Government agency to undergo independent culture review, following allegations staff member urinated on colleagues

government agency to undergo independent culture review, following allegations staff member urinated on colleagues

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt says the information aired during Senate Estimates was “concerning”. (ABC News)

An Australian government agency where a male staff member allegedly urinated on his colleagues will have its culture examined by an independent review.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has ordered the independent review of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), an agency that’s experienced plenty of controversy since former minister Barnaby Joyce announced its relocation from Canberra to Armidale in 2016.

Questions about the APVMA’s workplace culture were raised before a Senate Estimates hearing at Parliament House earlier this month.

During the November 8 hearing, Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson asked APVMA chief executive Lisa Croft if she was aware of any sexual harassment claims raised by staff at the agency.

“I’ve been told about an incident that occurred at a staff Christmas party in 2021, in which a male senior staff member allegedly urinated on other staff members. Was such an incident reported to you, and if so was any action taken?” Senator Whish-Wilson asked.

Ms Croft said an incident had been raised with her.

“I am not aware of it in that context, not at a Christmas party… I am aware of an incident that occurred in a private capacity, not at a work function,” Ms Croft told the hearing.

Ms Croft said there was no official complaint made regarding the matter and that the staff member in question had resigned.

‘Review will shine a light on any lingering issues’

In a statement released on Friday, Senator Watt said he’d ordered the review, to be undertaken by Canberra lawyer Mary Brennan, following a briefing he’d received from Ms Croft and the APVMA board chair.

“The information that was aired during Senate Estimates was concerning to say the least and came as a complete surprise to me,” Senator Watt said.

“People have a right to feel safe and supported in the workplace. I have unapologetically high standards in this regard.

“Equally, Australians have a right to expect our public service, in particular our regulatory agencies, to be well managed and above reproach.

“This independent review will shine a light on any lingering internal issues and restore public trust in this small but important agency.”

A recent staff survey at the APVMA found that 11 per cent of staff said they’d witnessed or experienced harassment and 13 per cent reported discrimination in the workplace.

The independent review must report to the minister by March 31.

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