Your taxes at work: harassment and intimidation treated with indifference – why I went public
There’s a feature piece in The Australian today by Chris Kenny. ‘The Unkindness of Strangers’, subtitled: ‘When an ugly post goes viral via social media, victims find there is very little they can do about it.’
Sexism, pornography, social media, bureaucratic accountability and the contest of ideas; this story touches on these volatile topics and reveals the challenges of the digital age, and its propensity for hypocrisy and injustice. The way women are treated in public debate has become hotly contested ground in recent years …
It took me awhile to summon the strength to agree to go public on this story. Months of unrelenting abuse last year caused me to go under the radar for a while. Now, getting it (well, one aspect of it) out there, brings feelings of exposure and vulnerability. But I felt that what happened had to be brought to light. For eight months I was shunted, fobbed off, given the flick and ignored by the Australian Public Service Commission and Australian Tax Office regarding a complaint about a public servant who tweeted requesting naked images of me. It had started to feel like they were running some kind of protection racket.
It was over dinner with public servant friends that I learned about APS codes of conduct. It seemed tax department officer Darryl Adams had pretty much breached them all. My friends encouraged me to make a formal complaint (reprinted below) and told me how to go about it.
As I told Kenny: “It takes a lot of time and energy, especially emotional energy. There was a principle I thought was important: that people shouldn’t be harassed and be intimidated by officers of the crown who we pay to do their job. He is a servant of the people and was publicly requesting lewd material of one of those people.” (Actually I used the words ‘masturbatory material’ not ‘lewd’ but the Oz lawyers didn’t love that so much so it got changed).
It was this mind numbing, soul deadening, reply that sealed it for me. I knew then I had to take it higher if I was going to have any chance of a meaningful response.
From: Lowe, Anne
Sent: Friday, 15 February 2013 4:37 PM
To: Melinda Tankard Reist
Cc: Lowe, Anne
Subject: RE: ATO response to my complaint [SEC=UNOFFICIAL]
Thank you for your email of 2 February 2013 in relation to your complaint made to the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) regarding the conduct of an ATO employee.
I advise that the APSC was advised of the outcome of our investigation of your complaint in September 2012. As the recipient of the original complaint the ATO understood that the APSC would, in accordance with usual procedure, advise you of the outcome of your complaint. I regret that this has obviously not occurred.
I advise that the ATO dealt with your complaint in accordance with ATO policy and procedure and the matter has now been finalised. Due to constraints imposed by the Privacy Act 1999 I am unable to provide you with any further information regarding the outcome.
Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
Director People Team | Health & People Management | ATO People
ATO| Working for all Australians
It wasn’t until the intervention of the Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury (whose portfolio includes the ATO) that there was any real interest in my case. I was lucky – unlike most women in this situation, I had a senior contact in Government. He helped put me in touch with a senior staffer in Bradbury’s office.
After briefing the Minister, the staffer wrote a strongly worded email to the Taxation Commissioner on the Minister’s behalf, copied in to the Special Minister of State, requesting he look into the case. The email was sent at 3.20pm. At precisely 3.48pm I received a voice message from the ‘Head of People Management’ of the Australian Tax Officer, citing ‘urgent investigation’, ‘receiving full briefing’, ‘will call you again this afternoon’. He was helpful, acknowledging my complaint had been badly handled, and later wrote advising it had been upheld (though I couldn’t be told what disciplinary action had been taken). This was a year after the tweet I had complained about.
I got more action from Bradbury’s office in an hour than I got from the APS and ATO since last June and am very grateful for the Minister’s involvement. I felt like it was the first time my harassment was taken seriously. I feel sorry for those without contacts though. Do they just disappear and say nothing – like those departments seemed to expect me to do? This was the main reason I decided to talk to Kenny.
Here’s my letter of complaint to Mr Stephen Sedgwick, the Australian Public Service Commissioner.