Mr Shanks’ report shows that Mary Anne Thompson was involved with six immigration-related procedures relating to members of her family in 2004 and 2005. Although the investigation finds no evidence that Ms Thompson’s family members were seeking preferential treatment, the report is clear that her involvement resulted in them receiving personal benefits that they would not have normally received if she had not held her position in the Department.
A clear statement of fact that there was preferential treatment.
Ms Thompson’s behaviour was wholly inappropriate on two counts. First, it consistently breached the Department’s clearly-stated requirements for staff to disclose potential personal conflicts to their manager before taking any action. Secondly, the long-standing expectation of State servants, outlined most recently in the Code of Conduct for the State Services, is that they are trustworthy. This includes not acting in a way that may improperly benefit our family or friends or groups in which we have a personal interest.
Overall, the Department did not deal with the issue in a timely or effective fashion up to the end of 2007 and because of ineffective investigations Ms Thompson was consequently dealt with in a manner that was too informal and lenient in relation to the conduct she displayed.
In particular, the actions taken by Dr James Buwalda, the Chief Executive of the Department of Labour until May 2007, were not effective in terms of clearly establishing what was happening and dealing with the conflict of interest. Concerns about visa waivers were first raised with Dr Buwalda, in 2005. The informality of Dr Buwalda’s engagement with Ms Thompson around his concerns at that time led her to consider that he thought the issue was of little consequence.
Now that Departmental CEOs are being paid over $500,000 a year salary, we should be expecting much better from them than this.
If you read the report in detail you see that Dr Buwalda deserves most of the criticism. He had numerous reports coming to him from staff concerned about Thompson’s involvement, and he did little to manage the problem or to assert authority.
Thompson made some serious errors of judgement. She did not seek special favours, but should have been aware that her involvement would create problems. If her CEO had been more onto it, then it might have all been sorted at an earlier stage.