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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
11/07/2012
Workplace bullying

PANLOCK, Mr Damian, Private capacity

PANLOCK, Mrs Rae, Private capacity

[14:32]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mr Damian Panlock and Mrs Rae Panlock. Do you have any comment on the capacity in which you appear before the committee?

Mrs Panlock : My daughter's name was Brodie, hence Brodie's law. She tragically took her own life in 2006 after relentless bullying at work.

Mr Panlock : I am Brodie's dad. I think we have been through a lot since Brodie died, and we have tried to do many things with different organisations. A lot of them have not worked but I think that we are seeing a lot of light.

CHAIR: Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise you that this is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as procedures of the respective Houses. I now invite you to continue with your comments and then we can perhaps go to questions.

Mrs Panlock : I think the main thing is that back in 2006, when Brodie was at work, there was nothing in place to help her. After she died there was a coronial inquiry and it then went to WorkSafe. Under OH&S laws at the time, there were convictions and heavy fines but nothing else. Now, under Brodie's law, with that particular type of bullying there is now a chance that they face heavier penalties.

CHAIR: Okay. First of all, we would just like to thank you for coming today. We recognise that you have been through significant distress and trauma through this whole process, but we do have what is colloquially named Brodie's law here in Victoria. I would just like to ask a few questions around that. You said that there was nothing at the time in 2006; there was no recourse. Is that correct? Could you just expand a little bit on that and then say what motivated you to pursue it under the Criminal Code.

Mrs Panlock : At the particular place where Brodie had worked, there was not anything in place to help anyone who was being bullied at work. As I said, after the coronial inquiry the only recourse we had was through OH&S laws. There was no other law available even though Brodie went through assaults and all sorts of things. It was relentless, serious bullying.

Mr Panlock : Can I just interrupt there. At the time the police did not want to pursue it any further. We did have one particular officer that went way beyond what she should have done or was supposed to do, and she is still trying, but to no avail. There is still assault, and there were certain other laws back then that could have been proceeded with, but the police did not go any further. We have spoken to high-ranking police as well, and they all sort of just go, 'Thwip!' That is that part, but the other part that we are trying to do, as you are doing, is changing the attitude—training and teaching, if you want to put those in prospectively. It is a very basic thing. I have heard a lot of people talk today, and I have spoken to people behind the scenes too. It is not going to change unless we as a whole change. I think a good word is 'village'. The village has to change. The village raises the children; it is not just you or me—the parent. It is everyone, and that attitude is a bit vacant. That is what we need to do.

CHAIR: I just want to pick up on the comments you made about assault being available but not pursued, because we heard yesterday from some witnesses that the legislative frameworks, if we are talking about some sort of Brodie's law across the country, were not appropriate because there already are things such as assault and those types of criminal conduct. If it gets as bad as physical assault, there are already laws in place to deal with that. You are clearly saying that there were not.

Mrs Panlock : No.

CHAIR: There might have been assault laws but they were not pursued by police. Could you just elaborate on that and clarify that.

Mr Panlock : I think you need one law for one country, not each state. That is what the problem is: each state is slightly different. It is like the railway lines: they do not match. They have to match. There has to be continuity across the whole board. We are not talking about politics or anything like that; it is people. The laws are all different, or slightly different, in each state. I have spoken to lawyers down here, and when they go to Queensland it is different again. Why can't there be one straight across the board? We are Australians, aren't we?

CHAIR: Absolutely. In terms of the police not picking up the assault and charging the perpetrators, was that something you tried to pursue before the coronial inquest—trying to get someone to pick up on assault charges?

Mr Panlock : We did not find out until we were actually at the inquest what happened to Brodie. These people that did it were all lawyered up.

Mrs Panlock : People that came forward and said what had been happening—

Mr Panlock : We were not; we did not know enough about what to do. The police helped us to a point—

Mrs Panlock : You get very lost in those situations.

Mr Panlock : Yes. I think you are going through such a hell of a time, when it was going through at the beginning. Everything was sort of falling over.

Mrs Panlock : Education is definitely the key here, but I think having a law like this is a definite deterrent as well for serious cases. Brodie's case and many other cases show that when mental health is really pushed this can sadly be the end result.

CHAIR: So you see that having this law really sends a signal and a deterrent, especially at the pointy end.

Mrs Panlock : It sends a clear message. I never want to see anyone in court over this, because then I know there was serious bullying.

Mr Panlock : That it has gone too far.

CHAIR: Of course.

Mrs Panlock : But it is good to know that we have that law. I have had a lot of people come to me and say that yes, it is a good deterrent. That is what we are hoping for. Education is obviously the most important part. I particularly do not want to see people in court over these sorts of things, because I just do not want it to get to that stage. So education and prevention are definitely the most important issues, but the law needs to be there, just like every law. If you drink and drive, you know the consequences, and if you step over that line that is something to see.

CHAIR: Brodie's law deals with the quite serious end—

Mrs Panlock : And cyberbullying.

CHAIR: and cyberbullying, yes. Did you push for cyberbullying to be included, or was it something that came up during the discussion?

Mrs Panlock : It came up during the discussion.

Mr Panlock : It came with it, basically. We were really looking at the WorkSafe side of it, because that was the whole thing about Brodie's situation.

Mrs Panlock : Some of it came under stalking laws—

Mr Panlock : Yes, stalking and so forth.

Mrs Panlock : and that went into cyberbullying.

Mr Panlock : Let's face it: it is one thing to lose a child. It does not matter how you lose them; it is all the same in that context. Don't you think?

Mrs Panlock : Yes, absolutely.

CHAIR: You talked a bit about prevention. You are playing a role in prevention through speaking up and talking about it. Is that right?

Mr Panlock : Yes.

Mrs Panlock : Yes.

CHAIR: Have you had a lot of support with that?

Mr Panlock : More so recently. We cannot say too much, but we were speaking to the Victorian government this morning about the legal side of things. There will be a campaign going on very soon and we are going to be a big part of it, I hope. If we can go out and help people to prevent it getting to the extreme stage that we went through, that is what it is about.

Mrs Panlock : Victoria Police are also involved. I think the sad part is a lot of people still do not want to come forward in certain situations. Either they are scared of losing their job, or they will leave that job and go somewhere else and leave that culture behind. It is sad. There should not be any complacency in the workplace. People have to be aware of what is going on around them and protect each other. I am not just talking about everyday things. When it gets to behaviour that is starting to impact on someone's life, putting them in the state that Brodie was in, it is serious.

Mr Panlock : It impacted on our family. It was not just Brodie. She did the ultimate task, if you want to call it that. It has affected our family and it is nearly six years. It affected the whole family. It is not just us but our other children, their grandparents, cousins and so on.

Mrs Panlock : Every time you pick up a newspaper and you see a young person has taken their life after cyberbullying or things like that, it really hits home that you can push someone to that. She must have felt dreadful. It must change your whole life.

Mr Panlock : She was a very strong person. I think I have said it a few times, but she used to soldier on and get over whatever was going on. But the impact was just too much. It was not just one person; it was four men: the owner and three individuals. They just kept on pursuing her. This is the other thing. The people who worked there other than these men did try but did not try enough. A lot of them said in the court case they wished they had done more. What can you do, though?

Mrs Panlock : That is what we want to get across—that people should not stand back.

CHAIR: That leads perfectly into my last question. We heard people talking this morning about the concept of vicarious liability, for example in sexual harassment cases. If you are watching it, there is a responsibility, particularly on managers but also on co-workers, to try to do something about it. If management is involved, it is quite difficult. What is your general feeling about the concept of vicarious liability or some sort of onus to not just stand by? I recognise that under OH&S there is that duty of care, but I guess vicarious liability is seen as a slightly stronger responsibility. I am interested in your thoughts on that.

Mr Panlock : I think that is harsh. Everyone is different and some people are weaker than others or stronger that others, or whatever you want to put it down to. Flipping that around is where the bullying comes into it. They pick them out. They pick out the weakest. Brodie was the weakest in that situation. She was the youngest and more vulnerable. They tried it on other people in the organisation and it did not work because they were older. As far as the people who were around Brodie are concerned, they were young people, so how can you blame them for not doing more than what they thought they could do? They did warn that they did not have WorkSafe to go to. lot of them were students and stuff like that.

CHAIR: Do you think it would have changed if the manager had that vicarious liability?

Mr Panlock : Yes. He was in there for the money.

Mrs Panlock : Definitely. With all these sorts of things, it all comes back to a duty of care, and I guess we all have that duty of care to look after each other. If you can help someone, that is the main thing.

Mr Panlock : That is why education really comes into it. I am not just talking about school; we are adults. In those situations, you do not say, 'You, you, you;' you just say that we all need to be more caring and if you don't there is the result at the end or you can take a clearer path. When Bill Shorten talks about the amount of money that is actually wasted within the workforce because of bullying and many other things that go on, it is colossal. Look at the figures. You can do better if you look after your people. We have a small business and we look after our people. It is only common sense. An idiot can go down the wrong way and get away with it. Who knows with some of these people.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr RAMSEY: Thank you for coming here and fronting up yet again—probably for the hundredth time—and for your continued involvement and willingness to go public. Three of us are from interstate and we probably do not have a good understanding of Brodie's case as perhaps Mike does, as he lives here, though I am aware of the case. I do not want you to go places that are too uncomfortable for you. How big was the enterprise that Brodie was working in?

Mrs Panlock : It was a smaller cafe. There would have been about 10 to 15 people.

Mr RAMSEY: I understand there was a romantic issue.

Mr Panlock : The manager was going out with Brodie off and on sort of thing. It was her first love, put it that way, and he took full advantage of that.

Mrs Panlock : In a work environment as well.

Mr Panlock : It is a hard part of it.

Mr RAMSEY: How aware were you of Brodie's predicament and how bad things were?

Mr Panlock : Nothing.

Mrs Panlock : Not at all. She didn't say anything.

Mr RAMSEY: If things had been different, and we are talking about a different culture, would that have allowed Brodie come to you or do you think she still would have kept it in because that is the kind of person she was—she would not have come back to mum and dad and said, 'I've got a real problem here'?

Mr Panlock : It was the age thing.

Mrs Panlock : Yes, being 19 they tend to keep a lot of things to themselves. I racked my brain to see if I missed something or if she said something to me. I often went to the cafe so there were plenty of times that people had an opportunity to say something, and they now say they wished they had said something to me. There was nothing untoward while I was around. A few times I said to Brodie, 'Is everything all right?' She said, 'Don't worry about it; everything is fine'—a typical teenager.

After she died, when we went to the hospital and that we were both in shock. When they rang and told us, I thought that she must have been in a car accident. I could not think of anything else. When we were told what happened, I could not comprehend it until people starting coming forward and saying: 'Someone has to stand up for Brodie. We know this and that happened.' We were in shock because we could not understand how people could be so relentless in that way.

Mr RAMSEY: That is an enormous shift for us to try to engineer in the workplace—making it so that people can feel they can come forward and not deal with the issues by themselves. Many of us, and I think I would be one, would say, 'This is my job; I am going to deal with this one way or another. I'll front up to it. This will be my problem and I am not going to put it onto anyone else.' That becomes a very big issue for us about how we try to encourage those changes in the workplace. Thank you very much.

Mr SYMON: Thank you, Damian and Rae, for coming along. It is very important for our inquiry, but I would like to go back to the point that you started off with, Damian, and that is the need for a national law, because we are all Australians and it should be the same. The reason I go to that point is that we have already heard submissions saying there is no need for the provisions of Brodie's law to be expanded to interstate jurisdictions. Obviously you have a completely different view of that, because of the circumstances, because of the terrible story that has unfolded over so long a period of time. What do you think is the best way of getting your message beyond the boundaries of Victoria to other state jurisdictions about the deficiencies that they currently have in their OH&S laws where workplace bullying currently resides?

Mr Panlock : There is a very simple way. You stand up as individuals. That is what we are doing in Victoria, or we will be doing in the very near future. You have got a raw approach in the sense that we have been through this, you do not want to go through this, and you need to go along a different path. We are giving an example of what we have actually been through, and anyone in their right mind can see that we are not bullshitting to them; we are giving them the actual facts of life of what we have been through.

I have spoken to a few newspaper people and they say, 'You talk straight from the cuff'. That is what it is all about. I am not reading from a script or anything like that. It is all in here. We are both the same and we are very tight on that. You have to explain to people. I have been in hospitals and in different situations, and you talk to people and you say, 'Brodie's law' and they look at you blankly, and you think, 'I thought they'd know about that,' but they do not. It is the same as a YouTube thing that the police have put out. They have not publicised it well enough. That is just a raw, basic message—what we have been through. If you really study it, you can say, 'That's wrong. It's just wrong.'

Mrs Panlock : I think the issue too is that bullying is no different in Victoria, Queensland or any other state in Australia. Bullying is the same here as it is everywhere else and that is why I would like to see it as a national law. So if you live in Victoria there is the chance for jail, but why should Queensland, Tasmania and every other state be left out? There are a lot of people who have lost people to this sort of thing in every state in Australia, I would say. That is why I would like to see it as a national law.

Mr Panlock : Just a quick one: when we went to the upper house when the law was passed, before that we walked in there and they were arguing about something as normal. As soon as Brodie's law came in, it just went flat as that and everyone had time to talk. There was no interfering, no nothing. Everyone was, as I recall it, on the same page. And that was every political party—Labor, Liberal, Greens or whatever. They were all on the same page. It was great. They were Australians. And that is a good thing to be pushing. That is what we are.

Mr SYMON: I can tell you from experience: that happens rarely in federal parliament, but there are occasionally issues that come up where everyone is on the same page. I think the circumstances you are describing need to go Australia wide. That is my view. Have you, in the opportunities you have had to speak to many people over the last few years, spoken to some of the peak employer bodies, the peak union bodies?

Mr Panlock : I had a very quick conversation with the ACTU in a roundtable over the phone. There were about four or five people at the other end. It was like, 'Thank you very much; see you later.' I tried to put to them, because I have been in the union in the past, the printers union and so forth, overseas and in Australia, that, if you look after your people, they are encouraged to join. That applies to the Liberals and Labor—whoever it is. I do not know if they can see the basics of what goes on. If you look after your people, there is more chance they will join your club.

Mr SYMON: One of the themes I have been talking about today and talked about yesterday is cultural change and workplace culture not keeping up with it. Is that something you would like to talk on? Society has moved on and has different expectations of what should happen in the workplace than it did 20 or 30 years ago, and workplaces have not necessarily moved at the same rate.

Mr Panlock : We are in the printing trade, and computers and all the technical stuff, IT and so forth, has virtually taken over. So the trade is very thin. I went to college and to get into the trade I had to go to a technical school and repeat the last year. Now people come out of college or something like that and think they are automatically a whizzo prang printer or whatever, and they are not. The trade is suffering big time because of the way things have changed. Computers have been the worst thing for our trade. Basically anyone can come in the back door.

Mr SYMON: How does that sit at the management level of your trade? You have had technological change—

Mr Panlock : That has suffered as well. A lot of people that we supply to really do not know what they are talking about. They come from management in different sections of industry and they do not know enough about printing. Yes, there is bullying there. I have seen it myself. Management will not even talk to certain people.

Mr SYMON: Do you think that comes about from the thinness of experience or skills in management, not only with the technical side but with human rights issues, with their people?

Mr Panlock : Yes, definitely. They do not have good people skills.

Mrs Panlock : My brother is in construction, and he talks about the amount of bullying that goes on in the construction sites. A lot of companies cannot understand that when it has been raining those on the site cannot do some jobs, for safety reasons. They want it finished and do not care how it is done. He has incredible battles with some of the bigger corporations. They do not care how it is done; they just want it done. It is a real form of bullying. They do not care about the safety of the people on the worksite, who my brother is responsible for.

Mr SYMON: I come from the same background, construction, as a safety rep. I certainly understand what you are talking about.

Mrs Panlock : He will say: 'No, they're not going on the site today; the ground's not safe,' and so on. I had him in my ear last week about it. He had said, 'I'm not putting them on the site and that's it,' and they had said, 'I don’t care; I want the job finished.' There is just no time to talk about the best interest of the people on the worksite. They just say, 'I want it done, I want it done now and I don’t care how you do it.' That is an issue as well and it is where a lot of bullying comes into it.

Mr SYMON: Thank you.

Ms O'NEILL: I lost a sister to leukaemia at age 19, in 1983. My mum often goes over and over what she could possibly have done to alter the situation, and there really was not anything. So I feel really sorry for your loss. I acknowledge how very brave you are in coming here today and thank you for doing that.

You have expertise not only because of the life you have lived but because of you have been in a big employment situation and also in small business. One of the things that we keep hearing is that small business has too many costs and too much time pressure to deal with bullying and we should kind of leave it alone. What are your thoughts about that?

Mr Panlock : It is wrong. I think on an everyday basis you treat people the way you would prefer to be treated and I think you get a gut feeling about it. I will mention again Bill Shorten. He reckons you get a tightness in your gut when you feel that something is not right. I have been in situations, not in my own factory but in other larger factories that we supply, where I have felt drained that someone can talk to someone like that or can totally ignore them. I find a good thing in sales, when you are going around to different companies and so forth, is to talk to everyone. It does not matter what they do. You talk to them and it is amazing what respect you will get back from them. So every time you walk into different places it is nice to get a 'gooday, mate'. That is all you have to say yourself. You do not have to do much more. So that helps. Let's face it: if you are smart enough you know that sooner or later one of those persons is going to be going up the tree. That is pretty basic, isn't it? That is basic management. I did courses with More Paragon when I was younger through an American company. It is about a round circle: you stay in the middle of the circle and you operate like so and you do not get out of that circle and you do not concentrate on any part of that; you put people in that round circle to help you. That is good management. That is very basic. You could do it with one or two or 100 people.

Ms O'NEILL: So that is a very simplified management model that you have just put on the public record.

Mr Panlock : It is, and it works.

Ms O'NEILL: Somebody's business has gone because of the clarity of what you have just said! What I was also interested in is this. You are the first people who have come before us to use the word 'care'. In terms of how we set up a regulatory system, it is following much more what might be called a deontological or a duty-bound path, so it is 'you are required'. We know we have got duty of care, but some people are thinking: 'I'm not pushed enough to do the duty so I do not really want to care.' You are the first people who have said that you have to care about what goes on in your workplace and the whole ethic of care. That feeds back to something that we heard yesterday. It was a statement that if the mission and the value statements of the company are adhered to then the gap between what is going on and that mission can be a lot smaller and there is a lot less bullying and negativity in that environment. So I appreciate that you have put 'care' on the record. I think that is very important. I turn to the care for the people who might become work colleagues of the people who have been charged in Brodie's case. That is where I would like to go with my next question. There has been some sort of redress, but it is never adequate. What has happened now with those people? What processes are in place—where very obviously they have been engaged in high-level and maximum-consequences bullying—to prevent that behaviour being transferred to future workplaces? Could you tell me anything about that?

Mrs Panlock : That is a good question. I honestly do not know much about what has happened to those people now. I just hope that, given the process that they would go through within the courts and given what has happened with Brodie, these sort of people would sit up and take note and think, 'Well, I never want to be in that situation again. I really do need to change my attitude and move on.' How they get treated in the workplace now I really do not know.

Ms O'NEILL: But nobody has told you about what is being done to make sure this does not happen again?

Mrs Panlock : No. We have not had a great deal back from Work Safe or anything like that to know what has been going on, which is a little bit sad in a way. I thought Work Safe might have done a lot more with maybe a campaign as to bullying.

Mr Panlock : Which we offered to help with, but nothing ever came back.

Mrs Panlock : I have not heard anything about that.

Mr Panlock : But I have heard some things. One is that on the day of the trial Nick got sacked. He is living in Queensland with his mother—so that is the main one. He got sacked on the spot that day that he was in court. I do not know what happened after that.

Ms O'NEILL: By a different employer?

Mr Panlock : Yes.

Ms O'NEILL: Because it became public knowledge?

Mr Panlock : Yes. But I will not go any further than that. Who knows?

Mrs Panlock : I think that, with the law and that, you hope that it does become a deterrent, making people think, 'Hey, there are consequences if I'm going to step over the line into this serious thing.' To stop it and nip it in the bud before it gets to anything is most important, but with some people it does not matter; they will still cross that line and they do not really care. That is when you hope that the law will come in and do something about it. I think that definitely helps. I do not think it matters whether you have a small business with one or two or a business with 1,000 or so; you still have to be responsible for the people that are working with you. I think it just makes a workplace a lot better if people are just a little bit more considerate with each other and are aware of what is going on around them and things like that. I know things do not always go right at work; it would be silly to think that they do, and we all have our times. But it gets to a really serious impact on someone's state of mental health, the way they dress or the way they look, or physically abusing them and things like that. These people have to go home at night, and then, when they go home, they turn on the computer, and they are there on their computer or there is an SMS on their phone. When I was a kid, you went home from school and thought, 'I don't have to see them till Monday,' but now they go home and they are on the computer. These days I cannot believe some of the things they say. In my day it would just be silly little things that kids would say to each other, but today they are quite aggressive and things like that. It is the same in the workplace. It seems to be so competitive, as I said about my brother, with deadlines and all this sort of thing, and at the cost of what? People's state of mental health. It is just not worth it, and in Brodie's case it just shows that that is the state you can get to, and that is the end result.

Mr Panlock : I will just say one thing, and I will be very brief. The people that did this to Brodie did not think they did anything wrong.

Mrs Panlock : Yes, that is the sad thing.

Mr Panlock : There were no apologies. There were high fives at the inquest when they saw Rae bawling her head out. She was crying like mad outside, and these people had the nerve to walk out doing high fives in front of her. They did not think they did anything wrong. That is the stupidest thing about the whole thing. No-one ever apologised or said anything to us.

Mrs Panlock : But I think that, if you might be facing up to some sort of jail term and that, with police rather than a WorkSafe officer turning up, I would stand up and be thinking, 'Whoa! This is a little bit more serious.'

Mr Panlock : The Victoria Police are very keen to do something.

Mrs Panlock : It is just how we get it out.

Mr Panlock : As I think Rae said before, when crunch comes to crunch, people think, 'Oh, gee. If I do this, I could lose my job or increase what could go wrong at my next job. They've lined me up. There's the box. I've ticked it and said I've informed my boss of whatever I've done.' It is silly stuff like that, but it does not take much to get around.

Ms O'NEILL: What were the things that they did wrong—just a few things that were wrong that you could see were clearly wrong and that obviously had a terrible impact but that they did not see as wrong?

Mr Panlock : They think it was a big joke—one of the boys.

Mrs Panlock : Yes, that is the sort of attitude it was. It was a really toxic environment, and that is what a lot of workplaces are, where people are degraded and things like that. It becomes a very toxic environment to work in.

Ms O'NEILL: We have heard a bit about this sense of it being a joke as the way that people mask bullying.

Mrs Panlock : Yes, exactly: 'Oh, she can take it,' or this sort of attitude and stuff like that. People must see the effect it has on a person. We were told that there were times when she broke down in tears. I do not want to go into it.

Mr Panlock : It was totally degrading.

Mrs Panlock : It was just too degrading. It really was hard.

Mr Panlock : Two men holding her down and so on. It just goes on and on.

Mrs Panlock : And pouring oil over her and things like this.

Ms O'NEILL: They still think that is okay?

Mrs Panlock : Yes: 'She had two brothers. She can take it.'

Mr Panlock : Her brothers would not dare do anything like that.

CHAIR: We might have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

Mrs Panlock : Thank you for listening.

CHAIR: On behalf of the committee, we are very sorry for your loss, but thank you.

Mr Panlock : Can I say one last thing. I do hope it goes national. It is as simple as that.

CHAIR: We have that message loud and clear. Thank you very much for that. We appreciate it. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence, and you can make corrections to it. If there is anything extra you would like to provide us with, feel free to forward it on to the secretariat. We will be reporting on 30 November, so at any point feel free to send stuff through. Once again, we very much appreciate it. It must be hard to keep doing this, but we very appreciate your coming along.

Mrs Panlock : Thank you very much for listening.

Mr Panlock : Thank you all.

Committee adjourned at 15:09