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Counting of the cost of bullying scourge. [ dailytelegraph.com.au, by Bill Shorten, 27/5/2011].


Brodie’s case is terrible. The bullying she endured was vicious, cowardly and continued over a very long period of time.

Sadly, she certainly isn’t the only worker who has suffered at the hands of her boss and other employees. Every victim is someone’s son or daughter, sister or brother.

Using international research, the Beyond Bullying Association estimated a decade ago that between 400,000 and two million Australians were harassed at work, while between two-and-half and five million will experience workplace harassment at some time during their career.

That was ten years ago and I doubt the figures have improved since then. Let’s face it – many Australian workplaces have pockets of bullying, no matter what an organisation’s ‘values’ or ‘mission’ might say.

Putting on my Assistant Treasurer’s hat for a moment, the economic costs of bullying are also very real. According to one comprehensive report, it has been calculated that workplace bullying costs Australian employers billions of dollars every year, once considerations like workers’ compensation and stress leave are taken into account.

But ultimately, this isn’t about money. It’s about individuals and how their lives can easily be ruined by thoughtless and damaging attacks by the people they work with or indeed attend school with. Bullying is corrosive. It erodes an individual’s self-esteem, their confidence and their personality.

To belittle and humiliate workers in such a way is a cruel act and it happens more than we would like to admit.

I’ve witnessed workers so affected by bullying that it took more than a decade for them to properly recover.

More than a decade for them for rediscover their sense of self-worth and confidence. Thoughts of suicide in these cases are not uncommon.

There’s also this: bullying causes universal harm.

According to the National Centre Against Bullying, an initiative of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, bullying damages not just the victims, but also the bullies themselves.

For some young people, being bullied can lead to increased mental health problems and depression, drug or alcohol abuse, difficulty with relationships and again, in extreme cases, suicide.

For the bullies, research shows 60 in every 100 young people aged 13 to 16 who bully have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24.

Furthermore, 35 in every 100 young people aged 13 to 16 who bully are convicted of at least three crimes by the age of 24. They’re also more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol and abuse their spouse or children later in life.

Those are shocking statistics and something all of us, as a society, can and must change.

The difficulty is, of course, that individuals ultimately have to take responsibility for their own actions.

To be blunt, they have to stop acting like thugs and stop bullying their classmates, employees or co-workers.

If only it were that simple.

Various Governments around Australia deal with workplace bullying in their own way. The Victorian Government has made bullying a criminal offense (following Brodie’s case).

Most other states make bulling a civil offense under occupational health and safety laws, but don’t yet consider or treat it as a criminal matter.

Schoolyard persecution is even more difficult, although certainly all governments recognise it as a problem and provide resources to schools to help manage it, including the excellent Bullying? No Way! website and resources (www.bullyingnoway.com.au). And bullying has well and truly gone online.

Our tech savvy kids, immersed in the age of mobile phones, texting, tweeting and Facebook, have it even harder now that bullies have the anonymity of a username in a chatroom to hide behind.

There exists perhaps less chance of a physical injury in the online realm but, as we know, mental and emotional attacks can be worse.

Bullying, whether classified through criminal or occupational health and safety laws, is mainly a state government responsibility, but that doesn’t mean good work isn’t being done at the Federal level.

My colleagues, Attorney General Robert McClelland and Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, recently announced new laws to better protect all Australians in workplaces and schools from sexual harassment – one extremely insidious form of bullying that has awful consequences for the victims.

Those laws also make it a crime to use methods such as texting or email to sexually harass someone.

Ultimately, all forms of bullying – whether at school, in the office, on the factory floor or online – are an expression of inequity in power.

Perhaps the nation’s politicians should be leading by example and making sure we don’t sound like bullies, too.

When I was studying law at university, I learned about legal tests to establish discrimination, bullying and harassment.

But legal tests aside, if someone’s behaviour towards you, verbal or otherwise, makes you feel diminished, uncomfortable, embarrassed or disempowered you are probably being bullied.

And in my book bullying is a crime, pure and simple.