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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 1 August 2018) . . Page.. 2491 ..

This motion to establish a board of inquiry into bullying in ACT Health is particularly close to my heart. I am doing this for a variety of reasons. I think I should tell a story to give some real background. Recently one of my staff took a long and very harrowing phone call from a constituent who had worked in the ACT Health system. I will not reveal this constituent’s name or gender. For the sake of the story, let us assume that this person is called Charlie. Charlie’s phone call was two days before the first anniversary of the date in which they planned to attempt suicide.

This person, Charlie, had made very careful plans, but something intervened and he did not follow through with his plans. The preparations were comprehensive, right down to getting his finances in order, executing a will, packing up his house, leaving the keys for the car on the kitchen table, and even arranging for someone to look after the dog.

Charlie had worked in the ACT health system for a long time and had reached a position of leadership. Charlie had good relationships with colleagues and had been responsible for improvements in the way things were done in the area in which he worked. But for most of that time, Charlie had suffered unrelenting bullying and intimidation. Charlie had moved around to try to escape the bullying. Ultimately, however, it was the bullying that forced Charlie out of ACT Health.

Since then Charlie has not been able to get another job. He is under serious financial stress and very close to the point of losing his home. His kids, aged under 10, have even offered him the contents of their piggy banks to help him. My staff member asked Charlie whether there were other contributing factors to his plan to suicide. He said that there were, but that the bullying and intimidation that he had endured during years in ACT Health accounted for about 95 per cent; that and the shame and embarrassment he has suffered since his career was destroyed.

Charlie continues to feel totally gutted. During that phone conversation, both Charlie and my staff member were in tears. Afterwards, my staff member was unable to function for the rest of the day. I am pleased to report back to the Assembly that since then, through further contact with Charlie, we have learnt that he is now on the road to recovery having secured at least a casual job.

A concerning element of this bullying and intimidation seems to have been budget driven. It is well-known that two main cost areas in organisations are wages and accommodation costs. The easiest path to achieving budget cuts is to cut staffing costs. We all know that there are legitimate means of doing that through redundancies and restructures. But that approach takes you to a certain point only. Once the redundancy budget is reached, it becomes necessary to find other means.

A couple of ways have been identified for doing that: one is to try to discredit your staff. You look for enough dirt on them. You try to performance review them, and you push them out through performance review. Alternatively, there are bullying and intimidation, which continues to the point where they cannot stand it any longer and they leave. Charlie experienced both and from a number of quarters.

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