News

‘Toxic culture’ found at CFA

by
October 26, 2017

Sexual assaults involving volunteers and staff at the Country Fire Authority have been reported to police, and the service’s boss says the toxic culture must change.

Sexual assaults involving volunteers and staff at the Country Fire Authority have been reported to police, and the service’s boss says the toxic culture must change.

The CFA is under sustained pressure after a leaked internal report revealed senior managers routinely bullied and harassed staff.

Women who reported sexual assaults were also told there would be consequences if they followed through with their complaints, and the assaults were not reported to police.

‘‘We have had allegations of sexual assault (in the past year), we have referred them to police,’’ new chief executive Frances Diver said on Thursday.

‘‘And some of those individuals are no longer working with the CFA.’’

Caroline Taylor interviewed 550 non-operational staff at the CFA in 2016 and heard hundreds of stories of harassment, bullying and sexual assault as part of an internal report, which was leaked last Wednesday.

‘‘Their attempts to report sexual assaults were met with them being threatened about consequences and repercussions,’’ Prof Taylor said.

Ms Diver said she was ‘‘appalled’’ to hear about the staff experiences.

‘‘Management and the board recognise that we have a problem,’’ she said.

‘‘We’re on the pathway to change, we might upset a few people along the way.’’

Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said he would investigate separate allegations that CFA and Metropolitan Fire Brigade staff who went to report bullying to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission were photographed as they entered.

The commission has reported on bullying and harassment within the fire services, but the United Firefighters Union is in the Supreme Court trying to stop the report’s release.

‘‘These are very concerning allegations and I’ll be seeking a meeting with the VEOHRC commissioner to find out more about what exactly has occurred,’’ Mr Merlino said.

Prof Taylor said the union was ‘‘central’’ to many of the cultural problems within the CFA, but Ms Diver said the UFU played only ‘‘a small part’’ in the issues the organisation faced.

The union rejects any suggestion it has contributed to the CFA’s toxic culture.

‘‘The UFU has always been a strong advocate of appropriate workplace practices,’’ the union said.

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