the federal opposition is worried about the prevalence of a culture of bullying at AusAid. Photo: Andrew Taylor
The federal opposition is worried about ''a culture of bullying and harassment'' in AusAID after discovering Comcare premiums for Australia's foreign aid agency have risen sharply in the past six years.
There have been 45 reported instances of bullying and harassment in the agency from December 2007 to March this year, according to responses to Coalition questions in Senate estimates hearings.
Opposition parliamentary secretary for international development assistance Teresa Gambaro said there were serious concerns.
''Of those 45 complaints, 13 or almost 30 per cent required formal investigation, with an alarming 70 per cent of those investigations involving or leading to a psychological injury,'' she said on Thursday.
Ms Gambaro said the number of psychological injuries reported was disturbing, given Comcare's submission to a parliamentary inquiry on bullying reported an average increase of 18.5 per cent in the acceptance of claims for mental harm between 2006-7 and December 2011.
''Something is clearly not right inside AusAID given that its reported level of psychological injury is almost four times the level Comcare has reported to the inquiry," she said.
The premiums had increased from $182,256 in 2007-2008 to $1,559,037 in 2012-2013, she said.
''AusAID management has clear questions to answer in relation to the reported level of psychological injury resulting from bullying and harassment complaints, as well as the astronomical 855 per cent increase in the agency's Comcare premiums, particularly in light of AusAID's public claims earlier this week that the massive cost increase did not reflect an uplift in the numbers of AusAID staff getting injured in the field,'' she said.
"It is incumbent upon AusAID management to provide a healthy and productive workplace for staff.
''The impact of bullying on the culture of an agency can be significant and create systemic problems.
''I am most concerned as to how our foreign aid budget is being
administered when some of the obvious consequences of workplace bullying include lost opportunity, inefficiencies and reduced effectiveness, a high turnover of staff and a resultant loss of human capital and corporate knowledge."
Ms Gambaro said anecdotal information she had received about the agency seeking to sweep bullying and harassment complaints ''under the carpet'' by pushing complainants to an informal resolution process appeared to be borne out by responses to further questions lodged by the Coalition.
The response showed the number of complaints about bullying and harassment that were resolved through informal resolution processes was nine in 2010-11, two in 2011-12 and 15 in 2012-13. None were resolved in this manner from 2007-08 to 2009-10.
Ms Gambaro said she was concerned AusAID faced a growing problem of non-compliance with the public service code of conduct.
''I am also concerned that victims of bullying and harassment may be being bullied further and pushed into informal resolution processes that do not adequately address systemic issues,'' she said.
''These details as to the increasing number of bullying and harassment complaints inside AusAID come in the same week as further revelations that 56 per cent of AusAID staff are classified as 'Executive Level' or above with total numbers of executive staff increasing from 453 to 852 since Labor came to power.''