“Pommy bastard” attacks on army officer lead to pension award – how managers can impact workplace cultures

A British army major, who was harassed and called a “pommy bastard” by his superiors after his transfer to the Australian army, has won a disability pension.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal found the Englishman’s bipolar disorder to have been caused by the denigration he received while serving in East Timor.


The officer had been promoted to the rank of major when he resigned from the British army and emigrated to become a captain in the Australian Army in January 1999.  He was posted to Toowoomba, where he found the senior ranks to be “cold and dismissive” towards him because, he felt, he was regarded as a foreign officer.

During an exercise in the Northern Territory, a major called him a “pommy bastard” and attempted to have him charged with misconduct.

The officer was deployed to East Timor from September to December 1999, where he served as second-in-charge of the operations squadron.  During that time, a major who was not within his chain of command subjected him to a “daily onslaught” that included giving orders he was not entitled to give.

On one occasion, after the officer declined verbal orders, the major told him he would “make your life hell”.  The officer reported the incidents to his superior officer several times, but the bullying continued.  Another time, the officer felt belittled and embarrassed when an Australian Army general undermined his authority in front of troops by challenging him about his boots.

The officer returned to Australia in December 1999, feeling the army had let him down.  In the following months, he felt confused, lacked his previous confidence, found it difficult to speak to groups of soldiers and brief other officers, and felt “generally upset”.  He left his post in 2000.

He was diagnosed with depression, suffered from problem gambling and was eventually discharged as medically unfit for service in January 2002.  In 2007, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with a clinical onset of December 1999.

The officer applied for a disability pension, but the Veterans’ Review Board rejected the bid, finding his bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders had not been caused by his service.  He appealed the decision to the tribunal, which found in his favour.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia, in a recent judgment, ordered that the officer receive a disability pension on the grounds that his bipolar disorder had been war-caused.

“I am satisfied that (he) does suffer from bipolar disorder, which was caused by the manner in which he was treated in his work environment in East Timor,” said the Deputy President.

“There is [evidence] pointing to the effects of (his) treatment by his colleagues as being chronic and causing him to feel ongoing distress.  The conduct of the major is consistent with (him) experiencing bullying in the workplace.

“(His) unsuccessful attempts to have action taken in respect of his treatment by the major is consistent with (his) perceived lack of support within his work environment.”

iHR believes that managers and team leaders, including senior army officers, are the custodians of their workplace culture.  It is much more costly, time consuming and impactful on productivity to foster a workplace culture that tolerates bullying.  Our Equal Employment Opportunity, Anti-Bullying training for managers focuses on their responsibility as the custodians of your organisation’s workplace culture, with key elements of the manager’s role being the prevention and effective management of bullying, harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace.


Recent articles

Balance of probailities

Understanding Balance of Probabilities in Workplace Investigations

Author - John Boardman, Director Workplace Relations The more serious the allegation, the more serious consideration should be given by...
Remote or isolated work

The impact of poor support on remote and isolated workers: Summary of the webinar

Remote and isolated work encompasses more than just working in a home setting; it taps into the narrative of employees...
Reasonable management.

What isn’t Workplace Bullying? Reasonable Management.

Article updated on 15 April 2024 [Originally published in 2017] Workplace bullying is an organisational problem. It can happen in...
Trauma informed investigations

Trauma-informed workplace investigations: Prioritising ‘care’ over rigid processes

Interviewee: Kirsten Hartmann, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser/Workplace Investigator In August 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released four guiding...