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Queensland Education and Industrial Relations Minister Cameron Dick
has established a workplace bullying reference group “to ensure
that Queensland’s framework for dealing with workplace bullying
remains valid and effective.”
To understand why the deliberations of Mr Dick’s reference group
will have little impact on the bulling in Queensland workplaces,
you need to consider whose interests are being represented by the
bodies who have been invited to join the reference group - the
Queensland Council of Unions, employer representatives and legal
and academic experts. Each of these bodies has a significant
conflict of interest in dealing with workplace bullying - many of
their members either are the workplace bullies, or are in the
business of protecting the workplace bullies, or are funded by the
workplace bullies. The bodies on the reference group will protect
their own interests well, but there will be nobody on the reference
group to really represent the interests of bullied workers.
The Honorary President of the Queensland Council of Unions, for
example, is John Battams, General Secretary of the Queensland
Teachers Union. The QTU is the largest registered industrial
organisation in Queensland. It has 43,000 members - classroom
teachers, principals and education department administrators, all
together in the same union.
When a Queensland classroom teacher is bullied by their school
principal, many other administrators may become involved in the
situation - supporting and encouraging the bully principal,
providing advice to the bully principal, etc. So QTU officers have
to balance the need of the individual union member to be protected
from workplace abuse against the need of their many bullying
members to be protected from the consequences of their bullying,
mobbing, incompetence, negligence, malice, defamation,
falsification of the official records, etc, etc. And so a bullied
classroom teacher may find that, instead of being actively defended
from workplace abuse, they are instead advised that there is no
hope of justice and that the best thing to do is to “accept the
things you cannot change”, because Queensland teachers who “fight
it” are mentally and physically destroyed. The union seems to have
adopted a ‘learned helplessness’ approach to dealing with workplace
In June 2002 I met Ann Bligh in Cairns and I told her that bullied
Queensland teachers were being advised to ‘accept the things you
cannot change’ because there was no hope of justice. I was
whistleblowing, although I did not realise it at that time. I just
thought that I was telling the Minister of Education something that
she really needed to know. I expected Anna Bligh to be shocked by
my disclosure, and to react in the manner that Stephen Smith
reacted when he was told about the abuse at the ADF Academy. I
expected Anna Bligh to jump about, wave her ministerial arms in the
air and tell her senior public servants that the situation was
completely stupid, and that this would not do - that Queensland
teachers must be protected from workplace abuse.
For a while, I believed that this was what had happened. I was
given repeated reassurances that the bullying was under control and
I retired in July 2002, a happy whistleblower, believing that I had
done what I saw as my duty to other Queensland teachers.
Several hundred other Queensland teachers also retired in July
2002, taking the first of the teachers’ $50,000 ‘career change’
packages. I was told that many of these ‘career change’ teachers
were escaping from workplace bullying situations.
A workplace bullying reference group was set up, and in 2004
Queensland implemented a code of practice to help Queensland
employers prevent workplace bullying and harassment.
But little seemed to have actually changed in Queensland schools.
In 2007 Deidre Duncan and Dan Riley of UNE surveyed 800 Australian
teachers. They found that 99.6 per cent of the teachers claimed to
have experienced bullying in the workplace. Queensland teachers
were over-represented in the survey, suggesting that, five years
after I had whistleblown to Anna Bligh, and even after many
hundreds of teachers had taken workplace bullying escape packages,
workplace bullying was still rife in Queensland schools.
You would think that these shocking research findings would ring
alarm bells in the Queensland department of education. You would
think that the results would prompt a lot of union agitation. But
not in Queensland. And so, nine years after I first whistleblew
about the workplace bullying in Queensland schools to Anna Bligh,
another workplace bullying reference group has been set up with no
body to represent the interests of bullied workers. And no
submissions to the reference group have been requested from bullied
Cameron Dick must ensure that the voices of bullied Queensland
workers are heard by his reference group, and that their
experiences are taken into consideration.
What do bullied Queensland teachers need? They need some
independent research into the effectiveness of departmental
workplace bullying polices. We need to understand why the
departmental policies are failing bullied teachers. They need to be
respected. They need to have equal rights with their students. And
most of all they need the right to engage in professional
discussion, without the fear of ‘payback’ allegations. I would
suspect that the repression of professional discussion in
Queensland schools is a significant factor in the failure of public
education in Queensland. There is little point in employing well
qualified teachers in Queensland schools if these teachers are
going to be driven into ill health and out of work for trying to do
their job to the best of their ability.
The department of education promotion system fails Queensland
classroom teachers. Any teacher who is interested in becoming a
school principal should be required to demonstrate a sound
comprehension of departmental polices before they are considered
for ‘acting’ or promotion positions. School principals need to
demonstrate that they are literate enough to read the workplace
bullying policy documents produced by the reference groups, and
they need to demonstrate that they are intelligent enough to apply
the workplace bullying policies to their own behaviour. The failure
to maintain this professional standard in Queensland schools is
negligence. When school principals do not read, or cannot properly
comprehend, departmental policies, classroom teachers are exposed
to workplace abuse.
The education department investigation process also exposes
Queensland teachers to the risk of workplace abuse. It is much too
easy for a school principal to make ‘payback’ allegations against a
classroom teacher. And it is much too easy, if a teacher disproves
these allegations, for the principal to change the
It is much too easy for a principal to make falsified records of
meetings, to ‘record’ imaginary meetings, to ‘lose’ all or part of
records supportive of a teacher, to refuse to hear or to record
evidence supportive of a teacher, etc, etc. It is much too easy for
a principal to place these falsified documents secretly on a
teacher’s departmental records.
School principals should be required to provide teachers with a
written copy of any allegations. The person making these
allegations should make the statement in their own words. The
allegations should concern specific facts. The teacher should also
be provided with a statement of their rights in this situation, and
with a copy of the relevant departmental policy document. Teachers
should be allowed the time and opportunity to check the facts, to
gather evidence, and to respond to the allegations in writing.
Teachers should be provided with independent legal advice. The
teacher’s response to the allegations should be properly considered
by an officer with no conflict of interest in the situation.
The Crime and Misconduct Commission ‘devolution process’ also fails
Queensland teachers. When a teacher first makes a disclosure to the
CMC, the teacher may not realise the full extent of the corruption.
The CMC have a policy of handing over about 98 per cent of
disclosures to the department of education for investigation. And
the department of education seem to have a policy of allowing
principals and senior public servants to investigate themselves,
and to find themselves innocent of any allegations. These senior
departmental officers then declare the case ‘closed’ and instruct
that any further letters from the teacher should be filed and
If the teacher has made a Right to Information application, the RTI
documents seem to be delayed till a few days after the teacher’s
case has been declared ‘closed’. Then the RTI documents are
released, the full extent of the corruption is exposed and the
teacher’s protests are filed and ignored.
‘Independent’ departmental investigations also seem to be
controlled by the senior departmental officer whose behaviour is
the subject of the complaint. This officer is able to limit the
independent investigation, to limit the documents ‘considered’ by
the investigator and to prevent the investigator from asking
certain key questions.
Thousands of dollars of taxpayers money seem to be being wasted on
education department ‘independent investigations’ which have been
set up to fail.
During the nine years since I first made my disclosure to Anna
Bligh, she has often returned to Cairns, but Mrs Bligh no longer
takes the risk of sitting down and listening to the concerns of
bullied classroom teachers. She stands behind a barbecue, laughing
at us and handing us sausages. Its the ‘let them eat sausages’
approach to ministerial responsibility.
Bullied Queensland teachers need an education minister who will
really listen to their disclosures and they need a union that will
fight for their right to work free from the fear of workplace
Robina Cosser worked as a teacher and advisory teacher in England,
New South Wales and Queensland. She now edits the Teachers Are
Blowing Their Whistles website and is a vice-president of
Whistleblowers Australia is working with the National
Whistleblowers Centre in Washington to have 30 July recognised as
International Whistleblowers Day.
Robina Cosser M.Ed. (SYD)
Editor : The Teachers Are Blowing Their Whistles!
Editor : Whistleblowing Women
Vice President and Schools Contact : Whistleblowers
Thank a whistleblower on July 30 - International Whistleblowers