The Armidale based Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has pushed out multiple senior staff just as an independent review into the culture of the agency, ordered by the Minister for Agriculture, gets underway.
At least two executives had their positions terminated last week with little notice. Both were relatively new to the agency and had recently submitted complaints about harassment and bullying. And both were on sick leave when they were called by the Director of Human Resources on Friday to be told they would be terminated immediately and paid out in lieu of notice.
There are rumours another member of staff was fired or bullied into resigning earlier this month but this has not yet been confirmed by the New England Times.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the sacked executives said she was shocked by the events of the past week.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Not in the public service.”
“There was a complete lack of procedural fairness and meetings called at very short notice so that union delegates could not attend.”
“They were clearly just getting rid of us to try and make our complaints disappear.”
Complaints of harassment and bullying made by the former employees include mob-like attacks by a dominant clique against anyone who opposes them, gossiping, gaslighting, undermining, and being belittled and yelled at by colleagues in meetings.
Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt last month ordered an independent review into the culture of the agency, which has been beleaguered by scandal and controversy since Barnaby Joyce announced the agency would be moved to Armidale in 2016. There are approximately 150 staff in the APVMA’s Armidale office, making the agency one of the New England’s largest employers.
The review was triggered by claims of sexual harassment and a senior member of staff urinating on other staff at a function, aired by Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson in a recent Senate Estimates hearing.
Insiders claim APVMA CEO Lisa Croft told an all staff meeting that no one was urinated on and there were no claims of sexual harassment. They also said issues relating to bullying and covering up inappropriate behaviour had been going on in the agency for a long time.
ACT Lawyer Mary Brennan began her review of the agency on December the 8th, and is due to file her report with the Minister in March. The wide reaching review will interview both current and former staff to investigate any “lingering issues”.
The agency has been conducting its own culture review in recent months following a series of staffing issues and reports of excessive overtime. Registration management and risk assessment scientists are believed to be consistently doing overtime to the equivalent of 20 full time positions in order to meet performance targets and legislated timeframes for registrations. A widespread culture of gossiping and lying was also identified in the APVMA internal culture review.
The most recent Australian Public Service Census also found that 11 per cent of staff had witnessed or experienced harassment and 13 per cent had reported discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against those with disability was a specific area of concern. The APS Census also found 68% of APVMA staff felt they had more work to do than they could handle.
The CPSU, which is the union for Australian Public Service, is aware of the issues and had been providing support to the two executives. Internal sources say the union requested a meeting as part of the APVMA internal culture review but the request was denied.
The new board of the APVMA, appointed in April of this year, is also aware of the complaints and the events of last Friday.