Senate Estimates – Economics Committee Hansard (28/05/2012)

Posted on June 11, 2012. Filed under: Senate Estimates Transcripts |

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark, on Saturday, the Prime Minister announced a parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying. Has anyone in the government ever directly raised with you the subject of workplace bullying at CSIRO? Does your organisation, do you think, have a serious problem with this issue?

Dr Clark: Certainly, Senator, we do not have a serious problem with the issue. But making sure that our workplaces are the right environment for innovation and making sure that we have an environment of trust and respect across our workplaces is something that is imperative to us and something where we look to make sure that has improved.

Senator COLBECK: So have you ever had a circumstance where a workplace bullying problem has been raised directly with you?

Dr Clark: We have had only this year a couple of complaints in the area of workplace bullying. I will ask Mr Roy to cover the details of them.

Senator COLBECK: Have you specifically had them raised with you?

Dr Clark: Areas have been, and cases have been, dealt with by Mr Roy.

Senator COLBECK: No. But that is not my question. Have they been specifically raised with you?

Dr Clark: In terms of the complaints that we have had in the year to date, we have only had a couple of cases. In terms of my involvement, I certainly make sure we have the right team involved in them. I make sure, particularly in complex issues, that we have the right expertise. So I do ensure that the right team is working on these programs.

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark, you are still not answering my question. Has anybody raised them directly with you?

Dr Clark: As I said, Senator, yes. I oversee and make sure that we have the right people working on those cases in—

Senator COLBECK: But what I am getting at is whether employees have come directly to you with issues that they have had within the workplace?

Dr Clark: In terms of issues in the workplace, yes, my door is always open. I do have several conversations around improving our workplace and environment.

Senator COLBECK: So, Mr Roy, you told us in February that CSIRO would not have a circumstance in which a complaint was made against a specific officer and was referred back to that officer to solve. Do you stand by that statement?

Mr Roy: I stand by that that is our normal practice. I cannot speak for every interaction that has happened, but I certainly stand by that as the principle. If someone takes a complaint to their divisional chief or through to me or Dr Clark, we will ensure that the right people at arm’s length to it are given the opportunity to investigate the claims. I think I also noted in that answer, Senator, that our first response is one of informal conciliation—can we actually bring the parties together without some form of formal investigation?

Senator COLBECK: But you said—and I am reading the Hansard of 15 February:
But we would not have a circumstance in which a complaint was made against a particular officer and it was referred back to that officer to solve.

Mr Roy: I am not aware of a situation where we do.

Senator COLBECK: You are not aware of a situation where do you? Mr Roy: That is correct.

Senator COLBECK: So it would not be true that Dr Clark was sent an email on 11 August 2010 in which an employee made it clear that they had a grievance with their manager, the chief of ecosystem sciences, Mark Lonsdale, and it would not be the case in the email that the employee specifically asked Dr Clark if there was, until the problem was resolved, somebody other than Mr Lonsdale who could be appointed as their supervisor instead?

Mr Roy: So the supervisor is a separate issue. What we did in that case was we escalated it up the line to Dr Lonsdale’s supervisor of the day, which was Dr Joanne Daly, and then was subsequently Dr Andrew Johnson. They took overarching carriage of the issues pertaining to the officer that you mention. I do not think you mentioned the officer, but I think we know who we are talking about.

Senator COLBECK: I think we do. And it would not be correct that a response to that serious and private confidential email from the employee came not from Dr Clark or anyone else, for that matter, within CSIRO but within a couple of hours from Dr Lonsdale himself?

Mr Roy: I would have to take that on notice. What I can say, though—and you may well be aware but for your colleagues—Comcare are in the process of finalising an investigation into some claims brought forward by the officer you are referring to. There are four specific complaints that that officer mentioned to Comcare. They are in the process of handing down a 90-odd page report into their findings. Whilst there is a number of improvement opportunities that CSIRO can have—and we would be disappointed if they did not identify improvement opportunities—they did say, and I will quote from the draft report, so it may well change before it is finalised over the next couple of weeks:

I found no evidence of system deficiencies or a culture within CSIRO or specifically with Entomology division that embedded or promoted bullying type behaviour.

That is the headline summary from the Comcare report. As I indicated before, there will be some matters that we need to work on out of that report, but that is at the broad level, and I think that is representative of the organisation more broadly.

Senator COLBECK: Circumstance does not align very well with your comment from 15 February on Hansard:

But we would not have a circumstance in which a complaint was made against a particular officer and was referred back to that officer to solve.

Mr Roy: I would be surprised and disappointed if that had happened. As I said, I am not aware that it has happened, but I will take it on notice and I will look very closely at that matter for you.

Senator COLBECK: We are talking about somebody who has gone to the top of the organisation. We have asked you about this before. Would you concede that such an action towards an employee would represent an alarming lack of process?

Dr Clark: Senator, let me just be clear here. I have been very involved in making sure that we had the right team. We have discussed this issue. It is a complex issue. It required specific expertise. I am comfortable that that expertise has been working on this case. I am very comfortable with Mr Roy’s handling of the case. As he outlined, the specific issue was the immediate line manager. Mr Roy has outlined that the one up manager who was relevant was then involved in this, which was Dr Daly and subsequently Dr Johnson. This is the right course and the right process. As Comcare has confirmed, they do not have any issues with this. So these matters we take incredibly seriously and make sure that we are putting due process and the right people on these matters. I also highlight the matters directly with the board so that there is full transparency. But we take them very, very seriously as we aim to improve the organisation across the board.

Senator COLBECK: It is a bit difficult, though, when someone sends you an email and it gets responded to by the person that they are complaining about within a matter of hours.

Dr Clark: It is certainly not unusual for emails that come to me to be handled by others. As Mr Roy has outlined, I think we will look into that particular—

Senator COLBECK: But by the person who is being complained against?

Dr Clark: Mr Roy has already answered that question—that we will look into the particular timing of that email and come back to you.

Senator COLBECK: So it is not a matter of concern that that would have occurred, then?

Dr Clark: Mr Roy has just answered that question.

Mr Roy: It would be appreciated if you were able to provide us with a copy of that email or at least a time stamp as to how we might track it and then we can get to the bottom of the issue you raise.

Senator COLBECK: You said on 19 October:
CSIRO has a very strong approach to zero harm policy as a number of leading health and safety organisations do. It covers effectively zero injuries to our staff and zero unsafe practices.

That is still your view?

Mr Roy: That is absolutely my view. And the organisation takes the approach to zero harm very, very seriously.

Senator COLBECK: You have indicated that Comcare has launched an investigation into the claims of bullying by that employee that we are talking about?

Mr Roy: By that ex employee; that is correct. That was lodged—I do not have the exact time—many, many months ago. The report is imminent to be released. We have a draft copy to check for correctness and accuracy, not to comment on the content, and then provide any factual error feedback back to Comcare so they can finalise the report. What I have given you in the spirit of trying to work through this issue constructively is a headline summary that was a quote from that Comcare report.

Senator COLBECK: On the back of that case, is it not true that seven other scientists have now come forward with a range of allegations of workplace bullying?

Mr Roy: I am not aware of that. I am not aware of seven other scientists coming forward in terms of allegations of workplace bullying or harassment. I know that a number of questions were placed on notice following the last hearing. The question was asked specifically about how many cases since 2008, I think it was, were being investigated by partners. The response we gave to that was eight at the time. There are also questions around the code of conduct, which we responded to—how many staff we had spoken to with regard to potential code of conduct breaches. But we do take these matters very seriously, as I continue to indicate.

Senator COLBECK: Does retrenchment of an employee during a return to work plan after a psychological injury represent a breach of the CSIRO’s employment policies?

Mr Roy: No. It does not, Senator. It does not represent a breach of broader Australian government policies. They are separate matters. We treat the health and wellbeing and return to work program importantly and we look at the need for those capabilities into the future.

Senator COLBECK: Are you aware of any cases in recent years in which an employee has been placed on suicide watch as a consequence of their experiences at CSIRO?

Mr Roy: Not that I am aware of. In terms of the broader organisation, we would have to take that on notice. But I am certainly not aware of it.

Senator COLBECK: So you cannot assure me that that has not happened on occasion in recent years?

Mr Roy: I would be quite surprised. But as I said specifically, I cannot give you an ironclad guarantee today. I would have to ask some questions around that. We do run an organisation where we have a number of divisions. They generally deal with the matters that are raised in terms of any health and wellbeing issues with staff members in their division. It tends to escalate to my level if it cannot be resolved within a divisional construct or, in fact, Dr Clark’s level.

Senator COLBECK: So do you have a procedure to deal with this—a corrective action process to deal with those sorts of things?

Mr Roy: In terms of bullying and harassment?

Senator COLBECK: Well, the last circumstance that I have just raised with you?

Mr Roy: We would take that very, very seriously. We would seek to work with the staff member. We have an employee assistance program that would help support. We would seek to do whatever it took to help that particular staff member if we knew that one of our staff were on suicide watch or had some severe mental illness. I can think of a number of cases where we have done whatever it has taken to try to help staff members. As you would be aware, depression and other mental illnesses are broad across our community, so it is not unexpected that some staff members in CSIRO would also suffer from that condition, and we would want to help them.

Senator COLBECK: So when you say that you are not aware of any of those circumstances, there are circumstances where you have had to go to significant measures to provide assistance for employees?

Mr Roy: Yes, Senator. They are generally not work related. They are generally just part of what a mental illness is. It is dealing with a challenging situation. You need to be treated from a behavioural sense and from a medical sense in a number of cases. We will help the individual work through that to the best of our ability. We are not qualified doctors or psychiatrists to help them, but we will do whatever we can.

Senator COLBECK: Were information management technology division employees advised in 2010 that all except senior management positions would be restructured in that division? Did this result in the loss of around 30 positions? If so, on what date were the employees originally advised of the restructure and what date was the CEO of Centrelink notified?

Dr Clark: Yes, we did have a restructure. In terms of the detail, we would be happy to take that on notice and provide you with that distinct detail.

Senator COLBECK: So it did result in the loss of 30 positions?

Dr Clark: It is certainly in that order. This week, I was reviewing the IMT progress, actually, of the groups following that. I have been very pleased with the way our IMT team has been working. They are a truly exceptional group in the management of our IT systems. And the platforms that we need for the future, which is what this particular group works on, are going extremely well. I am quite pleased with it. We have undergone that restructure of that order of positions.

Senator COLBECK: You are not aware of any breaches of section 530 of the Fair Work Act in respect of that particular matter?

Dr Clark: I am not, but you did ask for some more specific information regarding dates and we will provide you with that.

Senator COLBECK: While you are at it, if you could let me know if there are any other occasions where, since the introduction of the Fair Work Act, CSIRO has breached its provisions?

Mr Roy: I want to clarify, Senator: are you talking about where we have been taken to Fair Work Australia and there has been a formal breach noted against CSIRO?

Senator COLBECK: Yes, please.

Mr Roy: I am not aware of any cases, as we sit here today, but we will take it on notice, as Dr Clark indicated.

Senator COLBECK: I am specifically interested, particularly in the timeframes in relation to this matter. So if you can give us those details.

Dr Clark: We will.

Senator COLBECK: Were FOI requests made to CSIRO in late 2011 and early 2012 by a former employee who had been with the organisation for 11 years? Do the answers to those requests show that 12,528 pages of internal Outlook emails into those appointments were written about them between 1998 and 2009? Is it also right that almost all of those pages to which the employee has not been privy were generated after May 2006 when he first made his complaints about the practices of at least one CSIRO manager?

Mr Whelan: No. I am not aware of that level of detail, although I would be happy to make an inquiry to that effect.

Senator COLBECK: So in respect of the information I have, this employee had something like 500 pages worth of emails and calendar appointments generated about him in the first eight years of his employment. But another 12,000 pages worth were generated in the last three. That is an extraordinary use of resources.

Mr Whelan: Depending on the individual’s circumstances, it is not entirely surprising. If the individual had a workers compensation case that required medical assessments and turn to work programs, there would have been detailed plans developed. They would take up many pages. They would have been reviewed. I think you are referring to individual emails. Often those emails are forwarded and copied. That would result in the same number of pages being replicated a number of times. On the face of it, I am not sure that I would be concerned about that. It would depend on the nature of the individual’s employment history and his circumstances.

Senator COLBECK: So those circumstances would drive the generation of this information?

Mr Whelan: Yes, Senator. As you would imagine, employees of CSIRO are not in the business of writing emails or preparing reports just for the fun of it. They generally do it in response to a need or a request. I can only imagine from the details you have provided me today that there was a range of factors that required that information to be prepared. As I indicated to you, I would be happy to take the detail on notice and confirm the figures you have quoted.

Senator COLBECK: Mr Whelan, I spoke to you before about the SAP implementation project that is part of the BETR project. Can you please clarify what the project budget was and what the full cost of delivering the project was?

Mr Whelan: I am pretty sure we have taken that question on notice previously and answered it. I will be happy to check that. But if we have not, I will give you those details. It is approximately four years since the SAP system and the BETR project were implemented. So the timeframe is probably about 2008 and 2009 when I was answering questions on that. But I am happy to check the record and provide them to you.

Senator COLBECK: If you could advise that that is the full cost of the project. I would just like to know whether or not there were a number of different accounts over which was spread the reporting of the costs.

Mr Whelan: There certainly would have been a number of different accounts in our general ledger that we would have recorded costs against. We would have recorded costs against people, software, training and travel. So there will be a range of them. But there will be a project cost centre which accumulated all of those different accounts, and I will provide you with the report against the value against that cost centre.

Senator COLBECK: So you can then assure me that the compilation of that provides the total cost to the project?

Mr Whelan: To the best of our efforts, yes, Senator, I can do that.

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark, can you tell me what date you first became a director of Valentine Holdings Pty Limited?

Dr Clark: I can, Senator. I became a director on 27 February 2007.

Senator COLBECK: What date did you first disclose your directorship as part of your conflict of interest declarations at CSIRO?

Dr Clark: I declared to the board secretary on 8 December 2011.

Senator COLBECK: In 2011?

Dr Clark: To the board secretary in terms of my personal returns, which was a summary of my personal activities and balance sheet et cetera, which were required on appointment. They were provided on appointment.

Senator COLBECK: So why the gap between 2007 and 2011?

Dr Clark: Valentine Holdings’ activities are simply holding commercial property. In terms of, for example, my personal mortgages, personal property and commercial property, for example, that is declared in my personal interest return. It is not declared as a conflict of interest to the board because it does not hold a conflict of interest and is not deemed to be so.

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