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Premier - Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 6 September 2021

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Regarding Ashley Detention Centre, seeing as we are now here - and thank you, Ms White - how many senior staff and managers have been stood down at Ashley Youth Detention Centre since the allegations were first raised about the historical alleged rape of a child, allegations made about children in unsafe circumstances and allegations made about sexual harassment of staff in that workplace.

Mr GUTWEIN - I don't have that advice in front of me, unless the Secretary can help me. We will take that on notice and provide an answer to the Committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - On the same topic, Premier, in the correspondence that was sent to you by a person who is a highly qualified and dedicated person working with young people, she says nearly two years after commencing her role - this in her correspondence with you - with a significant injury she was told by her department that it is not capable of making her workplace safe for her. Her workplace was Ashley Youth Detention Centre. We now understand that there's been a process where correspondence has gone to you, it's been flicked to the secretary of Premier and Cabinet and a response has come back from the secretary of Premier and Cabinet which sits the complainant and her issue back with the department she has an issue with, which is Communities Tasmania.

Is it acceptable to you that you have a highly dedicated professional who has been told by Ashley Youth Detention Centre management or management within Communities Tasmania that they can't make her workplace safe for her from sexual harassment?

Mr GUTWEIN - Regarding this particular complaint, and any complaint, when I received that correspondence I thought the concerns and allegations that were being raised were shocking. There is a process under way, which as I have just indicated to the committee has been completed. There will be further information provided. To quote the secretary's letter:

We're advised that since we spoke that they'll be shortly advised of the matters concerning that and the other questions that have been raised in terms of that ED5.

That needs to take its course. If there is a response once that further information is provided then we would need to consider what other steps we might take. It's perfectly reasonable that if I receive correspondence I seek advice on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Of course.

Mr GUTWEIN - Which is what I've done. What I've been advised and what I've just advised the committee is that the matter is drawing to a close and there'll be further information that will be provided back to the lawyer. Once that's been considered then we'll see what response I receive as a result of that.

Ms O'CONNOR - This person, who is clinical practice consultant with young people, initially challenged some of the workplace practices at Ashley that she believed were not in the interests of children and young people and detainees. That's where part of this began. Her dissatisfaction and horror at the response to those concerns she was raising about children and young people wasn't assuaged by Communities Tasmania's response.

At the same time there are issues with sexual harassment in the workplace. I want to raise that with you because in Tasmania sometimes people can be targeted because they challenge government or because they challenge the established order. There is a concern that this complainant has not been treated fairly by government because she initially was internally challenging practices at Ashley.

I want your reassurance that there'll be no bias from the Government in its response because this person has named huge problems at Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

Mr GUTWEIN - I'd expect Government to respond equally and fairly on every issue, especially one such as this. The process that's under way needs to run its course, as has been indicated by the secretary's response back to the lawyer concerned. I'm certain that we'll get a response, whether good or bad, as a result of the further information that will be provided of which, for obvious reasons, I'm not aware of. All I can do is allow the process to conclude, which it is. Once that's been concluded and further information provided I'll understand from both the solicitor and the client whether or not that's been acceptable.

Ms O'CONNOR - As the head of the State Service, are you confident that the Tasmanian State Service has in place the processes, guidelines and regulations to properly respond to sexual harassment in the workplace?

Mr GUTWEIN - I believe it does.

Ms O'CONNOR - The person who's written to you believes that it doesn't. They are quite legitimate concerns and written with great veracity. I have met this person. Is there any further information you could provide to the committee about how the State Service responds to claims of sexual harassment?

Mr GUTWEIN - I'm certain that Ms Gale with other support here can provide quite a bit of -

Ms GALE - Thank you, Premier, and through you, we take all allegations of sexual harassment or all allegations of misconduct in the State Service very seriously. We have in place processes through which they are managed, including often independent analysis and investigation of complaints. I believe we have the appropriate processes in place to manage those cases.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am gutted on behalf of the person who brought forward this complaint in a level of detail that points to the absolute veracity of the statements she has made. I will quote a little bit from the letter to the Premier:

I feel humiliated and angered to be writing to the Premier of my favourite place in the world to tell him that, as servant to this state, my manager, in the most humiliating and public manner, reduced me to an inanimate object which exists solely for the sexual gratification of men, an object created to be used by men. I was informed after working there for less than a fortnight by a well-meaning and concerned senior colleague, that Mr -

and I'll take his name out for now -

had in a room full of people referred to me as a Japanese **** doll.

And this was made in a room full of people. I'm frankly staggered that an investigation could find there was no breach of conduct of the State Service Act, Ms Gale, and I wonder how the allegations made by this highly qualified clinical consultant could be so easily dismissed.

Mr GUTWEIN - Obviously we are going to need to review and consider these matters further. I make the point and again, in defence of the secretary, the allegation was that there had been a breach and the secretary provided you with what advice she had to hand. It may be unfortunate the way that has been delivered and I am sorry for that.

I would say I have no line of sight on these matters. But again, if the secretary felt, in terms of the line of questioning, that that was an appropriate response, based on the claims you were making, that response was provided. But again, noting this matter and having read the correspondence, we will look very closely at these matters.

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you please do that, Premier, and take a close personal interest in it? As you are aware, women and girls in Tasmania have been highly traumatised in recent weeks by the actions of people in leadership. I am looking at the Opposition at this point. It has certainly been disheartening for women and girls when they are not believed. Now we have here, prima facie, information, behaviours, that were carried out in front of other people, and an internal departmental investigation has told this woman, effectively, that she is lying.

What faith can women who work in the State Service have, should they come forward with an allegation of sexual harassment in the workplace, inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, that there won't be an internal whitewashing of their concerns?

Mr GUTWEIN - Again, we will need to review these matters. I'm not aware of anything other than the allegations that have been made. In terms of what has been disclosed to the committee today, whether rightly or wrongly, that was in response to Ms White's questioning. We need to look very carefully at this and I will certainly provide that commitment to this committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, I hear what you say about the need to review the response to this correspondence, and particularly to the victim, having learned through an Estimates process that, effectively, she hasn't been believed.

Can you - and perhaps the secretary - confirm that the person against whom these allegations of sexual harassment have been made, and who has also faced an ED5 for question marks over paperwork, is now supervising a major sporting facility in the north of the state where there are plenty of young women playing sport?

Mr GUTWEIN - I don't have any details on that matter in front of me. Again, if you require me to take it on notice, I will, and I'll provide a response back to the committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can the department provide any advice for us on that question? This assertion is in the correspondence that was sent to you, and we believe it is true that the alleged sexual harasser now works at a major sporting facility in the north of the state. So, not only has the complainant - that victim - not been believed by Government, but the alleged perpetrator has now just been transferred out of Ashley to run a major sporting facility in the north of the state. There's been no sanction, no punishment - but for the person who lodged the complaint the women, there has.

Mr GUTWEIN - I don't have that detail before me. Again, this deals with a different department, but we'll get the necessary advice and we'll review these circumstances. If you want to place that question on notice, I'm happy to provide a response back to the committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, it is reasonable to form the view that there is something that needs improvement within the state service in terms of how government responds to allegations of sexual harassment, assault or inappropriate behaviours in the workplace. We heard from the secretary of DPAC before give an assurance that she believes that the processes that in place are rigorous.

Now we have a situation where a detailed complaint has been made in Communities Tasmania and a woman has been told, 'We don't believe you and we are going to reward the man who is alleged to have done this to you with another secure position in the State Service'. Will you concede that the processes in the State Service regarding sexual harassment are not as robust as they could be?

Having been aware of some of these allegations for some time and knowing that they go back nearly three years, I am stunned that an internal investigation could find there was no breach and that this woman has now basically been cast off.

Are you going to review the way the State Service looks at sexual harassment? We cannot let this stand.

Mr GUTWEIN - Let me refute that the State Service doesn't take allegations of sexual assault or misconduct -

Ms O'CONNOR - I didn't say that. I said that it was imperfect, obviously. It needs fixing.

Mr GUTWEIN - Well, you have modified and walked that back a little bit from where you started.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will have a look at the Hansard later.

Mr GUTWEIN - We both will. There is a process that is being followed. I need to understand what has occurred through that process, based on both the correspondence I received and the claims and allegations that were made, but also what response will be provided to the complainant and to her solicitor.

I have not seen any of that information, but I would like to review what has occurred. I would like to ensure that people feel confident and safe. That they are in a safe place to bring forward those sorts of complaints and allegations. It is important that if this leads to us needing to review certain things, obviously we will do that.

I would like to look at the individual case in as much detail as I am allowed to. I will need to take advice on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - If we step back from the individual circumstances of the case, today you have released the final report into the review of the State Service. Here is what the Greens regard as evidence of flaws in the way the State Service responds to women who come forward about behaviours in the workplace.

Are you prepared to commit to, not only accepting that the processes in place now are necessarily enough, because we do not believe they are and we believe it will dissuade women in the State Service from coming forward? Are you going to have a good, long, hard look at this and review the way State Service responds to sexual harassment?

Mr GUTWEIN - The first thing I need to do is to understand exactly what has occurred through the course of this investigation of the ED5 and the outcome to that. There is a well-established process that I need to understand fully and how it has dealt with this case. I am happy to commit to that.

With regard to the State Service review, I am about to engage in consultation with our unions on the recommendations that were made. I am certain, as a result of today, there will be some feedback provided on these matters as we work our way through that process.

Ms O'CONNOR - To follow up. Perhaps it is something for the secretary to look at. Our understanding is that the complainant was told that the results of the investigation would be confidential between herself and the department. Now, at an Estimates table which is broadcast, they have been made public. Do you agree that is a breach of good practice and respect for an individual?

Mr GUTWEIN - I will make two points on this. One is that it is unfortunate that the information has been provided today. Second, that is a risk that when these matters are raised publicly, under privilege at a table like this, and the allegation was that the ED5 had been found and it was then corrected by the secretary.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't think it's reasonable to put it back on us at the table. I don't think that's reasonable at all.

Mr GUTWEIN - I'm saying that these are very personal matters. You've chosen to raise them here.

Ms O'CONNOR - With permission.

Mr GUTWEIN - I have committed to look into this particular set of circumstances. Until I've had the opportunity to do that I'm really not in a position to provide any further advice to the committee.