Internal Letter from Dr Megan Clark re Media Allegations
A number of conscientious employees have drawn our attention to the following internal communication released by Dr Clark to All Staff. It is most definitely not the best work of fiction we have seen but it is certainly not the worst. There are so many things wrong with this email it is hard to know where to begin…so lets begin with the tone of the communication.
This communication reads as an attempt to illicit sympathy and subtly avoid responsibility for any of the negative media surround the CSIRO. It’s not our fault, we’ve been unfairly targeted, we’ve not had a right of reply…..(yawn)!
The word that comes to mind starts with a Bull, ends in hit and has an ‘s’ somewhere in the middle!
If Dr Clark were to take a decisive stand in relation to the conduct of her employees, and in particular her Senior Executive’s, rather than expending vast amounts of resources and tax payer dollars in an attempt to justify and legitimise their actions, much unnecessary pain and suffering and damage to the reputation of the CSIRO could be avoid. Instead, she continues to assume the role of victim and lay blame upon every other possible scapegoat. When this fails, the litigators move in and issue baseless threats of dire legal responses.
Dr Clark, you are paid a great deal of money, in fact far more than even our own Prime Minister, to assume responsibility for the CSIRO. Start taking some responsibility!
Provide below is the internal communication to CSIRO staff by Dr Clark. We have included some of our own notes in red:
From: Clark, Megan (OCE, Campbell)
Sent: Thursday, 2 May 2013 3:09 PM
To: CSIRO – All Staff
Subject: Recent allegations in the media relating to CSIRO
As many of you will know CSIRO was the subject of a series of stories in the Fairfax press last month. I wanted to share with you our response to the allegations made in these stories and why we are responding that way.
I have taken the allegations made in the stories very seriously – not just because they impact on our reputation but because they make serious assertions about behaviour in CSIRO and have unfairly and unjustly named individual staff members without due process or right of reply. To them and to all our people who every day serve this nation with integrity and dedication let me extend my full support.
The CSIRO have had many opportunities to respond to or provide comment in relation to media articles. It is our understanding that journalists approached CSIRO for comment prior to the publication of these media articles and even approached the individuals name to provide comment. It would appear, that until developing a taste for obscene language and questioning the professionalism of journalists (link), the only words CSIRO spokesperson, Huw Morgan was capable of issuing publicly on behalf of CSIRO when invited to respond were “No Comment” or other subtle variations of that theme. It is interesting in the previous paragraph that Dr Clark separates “them” (assumedly those named in media) from “all our people who every day serve this nation with integrity”. We will give Dr Clark the benefit of the doubt in assuming this was an unfortunate phrasing rather than a deliberate distinction.
Operating with the highest ethical standards is fundamental to who we are and we welcome the opportunity to continue to improve. In addition to our values and Code of Conduct we hold ourselves accountable to the highest independent standards of integrity and scrutiny. We do this via many avenues including our reports to Parliament, independent review of our finances and related business activities by the Australian National Audit Office, by CSIRO experts being quizzed by Parliamentary and other public enquiries and from time to time the decisions of CSIRO being challenged before courts and tribunals.
Accountability you say?
Please explain why you have still not responded to the previous Questions On Notice lodged by Senators after the last Senate Estimates Economics Committee hearing, and why you attempted to sneak in answers to sensitive or uncomfortable Questions On Notice, shortly before the next Senate Estimates hearings, assumedly in the hope that such responses will be overlooked?
Please explain why your senior executives (yourself included) claimed before Senate Estimates to have no knowledge of occurrences within your organisation, which it is later revealed that you had knowledge off. Is this not technically a ‘Contempt of Parliament’?
Please explain why you unreasonably refuse the quite reasonable request of the Victims of CSIRO to concurrently publicly release the report by the “independent” investigation team into workplace bullying and other misconduct. Why do you need to review the document before publishing it, if you are intending to publish it anyway?
Please explain why you will not reasonably agree to undertake misconduct proceedings against those found by this investigation process to have engaged in serious misconduct and refuse to publicly state that it will be applied equally to all employees irrespective of level?
Please explain why two whistle-blowers who revealed their identities were dismissed from employment within weeks or months of making a public interest disclosure while those accused of unlawful activity were never disciplined?
It is important that all parties submit to these independent processes and don’t try to prosecute their partial version of events in the public arena because that’s simply not fair and doesn’t lead to natural justice. When coupled with personal attacks about CSIRO staff it is truly unacceptable.
However, apparently attacks on victims are acceptable, and inequitable application of CSIRO’s internal policies to the benefit or detriment of employees is also quite acceptable. If it was truly the case that all employees, including senior executives of the CSIRO submitted to independent processes then there would be no need for public disclosures to occur. If the CSIRO had properly addressed the issues raised then there would be no reason for people to resort to using the public arena to address these matters.
Let me address some of the specific allegations made.
Novartis DataTrace story
On April 11 2013, an article was published that questioned our commercial integrity in dealing with DataTrace and Novartis.
The allegations have not previously been raised with CSIRO. Neither CSIRO nor the individuals named were given the right of reply prior to publication.
It is our understanding that comment was sought from CSIRO prior to publication of this material.
Immediately after the story broke we committed to conduct an internal review led by our General Counsel, Brett Walker, of all the issues relating to CSIRO. This review involves examination of our own records, discussions with staff, with DataTrace and Novartis. The review is proceeding swiftly, however, because the core allegations relate to negotiations and discussions between DataTrace and Novartis and are one step removed from CSIRO, we are dependent on the outcomes of the investigations being undertaken by DataTrace and Novartis to enable us to finalise our own process. We have open communications with DataTrace and Novartis and are receiving their co-operation in this process.
And what will be the ramifications to those CSIRO staff involved in the scandal, that is, if hypothetically the internal review is conducted with any intent other than to protect those involved?
DataTrace is conducting its own review and its parent company, DatatDot Technologies Limited issued an announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange on 15 April 2013 in which it rejected the allegations.
The independence and the ethics of our organisation and our people are vital to the trust we have in the community. Until this review is complete I will not be able to make further comment, but rest assured that we will complete this final step. Once our review process is concluded and all the facts are clear I will look to share them with you and outline the actions we will be taking.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) findings
On 12 April 2013, an article was published in the Fairfax media that made assertions about CSIRO and its staff resulting from a restructure of our operations in 2008 which need to be addressed. When the findings of the AAT were released earlier this year I sought advice from our Acting General Counsel regarding the Tribunal’s findings and the available facts and asked him to make recommendations on the implications of the case, including whether there was the basis for misconduct action against any CSIRO officers, and what we could do better in the future. This advice was an input into a broader review of the case by CSIRO and the lessons to be learned.
The lesson to be learned here is that CSIRO employees should not make statements before a court or tribunal which they have not verified to be correct. This lesson should also be applied to responses of CSIRO executives to questions in parliamentary committees.
The restructure in 2008 was complex and any change of this magnitude requires careful risk assessment and appropriate change management. The review concluded that our change management processes at the time could have been better, including clear and consistent communication to affected staff, and better documentation of decisions. CSIRO’s change management practices have improved considerably since 2008 although there is still room for improvement as indicated by the results of the staff survey last year.
With regard to our senior officers, the review concluded that there are areas where we could improve in the future including ensuring that our senior officers are properly prepared to provide the necessary standard of evidence at such hearings.
Those senior officers provided testimony, arguably with the intent to discredit or destroy the credibility of the applicant. This is not the only matter in which CSIRO officers have provided unreliable evidence before a court or tribunal and CSIRO officers are still engaging in this conduct so what has really changed? Such conduct breaches the CSIRO’s obligations to act as a model litigant under the Legal Services Directions (2005).
Conduct with the intent to injure someone who is attempting to address a legal right is not only a serious breach of CSIRO’s Code of Conduct, in a number of legal jurisdictions breaches the Criminal Code.
Attempting to pass off knowingly inaccurate testimony as a simple failure of recollection is not only insulting to those who are the targets of such reprehensible conduct but seriously questions the lengths to which the CSIRO leadership will go in order to avoid responsibility for their actions or the conduct of their employees.
I am satisfied with the conclusions and recommendations from the review and while there are important learnings for all involved, there is not a case of misconduct for any of our officers and as such the senior officers have my full support and the support of the Board.
Important lessons, important learnings…..Dr Clark has made similar public comments ad-nauseum but have any lessons truly been learned other than, we need to cover ourselves better next time to avoid public ridicule and professional scorn? It is quite obvious that no lessons have been learned as the same things keep happening over and over again.
I respect the Tribunal’s decision that compensation be paid, and I regret that a CSIRO colleague left CSIRO feeling mistreated.
Obviously you don’t regret this as you have not disciplined your senior officers over their conduct which resulted in the mistreatment of a “CSIRO colleague”. You still knowingly allow employees of the CSIRO to bully and mistreat other employees without censure, even after those victims have approached you directly for help. You also continue to expend obscene amounts of taxpayer funds in defending those people.
Allegations made about unreasonable behaviour
On 13 April 2013, a further article was published in the Fairfax media which included a personal attack on Dr Stephen Trowell, a senior, respected scientist in CSIRO’s Ecosystem Sciences Division. It also sets out a series of allegations which are the subject of court proceedings between CSIRO and a former member of staff. I have stated many times that it is inappropriate for CSIRO or anyone else involved to comment publically on matters which are before a Court, for reasons of privacy, confidentiality, and respect for the legal process. Personal attacks on individuals are just as inappropriate. With those considerations in mind, let me say that CSIRO does not accept the allegations made in the newspaper article, and that they will continue to be vigorously defended. Further, I wish to take this opportunity to express my full support for Dr Trowell, and I invite anyone interested in this matter to consider Dr Trowell’s record of professional achievement including being the foundation leader of the team that developed CYBERNOSE® technology, which uses smell receptors from worms to detect chemical vapours and leading the team that developed The LepTon™ Test Kit, an immunodiagnostic kit previously used to manage insecticide resistance in the cotton industry.
I would like to remind you all that we are striving to create and maintain an environment and a future where all our people feel valued and respected for who they are and what they bring to our workplace. A workplace where it is obvious we are accepting of each other’s differences and help one another to reach our full potential. A workplace where we all take responsibility for being inclusive and feel safe to speak up against behaviour that’s contrary to our Code of Conduct and Values Compass.
It could well be argued that you are striving to create an environment in which it is harder to have these matters addressed and the ramifications for someone making a complaint or public disclosure are much greater. Changes to public comment policy prohibiting CSIRO employees from commenting on matters within their professional areas, even on a personal basis is one such example!
If you have witnessed, or have been subject to, inappropriate behaviour CSIRO has a number of ways to report the incident and these are outlined in our Preventing Workplace Discrimination and Bullying Procedure. This procedure defines all roles and responsibilities, including those of leaders, for staff dealing with allegations of inappropriate behaviour. It also now provides greater clarity on the steps to be taken to resolve complaints.
Dr Clark. have you actually tested these processes or followed any of them through to conclusion to ensure they are being applied fairly and equitably? You have personally received complaints from staff complaining that these processes have not been applied correctly or have been used in obstructing investigation of serious allegations. When was the last time you followed up with any of these people to see whether their matters had been successfully resolved?
People in glass houses, really shouldn’t throw stones!
I would also like to remind you that we have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which is a free, confidential counselling service available to all CSIRO staff and their families.
Dr Megan Clark