First published December 18
In a 252-page report, the Commission found:
• no direct evidence of fabrication or falsification of evidence by any employee of either the Fox Free Taskforce or its successor, the Fox Eradication Program;
•no evidence that any employee of either program knowingly relied on false information to support continuation of the program; and
• no evidence to suggest that the then-Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment and the Minister for Police and Emergency Management, the Hon David Llewellyn MP, had a conflict of interest while holding the dual portfolios.
The investigation identified that while there were administrative and management issues, they were not indicative of misconduct.
The report says the original taskforce began in a challenging environment and struggled with public credibility, and was subject to criticism fuelled by scientific and professional scepticism, concerns about public expenditure and a lack of accurate public knowledge of events as they occurred.
Other issues included internal program scepticism about evidence, with employees frustrated by the waste of time and resources in following up false information and a resulting reluctance to publicly release details of hoaxes because of concerns about copycat potential.
In addition, employees identified a poor workplace culture in the early stages, linked to the rapid program start-up and difficulties in recruiting necessary technical, investigative or professional expertise.
The transition of managers and staff through the program resulted in inefficiencies and difficulties in implementing change, inconsistencies, internal conflicts, and concerns that operational procedures – particularly relating to collection of fox scat evidence – were not adequately addressed.
A significant aspect of the program’s operating environment was that management and resourcing decisions were based on ‘the precautionary principle’, a biosecurity risk management approach. The principle stipulates that, where there is risk of serious or irreversible harm, lack of evidence should not prevent an immediate and reasonable response to the risk
The Integrity Commission Board has referred the investigation report to the Secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment for action. Given the findings, the Board made no specific recommendations for action but has emphasised the need to ensure that such programs are better managed in the future.