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‘Blood on their hands’: Border Force slammed after second employee suicide

Former Australian Border Force officer Michael Bradley, who took his life in May this year.

Former Australian Border Force officer Michael Bradley, who took his life in May this year.

It has since emerged that a Perth-based Border Force officer, Michael Bradley, was also experiencing problems at work before he committed suicide.

Mr Bradley is believed to have joined the former customs agency around 2004 and at the time of his death worked at Perth airport. He took his life in May this year.

Several of Mr Bradley’s colleagues, some of whom still work for Border Force, have spoken of their concern over the circumstances leading to his death. All declined to be identified for fear of retribution. One reported that the bullying culture meant “we all live in fear” even when carrying out their day-to-day jobs.

Mr Bradley’s former friends and colleagues remember him as a polite, well-liked employee and a “lovely guy” who enjoyed chatting to passengers and staff. Others recalled his sense of humour and his love of motorbikes.

It was well known amongst Mr Bradley’s colleagues that he suffered post traumatic stress disorder stemming from his experience serving in the British army.

“Michael was a larger-than-life character, you always knew when he was around. We knew he had his demons and he could have dark days, but that never affected his work,” one former colleague said.

Sources say that due to his health conditions, Mr Bradley worked part time and only during the day. However in the weeks leading to his death, they say Border Force management began pressuring Mr Bradley to work full time and on night shifts.

It is understood Mr Bradley resisted the push, as he was concerned about the effect on his wellbeing and on his medication regime.

One former supervisor and close friend of Mr Bradley shared a meal with him two weeks before he died.

“He said senior management had pressured him and pushed him and he didn’t want to go full time. He became quite vocal, [saying] ‘fuck them, I’m not going full time. I don’t want to, I’m not going to’. That was the only time he showed any kind of anger during the conversation,” the friend recalled.

Mr Bradley's colleagues described him as well-liked and said he enjoyed chatting with passengers and staff at Perth airport.

Mr Bradley’s colleagues described him as well-liked and said he enjoyed chatting with passengers and staff at Perth airport.Credit:Ross Swanborough

“Trying to force a person to go full time, knowing that he had PTSD, knowing that he really didn’t want to go full time – it was pressure that really shouldn’t have been applied at any time.”

One long-serving airport employee described the bullying workplace culture before and after Mr Bradley’s death as “absolutely horrendous”.

The employee, who befriended Mr Bradley, said he was “very angry” at being forced back to full time work against his will, and against the advice of doctors.

“[Management] wouldn’t listen to him and they wouldn’t take into account what he was saying,” the source said.

Former friends and colleagues of Mr Bradley who spoke to this publication believed that pressure exerted on him by Border Force management contributed to his death. One said officials pushed Mr Bradley to the brink and have “blood on their hands”. Another said his treatment at work was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Several sources believed that Border Force did not properly investigate the incident or examine the extent to which it may have contributed to the suicide. In response to a freedom of information request by this publication, the department said no summary reports relating to Mr Bradley’s death could be found.

Following his suicide, one source said workers were “told [by management] it was nothing to do with Border Force, there were other problems with Michael”.

Another distressed former colleague said staff were deeply disappointed that Mr Bradley’s death did not prompt an overhaul of Border Force’s workplace culture.

Australian Border Force workers at Perth airport have described the bullying culture as "horrendous", adding weight to claims of a toxic culture across the agency.

Australian Border Force workers at Perth airport have described the bullying culture as “horrendous”, adding weight to claims of a toxic culture across the agency.Credit:AFR

We actually thought they were going to look into it, we thought … finally something is going to happen, even though it’s taken somebody to lose their life,” the source said.

In a statement, the Australian Border Force said neither it nor the department would “comment on the personal details of individuals”.

On an online tribute page to Mr Bradley, Border Force wrote that it “acknowledges the passing of  … a respected long serving officer, colleague and friend. Our thoughts are with family and friends”.

A leaked staff survey conducted in June showed one in five Border Force staff reported being bullied or harassed at work in the past year and the same proportion had suffered discrimination.

However Border force Commissioner Michael Outram this month said “claims of a toxic culture in the ABF are … not correct”.

“Like many organisations we have gone looking for, and identified, some examples of bullying, harassment and harmful behaviours in our organisation. These issues are all too common in our society and within many organisations and we are not immune,” he said.

Mr Outram says Border Force has established a culture and behaviour taskforce and held meetings across Australia to “articulate the vision, mission and new signature values of the ABF”, which includes a zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviour.

Community and Public Sector Union deputy national president Lisa Newman did not comment specifically on Mr Bradley’s death. She criticised the department’s recent decision to scrap its in-house counselling service, saying “now all staff have is a business card with a phone number” of an external counselling provider, which did not meet the specific needs of Border Force staff who often faced stressful or traumatic work situations.

Labor has previously said media reports indicated a cultural problem that must urgently be addressed and that officers should be “supported fully in undertaking their difficult work”.

Mr Bradley’s family declined to comment for this story.

Lifeline 131 114, MensLine 1300 789 978, Beyondblue 1300 224 636

Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WAtoday.

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