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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8695

School and Workplace Bullying

Dear Mr Murphy

Thank you for your letter of 23 May 2011 concerning the school and workplace bullying petition recently submitted for the consideration of the Standing Committee on Petitions. My response will only address matters relating to the issue of workplace bullying. I understand that the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth is providing a response to the petition regarding matters within his portfolio. I apologise for the delay in responding.

The Australian Government considers that workplace bullying and a workplace culture that allows harassment and bullying to occur is unacceptable and should not be tolerated in any Australian workplace. As well as affecting the individual employee and other workers and their families, it can result in other undesirable outcomes such as absenteeism, increased staff turnover and loss of productivity.

Although most current work health and safety laws do not specifically address workplace bullying, all occupational health and safety (OHS) Acts impose legal responsibilities on both employers and employees. For example, under section 16 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 (Cth) employers must take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of the employer's employees. This duty of care requires employers to take proactive steps to identify those hazards with the potential to affect the health and safety of their employees and to implement measures to eliminate or control the risks arising from those hazards. The duty extends to psychosocial hazards in the workplace including bullying behaviours.

Comcare, the Commonwealth OHS regulator, have provided guidance material on bullying which can be found on the following website at www.comcare.gov.au.

In terms of future workplace safety laws, the harmonisation of Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws is a priority area of regulatory reform. All governments have committed to adopt uniform WHS laws by 1 January 2012, complemented by nationally consistent approaches to compliance and enforcement.

Safe Work Australia, an independent body representing each jurisdiction, unions and industry, was established to drive the development and implementation of these model WHS laws (comprising of a model act, supported by model WHS regulations and model codes of practice). The model WHS Act will cover bullying under its general provisions, and criminal penalties will apply for certain offences under the Act.

Safe Work Australia is currently working on a package of draft model regulations and draft priority codes of practice to support the agreed model Act. Safe Work Australia have indicated to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations that it is currently in the process of drafting a code of practice on the subject of workplace bullying, including a section on violence in the workplace.

All codes will be available for public comment in the future prior to implementation. These codes form part of the model WHS laws which jurisdictions have committed to implement.

The model codes of practice aim to provide practical guidance to duty holders on how to meet the requirements under WHS legislation. Once implemented, these codes of practice will be approved under each jurisdiction ' s WHS Act. Approved codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act and regulations. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates. This means that a code of practice relating to workplace bullying would be able to be used as evidence in proceedings for an offence under the WHS Acts in all Australian jurisdictions. This reflects the Government's commitment to ensuring that workers across Australia have the same WHS protections wherever they reside.

I appreciate you bringing this petition to my attention and trust this information is of assistance to the Committee and petitioners.

from the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Evans