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Call for CSIRO bullying probe

Sophie Mirabella.

Sophie Mirabella. Photo: Andrew Meares

The federal opposition wants an inquiry into the Commonwealth science agency, the CSIRO, and the treatment of its 6600-strong workforce amid claims of ''criminal conduct and commercial fraud'' in the organisation's ranks.

Science spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella has written to Science Minister Chris Evans saying the government urgently needs to act on accusations emerging about CSIRO's workplace culture, including persistent and widespread allegations of bullying.

The organisation is already racing to meet a December 31 compliance deadline for an improvement notice issued in June by Commonwealth workplace authority Comcare over allegations of bullying and harassment at its Black Mountain site in Canberra.

But Mrs Mirabella said she believed many workplace allegations against CSIRO managers had gone unresolved and asked Senator Evans to institute a full inquiry into past and present workplace culture and practice at the organisation.

CSIRO has publicly acknowledged the Comcare notice and updated staff on the progress in dealing with bullying and harassment claims but Mrs Mirabella says an inquiry is needed to examine claims that may not have been properly investigated.

''It is my view that such an inquiry should be established as a matter of urgency, with terms of reference and powers that would enable it to comprehensively review recent and historical instances of such conduct and the adequacy of the organisation's responses to them,'' she wrote.

''There may have been tens of claims of workplace bullying intimidation and or harassment, and other related forms of misconduct, that have not been fully or adequately investigated and where a strong possibility exists that … due process has been breached.''

A spokesman for Senator Evans said on Wednesday that the minister had held talks with CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon and chief executive Megan Clark about the claims and Mrs Mirabella's letter had been passed on to the organisation's parent department, Science and Innovation, to examine its other claims.

One of 12 directives issued by Comcare instructs CSIRO to develop a ''risk management plan'' before it tries to tackle any allegation of misconduct among its staff.

Performance management processes and misconduct investigations have proved to be common triggers for bullying claims at the organisation.

Chief executive Megan Clark told staff it was ''on track'' to comply with the improvement notice.

The CSIRO Staff Association, a division of public sector union the CPSU, has also acknowledged the organisation has a problem with accusations of bullying and harassment, and called for a ''zero-tolerance'' approach from senior management.

But Mrs Mirabella says in her letter to the minister that she was not satisfied with the response and highlighted the existence of an organised group of aggrieved former CSIRO public servants campaigning for change in the organisation.

''There are many detailed claims of wrongdoing that have been placed on the public record by a group that identifies itself as the 'Victims of CSIRO', including as part of the recent parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying in Australia,'' the Victorian MP wrote.

''Their claims even include assertions of criminal conduct and commercial fraud.

''A number of people who are not members of that group have also approached the opposition separately and confidentially with a range of additional, serious allegations of mistreatment.''

Mrs Mirabella, who says she has been pursuing the issue for more than two years, told Senator Evans she and her colleagues were unhappy with many of the answers given to them by CSIRO executives in Senate hearings.

''This obviously raises the unfortunate and worrying possibility that the likely issues, cases and instances of which we are aware may even only represent a fraction of the true overall number,'' she wrote. ''I believe the most appropriate means of getting to the bottom of these matters would be through a detailed formal review.''

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