Article in Occupational Health News (Thomson-Reuters)
The following article was published in Thomson-Reuters Occupational Health News Periodical
A group of former CSIRO staff have refused to support an inquiry the nation’s peak scientific body established to investigate claims of bullying, intimidation and other allegations of serious misconduct. More than 100 scientists and former CSIRO staff formed the “Victims of CSIRO” (VoC) group in 2012 claiming the organisation had not tackled bullying and harassment allegations (OHN 979). Former CSIRO employee Andrew Hooley, who established the VoC, told OHN “the current investigation is not in the public interest, constitutes a gross miscarriage justice and is effectively a gross misuse of public funds which should be allocated to a transparent and legitimate investigation process”. “We have recommended to our members that we do not support participation in the process,” he said. CSIRO released the terms of reference (ToR) for an independent investigation it initiated last month to examine allegations of bullying and unreasonable behaviour (OHN 1003). Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce will lead the investigation with a team from HWL Ebsworth Lawyers. They will directly receive submissions from current and former CSIRO staff members and affiliates and examine those that warrant further investigation. Pearce is expected to deliver an interim report in May, after submissions close on May 27. “We are disappointed the VoC will not support the independent investigation,” a CSIRO spokesperson told OHN. “We urge others who wish to have their concerns investigated to go to the independent investigator.”
CSIRO says some claims ‘dodgy’
CSIRO deputy chief executive of operations Mike Whelan told a Senate estimates committee in Canberra in February some of the claims on the VoC website were “dodgy”. ”Lots of allegations have been tossed around by stakeholders and media in recent times and I would have to say the basis for some is pretty dodgy,” he said. ”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.” Whelan criticised claims made on the website. ”There are entries that purport to detail the case studies of at least 14 victims of CSIRO and I know for a fact 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,” he said. Hooley accused Whelan of “pre-judging” the investigation’s outcome, which was “inappropriate given CSIRO’s legal department have largely been responsible for drafting the ToR document”. He lobbied for a “truly independent investigation” because many VoC members were “terrified of the ramifications in making public disclosures of information”. “Most of the allegations submitted are likely to be invalid for consideration in the second more thorough phase within the current ToR,” he said. “(The ToR) does not oblige CSIRO to act on the findings or even publish the findings, the process is not transparent and does not allow for any challenge to the findings.” In December, Comcare issued CSIRO a work health and safety improvement notice and ordered it to review its management of workplace misconduct and bullying. In a bulletin to the organisation’s 6,600 workers, CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark said its Black Mountain installation in Canberra was now fully compliant with the improvement notice. The CSIRO spokesperson told OHN the notice related to procedures that dealt with people with a pre-existing mental health condition.
Mirabella claims briefing not forthcoming
The Coalition has complained it was not briefed on the inquiry details. A spokesperson for shadow science minister Sophie Mirabella told OHN a “promised” briefing was an email “shortly before they were publicly released”. “We weren’t briefed, we were emailed,” the spokesperson said. The CSIRO spokesperson said “Mirabella’s office was briefed on the terms of reference by the minister’s office”.