Scientist who was retrenched after reporting illegal conduct takes legal action against CSIRO
Dr Gerry Swiegers, the scientist at the centre of the recent disclosures in relation to pharmaceutical giant Novartis and a CSIRO spinoff company, DataTrace DNA has recently launched a lawsuit against his former employer. Dr Swiegers claims to have been falsely dismissed by the CSIRO after utilising the organisation’s whistleblower provisions to disclose alleged breaches of commercial and criminal law by senior CSIRO officers.
It may come as no surprise that many of those implicated in the recent scandal involving Swiss company Novartis were similarly implicated in Dr Swiegers whistleblower allegations.
Dr Swiegers’ statement of claims says that his allegations were effectively side-stepped by the CSIRO’s Senior Executive Management Team who narrowed the scope of the investigation to exclude his allegations of “breaches of the commercial and criminal law”.
Despite a letter of concern being issued by a firm of solicitors directly to CSIRO Chairman, Dr John Stocker indicating that there was prima facie evidence supporting Dr Swiegers allegations, the CSIRO Board of Directors declined to intervene.
Emails dated a few months after Dr Swiegers’ lodgement of the public interest disclosure suggest that the whistle blower respondents conspired to make his position redundant. One email between two whistle blower respondents states that “redeployment opportunities would be available for all staff working on the project except for [Dr Swiegers} who would become redundant”.
Such actions fly directly in the face of testimony provided by senior CSIRO officials at past Senate Estimates hearings in which it was stated that a CSIRO employee accused of misconduct would not be left in a position where they had influence over the future employment of a person making such allegations.
Later, three of the whistleblower respondents are said to have engaged in a “sting”, in which they invited Dr Swiegers to apply for a redeployment position where they comprised 3 of the 4 people on the selection panel.
The whistleblower complaint, the composition of the interview panel, the email indicating that Dr Swiegers was to be treated detrimentally, and subsequent sacking of Dr Swiegers all paint a very different picture to that normally put out by the CSIRO executive.
It is not difficult to ascertain why so few whistleblower complaints are made in an organisation like the CSIRO, where people such as Dr Swiegers are presented as a clear example of what will happen to employees who consider disclosing unethical /criminal behaviours in the public interest.
We may also mention that in a letter published on this website, Minster for Finance, the Hon. Senator Penny Wong subsequently agreed that there was “a need to investigate” Dr Swiegers’ allegations. We also previously noted an answer to a senate estimates question on notice which confirmed that CSIRO staff had generated 12,000 pages of confidential internal emails about Dr Swiegers in the last 3 years of his employment.
This is scary stuff and a poignant example of exactly what lengths federal agencies are prepared to go to in order to avoid taking responsibility for the actions of their senior employees.
Dr Sweigers’ Statement of Claim can be viewed here.