Head of public service found Justice and Corrections failed two complainants against Wally Haumaha because of 'poor communication'. Three months later, Justice is yet to discuss the SSC report with the affected staff member.

The Justice Ministry and Corrections failed to debrief and adequately support staff who complained about the workplace behaviour of Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha, according to the State Services Commission.

This meant both departments failed to meet the "keeping people safe" standard now in place for public servants.

While the new chief executive of Corrections quickly apologised to its former staff member for how her complaint was mishandled, no one from the Justice leadership team has met with the affected staff member to discuss the critical SSC report released publicly three months ago.

"The SSC report makes it clear that the ministry did not meet the standards we should have in our support of our staff through what has been a difficult time for them. We have learned from that and will do things differently and better in the future," new Justice Ministry chief executive Andrew Kibblewhite said in a statement.

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"We have been working with the staff members involved and will continue to do so. As those conversations are ongoing, in the interests of their privacy, we will be making no further comment at this time."

The staff member also declined to comment when the Herald asked whether anyone from Justice had discussed the SSC report with her.

However, the two women who complained about Haumaha met with State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes on Tuesday, following his report published in December.

Hughes decided to investigate after National MP Chris Bishop asked him to look into conflicting statements by Justice, Corrections and the Police about the Haumaha saga.

Bishop said Justice's failure to discuss the SSC findings with their employee was "deeply odd. The Ministry of Justice attitude is deeply odd and continues a sorry saga where all three government agencies have let down the complainants.

"They deserve better."

Justice Minister Andrew Little said it was "disappointing" when any staff member didn't get the support they need.

He said Andrew Kibblewhite took over as the new chief executive of the Justice Ministry in February.

"I have full confidence in his ability to deal with this matter."

Hughes declined to comment about his meeting with the two women, or Justice's failure to discuss the SSC report with their employee.

The SSC report - released as the Independent Police Conduct Authority found Haumaha was unprofessional and inappropriate at times - found a number of problems with how Justice and Corrections responded to three staff working on a joint project with the police.

Three women - two senior policy analysts from Justice and one from Corrections - walked out of Police National Headquarters in June 2016 and refused to return because of Haumaha.

The trio raised issues directly with their managers on different occasions and action was taken after a particular meeting with Haumaha in June 2016.

A decision was made for the women to leave PNHQ and continue working on the project from the Justice offices.

The project had been difficult and stressful and Haumaha was aware of rising tension within the group.

The women stressed to the SSC there were "lost opportunities" to address their concerns earlier in 2016.

"The difficulty appears to have been that - while managers were aware of some incidents and tension - the women did not feel like they appreciated the impact this was having on them," wrote Hughes.

"Both women commented that their managers had competing priorities as they were heavily invested in the substantive work of the joint project. As a result, the women felt like emphasis was placed on delivering the work of the project, as opposed to taking any steps to respond to the allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviour."

Poor communication was a major issue identified by the SSC review.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes is to meet with the two complainants against Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes is to meet with the two complainants against Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

"This culminated in a significant miscommunication concerning whether senior leadership within Police, beyond Deputy Commissioner Haumaha, would be informed about the allegation," wrote Hughes.

"The communication between the managers at Justice and Corrections also seemed to have been poor, or non-existent."

Nearly two weeks after leaving PNHQ, there was a meeting between the women and senior management at Justice.

"But there were significant miscommunications at this meeting and, it appeared to us, that the women had been left without any sense of resolution," wrote Hughes.

By contrast, the Justice deputy-chief executive Colin Lynch saw the meeting as bringing the matter to a close.

He acknowledged the issues and observed Haumaha worked for the police, not Justice, so it was a matter for the Police to deal with.

The women took this to mean the police were treating it as an employment matter, so they would not receive any updates.

"But for us the most concerning issue is that, despite what was said at the meeting, no one in the senior leadership within Police [beyond Deputy Commissioner Haumaha] was told about the women's allegation until early August 2016," the SSC wrote.

The Prime Minister was advised the inappropriate behaviour of Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha was not a sackable offence. Photo / Rod Emmerson.
The Prime Minister was advised the inappropriate behaviour of Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha was not a sackable offence. Photo / Rod Emmerson.

Police were not told by anyone at Justice or Corrections but Louise Nicholas - a friend of one of the women - who raised it directly with Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement without revealing names.

He called Audrey Sonerson, the acting chief executive at Justice, and Christine Stevenson, the deputy chief executive at Corrections, but was left with the clear impression neither department wanted to take it further.

"The women we spoke to told us that, ultimately, they were left hanging in relation to their allegation," wrote Hughes.

They laid formal complaints with police last year after the Herald broke the story in August, which led to the IPCA report in December.

The SSC said the failure to debrief and adequately support the women meant both departments failed to meet the "keeping people safe" standard now in place.

The review recommended the State Services Commission update bullying policy standards to ensure the "specific challenges represented by cross-agency projects are addressed".

In response to Herald questions, spokeswomen for Justice and Corrections produced a list of changes to workplace bullying policies and initiatives in each organisation.

"The key to addressing workplace bullying and harassment is having a culture where it isn't accepted in the first place, and when it does occur, those experiencing it feel confident to come forward and make a formal complaint," said the statement from the Justice Ministry.