Senate Estimates Transcript 17th October 2012

Posted on October 27, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Below are the parts of the latest Senate Estimates Transcripts from the 17th of October 2012 of interest to the Victims of CSIRO

Senator COLBECK: Minister, I would like to come to you first in relation to the oversight on questions on notice as part of estimates. The general process, as I understand it—not necessarily for this portfolio but across all—is that questions on notice asked as part of estimates are provided by each individual agency and then cleared by the ministers.

Senator Chris Evans: That is right. Basically, the agency goes away and answers the question. They then send those answers to our office and the adviser has a look at them. If they do not have any problems they come through to me for approval. If there is an issue or they think the information is not complete or whatever, then the adviser might raise it with the agency or I might. But, basically, in 99 per cent of cases the minister signs off on the advice provided by the agency on the basis that they have got the information, as they usually hold the information that senators are seeking.

Senator COLBECK: So it is effectively a response to the committee from the minister that has been prepared by the agency. So you are vouching for the answer when you sign off on it, effectively?

Senator Chris Evans: We are the ones who are accountable to the parliament on behalf of the agency. If you are asking me whether I have knowledge of the answer in a factual sense, you have to rely on the advice from the agency as you do in other matters.

Senator COLBECK: But you would expect that you are able to stand by the answer based on the information that is provided to you? That is what you would expect as a member of the committee.

Senator Chris Evans: Sure.

Senator COLBECK: And that is what you expect as minister signing off.

Senator Chris Evans: I would expect the agency to provide accurate information to the Senate. I guess I am just making the point that if CSIRO say they have got 332 employees, I do not go back and count to see whether they have added them up right; I have to rely on the advice of Dr Clark.

Senator COLBECK: So you rely on the information that is provided to you by the agency in that context?

Senator Chris Evans: Yes, unless I have some concern or someone in my office has some concern that maybe there is not sufficient information or there is some issue that rings a bell that may need to be followed up. But, effectively, the agency provides the information to the minister’s office.

Senator COLBECK: Following on from that, what obligations do you see that you or the agency and officials have to correct the record when it is clear that an answer that has been provided is incorrect?

Senator Chris Evans: I expect the agency to correct the record if in fact any information is incorrect. As you know, we do that at estimates. If someone gives evidence and it proves on checking not to be correct, they come and correct the record in the normal course of events, like ministers do in the chamber.

Senator COLBECK: So what responsibility do you as a minister have or do officials have in that context? Where does the responsibility lie to correct the record when it is quite clear that answers are not correct?

Senator Chris Evans: If you or anyone else raised with me concern about the answer, obviously I would take up that issue.

Senator COLBECK: But I have also seen instances where an official has come back to the table to correct the record without necessarily having that issue raised by a member of the committee or me as someone answering the question. Does it necessarily have to be something that is raised by a member of the committee?

Senator Chris Evans: No, it does not. As I understand it—and Dr Clark can advise you of CSIRO’s particular process—most departments run through the Hansard and have a look at the evidence and, if there are any concerns, they seek to correct the record. Most agencies would advise me if they are correcting the record or would advise my office. If we are at estimates hearings and someone says something that is not absolutely correct, they often come back, as you know, later in the hearing and seek to correct it. If you are asking me whether I review all the evidence et cetera, generally I would only get engaged if someone like yourself raised concern about the evidence given.

Senator COLBECK: I can understand, Minister, that you might not be aware of the intimate details of all of those sorts of issues. As I said, if an official becomes aware of something that is incorrect, particularly during a hearing but even between hearings, and something is found to be not correct, why wouldn’t there be some responsibility to actually notify the committee that some information that has been provided to them was incorrect?
Senator Chris Evans: Senator, I would expect officials, if they knew that information they gave was incorrect, to seek to correct the record. There is an obligation to do so. If there is some evidence they gave which is incorrect and they are aware of that, they would be expected to seek to correct the record, of course.

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark, you would see that as a responsibility as well?

Dr Clark: Yes, I would. It is our responsibility to correct the record when we become aware if information that has been provided has been incorrect or inaccurate. We are also obliged to correct any incorrect testimony. For example, if I were to provide here an incorrect number or an incorrect fact that is as well corrected.

Senator COLBECK: So, what specific accountability sits around those matters, Minister? The committee has actions it can take through the parliament, and I am aware of those. What accountability and responsibility do you see in respect of that process?

Senator Chris Evans: If someone is of the belief that incorrect information has been given in an estimates committee, if it is a senator, they ought to raise that with the committee secretariat and the secretariat ought to write to me or to the agency, raising the issue. My obligation then is to investigate it and, if there has been information incorrectly given, to then correct the record. But, in the normal course of events, the committee secretariat would raise any concern that a senator had, as I understand it, about any of these matters.

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark and Mr Roy, you told us at the last estimates that you did not think CSIRO had a problem with its workplace culture. Bearing that in mind, is it true that there has been more than a $3 million or over 250 per cent increase in the organisations Comcare premium for 2012-13, a $900,000 drop in the bonus or penalty in just this one year, and a $1.3 million reversal in the bonus or penalty in the space of the last two years? If those numbers are correct—which I think they are, based on the table that I have—how do you explain those significant changes in the premiums, given that the premiums have been fairly steady at about $1.4 million to $1.9 million over the previous three years?

Dr Clark: You are correct in that our premium has risen by 0.2 per cent from 0.47 per cent of payroll to 0.67 per cent of payroll. This is against a backdrop of a rise of all agencies combined—a rise of 0.36 per cent in payroll from an average of 1.41 per cent to 1.77 per cent. Whilst, as you pointed out, we have had a significant rise, it has been less in percentage terms than the average. The reasons indicated for that is the number of claims from 2011, around 84.4 per cent, the average lifetime cost per claim increasing from $14K in 2008 to $33K for 2011, and a sense of experiencing an increasing potential for claims, particularly based on that increased average amount.
Senator COLBECK: You are effectively saying that this is as a result of everybody’s Comcare claims going up?

Dr Clark: Everyone’s Comcare claims have gone up, as I mentioned. All agencies have seen a 0.36 per cent rise. Our rise was a 0.2 per cent rise.

Senator COLBECK: A 0.2 per cent rise?

Dr Clark: That is right. Our rise has been from 0.47 per cent of payroll to 0.67 per cent of payroll. The average of all agencies was from 1.41 per cent of payroll to 1.77 per cent of payroll. The reason that our percentage of payroll is less than the average is simply a reflection of our performance.

Senator COLBECK: How does a 0.2 per cent—

Senator Chris Evans: Can I interrupt? I think even I know enough about maths to say one cannot represent it as a 0.2 per cent increase.

Senator COLBECK: 0.2 per cent does not work out to 250. I cannot see how you go from $1.9 million premium to $4.9 million premium and say that is a 0.2 per cent increase.

Dr Clark: 0.47 per cent of payroll has moved to 0.67 per cent of payroll.

Mr Roy: I might be to help with this and we would be very comfortable to table the explanatory letter that came from Comcare to support the case. There are effectively four factors that Comcare take into account in terms of calculating the premium for the 2012-13 year for us. I read from their document. They take the base rate that the organisation had for the current year, 2011-12. Our base rate was 0.47 per cent of payroll. The all agencies combined average was 1.41 per cent of payroll. They updated for trends in the number and cost of the agency claims, so CSIRO has some control over that. That is the cost of our individual claims and the number of our individual claims. There are also trends we have no control over in the number and cost of claims for all agencies combined. The final one we have no control over is the total amount Comcare needs to collect from all agencies combined to make sure that they remain viable. If we are to do a comparison, as Dr Clark led into, between where we are comparative to the all agencies, our claim frequency per million dollars of payroll over the last four years, and I read from the Comcare report to us, was successively from 2008 onwards 0.15 per cent frequency of claims per million dollars of payroll, 0.16 in the successive year, then 0.13 and then 0.14. So you can see it is fairly steady over that period of time. In terms of average lifetime cost of claims, they have gone up over that period of time from 14,000 to 33,000 to 40,000 and back to 33,000. If I am to compare those with all agencies combined, there have been 74,000 in the most recent year, so whilst CSIRO is 33,000 and the trend is not going the way we want neither is it for all agencies. They are 74,000. We look at what we can control and what we cannot control. We can only control our number of incidents and the cost of each incident. If hypothetically CSIRO was sitting at the average for all agencies at 1.77 per cent, our premium would be $10.85 million, not the current $4.1 million, which would be $6.7 million higher than where we are at the moment. Clearly not only from our health and safety perspective and also from a financial perspective we look at this very closely.

You also mentioned in your opening question penalties and bonuses. The way I understand that operates, it is not too dissimilar from our taxation system. You get taxed throughout the course of the year and the end of the year, depending on certain parameters, adjustments will be made. They are called in the act, as you mentioned, penalties or bonuses. As I understand it, as I am sure Comcare could give you more information, the actuarial comparison of what you paid vis-a-vis what at the end of the year Comcare deemed you should have paid based on how your claims actually played out. Some years you will get a return, as with taxation, and in some years you will need to pay because you have underpaid throughout the course of the year.

Dr Clark: Does that answer your question?

Senator COLBECK: Without having the core numbers to collate that to it makes it a bit difficult—

Dr Clark: We are happy to provide, as Mr Roy has outlined, the letter from Comcare.

Senator COLBECK: I need to perhaps do a little bit of work backwards to work through the numbers. As Senator Evans said, I struggle to see how 0.2 per cent change relates specifically to a $3 million change. But we will go back and do some numbers around that.

Senator Chris Evans: That is expressed as percentage of payroll, which is a different percentage if you look at the dollars.

Senator COLBECK: I understand that. I will go back and look at the numbers.

Dr Clark: I think the way to understand it is that if you look at all agencies, all agencies have had a rise of 0.36, if you like 36 basis points, on their percentage payroll. We have a rise of 0.2, 20 basis points, on our payroll. I think that provides you with the context.

Senator COLBECK: Maybe we need to go back to Comcare because there seems to be a bigger issue somewhere else than necessarily where we are here at the moment when you look at those numbers. We will work on that. Dr Clark, you wrote an email to all staff this week regarding a fairly damning range of findings that Comcare had made about the handling of a recent case and had instructed you to make a series of changes to your workplace practices as a result. We have been asking about some of these issues for a period of time. Why is it that we are now only getting to the stage where you are owning up to the fact that there are some issues, when we have not really had any questions or answers? I think we go to something like 14 separate occasions over more than year where we are admitting that there are some issues in the way that things are being handled? Why are we only at this stage right now? I understand there has been a flurry of activity in recent weeks around some of these matters.

Dr M Clark: I would not describe it as such. We received a report from Comcare which found CSIRO wanting in two particular areas and provided us with a notice for correction. As soon as that notice was received my office put out a note to the staff affected as to what those findings were. Where the improvement notice had identified areas for improvement in what we were doing at that time, my office undertook to update staff within a quarter as to what we were doing. I am simply meeting that obligation to update staff and I have made a further commitment that we will further update staff in the new year. I think it is very important when you have a corrective notice that staff are aware (1) of the issues and (2) what you are doing. In this case, I thought that some of the aspects of the improvement notice would be considered by many people in CSIRO and other parts and they would be interested in what the management response was. First of all, you look to understand the issues and then put in place the appropriate management response.

Senator COLBECK: So you are still not conceding that anything is wrong with the current system that you have in place?

Dr M Clark: Not at all. The improvement notice from Comcare found CSIRO wanting in two particular areas. First of all, one of the findings was that CSIRO was aware that an employee had mental health issues, we were aware that it was a difficult discussion on an issue of the code of conduct and we failed to undertake a proper risk assessment. There was a number of corrective actions that related to: (1) our misconduct policy, (2) our risk assessments including assessments of psychological risk, (3) amending our policy and (4) training the policy. I can provide you with further detail.
The second finding from Comcare was that, whilst in this particular case contact with the line manager had been restricted for some aspects, we continued to use the line manager for return-to-work and compensation claim areas. Comcare found that we had breached section 16(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in that such actions could have increased the risk of exacerbating an employee’s psychological condition and that CSIRO did not take all reasonably practical steps to protect the employee from that risk.
Whilst there was nothing specific in terms of those corrective actions, there were a number of additional corrective actions: that medical assessment and fitness for work was to include psychological assessment; that we supported workers with psychological injury and distress; that in complex case management—that is, 30 per cent of our cases in staff grievances, certainly for current and former employees, often include an issue of mental ill health—we needed to make sure that recording and storing of all documents was appropriate; that, as when you have complex case management often there is a number of people involved, we were making sure that we were managing the communication around that; that we undertake regular assessment of workplaces, not just for risks of physical injury or issues of chemicals or occupational hazards but also for issues of workplace stress; that we consult the unions and staff on these changes; that we make sure that our notifiable incidents include complex issues of mental health; and that training was undertaken by the division in question. They were the findings. We stand by those findings of Comcare. It was as comprehensive and well-led investigation.

Senator COLBECK: They are fairly serious recommendations: reviewing and amending the CSIRO misconduct policy; providing training to all staff responsible for implementation of the CSIRO misconduct policy; reviewing and amending HR and HSE policies to ensure that where medical assessment is required for fitness for duty it considers all workplace matters and circumstances which the individual might be expected to encounter; reviewing and amending HR and HSE policies and procedures to ensure employees exhibiting psychological distress or injury are appropriately supported and managed, including referral for medical assessment and advice; and developing and implementing policy and procedures for effective governance and recording of information relating to complex case management. They are fairly serious matters.

Dr M Clark: Yes, and I take them very seriously.

Senator COLBECK: As I indicated, we have been asking particular questions around some cases that go to these particular points over a period of time, and therefore our concern around where this situation exists as well.

Senator Chris Evans: Can I just say that I take these issues very seriously, and Dr Clark has briefed me regularly on them and I raise them with her. I think it is fair to say that the Comcare report has a large focus on dealing with mental health issues in the workforce. I think the reality is that all organisations are struggling to adapt policies and practices to better cope with what we better diagnose now. Also, quite frankly, there has been growth, as you know, of mental health issues in the broader community. I think Dr Clark has been very honest with you that they accept that in handling those issues they could have done better and they have responded to that. But I do not think CSIRO is the only organisation struggling with dealing with staff issues where mental health issues might be involved. I think what you seen in the email et cetera is a very serious response to the concerns raised.

Senator COLBECK: Thank you, Minister. I suppose my point is that we have been talking about some of these issues for a period of time, expressing our concerns about them as well and just trying to get some answers and responses.

Senator Chris Evans: Sure. I appreciate that.

Senator COLBECK: I appreciate the fact that Dr Clark is putting these things on the table for us today, so I will continue to run through—

Senator Chris Evans: I just make the point that I think many of the issues that have been raised before have been to do with bullying rather than necessarily mental health issues and the focus of that report. But I take your point, and it is a perfectly appropriate thing to do.

Senator COLBECK: In that context, Minister, it is how the person who is on the receiving end actually perceives them. They may perceive them in that context. You might have a view on something and I might have a different view, and the fact that we have two different views does not mean something is not happening.

Senator Chris Evans: No.

Senator COLBECK: Your perception of what is happening is your reality in this context, and I think that is part of the overall—

Dr M Clark: I completely agree that not all bullying and harassment would be assessed by an independent person or even assessed legally as meeting that threshold, but that does not mean that the effects of perceived bullying are not destructive, not just for the individual but for those involved. So I agree with you, Senator.

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark, on what date did you form the conclusion that there were problems and errors in the way that the CSIRO had handled a specific case that we have been talking about over a period of time. There is a time frame around this, and I think you are aware of the case that we are talking about.

Dr M Clark: If you are referring to the case that was investigated by Comcare, which I have just outlined, I received the final report from Comcare, I read all 109 pages on the date that it was received and we have undertaken a number of activities. These are not just in response to the improvement notice. I put a team in place to oversee the actions in response to that improvement notice. We are on track to complete all those necessary changes by 31 December, but I do not think that is all that we need to do. We are in early discussions with Comcare to initiate a joint project to develop best practice approaches to the prevention, the early intervention and the management of bullying and harassment complaints—including those that involve psychological wellbeing.
We have worked and asked a number of questions of other organisations around the country and asked, ‘Who is benchmark in this? Who is actually leading Australia in these efforts?’ It has been interesting, the response that actually we think we need to develop that strategy with Comcare and I would say at the moment that many other organisations are needing to do so. We are absolutely happy to work with Comcare now to develop that best practice.
In addition to that, I have asked Comcare executives to join our executive team, and we have met with them, so that our leaders can understand such issues and understand the broader issues not just of safety, not just of occupational health but of health and wellbeing issues more generally and the issues of mental ill health—in which many of us need to have additional training. I have also made sure our business unit and functional leaders continue to consider actions to be taken in response to our Working in CSIRO survey—

Senator COLBECK: Dr Clark, I have only got 25 minutes left. I need to finish this and do something else.

Dr Clark: I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of the management response to what is a serious issue, because that was your question.

Senator COLBECK: Yes, and I appreciate that. Can you tell me what date the report was received?

Senator Chris Evans: Just for Hansard’s records, this is referring to a specific case. If you are looking at the record, no-one will know which case. We are not wanting to name the person—

Senator COLBECK: We are referring to the case that the Comcare report refers to.

Senator Chris Evans: Maybe we ought to refer to it as Mr X, if it is a Mr—

Dr Clark: I have not referred to an individual—

Senator COLBECK: And I have not referred to it either—

Senator Chris Evans: For the rest of the world, you two agreeing about a report that is not described or named—

Senator COLBECK: So we can agree that context is important.

Dr Clark: The corrected notice is on the public record as well, Senator. In answer to your question, the final report was received on 24 August this year.

Senator COLBECK: That is when you came to the view that there had been some issues with the way that the CSIRO had handled this case?

Dr Clark: I always wait until there is a final report from the investigation. That is a very important step, and you need to await the findings of the independent investigator—in this case, Comcare.

Senator COLBECK: So your conclusion, that there were problems and errors in the way that CSIRO had handled this, was when you received the report on 24 August.

Dr Clark: I accept the report of Comcare. We asked Comcare to help us investigate these matters. I fully stand by the report. It was comprehensive, it was thorough, and I accept the findings of the report and I accept the areas where CSIRO was found wanting, Senator.

Senator COLBECK: How does that align with an email sent by Dr Andrew Johnson to all CSIRO staff on 29 June that included the following statement: ‘CSIRO did not take all reasonably practical steps to protect the health and safety of the former staff member that we appointed and the CSIRO manager to act as the staff member’s point of contact despite the fact that allegations had been made against the CSIRO staff manager by the staff member.’ That was on 29 June.

Dr Clark: Yes. We had received the improvement notice, which was received ahead of the final report. I was on leave but actually worked with Dr Johnson while I was on leave to make sure that we immediately put out a notice—not to all staff but to the division in which this matter was raised—to be clear to staff on what were all of the areas outlined in the improvement notice. Comcare asked us to post that improvement notice but we felt it was serious enough to make sure there was an ‘all staff’ going from my office, and that was provided. That was making sure that staff had clarity on, first of all, the contents of the improvement notice, but also what we were immediately doing about it. In that particular email of June, Dr Johnson outlined that I would further update staff, as I have done this week. I was meeting that commitment as well. I have made a further commitment to update staff in the new year.

Senator COLBECK: You were on leave on 29 June?

Dr Clark: I was. Dr Johnson was acting for me, but in this particular issue we were in communication. I was working with Dr Johnson on making sure that we had this particular issue reported thoroughly to staff.

Senator COLBECK: When did you come back from leave?

Dr Clark: I cannot tell you the date. I would have to look that up. I do remember that the day you come back, you feel like you have not been on leave at all. I would provide you –

Senator Chris Evans: Don’t we all.

Dr Clark: For this particular issue, I was in communication with Dr Johnson. We were working together.

Senator COLBECK: Given that you were in communication and you were working together on that—even though you were on leave and that helps us all understand why you did not feel like you were on leave—how do you then align the two dates? You have received a corrective notice that makes a particular statement—

Dr Clark: I was very clear. We received the improvement notice and hence put out an immediate notification to staff of the division relating to the improvement notice. We posted the improvement notice. I think posting an improvement notice on a noticeboard does not necessarily mean that you have communicated, so we felt we needed to have a further staff email. Then we received the final report on 24 August. My email to staff would have gone out irrespective of that, because we would make a commitment based on the improvement notice. They are entirely consistent.

Senator COLBECK: I am still trying to understand how you align the time that you came up with a conclusion that there were problems. Surely, the improvement notice would have been a signal—

Dr Clark: I understand your question. My apologies. You are absolutely right. From the moment of the improvement notice, those areas where CSIRO was found deficient were very clear. You are absolutely right that, in fact, I was aware of that from the moment that we had the improvement notice. My apologies. I misunderstood your questioning on the broader issues and the broader report.

Senator COLBECK: I think we have now got our dates lined up around the time of the improvement notice, and particularly 24 August when you received the final report. From the perspective of the information that we have received in the context of matters that I raised at estimates—and Senator Bushby has also mentioned the involvement of the line officer –

Dr Clark: Yes.

Senator COLBECK: and the manager. Nobody has actually said anything publically about that until now. It goes to the context of the questions I was asking before. I think Mr Roy said to me in February that would not have happened and yet it is quite obvious now that that is a significant issue. It has been raised with you by Comcare, it is a feature of the report, you are now in a process of corrective action of your systems.

Dr Clark: Absolutely. I think the Comcare finding is quite clear that while CSIRO restricted that –

Senator COLBECK: Sorry, my point is that it is not clear to us because we are only just finding out about this now. It goes to the point that I was making with you and the minister earlier about when you become aware of information that you have given to this committee as not being correct, and yet we are having to actually drill into it instead of being given advice of that process. That is the point I am getting to.

Dr Clark: I understand that. Certainly, making sure that we have the corrective actions, making sure that we have the final report, these are important—

Senator Chris Evans: Could I interrupt you, Senator. There is quite a difference between alleging incorrect information, and information that is impacted later by an independent inquiry. I think you ought to be fair to the officers and not confuse the two. If your suggestion is that CSIRO should have corrected the record after receiving the Comcare report with information they provided before it, I do not accept that at all. They have to report on and explain responses to a Comcare report, but if they received it on 24 August that in no way calls into question testimony they gave prior to that.

Senator COLBECK: The Hansard record is quite clear. In response to a question from Senator Bushby at February estimates, Mr Roy said:
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.

Dr Clark: I think Mr Roy said he would be disappointed if that were the case.

Mr Roy: ‘Surprised and disappointed’ were the words, I think, if you read on. It was not a categorical statement; I said—

Senator COLBECK: Unless there is a problem with Hansard, and I am reading from the Hansard. I think we are talking about a conversation you might have had with me, Mr Roy. In fact, this is the Hansard of 15 February, pages 23 and 24.

Senator Bushby asked you a question and I think that refers back to a question from me previously. Senator Bushby’s question was:

Senator BUSHBY: The question specifically refers to the answer, though, and the answer says: ‘There have been cases where the manager to whom the case was initially referred has become the subject of further complaint.’ The answer on notice deals with this issue, and I was just clarifying—
So you were responding to a question on notice to me. We talked about having the answer. The last line of your answer at the time was:
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.
We clearly have a particular representation made to the—

Dr Clark: And I think it is really clear from Comcare that CSIRO is found wanting in that aspect, as I have outlined. The Comcare finding here is that, while CSIRO did restrict some access, we failed to restrict all access and that could have had an impact of increasing the risk or exacerbating the employee’s psychological condition. That finding by Comcare is very clear and straightforward and we were found wanting in that aspect.

Senator COLBECK: And my point is that, as far as we are concerned, the last answer that we got was that that would not have happened.

Mr Roy: Can I refer you further down the page, please, to almost the bottom of page 26. You made a statement there which starts:
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.

My response was:

Mr Roy: I would be surprised and disappointed if that had happened. As I said, I am not aware that it has happened—
and that was a correct statement at the time—
but I will take it on notice and I will look very closely at that matter for you.
Then we provided a response to question on notice BI6 , which was one of the questions on notice to come out of the last estimates hearings. It was a statement saying, ‘At the time we were not aware and would be surprised and disappointed if that was the case,’ which we are.

Senator COLBECK: I have that answer. They are contextualised as being other matters rather than specific to the case. Is that a fair representation of the answer to the question on notice?

Dr Clark: Sorry, your question is not clear.

Senator COLBECK: I am not trying to be obtuse or anything of that nature. The answer talks about the fact that there remains contact between the two people involved, but the contact is in the context of other issues, not necessarily issues relating to the case. That is where the Comcare report has found it wanting.

Dr Clark: Exactly. So Comcare recognise that we had restricted aspects that related to the investigation et cetera, but we had not restricted access in the issues of return to work and compensation claims.

Senator COLBECK: I still make the point that it would have been nice to get some advice to the committee around this. As we are demonstrating, it is an issue we have had some interest in, and it would have been appreciated if we had received some advice around this matter. What was the full cost to CSIRO of the report into this matter?

Dr Clark: When you say ‘reporting’ do you mean the full investigation?

Senator COLBECK: What was the full cost to the CSIRO of the report into this matter by the Comcare investigator, Mr Docker?

Dr Clark: I am not quite sure. Do you want the cost of the Comcare investigation and report?

Senator COLBECK: Yes.

Mr Roy: My understanding is that we have no direct costs. Whether it flows through our premiums or not I cannot answer. I will have to take that on notice. We do not write a cheque to Comcare, to the best of my knowledge, to conduct this report. Clearly, a number of CSIRO officers have been witnesses and have contributed to the report and we have not costed their time to do that piece of work. I cannot be more definitive than that here today, but we do not write a cheque to Comcare for it, to the best of my knowledge.

Senator COLBECK: After the last exchange that we had in estimates you read a section out of the draft Comcare report. You received a letter from Mr Kibble, who was concerned that you had put some of that information on the public record. Your response was, effectively, that we can do it when we feel we need to. That is a very short summary of the letter you were given in response to that. Are you comfortable with the situation you have around that particular matter?

Dr Clark: The matter was in response to questions. We have obligations to this committee to answer the questions that are put to us. Comcare raised the issue that the report had been provided in confidence, that it was a draft and that the comment had been taken out of context. But, just as you have outlined, there had been a series of questions by this committee on the issue of whether it was a systematic issue in the organisation. We are obliged to answer questions that are put to us by this committee. We have addressed those issues directly with Comcare, the statements we made were correct and factual, and we have tabled the correspondence between us and Comcare. They accept our response and they have indicated that they do not wish to take the matter any further.

Senator COLBECK: I turn to the termination of IMT division staff. You gave us an answer to question BI-8. Are you completely comfortable with that particular answer?

Dr Clark: Actually, we sent a letter to Senator Mark Bishop because, in reviewing our response to that question on notice from the May 2012 budget estimate hearings it came to our attention that the answer to BI-8 included an incorrect date. We apologise, it was a typographical error. We have written and corrected that in response to this question. The answer states:
Staff identified as potentially redundant were formally notified on 23 June 2011.
The correct date on which staff were notified was 23 June 2010. That correction was provided to the chair.

CHAIR: And circulated.

Senator COLBECK: So the advice to staff of anticipated changes was 17 May, and the actual date of notification was 23 June 2010—that is, the following month?

Dr Clark: Yes.

Senator COLBECK: I want to go to your answer to question on notice B-145. You say in that statement that the employment of one of the relevant whistleblowers ceased on 4 September 2011. The information I have is that the termination date was actually 4 January 2011.

Dr Clark: If you have information, we would be happy to look into that.

Senator COLBECK: My information is that the actual date is 4 January 2011, and the date of 4 September in fact only refers to the date of the final settlement—a very elongated termination payout.

Dr Clark: We would be happy to look into that, if you have further information.

Senator COLBECK: If you look at that particular answer, we are dealing a series of events, particularly with respect to whistleblowers—would it be right to read the answer to B-145 as confirming it is the case that over the past five years each whistleblower who has formally raised suggestions of criminal and/or civil breaches of the law, and identified themselves in the process, has had their employment terminated by the CSIRO?

Dr Clark: You are right in that in the last five years, five complaints have been lodged. Two of those complaints have been anonymous and remain anonymous.

Senator COLBECK: Yet every single respondent to one of those complaints remains with CSIRO?

Dr Clark: In terms of the whistleblower complaints that are raised, I am not privy to those complaints.

Senator COLBECK: Is it the case that none of the senior executives in whose areas these incidents have occurred has ever been formally disciplined in relation to these matters? Is it the case that they have actually all received their performance bonuses in every one of those years?

Dr Clark: I am not privy to the nature of those complaints. I do know that only one of those complaints has been accepted by the whistleblower committee and the board and independently investigated, and no evidence was found to support the investigation. The other complaints made were not found to meet the whistleblower criteria.

Senator COLBECK: I only have a couple of minutes left so I want to move now onto—

CHAIR: In fact you have about 30 seconds.

Senator COLBECK: I appreciate the committee’s time. I need to go back to the issue about the termination of the staff in 2010. There was advice given to the IMT staff on 17 May that anticipated the loss of around 30 positions?

Mr Roy: I understand that is accurate. That is what we have said in response to a question.

Senator COLBECK: No, I do not think we are disputing that. I just want to confirm it. At that point the CSIRO had a clear obligation under section 530 of the Fair Work Act to inform the CEO of Centrelink of that proposed action?

Mr Roy: That is correct, and I think where you are probably going is we—

Senator COLBECK: Just before you go there—I have got to be quick—those terminations included library staff?

Mr Roy: There were some library staff included in that.

Senator COLBECK: You are right, I am going there, because the notice of termination did not go to Centrelink until 14 February 2011?

Mr Roy: That is correct.

Senator COLBECK: There effectively was a breach of the Fair Work Act in that circumstance?

Mr Roy: There were obligations under the act. We missed the time line to send it in. We have been transparent about that. We have corrected it subsequently in terms of our policies, but we did miss that—not guideline—obligation under the act to advise the Chief Executive of Centrelink as soon as practicable.

Senator COLBECK: This is not even actually addressed to anybody, it is just a fax to Centrelink. I suppose that is neither here nor there.

Mr Roy: But I understand we submitted the advice, albeit late, in the appropriate form once it had been submitted. I understand that is how they do go to Centrelink, but we can clarify that if that is your desire.

Senator COLBECK: Effectively we are saying this is a breach of the Fair Work Act?

Dr Megan Clark: No formal breach has been found.

Senator COLBECK: No formal breaches?

Mr Roy: No.

CHAIR: The time has now come for—

Senator COLBECK: Can I just ask one final question quickly, Senator? You will take this on notice, I am sure, Dr Clark. You have put a team in place to oversee the actions recommended by Comcare in the improvement notice. Can you let us know who the members of the team are, please?

Senator COLBECK: I appreciate the committee’s time. I need to go back to the issue about the termination of the staff in 2010. There was advice given to the IMT staff on 17 May that anticipated the loss of around 30 positions?

Mr Roy: I understand that is accurate. That is what we have said in response to a question.

Senator COLBECK: No, I do not think we are disputing that. I just want to confirm it. At that point the CSIRO had a clear obligation under section 530 of the Fair Work Act to inform the CEO of Centrelink of that proposed action?
Mr Roy: That is correct, and I think where you are probably going is we—

Senator COLBECK: Just before you go there—I have got to be quick—those terminations included library staff?

Mr Roy: There were some library staff included in that.

Senator COLBECK: You are right, I am going there, because the notice of termination did not go to Centrelink until 14 February 2011?

Mr Roy: That is correct.

Senator COLBECK: There effectively was a breach of the Fair Work Act in that circumstance?

Mr Roy: There were obligations under the act. We missed the time line to send it in. We have been transparent about that. We have corrected it subsequently in terms of our policies, but we did miss that—not guideline—obligation under the act to advise the Chief Executive of Centrelink as soon as practicable.

Senator COLBECK: This is not even actually addressed to anybody, it is just a fax to Centrelink. I suppose that is neither here nor there.

Mr Roy: But I understand we submitted the advice, albeit late, in the appropriate form once it had been submitted. I understand that is how they do go to Centrelink, but we can clarify that if that is your desire.

Senator COLBECK: Effectively we are saying this is a breach of the Fair Work Act?

Dr Megan Clark: No formal breach has been found.

Senator COLBECK: No formal breaches?

Mr Roy: No.

CHAIR: The time has now come for—

Senator COLBECK: Can I just ask one final question quickly, Senator? You will take this on notice, I am sure, Dr Clark. You have put a team in place to oversee the actions recommended by Comcare in the improvement notice. Can you let us know who the members of the team are, please?

Dr Megan Clark: I will.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Clark. Thank you and your officers for your attendance and assistance here this morning.

Dr Megan Clark: Thank you very much, Chair.I will.

Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: