Commonwealth Regulator: CSIRO Executives Deliberately Misled Parliament
Response to Bullying Allegations an “Absolute Disgrace”
Comcare, the government regulator, has accused CSIRO CEO Megan Clark and Deputy CEO Craig Roy of falsely quoting from a confidential report to deliberately mislead the Australian Senate.
On 28 May 2012, under questioning in Senate Estimates, the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Dr Megan Clark denied knowledge of numerous bullying complaints within the organisation she leads. Her Deputy, Craig Roy, quoted from a confidential report issued by Commonwealth Regulator, Comcare, to suggest that its ‘headline’ finding was that CSIRO did not have a problem with systemic workplace bullying and harassment. Clark also stated that she was unaware of a bullying complaint against CSIRO issued to the Commonwealth Regulator, Comcare by 7 former employees.
However, a freedom of information request has now unearthed a scathing letter sent a few days later to CSIRO by Comcare. In the letter, Steve Kibble, the Deputy CEO of Comcare, chastises CSIRO for the breach of confidentiality and repudiates Roy’s quote to the Senate as being “out of context”. He goes on to state that the Comcare report had, in fact, found the very opposite of Roy’s assertions – CSIRO had engaged in multiple breaches of its legal obligations towards a bullied employee. Kibble goes on to demand that CSIRO issue a correction to Parliament “as soon as is practicable”.
The former CSIRO employee whose case was the subject of the Comcare report is Dr Sylwester Chyb, an internationally renowned entomologist recruited by CSIRO from Imperial College in London. Chyb launched legal action against CSIRO in early 2011, claiming that CSIRO management systematically bullied and intimidated him. He says that a bullying complaint he emailed directly to the CSIRO CEO, Megan Clark, was formally responded to within 24 hours by the very person he had complained about. Their response was to inform Chyb that his indefinite position at CSIRO was henceforth redundant and he would be immediately retrenched.
In response to the Comcare letter, Chyb said: “If the most senior executives of CSIRO display so little respect for the Commonwealth regulator and the Parliament and people of Australia, how much respect would they show to staff, like myself, at CSIRO? That is what scientists like me are up against.”
Other scientists who have complained of bullying agreed. “There is a deeply entrenched and systemic problem with management bullying across every division of CSIRO with which I have had contact”, said Dr Warwick Raverty, who retired from CSIRO in 2009. “Numerous former colleagues tell me that they have spoken with Megan Clark directly about the matter, but I am told nothing has been done or is being done”.
In 2009, Dr Clive Spash says he complained to Clark about attempts to censor a peer reviewed paper he had authored and that had been accepted for publication by a respected international journal. Spash alleges that Clark thereafter became complicit in and an active participant in some of the intimidatory behaviour that he then experienced. He resigned from CSIRO citing “extreme stress” and management bullying.
Another former employee, Mr Andrew Hooley says that he submitted a formal complaint to Comcare near the end of 2009 alleging numerous instances of bullying and many deficiencies in health and safety management at CSIRO. When approached by Comcare, CSIRO strenuously denied his allegations at the time. “It is difficult to believe that Dr Clark would not have been aware of this complaint”, says Hooley. He expects that the complaint will now become the subject of a Comcare review.
Hooley directly contacted Dr Clark on the 16th of March 2012 to communicate his experiences of bullying and victimisation. She referred the matter to Craig Roy who after a short discussion refused to communicate any further in relation to the matter.
On 31 January 2012, another former employee, Dr Gerry Swiegers met with Dr Clark, in the presence of an investigator from the Federal Department of Finance. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss CSIRO’s failure to investigate Swiegers’ internal complaints and allegations of commercial and criminal fraud which he claims was directed at investors in a CSIRO technology. Swiegers’ position at CSIRO was made redundant by the respondents to his complaint within months of his lodging the complaint.
Numerous other former employees are said to have publically raised complaints of bullying within the organisation over the past decade or more. A listing of some of those complaints has been published on the website of an advocacy group at http://victimsofcsiro.com.
The CSIRO Staff Association has raised the issue of bullying in its statement of claims during each of the past 3 Enterprise Bargaining periods.
According to another scientist who wished to remain anonymous, an initiative of Clark’s shortly after commencing her appointment as CEO of the CSIRO was the formation of a Psychological Health and Wellbeing Committee. Whilst numerous submissions about bullying were relayed to the committee little has been done and the initiative has stalled.
Clark’s response to the questions in the Senate is, frankly, disingenuous in the extreme and an absolute disgrace. For her to claim no knowledge of the many, many bullying complaints is, at best, pure fantasy and, at worst, a deliberate attempt by the CSIRO Executive to mislead the Parliament and people of Australia