The West Australian exclusive

Department of Communities: Husband’s fury at worker’s treatment after police raid

Headshot of Annabel Hennessy
Annabel HennessyThe West Australian
The husband of the Communities staffer who was raided by police over media leaks has opened up about the family’s distress following the events.
Camera IconThe husband of the Communities staffer who was raided by police over media leaks has opened up about the family’s distress following the events. Credit: Supplied

The husband of the Communities staffer who was raided by police over media leaks has opened up about the family’s distress following the events, saying they have experienced “many sleepless nights” since it happened and will be “forever impacted”.

In the first comments from the family since the raid became public, the husband also said that the Department of Communities is refusing to detail to his wife what the thousands of documents they claimed she has downloaded actually are.

The West Australian can now also reveal that the woman is employed in a senior role in within the Department.

She was stood down the same day of the raid and was this week told her pay would be suspended, even though a Communities internal investigation into her conduct is yet to be completed.

Two weeks ago WA Police announced they had decided not to pursue charges, saying after speaking with the Director of Public Prosecutions they had concluded it would not be in the “public interest”.

The West’s front page report.
Camera IconThe West’s front page report. Credit: The West Australian

As revealed by The West, the woman’s home was raided on February 18 by 10 police officers in an attempt to find out who had leaked internal documents to this newspaper which exposed racism with the Department and failures to meet child safety targets.

Since the raid Communities director general Mike Rowe, Premier Mark McGowan, Community Services Minister Simone McGurk have all justified the decision to call in police, saying the Department had identified evidence the woman had “downloaded” thousands of documents.

In parliament, Ms McGurk said here was evidence the woman had emailed thousands of documents to her personal email.

However, a police warrant that was used to execute the raid only named seven documents: this included a report by psychologist Tracy Westerman and a “critical priorities” report which showed failures to meet KPIs.

It also listed any communications between the woman and The West Australian.

The husband said his wife was unsure what the “thousands of documents” referred to were and the Department had not responded to her request to receive a list of them.

He said on the day of the raid she was served with a notice of disciplinary investigation from Communities signed by Mr Rowe which referred to “thousands of documents” dating back to 2018 and given five days to respond.

He said he felt there had not procedural fairness because she had not been told what documents they were referring to and because it was impossible to check her records given that her devices had been seized by police.

“I was the one to open (the notice) as my wife was obviously upset, distressed and emotional,” he said

“(There was) a reference to thousands of documents and emails dating back to 2018 among other things….the department had specified a timeframe of five working days to reply to the allegations.”

“Communities won’t even provide a list of the alleged “thousands of documents” as mentioned by the Premier and the Minister McGurk. How can my wife defend something when she doesn’t even have as much as a reference to a title or description?”

He said his wife had been dedicated to her job and at times had woken up at 3am to work from home. He understood there had been IT issues at the Department which may have meant she needed to email documents to herself.

“She’s a senior executive who’s doesn’t know when to switch off from work. So a lot of those documents I think would be her trying to do her job at all hours of the day,” he said

Simone McGurk.
Camera IconSimone McGurk. Credit: Andrew Ritchie/The West Australian

“We don’t even know what the documents are, so I’m speculating … but I do know she was extremely dedicated and would often work from home.”

The husband felt it was unfair to suspend his wife’s pay prior to the investigation completing its findings.

He said his wife, who is a proud Aboriginal woman, was dedicated to serving vulnerable people and that was why she had gone to work for Communities in the first place.

Even now one of her biggest concerns was how her other Aboriginal colleagues had been impacted by the events, he said.

“The thing that drives her, and we speak about a lot, is the systems and the processes and what’s available for people in need don’t fit,” he said.

“One of the reasons why she quite consciously decided to go into Government is to make change from within.

“You can speak to numerous Aboriginal leaders throughout the whole WA ... they turn to her for leadership and guidance, and see her as, as someone that understands both sides.”

He said while his wife was putting on a brave face the raid and subsequent events had taken a toll on her mental health and would “forever impact” the family.

This included their young son who was present when police officers entered their home.

Department of Communities boss Mike Rowe.
Camera IconDepartment of Communities boss Mike Rowe. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

He said police who attended their home had been professional and the family did not blame them for following orders, however, the number of officers had been “overwhelming and intimidating”.

“I have had to take time off work to support my wife as I have been concerned for her mental wellbeing,” he said.

“(We’ve had) many sleepless nights and a rollercoaster of emotions and that is not to mention the impact on my son. Children are perceptive and no matter how much we put on a brave face they know that something isn’t right and we have seen some impact on his schooling as a result of these allegations.”

Community Services Minister Simone McGurk declined to comment, saying it was would be inappropriate to comment on disciplinary matters regarding a departmental staff member.

Communities deputy director general of governance, integrity and reform Catherine Stoddart said “given an investigation is still underway it would be inappropriate to discuss the particulars of this matter”.

She said Communities can advise in general that the Public Sector Management Act provides guidance on the management of disciplinary matters.

“There are standard time frames in which responses are sought. Extensions of time are routinely requested and granted by investigators,” she said.

“All Communities staff are issued a laptop and are provided with multiple pathways to access departmental systems so they can work from home. This is done to ensure staff are not required to save sensitive and confidential information to personal storage devices, or through private email.

“Staff are not authorised to access private and confidential information outside of approved departmental systems. Any attempt to do so, is a breach of the Department’s Code of Conduct.”

She said Communities operates a professional IT Department which includes an IT Help Desk to respond to all technical issues, including help for staff working remotely or from home.

She said remuneration of staff during any disciplinary investigation is managed by the Public Sector Management Act.

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