Legislative Council: Thursday, June 01, 2023


Director of Public Prosecutions Office

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:11): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General about the turmoil and workplace culture at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Last week, I received a copy of an extremely troubling email sent by the director to around 40 staff who work under him in the Attorney-General's Department, SAPOL, ICAC and the Courts Administration Authority. I do not doubt its authenticity. It was marked 'Official' and sent on 23 May 2023 at 8.58am. It follows what appears to have been a meeting he had with the CEO of the Attorney-General's Department, Caroline Mealor, and Rosslyn Cox to discuss the results of an ODPP workplace experience survey and meetings staff have had with Ms Cox.

From the tone of Mr Hinton's disturbing remarks it is plainly obvious there continues to be a toxic, chaotic and shambolic workplace culture he is overseeing and for which he accepts some alarming responsibility and blame. I just would like to read a portion of that email. Mr Hinton writes:

What I became aware of on Friday is just how much there is to analyse and understand, and I want to ensure that what happens next is considered and looks to the short, medium and long term.

My first priority will be to address the stress and distress that many of the people in the Office of DPP are currently experiencing.

Mr Hinton then goes on to say he is heading overseas and expects the report to be released on his return, but it is the closing statement by Mr Hinton that it is extremely concerning. I quote:

I can say one thing. I have become aware of things that I have said and the way in which I have conducted myself which have worked to compound the pressure many of the members of the ODPP, and likely some who have recently left us, are experiencing or experienced. I apologise unreservedly for this. It was never my intention. I will do better and look to you all to hold me to account.

It is signed off as 'Martin'. I seek leave to table a copy of the email.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: But here is what is truly astonishing about this shocking revelation: it's been going on for years, all under the watch of Ms Mealor and also the previous DPP, the Hon. Adam Kimber, now a judge; the previous Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman; and it seems now under you, too, Attorney, if you are aware.

I recently obtained a copy of the Office of the DPP's 2017 wellbeing program report prepared for Mr Kimber and dated 27 November 2017. I understand Ms Mealor was at the time working in his office. Until now, this damning assessment of the wellbeing of staff has not seen the light of day. I now seek leave to table that report.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Nothing has changed. Nothing has improved. In fact, it seems to be going backwards and, by the reports I am receiving from the legal fraternity, it is negatively impacting on the administration of justice in this state, causing delays of cases. Things are so bad that a parliamentary inquiry is warranted and long overdue. My question to the Attorney-General:

1. When did he become aware there are serious and systemic workplace issues in this very important department and has his chief executive and the DPP told him what has been uncovered in the latest audit of staff?

2. Why did Ms Mealor and the previous DPP keep secret the embarrassing 2017 report, and has he seen it?

3. Were there others that followed and, if so, where are they?

4. When can we expect to see the 2023 ODPP workplace experience survey tabled in this place?

5. Considering the damaging workplace surveys, does he have confidence in Mr Hinton and Ms Mealor and that the toxic and unhappy culture is not contributing to delays and failures in prosecutions?

6. Can he provide figures to this chamber of how many cases prepared by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have been pulled or have fallen over since 2015, and the reasons?

7. How many staff have left the office since 2017, and were reasons for their departure given?

8. How many staff who work or worked at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have claims for injuries caused by workplace stress, bullying and sexual harassment?

9. Will he and the government support an urgent inquiry by a parliamentary committee?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:17): I thank the honourable member for his question. From the outset, I do recognise that the work that many, not just the legally trained people—the prosecutors and solicitors—undertake at the DPP is difficult, stressful and sometimes distressing work.

What we read in the newspaper sometimes are the results of cases and you get a glimpse of the horrific circumstances that humans inflict on other humans, and I know that there are many officers in the DPP who come into work and day after day deal with some of the worst elements of humanity in terms of what they have to see, the evidence they have to go through to prepare and present to court.

I do understand and appreciate just how horrific and difficult some of the work is that some of the people do day after day. This is often work that, at the end of the day, is aimed at keeping the rest of us safe by prosecuting, obtaining convictions and often incarcerating people who do horrific things to other people. I do acknowledge that the very nature of much of the work that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and their staff undertakes is difficult and distressing work.

I am aware that there are workforce difficulties, not just in the DPP but across many sectors of not just the public but the private sector. There are workforce shortages right across professions and trades right around Australia at the moment, with record unemployment rates, and I understand that lawyers within government are no exception to that. It is not an easy thing in any area to have the right trained staff when there is such a shortage right across areas.

In relation to specific questions about matters relating to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the moment, I am happy to go away and get some advice. I understand that not just the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions but regularly across the public sector there are reports or evaluations on wellbeing of staff and looking at better ways that staff can be supported, better ways that staff can be retained, and better ways that staff can be attracted. I am happy to go away and find out details for the honourable member.