First Nations staff in the federal public service have reported higher rates of bullying and harassment in the workplace than their non-Indigenous colleagues for the past four years.
Each year the Australian Public Service Commission asks staff to complete a survey detailing their experiences, including whether they have been subjected to harassment and bullying in the workplace.
In 2022, 16.1% of First Nations staff said they had been subjected to this behaviour, compared with 9.4% of non-First Nations people. The previous three years showed similar figures, with the highest rates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff reported in 2019 (19.2% compared with 12.7%).
The data was detailed in response to questions from the Greens senator Lidia Thorpe during Senate estimates.
“Since 2019, larger proportions of First Nations respondents have perceived experiences of racism or bullying than non-First Nations respondents,” an APSC spokesperson told the finance and public administration legislation committee.
Thorpe said the data confirmed what she had been hearing from public servants.
“While it is good to see bullying and harassment trending downwards across all demographics, First Nations people are experiencing nearly double the rate of their non-Indigenous colleagues in the public service,” Thorpe said.
“Government agencies need to be a safe space – not just free from workplace bullying and racism but also safe for workers to speak up and be heard when policies are causing them harm.”
There were 159,469 people employed by the Australian public service on 30 June, with 3.5% identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“Workplace harassment and bullying is unacceptable and is not tolerated in the Australian public service” the APSC spokesperson told the committee.
“The public service is committed to building an inclusive culture where consideration is given to multiple identity dimensions of APS employees, including First Nations heritage.
“Dealing with incidents of bullying and harassment is the responsibility of each agency in head.”
In the past financial year, 627 formal complaints of bullying and harassment were made across the public service.
The Department of Health and Aged Care is investigating 23 allegations, compared with 47 at this time last year.
Seventeen current members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) have had more than one bullying, harassment or discrimination complaint made against them since 2016.
Last month, the federal government passed new Respect@Work legislation that places an onus on employers to take “reasonable and responsible” measures to eliminate discrimination.