Complaints against auditor-general went to MPs before he was reappointed

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Victorian MPs were repeatedly warned of the risks of reappointing one of the state’s most senior public servants, with a dossier of allegations from former staff sent to the parliamentary committee charged with approving the selection.

In September, the bipartisan public accounts and estimates committee (PAEC) recommended reappointing Auditor-General Andrew Greaves for a second seven-year term, despite receiving written accounts from four former staff members. These included two statutory declarations from senior executives detailing concerns about the culture of the office.

Victorian Auditor-General Andrew Greaves.

As auditor-general, Greaves is one of Victoria’s most senior public servants and is responsible for ensuring financial prudence and integrity in the public service.

The dossier, obtained by The Age, was compiled by Peter Frost, the former chief executive and deputy auditor-general, who served as acting auditor-general before Greaves was appointed in 2016.

When contacted by The Age, Frost said he had grown tired of the number of former staff approaching him upset about the alleged behaviour of the auditor-general and culture of the office.

“I urged people to commit themselves to writing and that the most appropriate process was to deal with the PAEC, who has a critically important role in the oversight and appointment of the auditor-general,” Frost said.

“There were many people who were so fearful of the consequences if they did commit themselves to writing that they decided not to.”

Frost first met the chair and deputy chair of the PAEC – Labor’s Lizzie Blandthorn and Nationals MP Danny O’Brien – in March 2022 to raise concerns on behalf of his former colleagues. He later received a response from Blandthorn claiming the committee could not investigate without a referral from the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council.

In September 2022, the dossier was resubmitted to the committee, this time with two statutory declarations from staff and accompanying written accounts from former senior employees supporting calls for an investigation. However, the new chair – Labor’s Sarah Connolly – asked Frost to resubmit the material after the election because the committee was not expected to sit until after polling day.

In February this year, following the election, the dossier was again sent to Connolly, who said the committee had “no express function or power to investigate or make inquiries” unless it has been referred by a House of Parliament.

Instead, the former staff were told to use internal complaints processes, raise their concerns with WorkSafe or seek independent legal advice.

Frost described the committee’s response as “a triumph of obfuscation and deflection”, given it had a statutory responsibility to oversee the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office and Parliamentary Budget Office.

Among the allegations presented to the committee were claims staff were bullied and harassed and given unsustainable workloads, and natural justice processes were ignored between 2016 and 2021.

The Age does not suggest the allegations are true, simply that they were made and presented to the committee with oversight of the auditor-general.

One former director – who submitted a statutory declaration in the dossier and spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity over concerns it could be used against them in their new role — described the culture of fear among staff.

The director ended up visiting a doctor to seek medical help because of stress in the role.

“People were treated like numbers and put in the freezer if they questioned or challenged decisions,” the former director alleged.

“It’s a bad culture; it was unpleasant and people were nervous.

“[The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office] is so important to the governance of the state. The public should be appalled. The role of auditor-general should be of the highest standards, and this sets accountability in Victoria back.”

In response to questions about why the public accounts and estimates committee had agreed to reappoint Greaves, Connolly said the committee had “no express function or power to investigate or make inquiries relating to matters such as these, unless it has been referred to a relevant matter by a house of parliament or the governor in council”.

Greaves’ office did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said the reappointment of Greaves was recommended by the multi-party committee and was “consistent with the Audit Act”.

“Every Victorian has the right to a safe workplace – for public service employees this includes through mandated internal grievance policies alongside WorkSafe and the Fair Work Commission.”

Other examples in the dossier include claims staff were bullied and harassed, and a senior employee had their role abolished while ill in hospital.

The dossier also includes publicised claims brought by former director Kyley Daykin, who alleged the auditor-general had bullied her, worked her to breaking point and terminated her employment unlawfully at the height of the pandemic.

In April 2021, Daykin lodged a worker’s injury claim with the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office. The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office reached a confidential settlement with Daykin in 2022.

The Age spoke to three MPs who have been public accounts and estimates committee members in the past year about the allegations. Two of those MPs, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss committee deliberations, confirmed the allegations against Greaves by Daykin had been raised during a meeting about his reappointment.

The Age contacted another former senior director, who didn’t contribute to the dossier but who corroborated allegations included in the statutory declarations. The employee, who eventually resigned after “numerous disagreements with the auditor-general”, described the office culture as dysfunctional.

“That role of auditor-general is so powerful, and it is just very disappointing given what the office should do and what it could do,” the former employee claimed.

“There was an unwillingness to make improvements that would be of value … [and] there was a culture of fear from some of the staff.”

The former senior employee admitted being surprised by the reappointment given the claims that were presented to the committee.

The Age also spoke to another former employee who backed up the allegations.

In 2015, a former staff member in the state’s audit office made a complaint about former auditor-general John Doyle, with MPs backing a motion to establish an inquiry by retired High Court judge Kenneth Hayne. Parliament’s public accounts and estimates committee investigated the matter.

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