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Bullying accuser lashes Labor MP's 'office banter' apology

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A former office trainee who accused state Labor MP Tony Piccolo of bullying him says an apology by the politician – who blames the episodes on “office banter” – is “laughable”.

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ALP member Bradley Johnson wrote to Labor leader Peter Malinauskas early this year, alleging that he had experienced “inappropriate comments and general belittlement” from Piccolo during his 12-month traineeship that ended in December 2018.

This included “personal emails criticising my work and copying in all staff members, and making jokes at my expense”, including comments on his appearance.

He also claimed that he was forced to resign early because Piccolo allegedly wanted to replace him with another trainee.

Johnson’s letter claimed he was given an “ultimatum” to “hand in my resignation before close of business or I would never get a good reference from him in any future jobs”.

He sought a “formal written apology from Tony for his bullying and harassment, as well as an apology”.

Labor initiated an inquiry, while Treasurer Rob Lucas also instituted an investigation by his Department, which oversees employees of MPs’ offices.

Piccolo’s office today provided InDaily with a letter sent by the MP to Johnson, in which he apologised “that you did not have a more positive experience while working as a trainee”.

“Upon reflecting on your concerns I can see how, over time, the environment within the Light Electorate Office became overly casual at times, as long-term staff who knew each other well engaged in light-hearted office banter,” Piccolo wrote.

“I now understand that as a new young employee I should have had greater regard for how this office environment could have had an impact on you.

“While there was never an intention to cause you to feel uncomfortable while in the workplace, I acknowledge your stated concerns that the office banter, behaviour of staff and some comments made by me had a negative impact on you.”

He further acknowledged “it is likely that I had overly high expectations of a trainee and the feedback provided could have been better directed to assist you in your performance”.

“In light of your feedback to the investigator, I have reflected on the office environment, and I am sorry that you did not have a more positive experience while working as a trainee,” he said.

Piccolo undertook to “look at office processes” and review “how we interact with each other in the office”.

“I will work on providing better feedback mechanisms for staff,” he said.

Johnson said he received the letter only shortly before it was made available to media by Piccolo’s office.

“It seems like just a way for him to deflect blame,” he said.

“I feel like commenting on someone’s weight and blaming that on office banter is a bit ridiculous.”

Johnson said the Labor Party “doesn’t want to comment on the coercion to resign” until the Department of Treasury and Finance inquiry was concluded.

Lucas told The Advertiser last week that inquiry had stalled because Piccolo had not yet agreed to be interviewed by investigators.

Piccolo said today he had “asked them to clarify some issues they raised in their letter to me” and was “more than happy to fully cooperate with a truly independent and fair investigation free of bias and political interference”.

Labor’s own report is being kept confidential, with even Johnson not told of its findings.

“I haven’t been given the report – I’ve been told it’s concluded,” he said.

He described Piccolo’s apology to him as “laughable, really”.

Maggie Dawkins, a committee member of Whistleblowers Australia – whose husband John was a former federal Treasurer in the Keating Government and daughter Alice recently stood in a divisive preselection bid for the party – has been advocating for Johnson.

She told InDaily she was incensed that the letter to him, which he was told was ‘confidential’, “has been leaked to the media”.

She said that to dismiss the alleged behaviour as ‘office banter’ “demonstrates that the party has polluted the so-called independent process”.

“This issue is not one to play political games with,” she said.

“It is a serious betrayal of trust to provide media outlets with the correspondence and has the potential to further damage the health and wellbeing of a brave young man. How low can [the party] go?”

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