‘Grow a d---’: Culture of fear at Governor’s residence

 

QUEENSLAND'S most prestigious office has been plagued by a culture of intimidation, fear and bullying, with one staffer claiming she was told to "grow a d*ck" by a senior member of Government House.

Staff resignations have racked the office of Her Majesty's Queensland representative, Governor Paul de Jersey, we can reveal.

Over the past two financial years 18 employees have left the office, with turnover in the 45-person workforce hitting 20 per cent each year.

Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey
Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey

Six former staff contacted by The Courier-Mail claim verbal abuse made working at the house unbearable, although it is understood Mr de Jersey is largely unaware of the toxic situation.

The staff asked that their names be withheld as they were now working in other government departments.

One claims malicious comments have been made against workers in a pattern of bullying behaviour since 2015.

Another said she took leave for mental health problems after she claims she was told to "grow a d*ck".

She said staff were belittled and their work criticised on a regular basis.

"It's swearing at and putting people down," she said.

In a written response to questions week, Mr de Jersey's long-time official secretary, Mark Gower, denied the allegations directed at the office made by the former staffers.

"Government House does not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form," he said.

"All allegations of bullying are taken extremely seriously and are rigorously investigated, including by independent investigators where they are deemed to be very serious or relate to the Official Secretary."

Mr Gower said he was not aware a culture of intimidation existed in the office. He said he had been the target of one formal complaint, which had been dismissed.

"There has been one allegation of inappropriate conduct (bullying) made against me in the past 12 years," he said.

"The allegations were independently investigated for the Department of Premier and Cabinet and my actions consistent with appropriate management actions."

Mr Gower said Government House worked to create a safe environment free of intimidation and fear for staff.

Governor Paul de Jersey’s official secretary Mark Gower. Pic Chris Higgins
Governor Paul de Jersey’s official secretary Mark Gower. Pic Chris Higgins

He claimed one survey showed staff routinely reported that they were happy (91 per cent in the latest survey in December) and the average length of service was close to eight years.

The former staffers said the office environment was not a happy one.

"There is always a staff member under fire, whether it's deserved or not," she said.

"If they want you gone, it's absolutely brutal."

One senior employee described the office, in the taxpayer-funded Fernberg Estate at Paddington, as "just a soul-destroying place".

One employee said Mr and Kaye de Jersey were largely unaware of the toxic environment facing staff.

"They're two of the nicest people you'll ever meet," the former worker said.

Documents obtained by The Courier-Mail reveal Mr de Jersey was sent a letter by one of the aggrieved staff.

In that letter the person claims staff are managed "through threats, intimidation and fear".

The letter says, in part, that managerial issues are "placing your office at undue risk in areas such as the support for your program, staff morale, public relations and the Office of the Governor('s) image. Your position is too important to be tarnished …"

The Department of Premier and Cabinet contracted workplace disputes firm Ashdale to investigate allegations made in the letter.

A report was provided to Mr de Jersey, who wrote to the complainant notifying them that the allegations laid out in their complaint "were not substantiated".

The governor's office has been racked by internal strife.
The governor's office has been racked by internal strife.

Another former staffer said he found a colleague in tears on his first day working at Government House.

He spent almost a year at the house before quitting, citing a difficult work environment as the cause.

"It was largely driven by a culture of fear and intimidation," he said.

The former senior officer said bureaucrats refused to act on the high staff turnover and workplace bullying.

"It's disappointing that can happen in the state's highest office," he said.

"There's no avenue for staff to turn to.

"In this day and age where politicians talk about providing safe work environments, it's just lip service."

Another employee said morale was so low, he was reprimanded for "being too flamboyant" and told to stop wearing colourful "Happy Socks" while accompanying the Governor.

Despite the high turnover, Government House's annual report says: "The Office continued to provide a stable working environment for employees".

In the most recent annual report Mr Gower, who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2018, agreed to initiate "an in-house review of personnel management policies and procedures" to support staff.


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