CSIRO Allegedly Misleads the Senate – An Open Letter to Senators
28 October 2012
Senator Mark Bishop, Chair
Senate Standing Committee on Economics,
Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education portfolio
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
Re: Responses of CSIRO to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice
1. I am writing to you on behalf of an advocacy group comprising of a number of former CSIRO employees who all shared common experiences of bullying, harassment and/or coercive behavior whilst working at the CSIRO. Our group has a website at http://victimsofcsiro.com.
2. Following the Senate Estimates hearings of 28 May 2012 at which several senators raised questions regarding CSIRO, CSIRO has provided formal answers to the questions on notice. These have been published on the Parliamentary website at:
3. A number of our members have noted significant factual errors, as well as text that may be deceptive and misleading in several of CSIROs responses to the written questions on notice. Moreover, some of CSIRO’s answers are alarming and of concern in themselves.
4. We are writing to you to inform you of the above irregularities and draw your attention to some of the more disquieting statements.
5. We believe that CSIRO should be asked to clarify the responses discussed below.
6. Our members report and allege the following:
7. In its response to question BI-6, CSIRO denied that its CEO acted improperly in referring a complaint of workplace bullying to the person who had been complained about, Dr Lonsdale, Chief of the CSIRO Division of Entomology. CSIRO further denied that Dr Lonsdale acted improperly in terminating, within 24 hours thereafter, the indefinite appointment of the complainant.
8. Much of the justification offered appears, however, to be incorrect and potentially misleading and deceptive. This appears to be confirmed by the fact that on 29 June 2012, before lodging the answers to the questions on notice, senior CSIRO executive Andrew Johnson emailed an official statement to staff which made the following acknowledgement in respect of the above employee (and I quote):
“CSIRO did not take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of the former staff member in that we appointed a CSIRO manager to act as the staff member’s point of contact despite the fact that allegations had been made against the CSIRO manager by the staff member.”
9. It therefore appears to us that CSIRO formally declared a denial of impropriety to the Senate in this matter, whereas less than a month earlier it declared the very opposite – an acknowledgement of impropriety – to its staff.
10. Moreover, in the Senates Estimates of 17 October 2012, CSIRO CEO Dr Clark acknowledged (on public record) to a problem of bullying in CSIRO. She said that she accepted CSIRO had acted improperly in the above case and was implementing remedial measures. However, the very next day on National Radio (ABC AM Program) she denied that CSIRO has a problem with workplace bullying.
11. The CSIRO Executive are still sending mixed messages regarding this issue. CSIRO should clarify whether it did or did not act improperly in this matter and whether it has a problem with workplace bullying.
12. In its response to question BI-7, CSIRO denied being aware of staff who had been placed on suicide watch as a result on their work experiences at CSIRO.
13. However one of our members reports that CSIRO privately hired three different psychiatrists to treat him in 2010 when he was suicidal as a result of his work environment. The member alleges that the psychiatrists were hired with the aim of avoiding the legal requirement to report psychological injuries to ComCare, the Commonwealth insurer and regulator of occupational health and safety.
14. Our members further report that another suicidal employee with obvious and significant scarring on her wrists was also pressured not to lodge a Comcare claim by CSIRO and forced to take time off out of her leave entitlements. The senior CSIRO HR manager tasked with her case made enquiries about her mental health and was explicitly told that she was suicidal.
15. CSIRO should clarify its statement.
16. In its response to question BI-8, CSIRO formally denied acting in breach of the law in its termination of 38 staff at its Division of Information Management in 2010-11.
17.However, CSIRO’s official notification of the mass retrenchment which was faxed to Centrelink on 14 February 2011 (obtained under FOI) acknowledges that CSIRO had already made 38 staff redundant at the time of the notification. (Redundancies commenced in October/November 2010). The letter states:
“Thirty IT staff and eight library staff have now been made redundant”
18. This is in direct opposition to the Fair Work Act which states in Section 530 that:
“notice must be given: … (b) before dismissing an employee …, and (4) The employer must not dismiss an employee in accordance with the decision unless the employer has complied with this section.”
19. As noted in the Senates Estimates of 17 October 2012, the data CSIRO has provided in its answer in respect of this matter is incorrect. Staff identified as potentially redundant were formally notified in mid-2010, not mid-2011 as stated by CSIRO. We note that this error created the impression that CSIRO adhered to the requirements of the Fair Work Act, when, in fact, it did not. Moreover, the CSIRO executive acknowledged that CSIRO had not adhered to the requirements of the Fair Work Act, but declined to state that they had breached the Act. Dr Clark said: “No formal breach [of the Fair Work Act] has been found”.
20. The CSIRO Executive are sending mixed messages regarding this issue as well. CSIRO should clarify its position. Did it, or did it not breach the Fair Work Act?
21. In its response to question BI-10, CSIRO acknowledges that it generated 500 pages of confidential internal emails about a particular employee in the first 8 years of their employment, but 12,000 pages in the following 3 years leading up to their retrenchment. No cogent explanation has been provided by CSIRO.
22. In fact, the last 3 years of the above employee’s time at CSIRO were characterised by their raising formal allegations of serious criminal and commercial breaches of the law. CSIRO refused to investigate or report the allegations and terminated the employee shortly thereafter. The large volume of internal emails is alleged by the employee to relate to a cover-up that was carried out by CSIRO management to suppress and conceal the allegations.
23. Moreover, according to our group submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry on Workplace Bullying which has been published on the Parliamentary website, a second scientist who had also reported alleged criminal / civil illegalities which CSIRO had also refused to investigate and thereafter terminated him, has also discovered significant volumes (>3000 pages) of “behind-the-scenes” internal email traffic relating to his case. (See submission 169 at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=ee/bullying/subs.htm ).
24. In each of the above cases, CSIRO staff appear to have generated an average of 11 pages of confidential internal emails about these employees each day, every day, including weekends and public holidays, for extended periods (9-30 months) corresponding to the time that they made their complaints up through the various levels of managements within CSIRO.
25. We would have thought that CSIRO would have proffered an explanation for these, frankly, remarkable statistics in light of this question being asked. However, they have not.
26. CSIRO should clarify the origin of these large volumes of internal emails.
27. In question BI-138, CSIRO denies that its legal officers and employees have ever been involved in internal scrutiny of other CSIRO employees.
28. However, our members report and can document at least two occasions where CSIRO lawyers have been explicitly involved in internal matters relating to the apparent suppression of allegations of serious misconduct by other CSIRO staff.
29. The above-mentioned generation of large volumes of confidential, internal emails about staff who have laid complaints about breaches of the law also appear to fit this category (although CSIRO has not explained their origin).
30. CSIRO should clarify its assertions.
31. In question BI-140, CSIRO acknowledges that, over the last 4½ years, 13 employees have written directly to the CEO with complaints of workplace bullying. Thus, by CSIROs own admission, an average of 3 employees per year have found the existing mechanisms within CSIRO for dealing with workplace bullying complaints so inadequate that they have felt the need to directly contact the CEO. The issue of bullying has been raised with the CEO and other senior CSIRO management staff on many occasions in a variety of forums including the previous three (3) Enterprise Bargaining processes, consultative council meetings and through submissions to CSIRO’s Psychological Health and Wellbeing Committee which was formed in June 2008.
32. This response appears to directly contradict Senate testimony in the 28 March Estimates Hearings by CEO Megan Clark and Deputy CEO Craig Roy that CSIRO “does not have a problem with workplace bullying”.
33. CSIRO should clarify these remarks.
34. All three of the persons referred to in CSIROs answer to Question BI-141 (Employees 1-3) are members of our grouping. Taking into account information provided by these members, CSIRO’s answer to question BI-141 effectively confirms that in every case where an employee has claimed victimisation after laying complaints of breaches of the law, CSIRO has failed to properly investigate the victimisation and retrenched the complainants. The reasons for this are as follows:
(a) Employee 1 was formally made redundant before CSIRO had even completed its response to his initial complaint. Since formal grievances halt upon termination, his allegations were never investigated.
(b) Employee 2 was sent from one person to another for a period of 2 years after his initial complaint in an unsuccessful attempt to have his victimization allegations investigated. Thereafter, he was terminated. Most recently, in early 2012, he wrote to the Deputy Head of CSIRO requesting investigation, but this request was dismissed.
(c) Employee 3 was formally made redundant within 2½ months of the completion of the investigation of his initial complaint. His outstanding complaints of victimization were never investigated by CSIRO because he had been terminated.
35. CSIRO states in its answer to question BI-141:
“All three lodged formal grievances that were formally investigated”
36. This is, quite simply, an incorrect statement. In our opinion it can only have been intended to deceive and mislead.
37. We also note that CSIRO has not answered question BI-141 (iv)(b) which asked about the time gap between CSIRO’s formal response to the above complainants initial complaint and CSIROs retrenching of them.
38. In light of the above, it appears clear why that question was not answered – it would highlight the implausible nature of CSIROs conduct.
39. In our opinion, this omission could only have been deliberate and intended to deceive.
40. We submit that CSIROs answer to this question provides evidence of an undeclared policy by senior management of terminating complainants who raise allegations of breaches of the law and subsequent victimisation.
41. In regard to CSIRO’s answer to question BI-142, a member of our grouping has provided written evidence that the Chief of CSIROs Division of Molecular and Health Technology, Dr Graeme Woodrow, reacted to a complaint alleging breaches of the law by assigning one of the accused to coordinate CSIROs initial response.
42. Dr Woodrow and his subordinates later abolished the complainant’s indefinite position at CSIRO after he had lodged a whistleblower report accusing them of criminal and commercial breaches of the law. Dr Woodrow and his subordinates had been left in full control of the complainant’s professional future at CSIRO despite the serious allegations leveled against them.
43. Moreover, our member has provided written evidence that CSIRO formally refused to consider damning evidence of Dr Woodrow’s conduct in the above matters.
44. CSIRO’s answers to question BI-142 therefore appear to be incorrect.
45. In question BI-143, CSIRO denies failing to investigate allegations of fabricated, retributive complaints aimed at employees making bullying allegations.
46. CSIROs states in its answer to BI-143 in respect of such complaints:
“If the claim was supported with adequate evidence CSIRO would take steps to investigate it. No investigations of this nature have been commenced since 1 December 2007.”
47. However, at least one of our members report being subjected to fabricated complaints in the above period after lodging a bullying grievance. To this day, CSIRO has never investigated the fabricated complaints despite numerous written requests to do so. The most recent such request was sent by email to Deputy CEO Craig Roy several months ago. Mr Roy declined to consider it.
48. CSIRO should clarify their response.
49. The answer to question BI-144 indicates that CSIRO terminated 3 of the 4 employees who complained of bullying and / or illegal conduct to the CSIRO board of directors since 1 Dec 2007. The 4th employee appears to have simply notified the board of his / her complaint.
50. In no cases did the Board take action in respect of the complaints.
51. Only one of our members was involved in these matters (“Employee B” in question BI-144). However it appears that CSIRO has misrepresented the contents of his letter to the board of directors. His letter did not “express concern as to the progress of the investigation” as stated by CSIRO in the answer to BI-144. It alleged commercial and criminal breaches of the law on the part of CSIRO and a failure by management to investigate or report them. The letter contained a legal assessment of the evidence carried out by a reputable Melbourne law firm. That assessment stated:
“The evidence presented by [the CSIRO employee] in his complaint is detailed and extensive. A court would need to test the evidence and hear evidence from all relevant parties, however I am satisfied that prima facie, there is a case for the allegations, which would, in my opinion, be made out in the absence of contradictory evidence”.
52. The board of directors of CSIRO nevertheless refused to take action.
53. The above employee was retrenched within months of sending the board that letter. The reason given by CSIRO in their answer to BI-144 is that: “CSIRO no longer required the job to be performed because of changes in operational requirements.” However, CSIRO, in fact, simultaneously hired the employee’s temporary replacement to continue his role at CSIRO.
54. Thus, the reason given by CSIRO for terminating the employee appears to have been incorrect. The letter to the CSIRO board of directors has also been misrepresented. We submit that the only possible explanation is an intention on the part of CSIRO to deceive and mislead.
55. We further note that Commonwealth agencies and authorities like CSIRO, are formally obliged to report suspected criminal conduct to the relevant authorities. CSIRO does not appear to have done so in this case.
56. The answer to question BI-145 indicates that, since 1 Dec 2007, CSIRO terminated 2 of 3 employees who lodged whistleblower reports alleging criminal / civil breaches of the law. The 3rd complainant did not identify themselves, thereby apparently avoiding termination.
57. Moreover, according to the answer, every single respondent to complaints of criminal / civil breaches of the law remains employed by CSIRO.
58. Only one of our members was involved in these matters – namely, the employee who lodged a whistleblower report on 23 February 2010 and was said by CSIRO to have been terminated on 4 September 2011.
59. The data CSIRO has provided in respect of this employee is incorrect. He was terminated on 4 January 2011, not 4 September 2011. This is 11 months after he first lodged his whistleblower report, not 19 months as CSIRO would have us believe. In being retrenched, the employee selected the option whereby his termination payout was made over several months, ending on 4 September 2011. However, his termination date was 4 January 2011, not 4 September 2011.
60. A second of our members (“Employee B” in question BI-144) lodged a whistleblower report alleging criminal / civil breaches of the law on 27 June 2007, several months before the 1 Dec 2007 cut-off to question BI-145. That member was also summarily terminated by CSIRO without his allegations being investigated.
61. Thus, since June 2007, there have been at least 4 whistleblowers who complained of criminal and civil breaches of the law at CSIRO. CSIRO terminated 3 of these whistleblowers in short order. The 4th did not identify him / herself.
62. In the last 5 years, every single whistleblower who reported criminal / civil breaches of the law and identified themselves in doing so, was therefore terminated by CSIRO.
63. By contrast, every single respondent to every one of those complaints remains employed by CSIRO.
64. It is, frankly, not reasonable or viable to argue that every one of the above-mentioned whistleblowers was vexatious in lodging complaints of illegal activities.
65. The only reasonable conclusion is that CSIRO has an undeclared and secret internal policy of officially refusing to investigate, then victimising and terminating whistleblowers who raise allegations of criminal / civil breaches of the law.
66. Given that it is generally a criminal offense to supress and conceal allegations of serious illegalities, these conclusions potentially implicate the most senior management of CSIRO in possible criminal conduct.
67. CSIRO should explain its response.
68. In question BI-146, CSIRO denies that it made a commitment to a new mental health plan.
69. However, our members report that CSIRO released a strategy document in respect of mental health in 2009 which could reasonably be considered a plan. It has yet to act upon that strategy.
70. CSIRO should clarify their statement in question BI-146.
71. CSIRO appears to have tailored many of its responses to the above questions on notice to mislead and create a false impression. There are also several factual inaccuracies whose effect is, in all cases, to place CSIRO in an undeservedly positive light.
72. Some of CSIROs responses are deeply concerning and point to a very serious breakdown of governance in the organisation, including officially-sanctioned victimisation of bullying complainants. There also appears to have been an official intention to circumvent legal requirements relating to reporting injuries to Comcare and a failure to adhere to the Fair Work Act.
73. Some of CSIRO’s responses moreover point to officially-sanctioned, conspiratorial suppression of allegations relating to serious breaches of the law. Such efforts appear to have involved coordinated “behind-the-scenes” activities as evidenced by large volumes of internal email traffic which CSIRO has chosen not to explain. Without exception, every employee who has raised whistleblower allegations of serious unlawful activity and identified themselves in doing so, has been terminated by CSIRO. Without exception, every respondent to every allegation of breaches of the law remains employed by CSIRO.
74. While Commonwealth agencies and authorities like CSIRO, are formally obliged to report suspected illegal conduct to the relevant authorities, CSIRO appears to have failed to do so in numerous cases.
75. We draw these matters to your attention as the questioners of CSIRO in the Budget Estimates 2012-13 (May 2012), Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education portfolio.
76. On behalf of our members, we request that you seek urgent clarifications from CSIRO on the above matters.
77. A copy of this letter has been published on our website http:victimsofcsiro.com.
Victims of CSIRO
cc. Senator Evans, Minister of Science