Dr Warwick Raverty speaks at a pulp mill rally. Picture: Dave Groves,

The Victims Of CSIRO group was formed in mid-2011 as a result of conversations between a number of former CSIRO employees who all shared common experiences of bullying, harassment and/or coercive behaviour whilst employees of the CSIRO.

It soon became apparent from the large body of information between the former employees that this was a significant issue requiring a coordinated approach to address effectively.

A number of our members have previously approached CSIRO at both Senior Executive and Board level to address these issues without success.

I was one of the senior scientists who witnessed many acts of bullying and intimidation over eight years of my nine year career with the CSIRO.

As someone who had been trained in modern senior management techniques at Columbia University in New York and spent the previous 20 years in a very well-run public company, I was appalled at the way in which bullying and cronyism developed in the senior management of CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products when the Chief of the division resigned in 2000.

The people who were appointed to replace the former Chief were either incompetent, or had no interest in the morale of the scientific staff.

I soon found myself spending a fair amount of my time counselling not only my own research staff, but also the staff of other middle managers in the division who were frequently bullied and treated with complete lack of respect by deputies of the various chiefs that were appointed between 2001 and 2009.

One of the worst aspects was that a senior manager with formal responsibility for ensuring that all staff were treated with respect in accord with official CSIRO policy had no relevant formal tertiary training and was part of the bullying clique that developed at the top of the division during those years.

One of the mission statements of CSIRO talks about the organisation providing technological benefits to Australian society and to the environment, but I found as the years passed that these became just empty words and that CSIRO was far more focussed on extracting research funds from companies, no matter what the ethical standards or environmental bona fides of the companies with which it engaged.

I was officially disciplined for ‘breaching CSIRO confidentiality’ and ‘insubordination’ following my decision to exercise my democratic right to support the community of the Tamar Valley in opposing the corrupt Pulp Mill Approval Act and Gunns’ planned bleached kraft pulp mill at Long Reach on sound environmental grounds.

My ‘crime’ was to publicly name and shame Les Baker for having telephoned someone on the CSIRO Executive on the day of the TAP Public Meeting in the Congregational Church in Launceston in an attempt to prevent me speaking out as a private citizen while on annual leave.

My boss at the time had even telephoned my wife without my permission prior to the meeting and tried to get her to stop me speaking out on the topic of ‘Right Mill, Wrong Location’ by suggesting that Gunns were well known for SLAPP suits and that my public speaking would inevitably result in a SLAPP suit against me and that ‘we could lose our home’ as a result.

Fortunately my boss also mentioned Les Baker’s name to my wife at which point that information entered the public domain, but that defence was completely disregarded in the kangaroo court that was convened by CSIRO to try and limit any further embarrassment to the Organisation.

My boss’ boss even accused me (in writing) of putting the interests of the Tamar Valley community before my duties as a CSIRO officer, as if being an ethical community-minded scientist was considered some sort of crime in CSIRO.

That ‘official warning’ letter was ‘the last straw’ as far as I was concerned.

CSIRO had changed from the organisation that I joined in 2000 – one that placed equal emphasis on providing good science for industry, society and the environment, to one that was almost solely focussed on the holey dollar from industry, no matter how ethically, or unethically obtained.

I resigned from CSIRO in March 2009 and in my letter of resignation that I circulated to many senior staff annd colleagues at the time, I said:

• “A steady stream of Insight Surveys over the last 5 years has highlighted an everwidening gap between … scientists and … [the] extraordinarily large number of CSIRO administrators who seem to me … to be a very long way from … the finest in the land”

• “any organisation that loses the ability to retain its best and brightest is in serious trouble”

• “CSIRO has become so bureaucratic … so dysfunctional, that I no longer see my employment as … an effective solution to the problems of Australia”

Unfortunately, my treatment at the hands of senior CSIRO people was relatively mild compared to that of other senior scientists who exercised their democratic right to speak out with the aim of informing public debate about the environment, or the impacts of technology on society. People who take the time to visit the website in coming weeks will see another 13 cases of even worse mistreatment of some of Australia’s most talented and brilliant minds.

It is such a shame that so much tax payer money is wasted by the most senior people at CSIRO who seem to have little or no idea of good management and administrative practices. In my experience, the scientists within CSIRO, almost to a man and a woman, are committed experts who could do so much more to solve the environmental problems that Australia faces if only the 25 – 30% of CSIRO’s annual budget that is wasted on fat-cat administrators within CSIRO were devoted to reducing and streamlining administrative procedures and improving staff morale.’

Yesterday on Tasmanian Times: Victims of Bullying, Harassment, and Victimisation in the CSIRO

First published: 2012-06-15 04:46 AM