Senate Estimates – Education, Employment & Workplace Relations Committee (28/05/2012)

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

Senator ABETZ: (…) In the meantime, can I ask about the CSIRO. I understand that there is currently a case before Comcare involving an ex-CSIRO employee who has claimed that he was systematically bullied and intimidated by senior staff. Are you aware of the case that I might be referring to?

Mr O’Connor: Yes, there has been an extensive inspection and investigation under way into one particular former federal worker at CSIRO. There have been previous investigations into allegations of workplace harassment and bullying at that organisation as well.

Senator ABETZ: So there were four areas of this investigation?

Mr O’Connor: I believe so.

Senator ABETZ: Is it correct to say that a conclusion was reached that there was no bullying at CSIRO?

Mr O’Connor: The report of the inspector is nearing finalisation. I understand the draft version of the report has been shared with both the worker who has made the complaint and the CSIRO to make sure that the factual matters that are raised in the report are accurate and do represent the positions put by both parties. I understand that that draft report has been shared and the parties have until a date in June to get back to the inspector with any clarifications before the inspector finalises their conclusions and finalises the report.

Senator ABETZ: So it would be wrong to say that any conclusions had been reached?

Mr O’Connor: I think it is premature to canvass that until both the worker and his former employer have the opportunity to verify the facts. It is a very involved matter and a number of sensitive issues have been raised that have affected this worker. That is the work health and safety arrangements, but separate to that this worker is also being supported by Comcare in its recovery and support operations with regard to claim arrangements.

Senator ABETZ: Given that it is a draft report, I assume it was provided on a confidential basis to the employee?

Mr O’Connor: That is my understanding.

Senator ABETZ: And also, one therefore suspects, to the employer?

Mr O’Connor: I can confirm that the employer received a copy as well.

Senator ABETZ: On a confidential basis?

Mr O’Connor: That is my assumption.

Senator ABETZ: It would be premature to draw conclusions from it, because it has not been finalised, because Comcare is still awaiting feedback from both parties in relation to the draft findings?

Mr O’Connor: Correct.

Senator ABETZ: I do not have personal knowledge of this, but I have been told by a colleague that at CSIRO estimates today a deputy chief executive read some sections of the recently written draft report into the estimates Hansard. I will leave it there, but that is what was asserted to me. As people in this committee would know, I was nowhere else today but at this committee so I do not have firsthand knowledge of that, but it has been suggested to me that that did occur. I would alert Comcare to that for any follow-up that you might want to have with that particular officer, if that information turns out to be correct. I stress that I am going on information supplied.

Senator Jacinta Collins: To clarify that point—is your information that excerpts of a draft report were read, or that information that might be consistent across a draft report and other material may have been read?

Senator ABETZ: A deputy chief executive of CSIRO read some sections of the recently written draft report into that case at an estimates hearing earlier today. He said there were four areas of this investigation and, I think, that the report had reached a conclusion that there is essentially no bullying at CSIRO. That is a paraphrase of what I have been given as a typed version, so I cannot take it further than that. The Hansard record will undoubtedly reveal if that is the case, but I assume that if it did occur—and I want a caveat to this question, if it did occur—you can advise that no clearance was sought from Comcare prior to that occurring.

Mr O’Connor: We will take that as a question.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, if part of the draft report was quoted, can we take it that Comcare did not approve of that quoting?

Mr O’Connor: That would not be in accordance with our expectations.

Senator ABETZ: Same difference, thank you. Could that in any way have compromised the rights of the ex-employee?

Mr O’Connor: I would not want to speculate.

Senator ABETZ: Fair enough, but one assumes that the reason you asked the parties not to disclose the contents of the draft report publicly is so that it does not influence the final report.

Mr O’Connor: The inspectorate need to come to their final conclusion. They want to make sure that their opinions and judgments are based on facts, or if there are differences of facts, to make a view about that.

Senator ABETZ: Is it correct that several other former employees from various other parts of CSIRO have asked Comcare to launch a separate investigation into a range of matters around workplace bullying?

Mr O’Connor: That is correct. I understand seven former federal workers at CSIRO have made their concerns known, and our inspectorate has reached out to them and the law firm that is acting on their behalf. I understand that there are two other people who have raised their concerns with Comcare. These people are aware of how our inspectorate is proposing to approach these matters.

Senator ABETZ: That is seven plus two?

Mr O’Connor: That is my understanding.

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