Senate Estimates Hansard 13th February 2013 – CSIRO

Posted on February 18, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The Hansard from the most recent Senate Estimates Committee Hearing has been released and it contains some absolute gems!  A full and proper dissection will be forthcoming in the near future.  Some of the key points are:

Failure to investigate multiple allegations of bullying against female employees

CSIRO in investigating one complaint of bullying by a female staff member involving a senior officer revealed at least a further 10 complaints by female staff in relation to the same senior officer.  It is alleged that CSIRO failed to undertake investigation of the numerous other complaints because a) they were outside the scope of the investigation, and b) the other victims had not submitted a formal complaint.  CSIRO of course were quick to point out that they would take any allegations of this nature seriously irrespective of how they had come to light. Yeh, Right!  In at least one case we know of, a member of the CSIRO Executive Management Team refused to investigate allegations of victimisation made against some senior officers because the complainant had not issue raised as a formal grievance.  CSIRO management have failed to refer matters of a criminal nature to the Australian Federal Police on a number of occasions and so there is very little credibility in this response. We recall previous Senate Estimates hearings in which CSIRO executives stated “hand on heart” that a complaint made against an officer would not be referred back to that officer for investigation.  We know how that worked out, which brings us to the next key point!

Apparent Interference in Independent Investigation

Again we appear to have another case in which senior CSIRO officers, who may be implicated in evidence provided to the investigator, will be potentially handling allegations relating to them.  I am sure they will do their utmost to diligently pass on any information incriminating them. After all, the “individuals—at the board level, the chief executive and the other colleagues I work with—have the highest levels of personal integrity.” – Mike Whelan

For this ‘independent’ investigation to be in any way credible, CSIRO must not be involved in the handling the submissions which should sent directly to the independent investigator, not via CSIRO.

The pre-judgement of the ‘veracity’ of complaints by Executive, Mike Whelan in senate estimates does not bode well for CSIRO impartiality.

Tribunal Commentary

Dr Clark does not accept the outcome of Tribunal matter that has significantly more transparency and judicial merit than any CSIRO effort.  No doubt, members of the judiciary are standing up and taking notice of Dr Clark’s proclamation, after all she does have extensive legal experience and is qualified to make such a proclamation, isn’t she????  Dr Clark has used her own unique interpretation of the matter to determinate that senior offices are not guilty of gross misconduct for effectively perjuring themselves before a Tribunal and bringing the CSIRO into disrepute as a result.

Apparently also, vague recollections are appropriate justification for “making things up”, rather than the far more reasonable and mature response which is to tell the truth and say “I do not recollect those events”.

The more you attempt to justify something, Dr Clark, the less justification it has!

Other classic quotes of the day are as follows:

“It serves no-one—and no-one involved—if this is not an independent review” – Dr Megan Clark

“CSIRO is the one commissioning the review. Ultimately the organisation is the one that has to be satisfied with the terms of reference” – Mike Whelan

“We also need to make sure that our duty of care to current staff is maintained and that the principles of natural justice are applied” – Mike Whelan

I guess we will just have to wait and see how prophetic these revelations are!

Further dissections to come….

Excerpts of the Hansard:

Senator BUSHBY: Thank you, Chair; and thank you to the CSIRO for assisting the committee today. Thank you for your opening statement as well. I note that that statement tends to focus on the bullying issues that have been raised within the CSIRO and your response to it, which involves an inquiry. I want to ask some questions about that. Dr Clark, on the morning after the last estimates hearing, which was in October, you told the ABC AM program that there had been three to four incidents of these bullying and harassment issues reported. Your report can be read differently, once again in the way Senator Mason was saying, where you say that ‘we believe we that just as we have matured as an organisation with our safety performance, we can also improve in the area of staff welfare, because one case of inappropriate behaviour is one case too many.’ You talk about three or four cases in October. How many allegations of workplace bullying and harassment at CSIRO have actually been made?
Mr Whelan: Over the last three years, to October 2012, there have been 11 allegations of bullying and harassment made in the CSIRO—and 10 of those have subsequently not been substantiated. There has been one finding of bullying and harassment substantiated over the three years to October 2012.
Senator BUSHBY: So those are the numbers that have been officially reported. Are you aware of other allegations of bullying that have been made that may not have been put through the official channels at the CSIRO?
Mr Whelan: That is the data that flows from CSIRO’s grievance and misconduct process.
Senator BUSHBY: Okay. Because I am aware that senators on this side of the table are aware of over 100 alleged cases, so I am interested that they have not actually been through that process.
Dr Clark, from your statements of 5 February, when you announced the inquiry, it could be read that this inquiry will only look at the cases of former CSIRO employees. Can you clarify whether current employees will also be able to have their cases considered by the inquiry or whether they have been excluded for some reason.
Dr Clark: We are finalising the terms of reference with the independent reviewer, and we are looking at whether current staff can provide general submissions to the independent reviewer.
Senator BUSHBY: So you are considering that, but it has not yet been determined?
Dr Clark: We are finalising the terms of reference with the independent reviewer and his team.
Mr Roy: Senator, just to add to that, if I may: to extend Dr Clark’s answer, we have well-established and tested mechanisms for current staff members to report difficulties that they may be encountering in the organisation, either through the grievance process or the misconduct process, which forms part of our agreement with staff as to how we manage such things. Schedule 4 to our enterprise agreement is where that is spelt out. So it was not the intention for any matter brought forward by existing staff members through that process to form part of an investigation; it would, however, potentially, as Dr Clark said, form part of the fabric for the investigator to make some broader assessment that includes information from staff members—and, as Dr Clark indicated, a final decision has not been made on that particular option at this stage.
Senator BUSHBY: But with respect, Mr Roy, we have asked questions in this forum in the past about existing employees who have raised issues and the consequent treatment that they have received—for example, having their allegations investigated by the person against whom they are making the allegation. It is those types of issues that are of concern, certainly to people in the committee; and I would have thought that if you are going to hold such an inquiry into these issues, those types of allegations would necessarily be included as part of that inquiry.
Mr Whelan: Senator Bushby, the matters related to prior investigations may be subject to review in this process. It will be up to the investigator to decide whether the previous reviews were adequate, competently performed and the like—and, if they were not, to make recommendations that require their further investigation. As you would know from the opening statement that Dr Clark tabled, and other communication, CSIRO’s interest here is to have clarity around the facts of the situation. We are aware of the allegations and the numbers you referred to. It is difficult for an organisation to deal with something that is hearsay and intangible. So part of the rationale for announcing and commissioning this review is that we would like to try and establish the facts. And to the extent that there are matters that require the further attention of CSIRO, this process is designed to facilitate that. Our interest is to understand the situation fully and comprehensively and take whatever action is necessary as an organisation that has a duty of care to its staff.
Senator BUSHBY: I commend what you are saying you are trying to achieve there—and it is exactly what I think you should be trying to achieve: establishing the facts and taking appropriate action.
Dr Clark: Thank you.
Senator BUSHBY: My questions today are just to do a bit of stress-testing on the approach you are taking to try and make sure that that is what you are going to achieve.
Dr Clark: I appreciate that, Senator; and we would also make sure that there is flexibility with the independent reviewer and the lead of that, to make sure that we achieve the aims.
Senator BUSHBY: Okay, I will ask a couple of questions along the lines of that stress-testing, then. Dr Clark, have you or any member of your executive team already had any discussions in any form with the persons who will head up or conduct this inquiry?
Dr Clark: Yes, we have. As Mr Whelan outlined, we are aware of a number of issues and experiences that have been raised by former staff. Some of those have previously been reviewed, but other cases have not—and that is why I have taken the decision, with the support of the board, to engage the independent investigator. That independent investigator will be Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce, former Commonwealth Ombudsman from 1988 to 1999.
Senator BUSHBY: So the extent to which you have had discussions with that eminent person—sorry, what was the name again?
Dr Clark: It is Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce.
Senator BUSHBY: So those with Emeritus Professor Pearce were in terms of the setting up of the inquiry, not the subject matter at this point?
Dr Clark: Certainly the terms of reference have been discussed with Dennis and his team because you want to bring in both the experience and wisdom that Professor Pearce has in these particular matters. We would expect to announce those terms of reference in seven to 10 days.
Senator BUSHBY: With the terms of reference, to what extent does Professor Pearce have the ability to craft those? What I am really looking for is a degree of independence by Professor Pearce in terms of what he has a look at rather than input from CSIRO, who may, with the best of intentions, not have the objectivity that is required to make sure that the terms of reference are sufficiently broad to look at the real issues?
Dr Clark: It serves no-one—and no-one involved—if this is not an independent review. So, whilst we have drafted draft terms of reference, we are looking to use the experience and wisdom of the lead of the review to look at the detail of those terms of reference. We will be listening to that.
Mr Whelan: If I may add to that, we provided the initial framework for the terms of reference. We have provided them to Dennis Pearce and his team for review. We have had a number of meetings over the course of the last week around the shape of those. He and his colleagues have added considerable value to that process and I expect that when those terms of reference are finalised they will incorporate his and his colleagues’ perspective on how to conduct reviews of this kind.
Senator BUSHBY: Are the final terms of reference subject to tick-off by CSIRO?
Mr Whelan: CSIRO is the one commissioning the review. Ultimately the organisation is the one that has to be satisfied with the terms of reference, but our intention of involving the independent investigator and his team in the drafting of the terms of reference is to make sure that it is as comprehensive and—as Dr Clark has indicated—independent as possible.
Senator BUSHBY: Who is involved from CSIRO in liaising with Professor Pearce? Is it just Dr Clark? I take it from your level of knowledge, Mr Whelan, that you are also involved.
Mr Whelan: I have had carriage at the executive team level of framing this activity, providing support to Dr Clark and the board in regard to those matters, and I have been supported by colleagues in my legal team. Brett Walker, our general counsel, and Chris Gibson, who has been out acting general counsel, have worked with me and with Professor Pearce and his colleagues to progress this matter to date. Ultimately those materials will be put before the chief executive. I suspect they will be noted by the board before they are announced.
Senator BUSHBY: Have attempts been made to keep the involvement of CSIRO personnel fairly tight? Given that the inquiry will be looking at practices of personnel from CSIRO, I would imagine that there is benefit in trying to keep the development of the terms of reference and the conduct of this inquiry as tight as you possibly could.
Mr Whelan: There are clearly going to be issues around confidentiality and the sensitive handling of information. We were aware of that when we started thinking about this process and it is very clear, from dealing with Professor Pearce and his colleagues, that they are also very sensitive to that issue. So, yes, we have given thought to the need to make sure that there are very clean and separate lines in CSIRO to support this process. We also need to make sure that our duty of care to current staff is maintained and that the principles of natural justice are applied. So, yes, we are looking to make sure that there is a streamlined and dedicated team to efficiently support the review and we are giving active consideration to how material that might be provided anonymously or generically to the review might be treated. Our current thinking at this stage is that we will take a two-phased approach to the review.
The first phase, which we think will take approximately three months—assuming we get that kicked off in the next week to 10 days, as Dr Clark has indicated—would see us complete that phase in mid to late May. That phase would receive, analyse and preliminarily assess submissions made to the review. It would make recommendations and observations to CSIRO about the general characteristics of those submissions, and it will have conducted a preliminary examination of allegations. And I imagine the investigating team will have formed a view as to those matters that may require further detailed investigation, and that is where the concept of the second phase comes in—that those matters then would be referred through and then be subject to independent investigation.
We estimate that that second phase, if required, may take a further six months. That will depend on how many matters travel through phase 1. Our current expectation is that individuals who make submissions to the inquiry will receive a report back as to what has happened. We expect that a general report from phase 1 will be made publicly available about the nature of the submissions and those matters that will go through to the next phase, and outline the process for that. There are some considerations with respect to whether people who make submissions indeed want those matters to be further investigated. So we are sensitive to that, and in framing the terms of reference we are giving thought to maximising the opportunity for people to be able to provide us with input and their perspectives on this, and at the same time making sure that the review process we have established can adequately address those.
Senator BUSHBY: There is a lot in what you just told me there. But coming back to what I was talking about before, in your opening statement you mentioned sensitivities to individuals and confidentiality and so forth. Dr Clark and members of the executive in all likelihood will need to give evidence to the committee conducting the inquiry. In the interest of avoiding potential or perceived conflicts of interest, it might be advisable to keep that tight and minimise the number of people who are actually liaising in terms of how you set up the terms of reference and how you set up processes.
Mr Whelan: That has not been a consideration that we have taken into account in this process to date. The individuals—at the board level, the chief executive and the other colleagues I work with—have the highest levels of personal integrity.
Senator BUSHBY: I am not suggesting—
Mr Whelan: I know you are not; I just wanted to clarify the context for my remark. They have the highest levels of personal integrity. They understand and we understand that should a matter flow into this process then, subject to review by Professor Pearce that relates to them, they will be afforded all the same opportunities as any other member of staff would to respond to those, and we would treat it no differently to any other matter relating to any other member of staff. They understand that and I understand that, so that is not a factor I have taken into account.
Senator BUSHBY: Okay; I will leave it at that. You also mentioned the two-phase process. If it is required to go into the second stage, you are anticipating that that will take it through to close to the end of the year.
Mr Whelan: I estimate, and it is very broad. As you have noted, you are aware of allegations. All of us have an absence of facts here, so it is difficult to quantify. But for planning purposes we have made an assumption that that second phase may take a further six months. If phase 1 is completed by mid to late May, as I have indicated, that would take us through to November. But, as I have indicated, we expect to make publicly available a report on the outcomes of phase 1 in the mid or late May to June time frame.
Senator BUSHBY: I do think it is important, as you mentioned, in contemplating the idea of how you might treat anonymously, or protect the identity of, people who are making the complaints. Since I started asking questions about this I have had at least two ex-CSIRO scientists come to see me and raise issues, but they did not want me to raise them publicly or raise them in this context, because they were concerned about how that might play out on their longer-term careers. So I do think it is important, because there are people out there who certainly feel aggrieved and who I think would like the opportunity to put the reasons for that to this inquiry yet remain protected in terms of their longer-term outlook. They may well be being overly paranoid, but to them it is real.
Mr Whelan: I think that is absolutely utmost in our mind. But equally utmost in our mind are the implications of this process for staff who currently work in CSIRO who think it is a fantastic place to work, who themselves have had to contribute to and participate in independent investigations on some of these matters in the past and who are impacted by that. We have been—and I remain—very sensitive to the fact that the mere fact that we have announced this review and this process, and its implications of re-examining material that has previously been independently examined, is quite confronting for some of those staff, and we have a duty of care to them also.
I think it is something that all stakeholders need to bear in mind around these matters. Lots of allegations have been tossed around by stakeholders and media in recent times, and I would have to say that the bases for some of those are pretty dodgy. I think there is a real need for all people to deal with the facts and to support a process that is about establishing getting the facts on the table. I know, for example, that the figure you quoted earlier, Senator, happens to be the same figure that is reported on the Victims of Bullying, Harassment and Victimisation at CSIRO website.
I just want to make a couple of remarks about the veracity of the material on that website if I may. Firstly, there are entries on that website that purport to detail the case studies of at least 14 victims of CSIRO, and I know for a fact that two of the individuals cited there have indicated to CSIRO that they are not victims, that they have not supported the material being put on that website and that they are uncomfortable about being associated with this set of actions. It is also important to note that a significant amount of the material on that website relates to matters that are currently before the courts. It is not appropriate for me—and I do not think it is appropriate for stakeholders—to be digging into the detail of those matters, given the sensitivities around that. Indeed, our legal representatives have had to take action in that regard in recent times because we are concerned that some of the entries on that site are indeed seeking to intimidate witnesses in a federal court case. I am gravely concerned at the impact that this process is having on existing staff around those matters. I think they are important facts to get on the table.
Senator BUSHBY: I do not argue with that. I hope the process you are setting up with this inquiry will be sufficiently robust so as to satisfy those people who do have concerns about their personal treatment and can work through that and establish the facts, as you say.
Dr Clark: I think that would be our aim as well. As I said, it serves no-one if the review is not independent, if it is not at arm’s length and if it does not achieve the aims of ensuring that the duty of care to past employees has been met, as Mr Whelan outlined, recommending any further investigation or action that needs to be taken—and, very importantly, learning the lessons from any experiences of past employees and making sure that our strategies, actions and behaviours in the future take into account those lessons and that we learn from those experiences. Regarding the point you made around encouraging people to be able to provide information in confidence—information that need not be shared outside the independent reviewer—one of the things that was utmost in my mind was not just that this is a legal or technical review but that there is the opportunity for the investigator to listen to and understand those experiences. In terms of any strategies that we have, to continuously improve what we do at CSIRO we must understand the impact of behaviours. We must ensure that everyone has the skills and the tools to be able to resolve things collaboratively or the systems and processes to be able to resolve issues should they escalate—and importantly, and thirdly, that we learn from past experiences in any incidence, and put in place the corrective actions so that those experiences do not happen in the future.
Senator BUSHBY: That is the key, I believe: making sure that you actually ensure that your processes and the way you deal with these issues in the future is addressed, if it highlights any deficiencies. That is one of the reasons I asked the questions about existing employees, because there may well be existing employees who feel aggrieved for whatever reason and who may be able to assist that process. Dr Clark, your statements when you announced this on 5 February seem to imply to me that people have only been raising allegations of bullying in the workplace since May 2012. Putting to one side the fact that these issues have been raised directly with the CSIRO over several years now, including through estimates questions from the coalition going back as far as at least February 2011, how far back in time will the investigator be permitted to go in looking at cases?
Dr Clark: We are currently looking to go back seven years, but also making sure that the investigator has flexibility—you would not want someone at seven years and one month to be excluded; it is important that we listen to that.
Senator BUSHBY: Mr Whelan mentioned that a summary or aspects of the interim report would be released. I take it from that that you will not be releasing the full and total report; it will be—
Mr Whelan: I would imagine that the report from the investigator at the end of phase one will cover a broad range of material, including some specifics around individual matters. I do not imagine, with respect to privacy concerns and potential subsequent misconduct investigations if required, that those matters will be released. But to the extent that there are matters that need to be further investigated, I would imagine that the quantity of those and the general characteristics of those would be included in that report—the broad shape and nature of what has come forward. It is not our intention for any communication positioning perspective to want to limit that. As Dr Clark has indicated in her communication to staff about this, what we are trying to do is to understand the situation and respond to it, and the best way to understand it is for people to have access to the information that may flow from this. So, we are still finalising the terms of reference. It is difficult to predict, but from a sentiment perspective it is our objective to ensure that this material is freely available.
Senator BUSHBY: And in terms of that, the report will be released by Professor Pearce rather than the CSIRO. Is that correct?
Mr Whelan: I do not know how that will play out in a practical sense. Professor Pearce will be the person who provides us with the report; it will be his report. We have not discussed this in any detail yet, but I would imagine that a draft will be provided. I imagine that we will then receive a final report, and I imagine we will get briefings along the way. But, as I have indicated, it would be our expectation that that report—or the appropriate components that do not go to individuals, if you like—would be made available. And, as I said earlier, in addition to that, or as a subset of that, individuals who had made submissions would also get information fed back to them as to the status of that. If it was a generic inquiry they made, then perhaps they would get the generic report. If it was a specific one then they may get some specific details provided back to them.
Senator BUSHBY: The reason why I am asking these questions is the obvious one: respecting the privacy and sensitivities that you would not necessarily want to put into the public arena, ensuring that the warts-and-all findings of Professor Pearce are not in any way sanitised before they are actually publicised.
Dr Clark: I think we would absolutely share your sentiment there, hence why the review is both independent and at arm’s length. It would not serve CSIRO or our former employees or any of the stakeholders if that were not the case.
Senator BUSHBY: Is it true that during 2012 a formal investigation was launched into allegations of the bullying of a female staff member by a senior officer in the Food Futures flagship? Is it also true that that investigation unearthed another 10 cases of suspected bullying of female staff by the same CSIRO employee but that nothing was done about that either at the time or since because it was not considered to be within the scope of the original investigation?
Mr Whelan: I would have to take that question on notice. I have got general information about numbers of investigations and the outcomes of those that I can provide to the committee, but that specific matter that you have raised I have no transparency on. I would be more than happy to take that on notice and come back to you.
Senator BUSHBY: It is an example that I suspect—if it is the case and I note that you have not said, so if it is the case that an investigation into a certain person’s allegations highlights a commonality of issues with others but they do not get investigated because they were not part of the original investigation—would be something I think maybe the inquiry should be examining.
Mr Whelan: From my experience in looking at these matters in CSIRO, that would be an unusual situation should that have been the one that happened. There are mechanisms that staff and managers have access to to informally raise issues and deal with those closely to the workplace. They need not require formal or written communication; they can be as simple as a discussion. There is certainly no barrier, from a process or policy perspective, to that. As I said, I am not aware of the circumstances that you seem to be suggesting.
Senator BUSHBY: If you would have a look into that—
Mr Whelan: I will look at that and provide you with information on that.
Senator BUSHBY: At last estimates there was quite a bit of discussion about what approach the organisation takes where an employee has provided false or unreliable testimony and that carried over into the answer to question on notice No. SI70. To follow on from that, I want to move to the judgment in the AAT case involving CSIRO and a former employee, Martin Williams, that was handed down in December 2012. Given that at least two of your senior executives, Dr Callum Drummond and Mr Damien Thomas, had damning judgements made of them during that case about their conduct, including that they were unreliable witnesses, what action has subsequently been taken by CSIRO in each of their cases in respect of that conduct?
Dr Clark: Comments relating to the judge in this case are serious and there were two aspects that I wanted to satisfy myself as a result of those comments. One was reviewing all of the transcript from the case to see whether there was any case of misconduct for the officers mentioned and also to review the transcript to make sure that there were any lessons learned. I also wanted to make sure that there was full transparency to the board in this process so I asked our acting general counsel to complete that review. I have satisfied myself in examining that there are no grounds for commencing misconduct cases against either of those individuals, but there are lessons to learn in other aspects that were highlighted in that review.
Senator BUSHBY: And the key lessons that are to be learned?

Dr Clark: Certainly in our change management processes in terms of just how we are prepared to make sure that the facts et cetera are available and the people are available. As you can imagine, there is often a spectrum in terms of those particular issues around a senior officer when a judge has made that call. At one end of the spectrum it is a very serious case of misconduct and perhaps dismissal; at the other end it is officers that were not directly involved, do not have written records and do not have a recollection of some of the detail that others do —and in this case it was certainly at that part of the spectrum. But a thorough review of all of the transcript of the entire procedure was undertaken by our acting general counsel to satisfy ourselves that—
Senator BUSHBY: Are there any lessons about employees who provide a false or unreliable testimony? Is it something that you particularly looked at coming out of that judgement?
Dr Clark: As I said, I have answered that question in that we looked at that. The commissioner did not accuse either of the officers of providing false testimony. They simply made reference to their knowledge of the facts in terms of reliability.
Senator BUSHBY: Has any action been taken within the organisation in response to the findings in that decision and also by Comcare, that Mr Williams suffered generalised anxiety disorder during and as a result of his employment at CSIRO? Do you intend to offer any form of compensation to Mr Williams?
Mr Whelan: To reframe the context here so that people reading this transcript know what happened: this is a matter between Mr Williams and Comcare and the AAT. It is not a matter against CSIRO. CSIRO officers were witnesses called by Comcare in that process. The judgement relates to matters before Comcare, and it is perhaps appropriate that you ask them questions about it.
Senator BUSHBY: Minister, the workplace relations minister said yesterday that Labor believes that bullying has no place in the Australian workplace. Is it true that Mr Williams separately approached and wrote to both his Labor MP, Mr Cheeseman, and the then science minister, Senator Carr, to tell them of the intimidation and bullying that he was experiencing—or says he was experiencing at the CSIRO—and make a plea for help? But, in the end they merely referred him back to CSIRO?
Senator Lundy: I am sure you can appreciate that I cannot answer those questions. I can assure you, though, that the government’s attitude toward bullying is that it has no place at all. I can only suggest that we take those questions on notice, but I do not know if we will be able to answer them.
Senator BUSHBY: You may also seek to take on notice that seven former CSIRO employees collectively wrote a letter last year to the then science minister, Senator Evans, in which they detailed a long series of incidences and concerns about workplace misconduct at CSIRO. He effectively told them there was nothing new in their letter and that he would not act upon their concerns unless they had something new to add.
Senator Lundy: No, I cannot. But, I can suggest to you—and I do not know the timing—that the investigations and the issue were taken very seriously by CSIRO at the time, and that the minister would have had confidence in that.
Senator BUSHBY: Will you take that question on notice, though? Just to—
Senator Lundy: I do so on the basis that I do not know if it can be answered, but of course, we will take the question on notice.
Senator BUSHBY: In answer to question on notice SI74, the team within CSIRO overseeing the organisations workplace bullying has not been listed in full. It may just be the use of a word that makes it confusing; it uses the word ‘includes’ rather than, ‘the team is’. It suggests that there might be others. Are Dr Drummond and/or Mr Thomas part of the team? And could you ensure that we now receive an answer that clarifies whether there are other members of the team within CSIRO overseeing the workplace bullying?
Mr Whelan: In answer to the first part of your question—Dr Drummond and Mr Thomas are not part of that team.
Senator BUSHBY: Okay.
Mr Whelan: If I recall correctly, when I was clearing that answer I think we chose to use the word ‘includes’ because this is a dynamic process and we have been adding and adjusting to the resources of it. To give you an ‘is’ answer would potentially have been misleading. For example, I am not listed there as a member of the team, yet I chair the incident management team now, and I am accountable for reporting to the chief executive. We have adjusted this process to make sure it remains fit for purpose. Certainly there was no intent in the answer provided to you at the time to imply that we were just giving you a subset and that there were others. At the time of providing that answer to you, that was the ‘is’ answer at the time; we chose to use the word ‘includes’.
Senator BUSHBY: Could you provide us with an update of who currently ‘is’, as at the date that you provide the answer?
Mr Whelan: I would be happy to do that.
Senator BUSHBY: Dr Clark, forgive me if I misquote you, but you have said in recent months that your door is now open for people who wish to raise bullying complaints. Is it true though that Dr Drummond himself sent an email to all staff in his division, if not more widely, on 12 July last year that said that all requests and correspondence directed to you should be directed via him first?
Mr Whelan: My understanding of that correspondence was it related to invitations for the Chief Executive to participate in staff forums and events. My understanding was that what he was seeking to do was to shortcut a normal process that would happen around that where that material then got sent back to the relevant group executive, flagship director or chief, theme leader or program leader to say: ‘Is this a priority? Where do I fit in?’ and the rest of it. It was not in any way to limit staff’s ability to interact with the Chief Executive or any other member of the executive team.
Senator BUSHBY: That may well be the case, but the way it is written would leave it open for employees to draw the conclusion that if they wanted to go to Dr Clark, they need to go through Dr Drummond.
Mr Whelan: There is certainly no shortage of people talking to Dr Clark, or any member of the executive team. Dr Clark, Mr Roy and I travel around the country all the time and we hold open sessions with staff. Many hundreds of staff have attended those sessions.
Senator BUSHBY: I understand that.
Mr Whelan: There are certainly no issues with respect to approachability.
Senator BUSHBY: On the whole, most of your employees would probably feel quite comfortable about that, but those who do feel like they have been subjected to bullying, whether justified or not, are usually stressed, and receiving an email like that would make them feel that that is just adding to the challenges in being able to go directly to Dr Clark. I do not think it is particularly helpful, if Dr Clark is genuinely open—I presume she is—to assisting her employees in these circumstances, when they receive an email like that which says, ‘You can’t; you have to come through somebody else first.’
Dr Clark: Senator, we will take all efforts to correct any misunderstanding if staff have misunderstood.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Can I just get some clarification? Is it all right for any member of the CSIRO to approach you directly with any claims?
Dr Clark: Absolutely. I visit all sites.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Have people approached you?
Dr Clark: People approach me all the time.
Senator HEFFERNAN: About harassment?
Dr Clark: I talk about all aspects of staff—
Senator HEFFERNAN: Including harassment?
Dr Clark: I always start with health, safety and staff health, and people have brought issues of behaviour to me.
Senator BUSHBY: At previous estimates, and again in your statements of 5 February 2013, you and Mr Roy have each quoted some line from the Comcare report into the case of Dr Chyb in order to publicly defend your position and the organisation’s reputation. Yet in response to an FOI request, the same document is being blocked from public release. Can you explain why you are happy to quote from it, but the rest of us are not even permitted to see it?
Mr Whelan: What is the document you are referring to?
Senator BUSHBY: The Comcare report into the case of Dr Chyb.
Mr Whelan: I understand a summary of that report is available on the Comcare website, and the material that Mr Roy has quoted comes from that website.
Senator BUSHBY: That is what I am saying. It comes from that website.
Mr Whelan: Which is a public version of the report available. I am not sure what—
Senator BUSHBY: I think the full version, as I understand it, has been redacted to some extent?
Mr Whelan: That would be a matter for the FOI officer in CSIRO, and I have no line of sight to that.
Senator BUSHBY: That may well have been innocent if you are just quoting from what is publicly available.
Mr Whelan: That is my understanding.
Mr Roy: I have in front of me the printed copy of what I extracted from the Comcare website recently, which is the summary of the investigation. It does not include the quote or a derivative of the quote that I did provide some estimates ago. The full report provides the exact quote as we responded in a question on notice, and it does provide Comcare’s findings into the four allegations made by the previous officer who made those allegations.
Senator BUSHBY: Does CSIRO have access to a full, unredacted copy?
Mr Roy: Yes we do.
Senator BUSHBY: Or are you only working from what is on the website?
Mr Roy: No, we have a version of the full report. I think we have stated in some of the previous answers that we have read and are responding to the full report in the improvement notice. In terms of the redacted version that has been provided, I am aware of at least one individual who has asked for a copy. It was redacted for privacy considerations, and that would be normal practice, to take private information out of the public arena.
Senator BUSHBY: I will move on from there, but still on Dr Chyb I touched on this earlier when I was using an example of some of the internal practices that may need examining. As I mentioned, we have raised before that in August 2010 Dr Chyb forwarded an email in confidence to seek assistance—
Mr Whelan: Chair, could I just make a point to be reflected on. The matters concerning Dr Chyb are currently in a court action before the Federal Court. CSIRO’s obligations as a model litigant are going to limit what I can say around those matters. I am just conscious of the committee’s time. If you are going to go to matters—
Senator BUSHBY: I am not going to ask about the actual allegations, more about CSIRO’s approach to when allegations were raised.
Mr Whelan: If you want to talk in generic and abstract terms I am very happy to but if you are going to go to the details of the case I am sensitive to matters that are before the courts and I am also sensitive of the welfare of the individuals both in and outside CSIRO who may be witnesses in that matter. I simply make that comment and you can reflect on it.
Senator BUSHBY: Some of Dr Chyb’s allegations I believe related to Dr Lonsdale. This is on the public record at the moment.
Mr Whelan: Dr Lonsdale is a witness in the case. I will reiterate my point: it is very difficult for us to be dealing with a situation where, intentionally or unintentionally, you are going to material that is in a matter before the Federal Court.
Senator BUSHBY: The question I was going to ask is: is it correct that Dr Lonsdale has now vacated his position, which I do not think is material to the court case.
Mr Whelan: It is correct that Dr Lonsdale has indicated that he is not seeking another term as chief of the Division of Ecosystem Sciences. That is at his instigation?
Mr Whelan: He has indicated he is not seeking another term.
Senator BUSHBY: I understand that Dr Clark’s appointment expires at the end of this year. Is that correct?
Dr Clark: Yes.
Senator BUSHBY: It is probably a question for the minister. Senator Lundy, I understand that Dr Clark’s current appointment expires at the end of this year. Have there been any steps taken towards looking at what might happen with the CEO’s position beyond the end of this year?
Senator Lundy: I would of course refer that to the minister, but I would just question the appropriateness of discussing such things at the Senate estimates table. I am very happy to take that on notice for the minister.
Senator BUSHBY: I am aware that the Tax Commissioner’s position has been discussed, the ACCC commissioner has been discussed and all sorts of such positions are discussed, because it is a matter of public importance and public interest.
Senator Lundy: They do indeed.
Senator BUSHBY: Would you on notice advise what processes will be followed in order to examine that position and what might occur from 1 January next year?
Senator Lundy: I am sure they will be normal processes.

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2 Responses to “Senate Estimates Hansard 13th February 2013 – CSIRO”

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Whelan: (…) the chief executive and the other colleagues I work with—have the highest levels of personal integrity.

Enough said.

Roy: (…) we have well-established and tested mechanisms for current staff members to report difficulties that they may be encountering in the organisation, either through the grievance process or the misconduct process (…)


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