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Chief Executive Megan Clark's update to staff re Fairfax articles

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.

  • 2 May 2013

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

DataTrace is conducting its own review and its parent company, DatatDot Technologies Limited issued an Securities Exchange Announcement [PDF 149KB] 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 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.

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.

I respect the Tribunal’s decision that compensation be paid, and I regret that a CSIRO colleague left CSIRO feeling mistreated.

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.

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.

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

Chief Executive