Independent Investigation must be truly Independent, Transparent and Open
CSIRO Acknowledges the Need for an Inquiry into the Organisation, but it must be truly Independent, Transparent, and Open
CSIRO has indicated that it intends to institute an “independent inquiry” into allegations of workplace bullying and harassment at the organisation. This is said by CSIRO to be necessary to “ensure our duty of care has been met”. However, ComCare has already formally identified significant problems with the way CSIRO has mis-managed pycho-social workplace safety and issued the organisation a formal improvement notice. An independent inquiry that is deeper-looking is, indeed, urgently needed into CSIRO.
The support and advocacy group, Victims of CSIRO welcomes the organisation’s official acknowledgement of the need for a formal inquiry. It stands in stark contrast to the repeated denials by the CSIRO management over the last few years that a serious problem exists. However, such an inquiry must be truly independent, transparent and open in its scope in order to get to the bottom of the allegations against CSIRO from myriad sources – former and well as current employees, and other external sources.
Victims of CSIRO believe that the correct format for such an inquiry is a Parliamentary Inquiry, in which CSIRO is a participant or party, and not the controlling agency. At the very least, the inquiry should be managed by, and initially funded by, a different organisation, at arm’s length from CSIRO. In our view, an internal inquiry, presided over by the same managers who stand accused of mis-managing, covering-up or in some cases, participating in breaches of acceptable conduct, is fundamentally flawed where independence is concerned.
CSIRO should not singularly determine and decide the investigator (nor pay for the services), nor should it set the terms of reference, and therefore receive the report to decide how the determinations should be publicised.
The experience of former employees is that CSIRO has demonstrated its willingness to manipulate and thwart internal and supposedly “independent inquiries” in its favour. CSIRO should have no opportunity to “distil” or “re-interpret” allegations into diminished form before they are considered by the inquiry. Nor should CSIRO be able to view, edit, or amend the inquiry outcomes and report before their public release. Such an inquiry must also be transparent in its hearings, submissions, and final report. These should be open to the public, as they are in any Parliamentary Inquiries. The only possible reason for avoiding such transparency would be, in our view, a desire to conceal significant matters of public interest.
Again, the experience of a number of former employees is that CSIRO’s actions over the last few years have been at times specifically directed at concealing matters of public interest. A closed inquiry managed by CSIRO is not patently acceptable to employees – or CSIRO’s broader stakeholders.
Finally, the scope of such an inquiry should be open to include all allegations of bullying, harassment, and associated allegations of illegal activity, including those against the most senior managers of the organisation. In our view, it is the conduct of senior levels of the organisation that requires the closest scrutiny, and thus, we reiterate, they should therefore not set the terms or running of the inquiry. The inquiry must record mismanagement and misconduct by those ultimately responsible for protecting employees against bullying, harassment and victimisation, and for managing legitimate whistleblower submissions. Where CSIRO’s Code of Conduct has been breached – including where the organisation has been brought into disrepute, there must be corresponding and appropriate action to restore public and organisational trust.
It appears at this stage, however, that the CSIRO inquiry will be limited to a reconsideration of previous cases and the question as to whether workplace bullying occurred or not. Such limitations will emasculate the inquiry and render it inadequate. They potentially constitute a fatal flaw in themselves.
CSIRO is a public organisation, funded predominantly by taxpayer money. The inquiry ought also to have the power to estimate the expenditure of CSIRO’s budget that has occurred to ‘manage’ the involved cases. The public is owed this information, as part of their trust in the organisation’s leadership.
Similarly, if, in the public trust, CSIRO is serious about “ensuring” that its “duty of care has been met”, then it cannot possibly have objections to the obvious requirement for independence, transparency, and openness. No authentic legal process in Australia operates without them. Why, then, should they be absent in this inquiry?
The CSIRO announcements can be found at: