Archive for November, 2016

Full transcript of RN program on Bullying in CASS

Posted on November 24, 2016. Filed under: Sexual Harassment in CSIRO, Uncategorized |

For those interested in a thoroughly insightful read, we have posted the full transcript of the Radio National program presented by Hagar Cohen on sexual harassment and bullying within the ranks of CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) division.  Unsurprisingly, the CSIRO executives interviewed for the program demonstrated a completed lack of empathy for the victims of sexual harassment and bullying, instead preferring to hide behind the secrecy afforded by CSIRO corporate policy and the ever more pathetic screeches of “I am only doing my job” or “it’s not my job”.

As the old adage goes “Those who walk past poor behaviour condone it” and in this, and many other cases, CSIRO is tacitly condoning such behaviour by failing to address it.  Nothing at all has changed as a result of the Pearce “Investigation”, except maybe that the perpetrators are becoming more emboldened by the fact that a failed $4.5 million investigation has effectively failed to hold them accountable for their behaviour.

There is an endemic and, dare we address the elephant in the room by stating, systemic problem with a bullying culture within the CSIRO and it is an affront to all those who have suffered for CSIRO to continue to deny it is occurring!



Hagar Cohen: She was one of the best and brightest in Australian astronomy.

Ilana Feain: This is me. So I did a PhD in astronomy at Sydney Uni, then I was a Bolton post doc at CSIRO. From my Bolton post doc I was the ASKAP project scientist for many years and I guess I know almost everyone in the audience.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Ilana Feain was a CSIRO astronomer. Young, incredibly intelligent, working on a blue-sky project to help us understand one of the closest galaxies to planet Earth, Centaurus A, 12 million light years away.

Ilana Feain: I was thinking about what is the skillset that I have. So I thought, okay, let’s start, radio galaxy evolution, that was my thing.

Ilana Feain: That’s Dr Ilana Feain, speaking at a career conference in December 2014. She was regarded by her colleagues as a fearless go-getter. Then suddenly she quit her tenured job at CSIRO and left astronomy.

Ilana Feain: You know, I’m an astrophysicist, I had a…okay, I hammed it up a bit, but I basically said, you know, I had this stable, permanent job, which I did have, I spent years trying to get permanent, and then I resigned after a year. But I said I had this stable, permanent job in astronomy, it was really great, it was really cushy, and I gave it all up.

Hagar Cohen: Just why she gave it all up has never been publicly revealed, but in the world of astronomy it’s an open and very dirty secret.

Bryan Gaensler: I’m still very angry about what happened to Ilana.

Ilana Feain: That’s astronomer Professor Bryan Gaensler, who worked closely with Ilana Feain.

Bryan Gaensler: Because Ilana had the attitude that she wasn’t going to fall into all the same traps that other women were going to fall into with regard to hitting glass ceilings, or having to choose between family and career, or having powerful men derail her.

Hagar Cohen: In fact Ilana left CSIRO because she couldn’t tolerate a system that favoured powerful men, and protected abhorrent behaviour.

Since leaving, she went back to university, and now she runs a successful company focused on curing cancer.

Ilana Feain: If you’re diagnosed with cancer today, your chances of survival have never been better, but cancer has now surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of non-communicable mortality…

Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing is telling her story for the very first time.

In 2012 Dr Ilana Feain filed a lengthy formal complaint about professional misconduct in the workplace. She accused a senior colleague of unprofessional and inappropriate personal attention, over some years, which distressed her.

The internal investigation dragged on for months, the accused was counselled, and an ‘adverse finding’ placed on his file. The findings remained confidential and Dr Feain was not allowed to talk about it.

Not long after, she resigned from her tenured CSIRO position. The senior colleague remained in his senior position. This was demoralising to some of her closest colleagues. They were left wondering if he faced any repercussions. Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths:

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: The secrecy that is put around this, it only ever helps the perpetrators. And if things are not right, we all have a responsibility to speak up and say they need to be fixed, and yet we can’t.

Hagar Cohen: What were the consequences in Dr Ilana Feain’s case?

Dave Williams: I’m not prepared or not allowed to talk about those issues.

Hagar Cohen: The person in charge of CSIRO’s astronomy department is Dr Dave Williams. He refused to be drawn into a discussion about the consequences.

Dave Williams: Because they’re confidential staff issues, and that’s the way it remains, and that’s the way all organisations work in these areas.

Hagar Cohen: But I suppose the lecturers who spoke to me, that was their main concern, that those issues are not talked about openly.

Dave Williams: Well, I think there you’ve got to go with the fact that I don’t know any organisation that publicises that sort of information.

Hagar Cohen: Because it looks like there have been no consequences at all, that’s why.

Dave Williams: There have always been actions implemented where the external investigator has deemed that the case has been misconduct or worse.

Hagar Cohen: Not only did Ilana Feain feel betrayed by her workplace, she felt she could no longer stay in astronomy.

Bryan Gaensler: It’s a very selfish thought, but I’m angry at the astronomy discoveries that will now never be made because Ilana won’t be the one to make them.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Bryan Gaensler is one of a number of top scientists who have now come forward to tell her story.

Bryan Gaensler: Her attitude was always, like, I’m tougher than any of you, and I will always win. And she has got that incredible fire in her belly, that when she’s got her eye on something, you’d better get out of the way. To see this just break her, to see this destroy everything she had worked so hard for was just devastating.

Hagar Cohen: This sentiment is shared by the scientist that holds one of radio astronomy’s most senior jobs

Phil Diamond: When somebody of immense talent and potential like that does leave the field, it’s a crying shame.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Phil Diamond is the director general of the Square Kilometre Array organisation in England, which is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope. At the time of Ilana Feain’s investigation he headed the astronomy department at the CSIRO, and he was responsible for implementing the recommendations.

Would you agree that she had left astronomy because of the way that the investigation was handled?

Phil Diamond: I do not know her personal reasons for doing so, no.

Hagar Cohen: Some of Professor Diamond’s former colleagues hold him responsible for the aftermath.

Hagar Cohen: Would you take any responsibility for the fact that she had left astronomy?

Phil Diamond: I’m really not commenting further, Hagar, on that particular case.

Hagar Cohen: But if incidents like these are not being talked about and, as people suggested to me, are hushed up, what’s the disincentive, what would prevent anyone from behaving inappropriately?

Phil Diamond: I repeat what I said, every recommendation was implemented exactly as it was communicated to me.

Hagar Cohen: While all of this was going on with Ilana Feain, CSIRO was going through a major independent investigation into its workplace culture. It would bring much unwelcome public attention onto our leading science organisation.

By the time it wrapped up, in 2014, its then CEO Dr Megan Clark was able to reassure a senate estimates committee, CSIRO was cleaning up its act.

Megan Clark: And certainly, I have asked my staff not to walk past it. So in terms of CSIRO being the best it can be, I can assure you that there are much broader outcomes from this report and we have been and are fully committed to both the safety and health of our staff.

Hagar Cohen: This inquiry was led by barrister Dennis Pearce. But not everyone was reassured. In Senate estimates, questions were asked about other allegations.

Senator David 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?

Mike Whelan: Senator, I would have to take that question on notice. I’ve got…

Hagar Cohen: It’s unclear just how much of what was going on at the astronomy department, made its way to investigator Dennis Pearce.

Background Briefing can reveal that since 2008 there have been 16 investigations into professional misconduct within the tightknit department of astronomy alone. One of them involved allegations of a sexual assault. In one, police were involved.

Are you concerned though that one of those allegations were so serious that it had to go to police?

Dave Williams: For me every case that comes in on misconduct, or allegation comes in on misconduct is serious.

Hagar Cohen: Executive director for Digital, National Facilities and Collections at the CSIRO, Dr Dave Williams.

Dave Williams: And I personally would feel very sad at certain things happening, but that’s not my job, my job is to act as a person who looks at each case and determines how we carry it forward, and appoint external advisors as necessary with our HR support.

Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing understands that the alleged sexual assault claim was first reported to the CSIRO in 2009. The victim escalated it to an official complaint in January this year. A finding is expected soon.

Back when the complaint was first made, Professor Bryan Gaensler, then at the University of Sydney, got a call from the head of astrophysics at CSIRO about one of his PhD students.

Bryan Gaensler: I got a phone call from a senior astronomer at CSIRO confirming that I had a female student being supervised by a particular astronomer, and encouraging me to terminate that relationship, because of concern about these allegations and that it wasn’t appropriate for him to be supervising female students.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Gaensler talked with his PhD students about how the placement was going. He couldn’t talk to her about the allegations. The student didn’t say anything to raise an alarm bell, but he felt he had no choice but to withdraw her from the project.

Bryan Gaensler: Again out of a duty of care, and not wanting to risk anything, I came up with an excuse why it was time to adjust her project or to rearrange her supervisory arrangements, and I terminated that supervision.

Hagar Cohen: And so what excuse did you give her?

Bryan Gaensler: I told her that her project was moving in a different direction now, that we wanted to try different things, and she happily accepted that. She enjoyed going out to CSIRO and working with him but she also was keen to move on to the next stages in her project.

Hagar Cohen: The truth was though that you were seriously concerned for her safety?

Bryan Gaensler: I’m a very risk averse person, and given that I’d been told by this person’s line manager that he should not be supervising female students, so I really had no choice but to remove even that very small risk and to act on the instructions that I had been given.

Hagar Cohen: The alleged perpetrator, does he still work at CSIRO?

Bryan Gaensler: Yes, he does, in a broadly similar role where he pursues research and publishes papers and works with students.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: Australia has been and continues to be and will continue to be for a long time a really big powerhouse for radio astronomy.

Hagar Cohen: It was in 2001 that US born Naomi McClure-Griffiths decided to relocate to Australia, lured by the stars.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: We have the southern skies that look straight into the centre of the Milky Way. It’s traditionally been a strong place to doing radio astronomy, because there are not many people who live here. It’s very radio quiet.

Hagar Cohen: She landed a post doc position at CSIRO, and then a tenured job.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: For almost all astronomy post docs, the holy grail is to get a tenured position. It actually came very easily for me, it came at a good time where I had a lot of really productive work.

Hagar Cohen: But after a number of years she received information that alarmed her.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: I became aware of cases of sexual harassment. I was an innocent bystander, but it’s hard to watch colleagues be unhappy.

Hagar Cohen: From then on things weren’t quite the same.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: People were more defensive about what they were doing. It felt like there were more secrets and discussions behind closed doors.

Hagar Cohen: As a senior staff member, she didn’t know if her workplace was safe.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: I also started watching a lot more, because I was aware of these cases and I felt like part of my responsibility and something that I could do was to watch.

Hagar Cohen: One of her closest colleagues confided in her. It was Dr Ilana Feain.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: She came to me for advice. I think actually she came to me more, though, to ask me to watch out for other people. I think that was a major part of what…she wanted to make certain that other people wouldn’t be victimised, so she hoped that in the position that I was in as a permanent staff member, I could keep a watchful eye out.

Hagar Cohen: Following standard HR procedures, everything about Dr Feain’s case was strictly confidential. It was an arrangement that made Naomi McClure-Griffiths uncomfortable.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: I couldn’t talk about these things directly. So I couldn’t ask direct questions, and it did make me feel very uncomfortable to be listening and powerless and watching and feeling like I was having to be going around the back of my colleagues in order to try to understand how their interactions were going with other people. It was not a pleasant place to be.

Hagar Cohen: Because some of those students were working directly with alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: Yes, students and staff alike. That’s one of the horrible things about sexual harassment cases is that they get closed down into complete silence, and so potential future victims can walk completely unknowingly into a situation that could be dangerous for them.

Hagar Cohen: Naomi McClure-Griffiths wasn’t the only staff member who felt concerned. It was affecting a lot of colleagues in the astronomy department. Their director at the time, Phil Diamond, saw this and contacted a respected colleague, Bryan Gaensler, for advice.

Bryan Gaensler: He was worried about the effect that this situation was having on the morale of the broader community, particularly those of us who were regular visitors or that shared students, and wanted to know ways in which we could all be reassured that it had been dealt with and that this was a safe working environment.

Hagar Cohen: Gaensler told Diamond he should send a clear message to staff that inappropriate behaviour would not be tolerated. He suggested that the response should be along the same lines as a memo sent to CSIRO staff back in 2007 when a similar case was rocking the department.

Bryan Gaensler: I was a long term visitor to the CSIRO and so I was on the various email lists, and I was surprised to receive an email from the director Brian Boyle saying very forthrightly that there had been a very serious case of sexual harassment within the organisation, that the person who had committed that sexual harassment was no longer with the organisation, and that this activity was abhorrent and illegal and unacceptable.

Hagar Cohen: Gaensler suggested Diamond do the same thing.

Bryan Gaensler: I recalled that email that had been sent by the previous director, and he understood why this was a useful thing, but he indicated that current HR rules or bargaining agreement prevented him from even acknowledging, widely acknowledging that an incident had occurred and sharing that with the broader community.

Phil Diamond: Definitely a conversation happened with Professor Gaensler. I don’t recognise that bit at the end, but I honestly, and this is the absolute truth, I don’t remember the details of the conversation.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Phil Diamond says that he takes full responsibility for the way things were handled.

Phil Diamond: I did what I thought was appropriate, taking full advice both within the organisation and from this external expert. Nothing else really I felt that I could or should do.

Hagar Cohen: Were you prevented from talking about the consequences?

Phil Diamond: No, no.

Hagar Cohen: So it was your decision?

Phil Diamond: It was my decision as advised by human resources.

Hagar Cohen: And you have no regrets?

Phil Diamond: The biggest regret I have is that Dr Feain left astronomy, but that was her personal decision. I really do wish that had not happened.

Hagar Cohen: He says he’s disappointed some of his colleagues can’t just trust that he would do the right thing.

Phil Diamond: On a personal level for me I do feel that I try and engender a degree, a strong degree of trust and loyalty to my staff and I would hope that is returned. So people should look at me as a person and my moral code and understand that I would not let such things go without consequences. Just because they do not know what those consequences are, I’m slightly disappointed that they don’t or they didn’t trust me enough to understand that consequences were implemented.

Hagar Cohen: Do you feel that’s good enough though, would you have accepted such explanation if you were in their place?

Phil Diamond: Look, it really is hard to know. As I’ve said, I did what I felt was right at the time.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Phil Diamond, now director of the UK’s Square Kilometre Array organisation, which is an ambitious worldwide effort to build the largest radio telescope.

The events around Dr Feain didn’t put a stop to the workplace problems at CSIRO. Since she left in 2014, Background Briefing understands there have been at least four more investigations of inappropriate behaviour involving nine past and present staff members from the astronomy department. CSIRO’s Dr Dave Williams:

Dave Williams: Well, you’ve got that information at your fingertips, I don’t have that information at my fingertips…

Hagar Cohen: But they suggest that this kind of behaviour festers, do they not?

Dave Williams: I think it suggests that people are willing to raise issues, and when they do we go through the process. I don’t think it’s a matter of festering.

Hagar Cohen: Despite Dr Williams’ reassurance, the astronomy department wasn’t a happy place.

Shari Breen: I guess I’m in a fairly unique position to talk about the complaints process at CSIRO, having been through it. It’s a little bit different for me, and it’s a bit harder to point the finger at the complaints process when you’re the one that’s being complained about. And that was the case with me.

Hagar Cohen: When Dr Shari Breen first came to CSIRO it was a dream come true.

Shari Breen: To me when I got to CSIRO, it was like a magical wonderland.

Hagar Cohen: And was it a good get to do your post doc at CSIRO?

Shari Breen: Absolutely, that was the best job. It was really the greatest job that I could have hoped for.

Hagar Cohen: In 2015 she was named a UNESCO for Women in Science Fellow for her work on understanding how big stars are formed. She gave this interview at the time.

Shari Breen: This is the Parkes 64-metre radio telescope. It’s quite unique in its structure, you can see there is a tower below where the actual dish part is sitting. So when you observe from here, you sit in that tower, you can feel the dish move, you can hear it move. It’s just a really wonderful telescope.

Hagar Cohen: Shari’s excitement about her work slowly diminished when she became aware that that there was something deeply dysfunctional in her department at the CSIRO.

Shari Breen: A lot of people tell me a lot of things, which I think is great, and I would never turn anybody away from telling me stuff, but sometimes you get to a point where you just break a little bit.

Hagar Cohen: Shari knew of a number of ongoing workplace complaints including alleged bullying and alleged sexual assault. She was distressed by a particular complaint involving two colleagues.

Shari Breen: Yeah, I tended to know what was going on and how the situation was progressing, and I didn’t react as well as I should have. That was the time that I just, you know, boiled over a little bit.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Shari Breen boiled over at the pub one night. She was with some colleagues, and she admits she used strong language to describe the accused.

Shari Breen: I talked a little bit about why I was upset, and probably could have chosen my words a little bit better. I was very concerned and I felt her pain. Like, I was upset for her, with her.

Hagar Cohen: Some of Shari’s colleagues took offense at things she said that night. Shari says she was misunderstood. The colleagues filed an official complaint against her for a breach of the workplace code of conduct.

Shari Breen: I was completely stunned.

Hagar Cohen: So when was the first that you knew that there was a complaint about you?

Shari Breen: I got an email from HR. and then I was told over the phone about the complaint. So I had a lot of meetings with HR people and other senior members in the Department. In those meetings, one of the things that really hurt me was that I didn’t think a lot of the things being said were founded or true. So there was a complaint, fine. But then rolled up with that I kept being told that I had ongoing behavioural issues.

Hagar Cohen: Did you have ongoing behavioural issues?

Shari Breen: No. At CSIRO you have a review process every year. I’d done six of those. No issues were ever raised with me, and so it’s unfair for someone to then go ahead and say that there were issues, and in fact the end my line manager said that’s not true.

Hagar Cohen: She says there was no effort to bring those who filed the complaint into a room with her to talk things through. Mediation was not an option.

Shari Breen: No, none whatsoever. So I continually was worried about how those relationships would then progress. People that I still have to work with. I really wanted to clear the air. I was told that that would not be a good idea.

Hagar Cohen: Why not?

Shari Breen: Mainly because I was told that they wouldn’t speak to me.

Hagar Cohen: It took seven months for the whole process to finish, and when Shari Breen came out the other end, she was deeply bruised.

Shari Breen: The process itself was terrible. I was not doing my work, I was completely unproductive, I wasn’t sleeping. I had to see a doctor to get medication in order to sleep. I was having anxiety attacks. It wasn’t pleasant.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Shari Breen’s contract ended at the CSIRO, and she is now employed at the University of Sydney.

Shari’s senior colleague Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths was also worn down by what was happening at work. She was watching her female colleagues’ backs. She was suspicious. She was unhappy.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: My final year or so at CSIRO was not happy. I had been carrying the weight of other people’s problems for a long time, I felt that the workplace had become antagonistic at times for me personally.

Hagar Cohen: What does it mean, that the workplace had become antagonistic towards you?

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: I felt that the goals and the places that I wanted to get to were being hampered, that I was not receiving support in the way that I wanted to to be able to achieve what I considered to be my potential.

Hagar Cohen: She was offered a professorial post at the ANU in Mount Stromlo, and so she took it, and quit her tenured job at the CSIRO. The price of staying there was just too high.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: It did have an effect on my mental health. I’m an ambitious person, and I’m always looking at be moving up and doing more and more challenges and have more excitement, and that wasn’t possible for me at CSIRO at the time. So that made me feel very down on myself. It made me feel like I wasn’t successful. I think I was sick a lot more, physically sick a lot more in my last year at CSIRO than I ever have been in my life. But I don’t think I have completely recovered my sense of self-worth.

Hagar Cohen: Now at the ANU, Professor McClure-Griffiths hesitates before sending her students to some parts of the CSIRO.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: So it becomes a very complex conversation where you work with co-supervisors and discuss and try to see if there are just ways to subtly avoid that supervisor relationship coming about without ever having to say that somebody is a risky person.

Hagar Cohen: Professor McClure-Griffiths says there’s nothing to stop those people who antagonised her and her other colleagues from repeating the bad behaviour.

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: It bothers me because of the fact that they could go on and re-offend without us being able to protect those potential future victims. These could be one-off instances that would never happen again. But on the other hand I would hate to be the person who sent a student to go work with somebody and have them turn out to become a victim of harassment, and know that I could have prevented it

Hagar Cohen: Could that situation potentially arise right now?

Naomi McClure-Griffiths: I think that situation could arise right now.

Hagar Cohen: So do you believe that the department of astronomy is a safe workplace at the moment?

Dave Williams: I believe on balance, at CSIRO, all of CSIRO is a safe place to work.

Hagar Cohen: CSIRO’s Dr Dave Williams.

But would you go so far as saying that the department of astronomy particularly is a safe workplace?

Dave Williams: I’d say overall the whole of CSIRO is a very safe place to work.

Hagar Cohen: But you wouldn’t go so far as saying that the department of astronomy is?

Dave Williams: Well, astronomy is not an unsafe place. And there are incidents. And those incidents have a mechanism to resolve. And therefore I would say that it is on balance a safe place. There is no undue problem with the astronomy department.

Hagar Cohen: Oblivious to the problems inside the astronomy department, US based Dr Megan Johnson came across a post doc position at the CSIRO. She decided to go for it.

Megan Johnson: And there was a job posting for neutral hydrogen studies of galaxies which is the exact work that I had been involved in since my graduate degree. And it was a very exciting opportunity to come to Sydney Australia and work at the ATNF at CSIRO, and get to use the Parkes telescope, the compact array, and also get involved with the new next-generation telescope that the Australians are building in Western Australia called ASKAP. The job description itself, I could not have written it better if I had tried, it seemed like it was the perfect job for me.

Hagar Cohen: She got the job. So she packed up her young family and in August 2013 landed in Sydney to what she thought would be her dream job. But it wasn’t. She says that one of her colleagues was bullying her. It all started one morning when she was late after being up all night, observing the stars.

Megan Johnson: And when I went into work I had missed our morning tea, which up until that point had just been what I had thought was an informal gathering of the astronomy department staff to meet and discuss science for an hour over coffee and biscuits. And she really did not like that and yelled at me, and I had not been yelled at like that ever.

Hagar Cohen: How did you respond to the yelling?

Megan Johnson: I was completely shocked. In fact I couldn’t even speak. I just sort of stood there and I just smiled and I agreed and I apologised, and I didn’t quite really know what to say and I didn’t really know how to react because I had never been yelled at like that.

Hagar Cohen: From then on, things went downhill.

Megan Johnson: That was the first awakening I guess. We moved past that, and things progressed and got steadily worse. And there was a time when she was over my shoulder yelling at me, in front of my office mates. And even after she had left the office, my office mate next to me was in shock as well. So it wasn’t just my perception, it was the perception of everyone else in the room.

Hagar Cohen: And why were you being yelled at?

Megan Johnson: For my writing on this paper.

Hagar Cohen: So it was not the nurturing environment that you had expected when you accepted the job?

Megan Johnson: Right. No, it was not nurturing for me in any way. There was always a feeling of walking on eggshells. I felt that every day. Some days were better than others. I couldn’t figure out what it was that I did that provoked those behaviours.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Megan Johnson decided to make an official complaint, alleging bullying. After an attempt at mediation she was asked to sign an agreement that set out how the two should interact in the future.

Megan Johnson: I was hoping that there would be some sense of, oh my goodness…some sense of self awareness, but it didn’t seem to happen. The outcomes of it were something that were all up to me to change, and it was either, you know, I comply to these particular things or we’re not going to get along.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Megan Johnson couldn’t see the point of the resolution that was being offered to her.

Megan Johnson: There was nobody there to see that anything would change, that there was never going to be any consequences, there was never going to be anybody to see that these things didn’t happen to somebody else.

Hagar Cohen: And the real sticking point was the confidentiality provisions, which she felt amounted to a gag.

Megan Johnson: It came across from the human resource person that this was sort of to protect me. And I felt that the things that were happening to me should be openly talked about rather than kept quiet, and that perhaps the reason for the confidentiality was not to protect me but to protect her. That’s how I felt.

Hagar Cohen: And so Megan Johnson refused to sign the proposed agreement.

Megan Johnson: And I went to the WD director and I explained that this was a very stressful situation and that I didn’t think that the mediation really worked.

Hagar Cohen: Were there any consequences to the person who was causing you all that stress?

Megan Johnson: Not that I’m aware of, no.

Hagar Cohen: Were you told there were consequences but you’re just not allowed to know what they were?

Megan Johnson: No. I was told that this was nobody’s fault and that they were changing my line management simply because they wanted to reduce the amount of stress on me.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Megan Johnson was moved to another area, and she finished her contract at the CSIRO in August. She’s now in Washington DC and has a permanent job as an astronomer.

The problems in astronomy are not just confined to Australia. It’s a worldwide problem. It prompted one Harvard astronomer to write a blog post called The Serial Harasser’s Playbook.

Professor John Johnson outlined the 13 steps that the harasser will usually take when they approach their victim. They include things like: Big smiles in the hallway, arm around waist or back to guide the woman somewhere, back and shoulder massage, and discussing the professor or the victim’s sex life.

The head of the Dunlap Institute at the University of Toronto, Professor Bryan Gaensler:

Bryan Gaensler: This was written by someone who I think is one of the real standout champions of equity and of safety and diversity in the field, and he did it to show the things that he had seen first-hand. And it’s not a joke.

Hagar Cohen: This blog post became popular after three high profile astronomers in the US and the UK were exposed as serial sexual harassers. The stories came to light after whistle-blowers revealed that universities had been covering up the situation for years. When he first heard about it, Professor Ganesler said he was shocked.

Bryan Gaensler: That was an incredible shock. I’d heard rumours about these people, and I knew that they were people that I needed to keep an eye out on around young students, but when you actually hear names, and see the details, and hear about the things they did, it’s really confronting that someone who’s a very distinguished profound brilliant scientist would actually do these things.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Gaensler decided to stop his students working with two of the professors in question.

Bryan Gaensler: I felt that I had no choice but to remove them from the project in both cases. So I wasn’t punishing anybody, I wasn’t taking the law into my own hands, but knowing that the activities that we were going to be pursuing was going to involve people at the very beginning of their research career, who are enthusiastic and excited and for whom there is a whole range of possibilities, I cannot take the chance of them having a negative experience that could really sour their whole career.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Bryan Gaensler thinks there’s much more to be revealed. In fact he’s got a black list.

Bryan Gaensler: Unfortunately I think there’s a lot more to come. There’s many of us who have these informal lists of people to watch out for, either because of rumours or because of things we know first-hand. There’s a long list of people who’ve had investigations against them, or findings against them, or people that you simply do not want your students to be around.

Hagar Cohen: How many people are on your black list?

Bryan Gaensler: I personally know of about 20 senior tenured male astronomers who’ve had some accusations against them. Whether the accusations are substantiated or not, I can’t say, because I haven’t participated in the investigations, but I know of about 20 people.

Hagar Cohen: And of those 20, how many of them are in Australia?

Bryan Gaensler: There’s about two or three in Australia that I know of, people that I would not be wanting my students, particularly my female students, to work with.

Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing‘s coordinating producer is Linda McGinness, the series producer is Tim Roxburgh, technical production this week by Leila Shunnar, our executive producer is Wendy Carlisle, and I’m Hagar Cohen.

Keep an eye out for our follow-up investigation this Tuesday into secrecy surrounding harassment complaints against a scientist at Deakin University. Check out the RN website and make sure to tune in to Life Matters on Tuesday morning.


Hagar Cohen
Tim Roxburgh
Supervising Producer
Linda McGinness
Sound Engineer
Leila Shunnar
Executive Producer
Wendy Carlisle
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Safe Space Movement breaks into Astronomy (excerpt from Daily Caller)

Posted on November 24, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Astronomers who work for the Australian government are demanding “safe workplaces for scientists” that are free of alleged bullying and sexist comments.

The academics demand a safe space from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s state science research organization, because they allege it is “failing to address a culture of bullying and sexual harassment in its astronomy department.”

CSIRO has conducted only 16 investigations into alleged professional misconduct in the department since 2008. None of these investigations led to any legal action and only one involved police.

The academics claim that this extremely low number of investigations is evidence that the Australian government “may suppress reporting of harassment.” The only evidence of harassment provided by the academics demanding a safe space was a statement that their “pain was evident.”

 Very little information has been published about the sole case involving police, and the only legal action that occurred was the perpetrator being counseled and having an “adverse finding” placed on their file, indicating that the situation wasn’t serious.

Regardless, The Astronomical Society of Australia pledged on Twitter to “ensure a safe and supportive workplace” and called for individual academic institutions to “critically assess their workplace conditions” to prevent future sexism.

This isn’t the first time astronomers have embraced extremely progressive safe space culture more commonly found on college campuses….

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Victims of CSIRO supporting Dr Katherine Morton, another victim of Sexual Harassment in CSIRO

Posted on November 23, 2016. Filed under: Sexual Harassment in CSIRO, Uncategorized |

The following post on Facebook by an ex-CSIRO employee has prompted us to write about the plight of another, now Ex-CSIRO employee, Dr Katherine Morton.  Dr Morton has recently been made redundant by the CSIRO after being unable to return to a safe work environment due to Sexual Harassment by a colleague.  Whilst the perpetrator has been enabled free reign of the laboratory in which Dr Morton formerly worked, Dr Morton has been terminated as a result of her inability to return to work due to the perpetrators presence.  CSIRO has an obligation to assist Dr Morton in her rehabilitation and this action on the part of CSIRO clearly demonstrates that CSIRO has absolutely no intention of meeting its obligations to Dr Morton under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.  This is not an isolated case and is common practice in dealing with injured employees whom CSIRO does not wish to rehabilitate.

CSIRO would rather put the pure financial interests and those of an external partner above the health and safety of their own employees.  Again, this is not an isolated case.  Victims of CSIRO are aware of a CSIRO executive failing to progress complaints by up to 8 employees about bullying by an external collaboration partner by stating words to the effect “we cannot afford to loose this funding so deal with it”.

And now it would appear that CSIRO are attempting to attribute the good work of Dr Morton to someone wholly undeserving of that attribution.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this again is not unusually in the CSIRO where psychopathic narcissists duly claim the hard work of others.  Please read the Facebook post for more details:



This piece on Simon Irvine and Natalie Habilay is a utterly false, and moreover it is apparently so if you know anything about Natalie’s entry in the organisation as a receptionist at the QCAT site, then a trainee at BIRC and then a technician. There is not doubt in my mind that CSIRO know this, but have chosen to misrepresent the truth. As a public organisation this is unconscionable conduct.

The truth is that it was Dr Katherine Morton who attended the indigenous engagement workshop and was the responsible CSIRO staff member that drove Natalie’s hiring as a trainee from that workshop. In fact, Natalie was the standout candidate and this was proven once she was onsite and observable from her work ethic. It was also Dr Morton who drove Natalie’s training, and then it was Dr Morton who drove Natalie’s successful application (including getting Natalie a reference) to enable Natalie to become a full time member of staff. A simple FOI request for these documents would prove this beyond any doubt. Further, the drive to get Natalie a full time position from Dr Morton came despite the resistances that Dr Morton experienced in putting forward Natalie for the position, particularly by the predominantly white middle aged management of the group that is responsible for Natalie’s current position. It was Dr Morton who was effectively, in all aspects of any relevance, Natalie’s mentor, supplemented by another member of the BIRC site, David Blyth–not Simon Irvin. Further, Natalie, during the period of her training, was actually line managed by David Blyth–not Simon Irvin. Obviously, David is not Simon Irvin and when Natalie suffered harassment at work, it wasn’t Simon Irvin who stepped in, but Dr Katherine Morton who dealt with those issues.

To suggest that Simon Irvine had anything to do with Natalie’s hiring, Natalie’s progression within the organisation or frankly anything to do with Natalie prior to 2015 is nothing short of dishonest and typical of your organisations constant attributing of anything that appears to be progressive to white middle aged men, rather than the sources from where these things occur. It is even more particularly abhorrent and dishonest as Dr Morton is only no longer a part of your organisation due to your inability to provide a safe working environment for her after she made a formal complaint that included sexual assault, sexual harassment and other bullying and harassment directed at her–poignantly the worst of these offenses occurred at the Bribie Island Research Centre site, where Natalie continues to be employed.

I will go further to state that Simon Irvin is a coward in the highest regard, particularly when as a site/team leader he is required by CSIRO policy to stand up for what is appropriate of the CSIRO values. This aspect of Simon was demonstrated in absolute in his behaviour during the grievance that Dr Katherine Morton chose to raise with the organisation. At this time, Simon Irvin chose to lie to the investigator about the behaviour of Dr Morton’s abuser, in particular of Simon’s knowledge of the abuse that the abuser had perpetrated (not just on Dr Morton, but on other members or Simon Irvin’s team) and moreso particularly denying the abuse that the abuser had actually directed at Simon Irvin himself, which he also chose not to disclose even though it is on record at the CSIRO, who chose not to disclose that information to the independent investigator into Dr Morton’s grievance.

It is also probably worthy noting in this comment, particularly as the article mentions them in a positive light, that there are clear misrepresentation being made as to what actually happened to the first Atlantic Salmon that arrived at the BIRC site (somewhere in the vicinity of 1000 or so fish). These salmon, which was organised by, and under the care of. Dr Brett Glencross, all promptly died within weeks or earlier of their arrival the the BIRC.

It is also probably worth noting that Natalie got her reputation at the site because she was (even as a trainee) obviously fields above her peers.

Given that I have actual evidence regarding the statements above, and ultimately so does the CSIRO, feel free to attempt to silence me here. You can choose to remove or not publish my comment here but I am reposting this on my Facebook page with this comment and will ensure that it is properly disseminated with the truth from there. It is thus your call as to whether you remove this article or let it stand with my correcting comments.

Insincerely yours,

William Croft

In 2012 Simon Irvin became a mentor for the Indigenous Traineeship Program, where he met 19 year old Natalie Habilay, who — four years later — has become…|By Jesse Hawley
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The conversation: Less Secrecy could help astronomy stop bullying and harassment…

Posted on November 22, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |


The following document published on the Conversation website raises many of the issues that were going to go into the latest Victims of CSIRO post on the matter of sexual harassment and bullying.  Unfortunately the recent exposure of sexual harassment in CASS is not isolated to just this division, nor is the lackluster manner in which such allegations have been handled by CSIRO’s HR department.  Senior and Executive Managers at CSIRO need to stop hiding behind inadequate policy and actually address the problem.  Taking a meaningful zero tolerance by sacking perpetrators irrespective of seniority who have been investigated and found to have engaged in such conduct.  Most of all, CSIRO needs to stop vilifying the victims of such behaviour.

Less secrecy could help astronomy stop the bullying and harassment within its ranks

Shocking allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual assault at CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Sciences (CASS) division were revealed on Sunday by the ABC’s Background Briefing program.

In CASS alone, the Radio National broadcast said there have been 16 investigations into professional misconduct since 2008, including a sexual assault allegation that was referred to police.

Many Australian astronomers, myself included, have been reeling between grief and anger since hearing the broadcast. The Astronomical Society of Australia Council (of which I am a member), has condemned what has taken place at CASS and called for safe workplaces for scientists.

The ASA’s statement following the Background Briefing report. Astronomical Society of Australia

The lives and careers of many superb astronomers have been damaged by what happened at CASS. And yet much of this has been hidden from view, including from friends and colleagues.

Damage and consequences

With the benefit of hindsight, one can see something was amiss at CASS. Several prominent female astronomers have left CASS during the past five years, including astronomers with coveted tenured positions.

Several were interviewed by Background Briefing, and their pain was evident.

What has happened to the perpetrators of bullying and harassment? That is less clear.

In one instance the perpetrator was counselled and had an “adverse finding” placed on their file, but until Sunday’s program even this limited information had not been disclosed. The person remains on staff at CASS.

When Background Briefing’s Hagar Cohen asked CSIRO executive director David Williams about the consequences of this case, he responded:

I’m not prepared or not allowed to talk about those issues […] They’re confidential staff issues, and that’s the way it remains, and that’s the way all organisations work in these areas.

This lack of clarity is all too common when it comes to bullying and harassment in academia. Indeed, a legitimate concern is perpetrators face no real consequences at all.

Former UC Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy has been accused of sexual harassment stretching back decades. In 2015, UC Berkeley found he violated campus sexual harassment policies, and in a statement the university said his initial punishment was “zero tolerance policy regarding future behaviour and by stripping him of the procedural protections that all other faculty members enjoy”. In other words, don’t do it again.

It was only after public outcry, including from colleagues, that Marcy stepped down from his position.

While no longer welcome at UC Berkeley, Marcy’s retirement entitles him to be an emeritus professor, a (usually) prestigious title.

Who’s at risk?

How does one protect oneself, junior staff and students from harassment and bullying?

Many institutions have policies or management that refuse to disclose the occurrence of misconduct, let alone reveal who perpetrators are.

There are real risks to individuals and institutions who break with the secrecy surrounding harassment.

Astronomer Tim Slater, who was found to have harassed students and staff, is currently suing the University of Arizona for defamation because documents relevant to his case were leaked.

In the UK, astronomer Carole Mundell was unsuccessfully sued when she revealed a colleague was the alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment at Liverpool John Moores University.

A consequence of all this is the development of “whisper networks,” where names of harassers are passed between trusted individuals. Scientists keep lists of names (often memorised), steering junior staff and students away from danger.

This was something raised by Cohen when she interviewed Australian astronomer Bryan Gaensler for the Background Briefing report.

Hagar Cohen: How many people are on your black list?

Bryan Gaensler: I personally know of about 20 senior tenured male astronomers who’ve had some accusations against them. Whether the accusations are substantiated or not, I can’t say, because I haven’t participated in the investigations, but I know of about 20 people.

By definition, such “whisper networks” are patchy at best.

Prior to Background Briefing’s revelations, many Australian astronomers were completely unaware that a CASS staff member had been accused of sexual assault, which was referred to police.

Many (perhaps most) Australian astronomers remain unaware of his identity, and may be sending junior staff and students to work with him at CASS.

Removing the absolute secrecy surrounding harassment cases could provide pressure for change.

Yale University provides anonymised summaries of harassment cases, including consequences for perpetrators. It provides the Yale community with a measure of the extent of the harassment and the consequences for it, while protecting the identity of victims.

Unfortunately few (if any) Australian universities and institutes have adopted such an open approach.

Why now?

International astronomy has been rocked by these harassment scandals, including the cases at UC Berkeley, Caltech, the University of Arizona, Liverpool John Moores University and now CSIRO.

What is going on? Is astronomy particularly prone to sexual harassment and bullying? I hope not.

But the reliance of students and junior staff on the benevolence of senior scientists and academics may suppress reporting of harassment.

Senior scientists provide expert knowledge, access to facilities, introductions to potential collaborators and (critically) write reference letters for job applications. This concentration of power may lead to abuses going unreported.

I sincerely hope these recent scandals reflect a new intolerance for workplace bullying and harassment. Victims, their colleagues and professional organisations are less willing to accept misconduct and the destruction it causes.

Astronomers, familiar with collaboration and outreach, are working together to put public pressure on institutions that fail to provide safe workplaces their colleagues and students.

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Organisational Dystopia & Cultures of Power and Domination by Jack Vrine

Posted on November 18, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The following paper has been written by former CSIRO employee, Jack Vrine and is excellent reading matierial as it quite succinctly and directly addresses many of the problems facing the CSIRO and other similar organisations today. The original PDF version of the paper can be accessed through the following link orgabisational-dystopia-cultures-of-power


Organisational Dystopia & Cultures of Power and Domination:

It is a reasonable proposition to accept that the notion of a Utopian Organisation (or any sort of
Utopia), is extremely unlikely to exist. Concurrently it can be stated with reasonable certainty that
Dystopian Organisation’s (DO’s), do exist. The context for such circumstances is relative, situations are
neither entirely perfect nor completely disastrous.

The path to dystopia is like a cancer that metastasizes and spreads throughout the body until the
whole system is corrupted. Context, people and circumstances converge over time. Generally those
in charge are the custodians of aberrant organisational behaviour. In its extreme form the DO is
typified by ideological political movements. Corporate or bureaucratic dystopia whilst not as harmful
as the political version nevertheless can cause substantial long-term damage to individuals and
groups. DO’s are myopic to their circumstances and tend to spiral out of control as they focus on the
maintenance of power and control.

DO’s don’t manifest overnight, like any sociopath, their abnormal behaviour is a combination of
heritage and the environment in which they function. The DO will continue to function as a reputable
entity for as long as it can, mimicking sincere behaviour. The DO will present itself as doing well,
without any appreciation, or understanding of the impact on staff or clients.
Typically DO’s have a somewhat chaotic devolution that eventually reaches a tipping point where
there is a loss of cohesion and purpose. Like weeds taking over native forest, all the goodness is
gradually overcome until it is too late and health and diversity are crushed. Those in charge of such
organisations do not appreciate dissent so like any repressive regime they keep the population of staff
and workers under a jackboot of dogma. Or they rid themselves of those who would question their
values. DO’s are also likely to be a function of the interplay between those in power and the culture
they instil. Management is invested in its own power and distorted self-belief. Commonly it is a culture
of fear and domination that aims to ensure compliance and apathy. In the tradition of Goebbelsian
propaganda exemplified in the form of; ‘everything is fine and rosy’, and the use of similar glib
statements; disseminated by internal communications, the aim is to keep the employees docile. The
pathology of such organisations and the hierarchy who run them demonstrate an absence of human
perspective and connection. Ensconced in their ivory tower they consider themselves above reproach.
Especially they will disregard, banish or punish those who speak out against them. Decisions are made
in secret and the hierarchy are as conspiratorial as any schoolyard clique. Subterfuge is the order of
the day. Their own pathology makes them wary of the motivations of other people so they conduct
themselves as neophytes of Machiavelli. Group management is characterised by manipulation and
brinkmanship. Whilst enforcing strict guidelines for their minions they are generally somewhat
frivolous in their use of the benefits of power. When challenged they will usually be defensive of their
decision making and fail to see that anyone else should have a different perspective. Expensive, ego
massaging jabber fests, where they tell one another what a good job they are doing are a prime
example. Alternatively a healthy organisation encourages the creation of stable work groups and
worker participation in decision making with sensitive communication and expressive supervision.
Importantly they have non-bureaucratic structures which function by the setting of meaningful
objectives rather than a hierarchy of authority.

Often information is communicated by filtering it down through layers of management until the
eventual recipients have absolutely no idea how it was determined or what it means. Then there is
the farcical implementation of consultation where management provide a sanitised version of their
decisions and employees are invited to provide feedback. Without details, because the information is
usually so vague as to preclude that possibility, employees are at a disadvantage in trying to formulate
meaningful questions. Any persistent questioning for specific details is seen as divisive and militant.
Alternatively information may come down from on high as an edict that is couched in rhetoric and
spin. For example; information regarding potential job losses is often delivered with all the sensitivity
of a Saltwater Crocodile feasting on a tourist. Unless details are leaked or they are compelled by some
greater jurisdiction then the basis for communication will not be divulged. Communications
departments are complicit in this process and their success and future viability as individuals and as a
group is predicated on how well they get everyone to sing the same tune, no matter how off-key. Their
goal is to present an image of goodness and light to ensure all concerned conform.

An obvious characteristic of the DO is the virtual absence of a moral or ethical imperative underpinning
their activities. Staff in particular; despite assurances to the contrary are treated as economic units of
production. The ideology of economic rationalism that has become pervasive throughout society and
corporate bureaucracy is discordant with ethical behaviour. External clients are little more dairy shed
cows producing milk revenue. Competitiveness is now disguised as collaboration. ‘Innovation’ like the
‘knowledge economy’ is the latest fashionable empty piece of propaganda. In ignoring the imperative
of being sincere in their dealings with others, management latch onto any meaningless catch phrase
or idea that sounds impressive. Substantial meaning is discarded in favour of the latest ‘on-trend’
verbiage. As we speak so we behave, and an organisational culture that is its own arbiter of standards
will have difficulty maintaining better practice. The proliferation of ‘self-important disorder syndrome’
amongst management will preclude any chance of ethical dialogue or behaviour.

Of course not everyone in the DO hierarchy has a malevolent pathology. Some in their desire for self-preservation
are simply sycophantic in their behaviour. Nevertheless their impotence in the face of
the malignant power that surrounds them means they are complicit in the abuse. Sadly they lack the
ethical strength to consider the impact of behaviour and decisions on other staff. Obsequious
pandering is the means to survival and the illusion of security. Often it is predicated on building a
mythology of anecdotal stories of achievement. Compliance with the prevailing paradigm is an
essential to keep your job or get promoted. Like our primate relatives grooming and other forms of
supplicant behaviour are a means to ensure safety and status. Conversely anyone who doesn’t comply
with the status quo is isolated and then expelled from the group. The disruptive thinking of a social
conscience is not something countenanced in the DO.

It is axiomatic that there is usually no realistic measurement or evidence based process to confirm the
quality of management let alone the assumption of leadership. Unfortunately the distinction between
confidence and ability is rarely understood. When you have a management culture imbued with such
a mix you have an organisation that has real and deep seated problems.

When it comes to new management cognitive dissonance is maintained by hiring clones of the existing
hierarchy. The same process applies to promotion. In any organisation this may or may not be a good
thing but, in the DO it will have disastrous results leading to a stagnation of thinking and pathological
behaviour. This mirror image approach to management replacement and renewal affirms that there
will be little diversity in management. In the meantime the DO will divest itself of good and productive

As the organisation descends deeper into entropy the management will seek to exert even greater
control over the remaining workforce. This is done to preserve their power and the image of being
righteous and the delusion of success. A recent article in the Melbourne Age discussed the results of
a survey of staff perceptions toward the management of the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection. The majority of staff expressed dismay at the; ‘command and control’ nature of senior
management. Other organisations have similar staff perceptions and problems.

There would be few organisations that better exemplify the DO than CSIRO. Many of the
characteristics mentioned above have become welded into the cultural fabric of the organisation.
Strangely the Board has remained silent over the desultory state of staff morale. Perhaps they are
more concerned about their ongoing tenure than having a meaningful say in the future of the
organisation. You have to wonder about the sincerity and ethics of an organisation that awards a staff
member a corporate citizenship award and then hands them their redundancy papers within hours.
The impact of this and other forms of abuse that continue throughout the organisation is likely to be
immeasurable whilst simultaneously kept secret.

Priorities seem to be random and whimsical at best. Consider that despite its organisational expertise
management killed the tree that was supposedly descended from Isaac Newton’s famous apple tree.
The financial cost is of course not discussed as it is a matter of management privacy. Yet they keep it
upright with braces even as it ossifies. The semiotics seem to be lost on the management who walk
past it every day apparently oblivious to its condition. Apparently the committee that organised this
debacle never saw fit to have any seeds retained, which says a lot about their management planning.
Management also wax lyrical about their involvement in the development of a ‘nightmare machine’
(although there are many machines in the world that could probably claim that title). The stated
purpose is to frighten people, so as to gain an understanding of the interplay between artificial
intelligence and human responses. In contrast it is notable that CSIRO management have taken no
interest in their own rigid and non-reflexive interaction with staff. It seems that old chestnut has been
overlooked; ‘natural stupidity will always overcome artificial intelligence’. It begs the question as to
how long CSIRO can last as an organisation with such an oppressive management regime. But make
no mistake the management will make sure they are well looked after financially. After-all senior
management have continued to receive their annual bonuses for the last three years while employees
have not received a paltry pay rise. It could be considered that this is another one of those moral
problems, but the management have a strong sense of entitlement supported by contracts in their
favour unlike the Staff Enterprise Agreement. Sadly for many staff in disparate professions CSIRO is no
longer an employer of choice.

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Sexual Harassment and Bullying Coverup at CSIRO Astronomy

Posted on November 18, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Investigative Journalist Hagar Cohen will be presenting her full investigation of sexual harassment and bullying within CSIRO’s astronomy department at 8.05am this Sunday, 20th of November on Radio National which will prove quite enlightening.  Unfortunately we know these are not isolated events within CSIRO and that there is a history of sexual harassment and even assault across many divisions of the organisation.   Again, the perpetrators who are typically highly placed employees tend to avoid any meaningful disciplinary action and continue on an upwards career trajectory whilst the victims often languish with destroyed lives and destroyed careers with little or no support from the organisation that caused them harm.  All the while, CSIRO’s People and Culture (HR) group attempt to thwart investigation of such allegations, engaged in behaviour of blaming the victims or simply pass off the allegations as unimportant.  One of our readers reported a CSIRO P&C employee as saying words to the effect of “we know about his behaviour but what can we do?”

When questioned in Senate Estimates in 2013, CSIRO confirmed that it has received a further 10 allegations about inappropriate behaviour by a senior employee but had failed to investigate because those people had not formally complained.

It is still gob-smacking that to this very day employers such as the CSIRO can and will bury their heads in the sand in relation to such serious allegations.

If you would like to share your experiences, please don’t hesitate to email us here at Victims of CSIRO (


Hagar’s published briefing is reproduced in full below.




CSIRO covered up sexual harassment and bullying at astronomy department, say top scientists

Updated about 5 hours ago

Senior astronomers have accused CSIRO of failing to address a culture of bullying and sexual harassment in its astronomy department.

The organisation has conducted 16 investigations into alleged professional misconduct in the department since 2008, including an allegation of sexual assault and a case that involved the police.

The situation makes one astronomer so concerned she hesitates before sending her students to parts of the department.

“It bothers me because of the fact that they could go on and reoffend without us being able to protect those potential future victims,” said the ANU’s Naomi McClure-Griffiths, a former senior member of the department and one of Australia’s top radio astronomers.

“I’d hate to be the person who sent a student to go work with somebody and have them turn out to become a victim of harassment, and know that I could have prevented it.

“It becomes a very complex conversation — you work with co-supervisors and discuss if there are ways to subtly avoid that supervisor relationship coming about without ever having to say that somebody is a risky person.”

She spoke to Background Briefing to condemn CSIRO’s handling of an investigation that led Dr Ilana Feain, one of the brightest stars in Australian astronomy, to quit her tenured job and leave astronomy altogether.

In 2012 Dr Feain filed a lengthy formal complaint in which she accused a senior colleague of unprofessional and inappropriate personal attention over several years.

The internal investigation that followed was confidential, and so were the findings; Dr Feain is barred from discussing them.

The accused colleague was counselled and an adverse finding was placed on his file. He remains in his senior position.

“I’m still very angry about what happened to Ilana,” said Bryan Gaensler, an astronomy professor who worked closely with Dr Feain.

“Because Ilana had the attitude that she wasn’t going to fall into all these traps that other women were going through with regards to hitting glass ceilings, or having to choose between family or career, or having powerful men derail her.”

Professor McClure-Griffiths said CSIRO’s confidentiality provisions serve to protect those accused.

“The secrecy that’s put on around this … it only ever helps the perpetrators,” she said.

“If things are not right, we all have the responsibility to speak up and say they need to be fixed and yet we can’t.”

CSIRO was dogged for years by allegations of bullying, but a 2013 investigation by former Commonwealth ombudsman Dennis Pearce found “no major problem of workplace bullying or other unreasonable behaviour”.

CSIRO executive director Dr Dave Williams, who is in charge of the astronomy department, denied the level of secrecy was improper or that adverse findings had not been met with serious consequences.

“They’re confidential staff issues, and that’s the way it remains, and that’s the way all organisations work in these areas,” he said.

“There have always been actions implemented where the external investigator has deemed that the case has been misconduct or worse.”

Hear Hagar Cohen’s full investigation for Background Briefing on Radio National at 8:05am on Sunday, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, ABC Radio or your favourite podcasting app.

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