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John McCormick and Senator Ian McDonald – Fear of Retribution

From the Senate estimates committee meeting, the following on “fear of retribution”:

Estimates Hansard, 29 May 2013, p. 148
Committee met at 9:00.

CHAIR (Senator Sterle): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of the proposed expenditure for 2013-14 and the related documents for the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio.
CHAIR: You know that you can ask for questions to be taken on notice, too, just for the purposes of moving along with the limited time that we have got. Senator Xenophon.

Senator XENOPHON: This committee has now completed several inquiries into the aviation sector, the most recent last week. One of the common threads in each inquiry, which was raised specifically in the most recent report, is a prevailing fear of retribution from CASA for speaking out, particularly in the most recent inquiry. The committee continually heard that people did not want to criticise CASA or its operations because they truly believed that there would be some sort of negative reprisal for them.
The fears seem to be directed to you and some of your senior managers.

Why do you think this is the case?

Why is there that perception?

Mr McCormick: I was going to make an opening statement where I would address this to say that I am at a bit of a loss to understand this as well. I can guarantee you that we have a policy that if anybody threatens retribution from within CASA or carries out retribution we will take action and that is the strongest possible action. I have told everyone in my organisation that. I recently went around to see—

Senator XENOPHON: It is directed to you as well. It is particularly to you. I am raising fairly that this is what I am told and I dare say some of my colleagues have been told the same thing.

Mr McCormick: As I said, no-one has brought anything to me or to my industry complaints commissioner to complain about bullying or harassment or anything from my point of view.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr McCormick, you said that at that meeting in Brisbane and people got up and gave you evidence of where they had complained.

Mr McCormick: If you have a question about the complaints, I can go through that as well.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Your excuse that no-one has ever raised it with you. You said that at this meeting and three people got up and gave you examples of where they had complained where they had been victimised.

Mr McCormick: I will defer to my industry complaints commissioner on the details.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr McCormick, you were at that meeting and I congratulate you for going along. I thought that was very good of you to do that, but can I say to you there were 83 people there and before you turned up I heard 23 separate complaints about all aspects of CASA.

I saw you in action and you might recall there was one occasion where I was occasioned to say to you, ‘Mr McCormick, it might be useful if you shut up until the guy finishes his question.’ That was the tone of the meeting all along. Now, you have a difficult job. Safety is paramount. But 83 people cannot be wrong. They cannot all be making up these stories. They gave you, on that day, evidence of where complaints had been made to you and your people and you continued to deny it in the face of them telling you that to your face.

Mr McCormick: With all due respect, I think you left halfway through the meeting.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I did.

Mr McCormick: The second half of the meeting was by no means—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: They tell me it was much worse when I left.

Mr McCormick: The funny thing is that we ended with no more questions and we actually had a beer.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am sure they would. Since that I have had six separate emails about that meeting, all raising complaints. Now, I know this is unfair to you. I could go through every complaint and it would take 10 weeks. I am sorry to Senator Xenophon for butting in.

Senator XENOPHON: That is fine.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: In answer to Senator Xenophon, there is this all-prevailing fear within the industry. Examples were given of different interpretations by different inspectors and, in fact, Mr McCormick, I was there when you argued with someone about the impact of 145. I did not know what you were talking about, but a guy got up and told you that you were wrong and you had to concede it. He has given me the example here. We can go through that, but it is the fear from the industry across-the-board. It is not so much for you, although people indicated that your attitude at that meeting was typical of the attitude—

Senator RHIANNON: Chair, is there a question here?

CHAIR: I am listening intently, and I am sure that Mr McCormick will have the right of reply. While there is an accusation being put to a witness I would change the rules to encourage that debate carry on so that Mr McCormick can defend the accusation being put to him.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will stop there. Senator Xenophon had a question.

CHAIR: On that, Senator Macdonald, I will give Mr McCormick the right to reply should you wish to, Mr McCormick. If you do not then we will go back to questioning.

Mr McCormick: Thank you. There is no doubt whatsoever that was an animated meeting, but that is one meeting out of dozens that we hold around the place. I went to that meeting, as you said, and thank you for acknowledging that I did go. I took my associate director, my industry complaints commissioner and the head of the GA taskforce on a Saturday. They came up from Canberra, two of them, and we met to discuss these issues. Now, we came at a time that we were asked to arrive. The discussion had already got itself wound into an incredible frenzy about Part 145, and you may recall one of the first things I said was, ‘Put your hand up if you have been asked to transition to 145. Who is actually transitioning to 145?’ The mistake I made is I said, ‘High capacity RPT’, which I had to correct to say that it is all RPT. I do make mistakes. I was considerably taken back by some of that as well.

I am sorry that I am directing my comments a little bit to Senator Macdonald, but I am including you, Senator Xenophon, if I could. I copied you on a number of emails that were sent to me from people that were at that meeting, including emails that were completely at odds with what was being said publicly and also by people who had an audit on the very next day. He was one of the most animated people. He was sitting in front of you. He was saying that he was very worried about retribution and very worried about the effects that were going to happen with the audit that was on literally Monday, and this was the Saturday. We said nothing to any of our inspectorate staff. They went and did that audit. When he came back he said that he was very impressed with the professionalism, knowledge and courtesy demonstrated by the inspectors during the audit.

I understand the audit was not without its findings and there will be a number of NCNs issued. Mr—name redacted—stated that he welcomed the findings as fair and technically appropriate and would use them as a learning outcome and an opportunity to improve his business processes. As I said, I forwarded it to you, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Could you send it again, because I do not have any of them.

Mr McCormick: Yes. It included the email where someone referred to me as a complete idiot, which of course is defamatory. The end result out of that is that I was sufficiently concerned with what the industry was thinking that myself and some of my senior managers travelled to Gold Coast Airport, Coffs Harbour, Armidale—not by taxi—Tamworth, Scone, Cessnock, Newcastle, Sydney, Cairns and Townsville since that meeting. I have met over 17 organisations ranging from RPT operators, maintenance providers and—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And no-one has complained?

Mr McCormick: Almost invariably they said, ‘We don’t have a problem with CASA, but we have heard this and we have heard that.’

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr McCormick, I sat and listened to people. I did not know what they were talking about. It was far above my head.

Mr McCormick: I appreciate you listening as well. I think it might be best if I ask the Industry Complaints Commissioner to tell you the actual complaints that we have, obviously without the names—how many we have.

CHAIR: Under the circumstances, we all know what can happen if Hansard is used in bits and pieces. I think, in all fairness to everyone in this room, I would hate to see that either party might only have little bits and pieces quoted. I will take the extra time if it needs to be. I will not cut you off, Senator Xenophon, but I think it is only fair to CASA, to Mr McCormick, to Senator Macdonald and those who are calling in to get the full story on the table. Now, if that takes all the time up, I am sorry but we will do it and we will do it fairly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What I should do is, when I have got time, try to collate the complaints and refer them to you. We cannot do that today, and I am not trying to. I did have some broad questions. Perhaps when you finish, if we go back to Senator Xenophon and then if I have got a couple of seconds I will put my two questions to you.

Senator RHIANNON: Chair—

CHAIR: I have been trying to do party-wise. Senator Ludlam did have a go. I am not going to leave it. Does CASA want to add any more—Mr McCormick, you or any of your officers—to Senator Macdonald’s line of questioning?

Mr McCormick: If I could. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: You can. Take the time and do it.

Mr McCormick: I will just ask the Industry Complaints Commissioner to give us a rundown of what actual complaints we have from that meeting.

CHAIR: Let us do it properly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Complaints from that meeting?

Mr McCormick: This is people that were complaining at the time that we took away.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You told the meeting, Mr McCormick, that you had not had any complaints. Someone got up and said it to you to your face and gave you an instance.

Mr McCormick: This is from the meeting. I will defer to my Industry Complaints Commissioner.

Ms Hampton: There were a number of complainants who had made previous complaints to me that were present at that meeting and there were three new complaints that were given to me as a result of that meeting.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr McCormick told the meeting there were no complaints. That was what they were complaining about; that he was denying that there were any complaints about his officers. My colleague Warren Entsch does not do anything else but complain.

In fact, he has publicly named some of your officers as you know. The complaints about interpretations, about the New Zealand issue, about the USA versus Europe and about the 145 transition, people begging you to extend the transition period for what seemed to me to be very good reasons, but I hardly knew what they were talking about.

I really think, Mr Chairman, it is probably unfair of me to raise this, but there were so many people at the meeting and subsequently who have complained that I said I would raise it. I do have some questions. This may well be better dealt with by perhaps a separate committee hearing at some time in the future to test the complaints.

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