Taxpayers pay over 'brutal campaign of bullying' by CSIRO
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Taxpayers pay over 'brutal campaign of bullying' by CSIRO

A former government scientist who says he endured a "brutal campaign of bullying and harassment by CSIRO management" has won his bid for compensation.

Former carbon science researcher Moetaz Attalla said he was told to "go and have your heart attack at another conference" by his boss in an incident that left him "finished" and mentally injured.

In the wake of the alleged attack, the scientist told the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, he would show up to work late, spend a few hours surfing the web and going to lunch before going home mid-afternoon.

Despite being made redundant in 2013 by the science organisation, which at the time was riven by bullying allegations, Dr Attalla will now be paid workers' compensation for clinical depression.

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The scientist worked joined the CSIRO as a graduate in 1985 and worked there "without any significant problems" until 2007.

The tribunal was told that the trouble began when another scientist, Dr Paul Feron, was hired to work alongside Dr Attalla on carbon capture technology and sparks began to fly between the two men.

Their relationship did not improve "despite the efforts of other managers within the organisation" and things got worse in June 2010 when Dr Feron was appointed as Dr Attalla's boss.

The situation came to a head in February 2012 with a confrontation between the two men.

According to his evidence to the Tribunal, Dr Attalla asked Dr Feron why he had been refused a trip to a conference in Abu Dhabi and Dr Feron allegedly replied: "You go and have your heart attack at another conference."

After the row, things at work were never the same again, Dr Attalla said.

"I would come to work late, at around 10–11am, and spend a few hours reading emails and surfing the Internet. I would then go to lunch with some of my colleagues and leave work at around 2–3pm," he told the tribunal.

He went on to detail several other incidents of alleged unfair treatment at the hands of Dr Feron and other bosses at CSIRO between 2007 and 2013.

I would come to work late, at around 10–11am, and spend a few hours reading emails and surfing the Internet.

Dr Moetaz Attalla

Dr Attalla was made redundant in October 2013 and the following month lodged a claim for workers' compensation, for "clinical depression secondary to work related stress" with federal workplace insurer Comcare.

But Comcare refused to pay, saying that the CSIRO's treatment of its employee had been reasonable.

When Dr Attalla challenged the refusal at the AAT, the insurer conceded that he suffered a mental injury, but argued it was a result of reasonable workplace actions by the CSIRO, excluding the 55-year-old scientist from compensation.

The actions included appointing Dr Feron as the boss, the refusal to send Dr Attalla to Abu Dhabi and a later conference in the United States, and the stripping of his status as team leader.

But tribunal deputy president James Constance was not convinced after hearing medical evidence that Dr Attalla's mental health took a turn for the worse around the time of the February 2012 confrontation, which was not on Comcare's list of "reasonable actions".

Mr Constance ordered the insurer to pay out the claim, indicating it should cover Dr Attalla's legal bills too.

Comcare claimants are entitled to their full salary for their first 45 weeks away from work and then 75 per cent of their wages until they reach retirement age or recover.

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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