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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13082


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (10:20): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Education and Employment, I present the committee's report incorporating a dissenting report entitled Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop, together with the minutes and proceedings and evidence receiving by the committee. As you can see it is quite extensive.

In accordance with standing order 39(f), the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Ms RISHWORTH: by leave—The Productivity Commission estimates that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion annually. The human costs are enormous. People's health—both physical and mental wellbeing—productivity and personal lives suffer immeasurably when subjected to bullying.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon. Bill Shorten, referred the inquiry to the committee in June to examine the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying and consider ways to address bullying cultures and prevent their development in the workplace.

The committee received over 300 written submissions—the majority from individuals recounting personal experiences of bullying—and from organisations and experts who have extensive knowledge and experience either in assisting those who have been bullied at work or educating employers on how to prevent and manage this issue. The committee travelled to all states and territories to hear heart-rending stories of resultant ill-health, financial strain, loss of self-esteem and suicide as a direct consequence of workplace bullying. Bullying has devastating and long-lasting impacts on affected individuals and their loved ones as well as on our community. No-one should feel unsafe at work, be pushed out of their job, or feel that their life is in peril by remaining in a toxic work environment.

The inquiry was announced amidst a nation-wide harmonisation process of work health and safety legislation—the primary area of regulation of the risks of bullying at work. Harmonised work health and safety laws have now been adopted in all jurisdictions, with the exceptions of Victoria and Western Australia. In addition to this harmonisation effort, governments, unions and employer groups are working to develop a nationally consistent code of practice on managing the risks of bullying. The committee supports the code and hopes to see it expedited and promoted, with guidance materials for employers that detail appropriate responses to and outcomes for reports of workplace bullying. The committee also recommends the introduction of regulations setting a minimum standard of action that must be taken to minimise bullying in the workplace, to establish employers' clear obligations.

Although the committee learnt Australia is considered an international leader in best practice by taking a risk-management approach to workplace bullying, there is still much to do.

The inquiry considered the extent to which Brodie's law in Victoria—an amendment to the Crimes Act brought about to ensure greater sanctions against workplace bullying behaviours—should be nationalised. The committee encourages state and territories to collaborate and ensure their criminal laws are as extensive as Brodie's law so that there is a clear message across Australia that bullying in the workplace is a serious issues.

We must not let bullying get to the point endured by Brodie Panlock. Our report subtitle, 'We just want it to stop', was a constant refrain from targets. Prevention and early intervention are critical to ensure that we reduce the human toll of bullying in the workplace.

Our report contains 23 recommendations that focus on practical solutions we believe will help incidences of bullying in Australia's workplaces. First, there is a lack of clarity about what does and does not constitute bullying behaviour. We support the national adoption of the definition of workplace bullying as repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

Witnesses spoke repeatedly of confusion about where to go for help, and frustrations with different laws and regulations operating in each jurisdiction. People who are bullied do not have recourse to antidiscrimination laws unless the bullying falls under protected attributes such as race, sex and age. Similarly, industrial relations laws are restricted in dealing with bullying. The committee also heard that workers compensation laws do not provide an easy avenue for redress.

For these reasons we recommend that the Commonwealth government establish a one-stop shop—a national advisory service to provide advice, assistance and resolution services to employers and workers. The committee also recommends that a feasibility study be undertaken on the establishment of independent investigation as well as an adjudicative process for individual recourse for individuals affected.

I thank all of those who provided evidence to the inquiry, particularly the many individuals who courageously relayed their stories. I would like to thank my committee colleagues for the work they put into the report, and also the secretariat support staff—in particular, Lauren Wilson, Stacey Tomley and Sara Edson. This is an important issue, and I commend the report to the House. (Time expired)