Whistleblower who raised asbestos concerns left under cloud about up-kilting and porn
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Whistleblower who raised asbestos concerns left under cloud about up-kilting and porn

Documents show a public servant left the Defence bureaucracy severely depressed after he raised concerns about how asbestos was being treated at a base in Queensland.

After several years fighting what he saw as malicious treatment, he left under a cloud after he was accused of accessing pornographic websites on a Defence laptop. It was also alleged he had used the computer excessively for personal reasons – both were charges that had been set aside by the Merit Protection Commissioner – and that he had received and stored inappropriate emails.

Dodgy emails sent to him by other staff members included photos of Scottish men wearing kilts but no underwear, a hiker's leg which had been savaged by a bear and a woman in a sexually suggestive pose.

"I hope me coming forward shows what really happens to whistleblowers in the public service," the man said. "If they want to get you, they'll look for the most minor incidents possible."

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He said he downloaded the offensive emails at the same time he saved all his emails onto a disk when he had to hand the laptop back in.

"Ninety-five per cent of them [the inappropriate emails] I've never even looked at," he said.

Leading up to the laptop controversy, he had also raised concerns about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and what he said was the incorrect handling of tenders.

His $7000-a-year salary reduction was kept in place even though in 2011 the Merit Protection Commissioner set aside the code of conduct breaches against him related to accessing porn sites and using the computer for personal reasons.

The Merit Protection Commissioner found cookies and pop-ups related to pornographic websites, which had been found on the man's computer, were not proof that the man had accessed them.

It was not clear whether the multiple staff who sent the emails to the man were punished.

Defence has not responded to questions about the man's allegations.

Do you know more? Send tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au

The man said he left the department frustrated by the culture within it and came forward after he read recent articles about Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd's stance on leakers and whistleblowers.

Mr Lloyd recently advised public servants not to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing in their ranks but said leakers to the media could not be trusted and launched a failed investigation to track down a whistleblower allegedly located among his own staff. Documents show the Defence Department project officer alleged he was told to "leave it alone" and "forget about it" when he raised concerns about 20,000 cubic metres of asbestos-contaminated material at Canungra 's Kokoda Barracks in 2007.

By 2010 the Commonwealth Ombudsman had found the man's claims about mishandling of asbestos-contaminated material at the Queensland base had been properly investigated by Defence.

The whistleblower had alleged asbestos-contaminated material dug up at Canungra was not being properly disposed of because it was being dumped at the Kokoda Barracks AFL oval and at nearby residential properties.A soldier living 15 metres away from the work called the Defence hotline to complain about how the asbestos was being dug up and disposed of.

The project officer said there were health risks due to asbestosis.

In each of the four years to 2012-13 there were 240 or more reports made under the Defence Whistleblower Scheme.

There were 181 reports made in the first six-months of the new public interest disclosure scheme in 2014.

The government brought in the PID scheme to encourage public officials to report suspected wrongdoing and to support and protect disclosers.

"Defence continues to work closely with the Commonwealth Ombudsman for PID reporting purposes and to improve the implementation of the Public Interest Disclosure Act within Defence and more broadly within the Commonwealth public sector," Defence's 2013-14 annual report said.

Phillip Thomson is a Public Service Reporter at The Canberra Times.

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