4 August 2018

Audit finds ACT Health mismanaged misconduct inquiry, bullying claim

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Health failed to follow its own procedures, the Auditor-General said. File photo.

The Canberra Liberals have seized upon a finding by the Auditor-General that ACT Health mismanaged allegations of misconduct against staff responsible for health performance data and subsequent complaints of inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, against the former Director-General, Nicole Feeley.

The Auditor-General’s report into the matter was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (2 August).

Opposition Health spokesperson Vicki Dunne said the Auditor-General had put a lie to every claim that there were ‘safe and respectful pathways’ to report bullying in ACT Health.

“Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris and Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury continue to claim that there are respectful systems in place to respond to allegations of bullying,” Mrs Dunne said.

“Clearly, the processes and procedures for investigating serious complaints are not up to scratch. Staff are either not trained properly or are ignoring standard operating procedures in relation to bullying and harassment.”

Auditor-General Dr Maxine Cooper found that ACT Health did not effectively manage the allegations of misconduct against two officers of the former Performance Information Branch, and that when one of them complained about the behaviour of Ms Feeley and the former Deputy Director-General, Corporate, those complaints were also not managed effectively.

She said ACT Health needed to articulate the desired culture and values to be fostered across the organisation, with an emphasis on how allegations of misconduct are to be managed, and for making and responding to complaints of inappropriate behaviour.

She also said that the Public Sector Standards Commissioner and the Professional Standards Unit should also raise awareness of their roles so that they become involved much earlier in the process, especially for allegations of serious misconduct.

The allegations of misconduct arose from concerns about the accuracy of ACT Health’s performance information and reporting, specifically errors in the March 2016 ACT Health Services Quarterly Performance Report.

The two former officers had key responsibilities for the production and accuracy of this report and other ACT Health performance information.

Dr Cooper found that ACT Health had moved too quickly in initiating misconduct allegations, based on insufficient evidence.

“While it is apparent that the former Director-General and former Deputy Director-General, Corporate, had significant concerns regarding the preparation of performance information and reporting, for which the Performance Information Branch was responsible, the decision to initiate a misconduct investigation into the two officers based on these concerns was precipitous. There is no contemporaneous documentation to justify potential misconduct or the initiation of the misconduct investigation,” she said.

Ms Feeley had sought a ‘short, sharp’ investigation to “reassure me that … I’m not sitting on an absolute time bomb here of, you know, deliberate incompetence,” she said.

When one of the officers complained about bullying, there was no evidence that ACT Health considered informal resolution processes and Dr Cooper found the principles of the ACT Health Standard Operating Procedure – Anti Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment were not met.

Dr Cooper made three recommendations relating to better training for managers, ensuring documentation and timely referral of allegations to the Public Sector Standards Commissioner.

The report, ACT Health management of allegations of misconduct and complaints about inappropriate workplace behaviour, can be found here.

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Really the ACT liberals have been fairly lazy on this. It is an open secret that a number of the Directorates have a pretty toxic workplace bullying culture, not just health. There are a number of good people who have had their well being totally destroyed by the exercise of positional abuse by some of those in authority. Mr Barr will tell you they have good policy and protocols in place. Only trouble is the fox is in charge of the proverbial hen house. My sense is that there is a case for a judicial enquiry into bullying and harassment within the ACT public sector employment.

This is what happens when you keep the same government in power for 17 years. Meegan Fitzharris should read about ministerial accountability. And resign.

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