Princess Katy, A Political Fairytale

By Mike Welsh

A recent article by Noel Towell in the Canberra Times on outgoing ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher described her as the “impossible Princess of ACT Politics”.

I’m guessing Noel was trying to be kind.

To be fair, Katy Gallagher is a smart and capable person. And politically astute. Sufficiently astute at least to play the Princess to her advantage. And she’s played it brilliantly. She can seamlessly segue from commanding captain of the hockey team on the field to head cheer leader urging on the football team from the sidelines.

After covering ACT politics for 11 of the past 12 years, my view of KG is that she is indeed a “princess”. The “precious poor little petal” type princess who when the heat is applied either whips out and waves the sexist card or drops her bottom lip and flutters her eyelashes with “I’m just a girl”.

Once, just prior to a pre-recorded interview with me for my radio program she coyly said…..”Be gentle with me Mike”

But after I became a little less gentle, on behalf of many victims of workplace bullying in the ACT Public Service, I was informed by a flunky that “Katy has banned you”.  The ban was lifted some time later but I was not notified.

Apart from some at the Canberra Times, Mike Jeffreys and me on 2CC the Canberra based media has given Princess Katy a right royal ride. Anointed by John Stanhope for the top job, and wholeheartedly endorsed by her mob for the squeaky clean image she projected to the electorate, she’s had a dream run through the past few years.

A dream run aided by a mostly soft, ineffective and self defeating opposition.

As a political leader Katy G is that rare and valued political bird. The unencumbered by baggage, cute little blonde cheerleader from cute little blonde cheerleader central. And the strategy has worked a treat for ACT Labour.

And that “rails run” through politics is about to continue. Bored with wading through the mundane day to day trash emptied out on the floor of the Municipal Council which is the ACT government, Katy Gallagher now swans off, without serious scrutiny, to the safety of the Senate leaving a trail of human misery which is the hundreds of psychologically damaged Canberrans bullied in the ACT Public Service. And the scores of whom were bullied again by the ACT Public service which “went after” them when they dared to speak out.

Out of sheer frustration at being unable to get past Katy’s gatekeeper Dr Peggy Brown, Director General ACT Health, on July 29 last year I tweeted @KatieGMLA after a letter I’d received from staffers  highlighting serious bullying at an ACT run department at which the letter said “there would be suicides”

To her credit Katie tweeted back “serious allegation deserves better that a tweet. Pl forward any info you have”

In reply I sought a guarantee there would be no further bullying as “this was almost always central to the issue”. I’m still awaiting a reply. Katie knows but can’t afford politically to know.

Among many bullying cases of which I was made aware, there was a woman from ACT Health who had been in contact with me over a period of time. She had written to Katy about the way she was “gone after” by her superiors after she “blew the whistle” on some inappropriate practices. I contacted her one Sunday afternoon to see how her case was going and was told “it’s too late, I’m on the roof”. She was indeed on the roof, of a very high building and was planning to jump, such was the pressure she was getting from the ACT Gov’s people for “blowing the whistle” on bullying.

The reality is either Katy Gallagher knows, chapter and verse, of the evil and destructive “culture” of bullying which exists in the ACT public Service or, somebody else read those reports from inquiries into bullying at Canberra Hospital which have never been published. This allows her to remain at arm’s length from the political stench attached to the issue and wash her hands as she walks away.

When the Whistle is blown on Bullying

I’VE been been bullied once, that I can recall. An overweight redhead, that perennial schoolyard victim, chose to pass some of the action down the line to a smaller kid… me.

I punched him in the face, got strapped and was never bullied again.

But you can’t punch the bully in the face anymore. So what to do?

The more I know of this destructive human trait, the less encouraged I am of a solution.

The Sydney “Telegraph” recently featured a 40-year-old man who’d been bullied at school. He gave horrendous examples of the abuse he copped in the yards of several schools he was forced to attend.

The ensuing years proved to be problematic, with relationship breakdowns and an inability to hold down regular employment.

There was a positive outcome though, several of his peers, including his own brother, read the article and were shocked to learn of his suffering. Furthermore, several of them got in contact to apologise. They were unaware of the suffering they’d inflicted.

Over my 11 years on the 2CC Drive Show, I have become educated on the long-term and permanent damage done by bullying, including workplace bullying and it seems to me that we don’t mature much once we’re out of the schoolyard.

I assured scores of victims of workplace bullying (largely within the ACT Public Service) that I could protect them should they choose to go to air. But it turns out, I couldn’t in many cases. Whistleblowers are often bullied again.

The standard management approach of “is that really bullying?” or” is he/she just too sensitive?” is wearing thin. Or the old fallback: “Better watch your step, lest you wreck your career”.

If you’re in the foetal position at 3am terrified at the prospect of going back into the battle zone… more than likely, it’s bullying.

If your day brightens up 100 per cent the moment you arrive and discover Bully is off for the day…. more than likely, there’s a bullying problem.

I also urged those who contacted me to get together in numbers But  safety and power in numbers is not always a guarantee. The strategy is to worm out the ring leaders of the “revolt” and put pressure on them. A group of six becomes two, split the two and you may just have “made this thing go away”.

One worker, a big, strong man standing 6’3” told me he was fearful of returning to work in the yard where he’d been bullied.

A woman told me that while she won her case, she would not recommend going down that road, it’s far too painful.

Another woman, who had the guts to make a written complaint, told me that by coffee time, the entire office – including the bully knew. The bullying then intensified.

The ACT Government was lauded on the introduction of a whistleblowing policy which loosely allowed a public servant to go outside (to media) with their bullying and allied issues, if they were dissatisfied with the “usual procedure”. The problem is “usual procedure” usually means their card is marked.

This “innovative” whistleblower policy failed a public servant with whom I’d been speaking earlier this year. After returning from six weeks off air,  I texted her to reconnect. She told me it was “too late”, she was “on the roof”, which I took for a euphemism for getting to the end of her rope.

But she was, in fact, on the roof and ready to jump.

She came down and was admitted to psychiatric ward. Three days later, she took a call from her superior wanting to know why she’d missed work!

Another time, I received a letter from five staff of an ACT Department confirming that what I was saying was one hundred per cent correct. One quote – “So much suffering. So much stress. We wait for suicides, because that is what will happen” – was frightening.

I once tweeted the word “suicide” to shame the Government on bullying. Chief Minister Katy Gallagher tweeted it wasn’t the forum for such a serious issue. What then my Chief Minister is the forum? Or do we wait until after the suicides to formulate another policy?