Could corporal punishment make its way back into Queensland schools?

With a section of the Criminal Code deeming it acceptable to use corporal punishment against children, could Qld students face the cane?

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

As a new generation of schoolchildren step into Queensland classrooms for the first time today, many parents are unaware that archaic Queensland laws still state that it’s acceptable to be given the cane as punishment.

But although Section 280 of the Criminal Code currently deems it “lawful for a parent, or a person in the place of a parent, or for a schoolteacher or master to use, by way of correction, discipline, the management or control towards a child or pupil under the person’s care, such force as is reasonable under the circumstances”, the good news is that corporal punishment has not been used in Queensland schools since 1995, when legislative provisions allowing its use in the state’s schools were repealed.

The Queensland Education Department’s employee standard of practice also specifically bans the form of punitive violence that previous generations of school-age children endured at the hands of vengeful educators.

Old-school thinkers call for re-introduction of corporal punishment

If Queensland man Ken Cuncliffe had his way though, teachers would still be able to utilise the punishment in schools today.

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After having his Landcruiser stolen, the Toowomba-based victim of crime was invited to join Queensland’s youth justice strategy reference group as a victims’ representative in 2023.

He believes schools should consider bringing back the cane as a form of punishment.

“We used to have the cane in schools, and in some cases as a court-imposed punishment too,” he said in a Facebook post.

When asked to expand on his idea of how corporal punishment in schools would help address the current youth crime concerns, Mr Cuncliffe said “my personal thoughts are that [the cane] could help”.

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“But … it’s got to be done very carefully and well thought out, not an abuse at all. If the parents of kids aren’t able to exercise discipline … then the state needs to be disciplining these kids as well.”

Smacking children should be abolished, experts say

Parents, though, are still legally allowed to smack their children, with the decision about what actions are deemed “reasonable” left to police and the courts to determine.

Unfortunately, it’s an issue that is not unique to Queensland, with each Australian state and territory having a domestic discipline defence – although the definition of defence under NSW legislation excludes any force to the neck or head.

In a paper published in 2023, the University of Melbourne’s Professor of Psychiatry Sophie Havighurst argued for reform – supported by data that, although corporal punishment may motivate a child to comply immediately, it is also associated with increased aggression in children, reduced trust, lower self-esteem, as well as mental health issues and a higher risk of antisocial behaviour and substance abuse.

Around the world, Sweden was the first country to prohibit corporal punishment of children. It made the shift in 1979, with Mauritius and Zambia being the most recent countries to follow suit in 2022.

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In Queensland, the state’s Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has asked the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) to examine, and make recommendations, about several Criminal Code defences, including domestic discipline.

Her call for change addresses one of the recommendations made by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce in December 2021, which asked for the examination of a range of defences and excuses in the Criminal Code.

The QLRC has until December 2025 to deliver its final report.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]