

My defenders were Maori students from Porangahau who travelled each day by bus with me and didn't care how I spoke, so long as I helped pierce their ears with safety pins.

But Fiennes is correct. I still remember the worst bully. One boy, nicknamed "Chook", made my sixth form days so miserable the English teacher would find me crying in the library. (His words, "It's because you're attractive, he wants your attention" were no comfort.) The headmaster heard of the bullying yet, when questioned, I denied it. Telling tales was asking for trouble.

And like Fiennes, I know where my tormentor is now. He's quite big in the media and, I hear, quite big in the puku. Ain't karma a bitch.

- Herald on Sunday

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