An audit has found allegations of bullying against former ACT Health director-general Nicole Feely and the former deputy director general corporate were not properly managed, while the pair launched misconduct investigations into two employees without proper documentation or process.
The Auditor-General’s ACT Health management of allegations of misconduct and complaints about inappropriate workplace behaviour was on Thursday tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
It raised serious concerns about the culture of ACT Health and the processes by which internal disputes were managed.
The opposition has jumped on the audit saying it shows Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris' claims there are safe and respectful ways for ACT Health staff to report bullying were false.
Canberra Liberals on Monday called for a board of inquiry to stamp out systemic bullying within the territory's health system, dismissed by the government as a political stunt.
Ms Feely left ACT Health suddenly in March when it was announced the directorate would be split into two organisations.
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The audit report found that in 2016 Ms Feely and the then deputy director general launched formal investigations into two performance information branch officers despite not producing documents to justify it at the time.
The allegations against the officers stemmed from mid to late 2016 when concerns about the accuracy of ACT health's performance data were identified.
Two officers were contacted and told they were being investigated for misconduct relating to errors in the March 2016 ACT Health service quarterly performance report and subsequently suspended.
The two senior staff members were at the time in discussions and negotiations with ACT Health about plans to leave the organisation.
The five month investigation found one former officer had not engaged in misconduct, while there was no formal resolution for the other officer as the officer's contract with ACT Health had expired.
These two officers subsequently made claims of inappropriate workplace behaviour on the part of Ms Feely and the former deputy director‐general corporate.
The audit found was there was "no contemporaneous documentation" to justify potential misconduct or the start of the misconduct investigation.
A reviewer engaged by the audit Dr James Popple found "even though the investigation process was procedurally fair, the decision to conduct the investigation was problematic".
One of the officers - a senior manager - made formal complaints against both Ms Feely and the deputy director general regarding the procedural fairness of the investigation and behaviour in the workplace.
One of the allegations included that the former deputy director corporate once said he was going to "break their team apart" and their "neck was in a noose".
Another allegation included that the deputy director interrupted a teleconference between staff and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and angrily shouted “get off the phone … get off the phone now!”.
The senior manager then emailed the deputy director saying he/she was disturbed by the way he conducted himself.
"I have heard many people raise concerns about different discussions they have with you, and the types of comments you make to people – these people feel bullied and harassed, however I wasn’t there to witness it first‐hand," the email read.
The audit found Ms Feely and the deputy director general's responses to the complaints did did not align with existing ACT Health policy and was "ineffectively managed".
It found key discussions between human resources and staff regarding complaints about bullying were not properly documented.
These findings were rejected by Ms Feely through her legal representation in response to the draft report.
ACT Auditor-General Dr Maxine Cooper said ACT Health needed to confirm the desired culture and values to be fostered across the organisation.
"As part of disseminating this information, there should be an emphasis on how allegations of misconduct are to be managed, including the processes to be used for making and responding to complaints of inappropriate workplace behaviour," she said.
Opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said the report "put a lie" to Ms Fitzhariss' claims there were safe ways to report bullying within ACT Health.
“Staff are either not trained properly or are ignoring standard operating procedures in relation to bullying and harassment," she said.
“Labor and the Greens cannot continue to overlook allegations of bullying in the health system."
A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzharris said there were a lot of lessons to be taken from the report, noting the upcoming split of ACT Health in October.
"The ACT Government will now consider the recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report and formally respond to the recommendations in the coming months," she said.